The US military has been coming to the realization that its aging aircraft fleet will begin posing serious challenges in the coming years. Canada is experiencing similar problems. In 2005, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier said that:
“Our [CC-130 E/H] Hercules fleet right now is rapidly going downhill. We know that three years and a little bit more than that, the fleet starts to become almost completely inoperational and we will have to stop supporting operations – or else, not be able to start them.”
This Spotlight article offers additional details regarding the Canadian CC-130 recapitalization program, and the thinking behind it; some background that points up the parallels between the issues faced by the Canadians, and the experiences of other air services; and some insight into why the buy took so long, after the C-130J was declared Canada’s preferred choice in an “expedited” process. Canada has begun using the new planes on operations, and is preparing to accept the last “CC-130J.” This will shift its focus to issues of long-term support costs.
Canadian firm Viking Air of Sidney, BC achieved a double-breakthrough with its recent sale to Vietnam. Its modern DHC-6 Twin Otter Series 400 variant of the legendary global bush plane will become the Vietnamese military’s first western aircraft, and the Vietnamese Navy’s first fixed-wing aircraft.
While Vietnam has attracted a lot of attention for its recent submarine and fighter deals with Russia, its long coast and large Exclusive Economic Zone interests made its current lack of fixed-wing maritime patrol aircraft a major handicap. The new Twin Otters will be used for transport, resupply, maritime surveillance, and search and rescue throughout Vietnam’s coastal regions. Their short takeoff and fresh water landing capabilities could even make them useful in parts of Vietnam’s interior.
Back in 1991, Canada’s Mulroney government sold the country’s CH-47 Chinook medium-lift helicopter fleet to the Dutch. They cost a lot to maintain and operate, and Canada didn’t need them anyway. Or so they thought. Fast forward to 2002, then 2006. Canada has had boots on the ground in Afghanistan for several years now, but doesn’t have any helicopters capable of operating in the hot and/or high-altitude environment of southern Afghanistan. To support its 2,000 or so troops in Afghanistan, Canada had to rely on favors from US, British, Australian, Polish, and – irony of ironies – Dutch pilots flying CH-47 Chinooks.
Even so, Canada’s “emergency” purchases for Operation Archer never included helicopters. It should have come as a relief, therefore, to learn in June 2006 that the Canadian government had announced a CDN$ 4.7 billion program to purchase 16 “medium-heavy” helicopters for military and “disaster response” roles. It should have, but it didn’t. It took 21 months after this helicopter program was announced before a sole-source RFP was even issued. DID explains the Afghan situation on the ground for Canadian forces, the RFP, the options, the problems, the ultimatum issued by Canada’s Parliament, and the contract(s) for new CH-47F/ CH-147 helicopters.
Canadian Forces took some of the lessons re-learned during Operation Medusa in Afghanistan, directly to heart. Canada’s DND:
“The heavily protected direct fire capability of a main battle tank is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of any military. The intensity of recent conflicts in Central Asia and the Middle East has shown western militaries that tanks provide protection that cannot be matched by more lightly armored wheeled vehicles… [Canada’s existing Leopard C2/1A5] tanks have also provided the Canadian Forces (CF) with the capability to travel to locations that would otherwise be inaccessible to wheeled light armoured vehicles, including Taliban defensive positions.”
In October 2003, Canada was set to buy the Styker/LAV-III 105mm Mobile Gun System to replace its Leopard C2 tanks. By 2007, however, the lessons of war took Canada down a very different path – one that led them to renew the very tank fleet they were once intent on scrapping, while backing away from the wheeled vehicles that were once the cornerstone of the Canadian Army’s transformation plan. This updated article includes a full chronology for Canada’s new Leopard 2 tanks, adds information concerning DND’s exact plans and breakdowns for their new fleet, and discusses front-line experiences in Afghanistan.
Early operations in Afghanistan and Iraq led US combat commanders to ask for transport aircraft that could use smaller runways, and land closer to zones of operations. The US Army pressed its King Air C-12s and Shorts C-23s into service, but beginning in 2004, they began supplementing those efforts with contractors. Helicopters have also been hired, but cost, speed, and carrying capacity all favor fixed-wing planes whenever possible.
