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Securing Airlift for the DND

A Look at the Options

September 27, 2007  By Fred Petrie

317-dndThis is the first in a series on freighter aircraft. We begin with an
examination of the Department of National Defence’s airlift
requirements. The second article will review the freighter aircraft in
current civil use, and this will be followed by developments in the
large, medium and small categories of freighter aircraft.

Liberal government announced a New Tactical Aircraft Project last Nov.
22. This was to be expedited to replace some of our 40-yearold Hercules
transports; it would also support the April, 2005 Defence Policy
Statement that called on DND to “acquire, or ensure access to, the
right mix of capabilities to meet the increasing requirements for
domestic, global, and intheatre airlift.”

On Dec. 13, the
Conservative Party’s Defence Policy promised: “A fleet of at least
three heavy strategic lift aircraft.” By the time you read this, the
new government may well have launched the acquisition of new airlift
capability for the Canadian Forces. This report looks at DND’s current
capabilities as well as its emerging airlift requirements. Few will
dispute that there is a substantial gap between the requirements and
the capability, but there are many views on how the gap might best be

Airlift is differentiated as strategic or tactical. The
‘Aerospace Capability Framework’ published by DND in 2003 distinguished
inter-theatre versus intratheatre. The definitions are fluid so here
are some arbitrary distinctions: Strategic airlift moves large payloads
over a long range, let’s say over 100,000 lbs over 5,000 miles –
basically, intercontinental. Tactical would cover aircraft with
payloads greater than 10,000 lbs delivered over at least 500 miles,
generally domestic deployments or intheatre. Tactical can also
encompass utility roles, say under 10,000 lbs payload and less than
500-mile full range and can include both fixedwing and rotary-wing used
in-theatre and in ‘special operations.’ A special requirement is for
‘Outsized Cargo,’ specifically for the army. It now takes three
Hercules flights to transport two disassembled LAV III vehicles. To
simplify the discussion, we will assume that any serious strategic
airlift contenders are large enough to drive in a LAV III.


what are we starting with? The only aircraft in the fleet that might be
classed as strategic is the CC-150 Polaris, the Airbus A310, acquired
originally by Wardair, then by Canadian when it bought Wardair, and
sold to DND as one of the bailouts that kept Canadian alive. The five
Polaris operated by 437 Sqn in Trenton, Ontario carry up to 194
passengers or 32,000 kg of freight with a range of 11,500 km; two have
just been outfitted for aerial refueling of CF18s (next time we send
some to Kosovo!).

The Air Force has operated the CC-130 Hercules
since 1960 and had acquired 32 of various models by 1991. The older
ones are seriously rusting out, and replacing them with 16 new tactical
aircraft is DND’s first priority; many feel the tender will be rigged
to have only the latest C130J meet the requirements, including early
delivery. The ‘Herc’ can haul 36,000 lbs or up to 90 troops (or 64
paratroops or 74 litters) over 2,400 miles. The Hercs are also used for
search & rescue and for aerial refuelling. There is no question
that the Herc has been the mainstay of DND’s airlift capability for the
past 40 years, and the generals’ desire to get more is understandable,
but this article is about looking at all the options.

There is
one other aircraft that could be called tactical and that is the CC-115
Buffalo acquired in 1967. The Air Force’s last six Buffs are now
devoted to search & rescue, but the Buff could carry 18,000 lbs
almost 700 miles, according to Arctic Sunwest, the only civil operator
in Canada. These performance figures compare very well with today’s
smaller tactical aircraft contenders by Alenia and CASA. It is too bad
the de Havilland Buffalo is long out of production as it might well
meet DND’s needs for a new fixed-wing S&R aircraft just as well and
a lot more cost-effectively than the European competitors.

So that is Canada’s airlift today; what will it need for tomorrow? The Air Force’s ‘Vision’ gives some context.

goal of the Air Force is to provide the Government of Canada with an
effective instrument of national power. The Vision of the transformed
Aerospace Force is as follows:

The Air Force will be transformed
from a primarily static, platform-based organization into an
expeditionary, network-enabled, capability-based and resultsfocused
Aerospace Force that will effectively contribute to security at home
and abroad well into the 21st Century. We will continue to be a quality
force based on teamwork, excellence and professionalism.

