Procurement problems extend to Aurora program
By CBC News
Feb. 18, 2014, Ottawa - In what amounts to another tacit admission that Canada's military is somehow structurally unable to swiftly procure the gear it needs, the Conservative government has quietly announced it's restarting a twice-cancelled plan to extend the life of the CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol aircraft.
By CBC News
The news arrived last week in the tabling in Parliament of supplementary estimates.
The estimates are a request for approval of additional
government spending, in this case nearly $35 million "to support
projects that will help extend the life of 14 CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft."
The military has undertaken a series of refits and modernizations of its 18 aircraft Aurora fleet, beginning in 1998.
The Aurora long-range patrol aircraft entered service in Canada in
1981. The 33-year-old fleet is used to survey and monitor Canada's
maritime approaches and to participate in the hunt for foreign
submarines. But they are also useful to assist in search and rescue.
More recently upgraded variants of the planes have been used by
Canada to create maps of the ground in Afghanistan, as well as provide
surveillance and targeting information to fighter jets during the attack
The military's upgrade program has cost roughly $1.7 billion
since 1998 and has included scores of different projects, from upgraded
sensors and surveillance gear, to new structures to support aging wings.
In 2007, the military decided to restructure its upgrade program and
only completely modernize 10 of the 18 aircraft, while it started
looking for a replacement.
The cancellation of the modernization program was, at the time, a big deal.
That decision happened at about the same time Canada began exploring
the purchase of large, armed, unmanned aerial vehicles — drones — to
patrol and survey both at home and overseas. The military even created a
program to purchase UAVs that it called JUSTAS — the Joint Uninhabited
Surveillance and Target Acquisition System.
But that program, despite at least seven years of Canadian efforts
and massive advances in the use of UAV technology by allies like the
United States, has yet to yield a purchase.
The proposed fleet of drones would inevitably have taken some
pressure off of the Auroras, as would have the Conservative government's
2007 plan to purchase a new aircraft to replace the Aurora: the
so-called Canadian Multi-mission Aircraft (CMA) also featured in the
government's 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy, with an initial
operating capability of 2017.
But that project has faltered as well, and like the JUSTAS program,
and the program to buy new search planes, and the one to replace the
CF-18 Hornet fighter jets, there's no telling when the military might
actually get close to buying a new aircraft.
In the case of the drones and the multi-mission aircraft, a lack of
progress had direct implications for the future of the Aurora fleet.
Military briefing notes obtained by CBC News under access to
information laws indicate the Defence Department had begun to reckon
with its lack of substantive progress back in 2011, when it came back
around to the idea of increasing the size of the fully modernized Aurora
fleet from 10 to 18, as opposed to "aggressively pursuing the
procurement" of drones and replacement patrol aircraft.
The documents show the decision to cancel the Aurora Capability
Extension program, as that plan was called, was made in September 2011
after a meeting between the then chief of the air staff,
Lt.-Gen. André Deschamps, and the vice-chief of the defence staff,
Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson.
"It was decided there was no longer enough time to implement the ACE
proposal, and that the Air Force needed to re-focus its efforts on
finding an appropriate replacement capability," the briefing note says.
'The augmentation of the Aurora fleet will extend the lifespan of
these aircrafts to provide service at the best value for
taxpayers.'- Johanna Quinney, defence minister's press secretary
But it's not clear that re-focusing of Air Force efforts actually occurred.
The briefing notes suggest just a few months later, the Aurora
Capability Extension was back on the table, winding its way through
meetings of senior generals and into a so-called Capability-Based
"[The Aurora fleet] remains highly relevant to maritime surface
surveillance and with an appropriate sensor suite it will be highly
useful as an over-land [Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance]
platform," that assessment concluded.
In November 2012, the military tried to make its case to then Defence
Minister Peter MacKay in an "options assessment," and then again in a
Those document suggested without more of the fully modernized
Auroras, the military was at risk of failing to meet the duties set out
for it in the government's 2008 defence strategy.
Of course, that strategy had called for the military to acquire new
capabilities such as drones and an Aurora replacement aircraft by
2017. The briefing notes suggest the earliest date that now might happen
is 2020, and some Auroras could still be flying in 2030 — almost
50 years after they were introduced into the Canadian fleet.
Keeping the Auroras flying that long would require a large fleet of
upgraded planes. Last week's estimates suggest the government is willing
to go at least partway there, offering upgrades to four more Auroras,
bringing the size of the modernized fleet to 14.
It's not entirely clear what the upgrades mean for the government's
2008 promise to equip the Canadian Forces with new patrol aircraft or
drones, but it almost certainly means both programs are delayed.
That question was put to the office of Defence Minister Rob
Nicholson. His press secretary,
Johanna Quinney, responded by
email: "The RCAF has recommended that we modernize the Aurora.
"We are committed to maintaining our maritime surveillance capability and these upgrades will allow us to continue this role.
"The augmentation of the Aurora fleet will extend the lifespan of
these aircrafts to provide service at the best value for taxpayers."