The US military hoped that Blackwater affiliate Presidential Airways, Inc. of Moyock, NC would be able to address some of these issues, using EADS-CASA 212 and Bombardier Dash-8 transport aircraft. For a while, they did. Presidential received several contracts over the years for fixed-wing, in-theater contract transport around Afghanistan, but the fixed-wing business was bought by AAR, and their firm is no longer the only option. As of 2010, the USA began spreading fixed-wing contracts among a number of contractors. This article chronicles fixed-wing contracts from 2004 – 2014.
Afghanistan has been a tough test for the NATO alliance. Thus far, the report is mixed. While a number of allied countries have committed troops, few of the NATO countries’ available helicopters have been committed, despite promises made and commanders’ requests from the field. Britain, the Netherlands, and the USA had contributed much of the combat helicopter support in the most active combat zones, alongside some CH-47s from non-NATO partner Australia. They’ve been supplemented by helicopters from some east bloc countries like Poland and the Czech Republic (Mi-8/17s), and by a few CH-47D Chinooks and Bell 412ERs from Canada. The sizable helicopter fleets belonging to NATO members like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain have also seen some use in Afghanistan, with the Italian contingent (currently CH-47s, NH90s and A129 attack helicopters) covering a wide area to the west. The most serious fighting, and corresponding need, remains in the south.
That has created political tensions within the alliance, especially when set against the backdrop of European shortfalls in meeting NATO ISAF commitments. At one point, the USA was forced to extend the deployment of 20 CH-47 heavy helicopters by 6 months, in order to try and make up the shortfall. With Canada and the Netherlands out of the picture after long combat deployments in the south, the situation is likely to become even more strained. Over the longer, term, however, a 2-track solution has emerged. Track one involves keeping up the pressure, and some members of NATO have responded. Track 2 has involved stanching the wound by chartering private helicopter support that can take care of more routine missions in theater, freeing the military helicopters for other tasks.
In late November 2008, Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) announced its intention to combine 3 programs into one general set of upgrades to its armored vehicle fleets. The C$ 5 billion meta-program would include:
(1) “Close Combat Vehicles” that perform as tracked Infantry Fighting Vehicles or Armored Personnel Carriers, alongside Canada’s new Leopard 2A6 tanks. Canada’s wheeled LAV-IIIs showed limitations in Afghanistan. Canada’s old M113 tracked APCs were a successful supplement, but the Canadians appear to be leaning toward a heavier vehicle for their future CCV. (2) A new “Tactical Armored Patrol Vehicle” that’s similar to the blast-resistant vehicle buys in other NATO countries. (3) LAV-UP upgrades to the existing LAV-III 8×8 wheeled APC fleet completed the set. July 2009 saw the roster expand to add (4) “FME”: dedicated Armored Engineering Vehicles based on the Leopard 2 tank, and engineering-related attachments for Canada’s new Leopard 2 tanks.
The “Close Combat Vehicle” appeared to be the most urgent purchase, but Canada’s procurement approach wasn’t structured to deliver urgency, and CCV has suffered the most from that failure. CCV is now the last unresolved contract, but all 4 sub-programs failed to deliver vehicles in time to help Canada in Afghanistan. Even so, all 4 programs continue to move forward.
In January 2013, the Colombian Ministry of National Defence awarded a $65.3 million contract to General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, for 24 of the firm’s double-V hulled LAV-IIIs with add-on armor. In the USA, this LAV-III is known as the M1126 Stryker DVH, but Colombia’s new armored personnel carriers won’t have the same internal electronics fit-out. They’ll also swap in RAFAEL’s Samson RCWS weapon station up top. The contract was signed through the Government of Canada’s CCC export agency, and deliveries will be complete by May 2014.
The Ejercito Nacional de Colombia operates a very broad mix of APCs: M1117 ICVs from Textron, Russian BTR-80s, Brazilian EE-9 and EE-11s, and old US M113 tracked vehicles. None have the LAV-III DVH’s ability to survive land mine blasts. That’s becoming a bigger part of Colombia’s defense planning lately: Oshkosh’s Sand Cat vehicle was picked as a light patrol MRAP in December 2012.
In October 2012, Sierra Nevada Corp. in Sparks, NV received a contract for 18 uniquely modified Pilatus PC-12/47E aircraft, which will be used by Afghan National Army Special Operations Forces. Sierra Nevada will handle the modifications to Pilatus’ aircraft, and acts as the American lead. Their work will be performed in Sparks, NV until July 31/15. The 645th AESG/WIJK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-13-C-4007).
The PC-12/47E single-engine turboprop is also known as the PC-12NG, and uses Pratt & Whitney Canada’s 1,200 shp PT6A-67P engine…