The Air
Force talks about the Expeditionary Concept, the ability to “deploy
anywhere, anytime and on very short notice” with a “level of
deployability that is predictable, sustainable and supportable.”

what does that mean? Perhaps DND will move past its traditional
approach to defining requirements in terms of aircraft number and
performance; for example, the new tactical aircraft requirement has
been defined as 16 aircraft. Where does that come from? Why not 15? Or
17? Military requirement definitions tend to specify high standards of
performance. I recall the original maritime helicopter replacement
tender (the one Jean Chrétien cancelled). The chosen EH101 was the only
one that met the high requirements, when the requirements were that we
could only buy 15. I remember analyzing the bids and that we could have
bought 28 of the competitor for the same cost. Who is to say that 28 of
a slightly less capable model were not better value for our tax money
than 15 EH101s? Are we in for a similar result in the New Tactical
Aircraft project?

Capt Jim Hutcheson of Air Force Public Affairs
advised me that last April’s Defence Policy Statement called for Air
Force airlift to support two international and one domestic deployment
concurrently. Today that would have us in Afghanistan and Haiti, with
airlift available domestically for the next Quebec ice storm, Manitoba
flood or BC earthquake. That approach is a step in the right direction
of defining performance-based requirements such as: DND needs to move x
amount of y personnel and z materials from a to b in c time. That would
not only open the competition to different combinations of aircraft
capabilities but would be open to alternative approaches as well. After
all, the Defence Policy only calls on the Air Force to “acquire, or
ensure access to, the right mix of capabilities.” Already, the Cyclone
and the New Tactical projects call for 20-year maintenance agreements
as well. The next step would be alternative financing, to lease rather
than buy. Then there are contract operations and resourcesharing
approaches. Any of these approaches might meet the policy need to
“ensure access to.”

What are the contending aircraft platform
options? The leading military strategic air lifter today is the C17
Galaxy (presumably, what the Tories have in mind). There is no question
that it is the most capable, but it is also the most expensive. Where
is the best value for money in the cost/capability trade-off? Do we
really need to land 100,000 lbs or 200 troops on a rough and short
runway, or even air drop them? Or could we get away, nine times out of
ten, with landing on the nearest 7,000-ft paved runway and shuttling to
theatre with tactical aircraft? Admittedly, this is not the traditional
approach in military procurement.

Beyond the limited capbility
of the Polaris, Canada now meets its strategic air lift needs by either
hitching rides in US aircraft, when there is space, or by chartering
airlift from civil operators, most often the Antonov 124. The AN124 was
the Soviet Union’s strategic air lifter and there are efforts to
restart its production. It would be much less costly than the C17, and
has de facto been Canada’s strategic airlifter this past decade. To
make it a contender, we may have to rule out spurious requirements,
like having civil certification, that have nothing to do with military
requirements. There are many civil aircraft that could meet strategic
requirements. The Airbus A380 will carry the most. The Boeing 747,
older 200, newer 400 and the latest X models are the most common
long-haul freighters today, and there are various other freighter
versions of widebody civil aircraft that might be considered strategic.
Why not consider civil aircraft for the strategic requirements? We
already use the A310.

Other new aircraft in contention for
Canada’s Air Force blur the line between strategic and tactical. The
new Airbus 400M would be in the top end of the tactical category
definition with a payload of 80,000 lbs. Several European air forces
expect it to serve their airlift requirements, never mind the tactical/
strategic distinction. Unfortunately, it will not be available in time
to meet Canada’s urgent needs.

Table 1, while admittedly simplistic, illustrates the effect of defining requirements in terms of number of aircraft platforms.

16 aircraft of the New Tactical Aircraft project imply a need to move
up to 686,400 lbs at a time. The most costeffective option to meet such
a performance requirement would be four C-17s at $1.06 billion. The
same ‘performance’ requirement needs nine A400Ms costing $1.3 billion.
Meeting the same 686,400-lb requirement with 16 C130Js costs $2.16
billion. Reportedly, Gen Rick Hillier defended the number-of-aircraft
approach by saying “quantity has its own quality,” presumably meaning
that 16 C130Js would give the Air Force more flexibility in responding
to varied demands. My only question is whether that flexibility benefit
is worth over $1 billion? We had best be satisfied that it is before we
buy 16 C130Js over four C- 17s. I suspect that the Air Force leaders
prefer the C130J because they need the tactical flexibility more often,
and in the occasional pinch, more C130Js can do a strategic haul. That
may well be true, and the most cost-effective use of limited resources,
but if so, let’s be up front about it in the way the requirements are

We now turn our attention to tactical aircraft. The Air
Force’s requirement for a fixed-wing S&R aircraft to replace the
Buffalos and older Hercs has two contenders, the Alenia C27J Spartan
and the CASA CN235 or its stretched 295 version. (I have included the
DHC5D Buffalo in the table to show it could be competitive if still in
production, with numbers between the CASA models while having the best
STOL performance.

The trend, given the development of more
powerful engines, has been away from three- and four-engine
configurations to twin engines. The Herc is the largest tactical
aircraft but all the others are twin-engine, which would be more
economical to operate. Would four Spartans do the job of three Hercs –
with the economy of eight engines instead of 12? On the other hand, if
the Air Force actually had real strategic airlift (with outsize
capacity) available, would the tactical role really require a
Herc-sized aircraft? Recent reports have suggested that the US Air
Force in Iraq and Afghanistan is finding the Herc too large for many
in-theatre roles and has identified a need for a three-pallet/20-troop
size of tactical aircraft. The smaller CASA (or Buffalo if only it were
available) could meet that role. A smaller tactical aircraft might also
fill many utility roles, such as northern patrol and search &

This analysis has led me to the conclusion that the Air
Force’s overall airlift requirements really depend on how it acquires
or ensures access to strategic airlift. If it could indeed acquire or
ensure access to true strategic airlift, its options for tactical and
utility airlift would be broader.

The economics are an issue of
utilization. C-17 or AN124 aircraft are rarely needed, but when they
are, it is right now. DND could buy them (the Tories’ three C17s), or
it could continue to rent them (AN 124s). Or it could acquire the
largest tactical transports to do double duty in strategic roles (as
Hillier seems to prefer). Are there any other choices? Two have been
identified. DND could share them, most likely with the US Air Force.
The idea would be to get more use out of them by using them for other
air forces’ needs, while getting more aircraft backup from our partners
when Canada needed more airlift. But there are too many political
questions in that option for this report. Alternatively, the Air Force
could acquire a sufficient fleet to meet its peak needs, say five or
six, then try to increase utilization by chartering them out to other
allied air forces; I understand the Royal Air Force planned to do that
with the C17s it leased.

Chrétien’s approach to renting
strategic airlift had two shortcomings. One is accessibility when
Canada needs them, as they could be busy elsewhere. Secondly, there are
limits on what the military can ask a civil contractor to do, with
respect to flying in harm’s way. And it would be nice if there were a
Canadian carrier to charter rather than having to charter foreign

Here is my own contribution for the Air Force and
politicians to consider – a public-private-partnership. The triple-P
approach is widely used across the public sector. No Canadian carrier
now has a strategic airlift capability, but a DND Request For Proposals
for 2,000 hours per year of 150,000-lb capacity may just be the anchor
client that a Canadian operator might need to invest in C17 or B747
sized freighter aircraft. Routine use could be scheduled such that they
could fly civil freight to China and India Monday to Friday, then a
resupply to Afghanistan on the weekend, ensuring economic aircraft
utilization through combining civil and military needs. But the terms
of the contract would have them available to DND on a few hours notice
to provide a DART to earthquake victums or to stop a genocide in
progress. The civil half of the PPP would also support a reserve
squadron so that all the crews would be in the Air Force and under
orders for whatever the military mission required.

The win-win
is that the Air Force ensures access to strategic airlift, at the most
affordable approach of ‘renting’, while the DND anchor customer gives a
Canadian carrier the business base it needs to establish international
freighter services.

I read with
interest the recent article in Wings Magazine (Vol 47, Issue 2,
March/April 2006) titled Securing Airlift for the DND – A look at the
options by Fred Petrie. While your assessment of the airlift situation
in Canada and the options available to DND are accurate, I would like
to correct a few points that could significantly impact the conclusions
a reader may surmise from the article and because this is the first in
a series about freighter aircraft.

The Hercules version that is
being offered to the Department of National Defence as Lockheed
Martin’s solution for the Airlift Capabilities Program (Tactical
Aircraft Replacement) is the equivalent of the United States Air Force
C-130J-30 Super Hercules. In fairness, the cited source of your
information was inaccurate (Source: Globe and Mail, page A8, December,

The specific statistics that require revision are in the table below:

C-130J-30 Specification

Cost ($ in Millions): Less than $80M Cdn

Cost per ton: Less than $3.3 Cdn

Gross Weight: 164,000 lbs

Payload: 48,000 lbs

Cabin Length: 55 ft (Not Including usable ramp space of 10’ 8”. ½ pallet on ramp.)

Pallets: 8 (24 CDS containers, 97 Litters)

Troops: 128 (92 paratroopers, 128 troops)

you can see, the basic assumption on price leads the reader to believe
that the C-130J is both expensive and inefficient to operate. Utilizing
the correct price reveals that it is the most efficient option and 16
C-130J-30s could be purchased for the same price as 4 C-17s or about 7
A400Ms. Plus, the majority of infrastructure required to support and
operate the C-130J-30 is common with the existing Hercules fleet and is
located at CF Bases already.

Based on current USAF, RAF, RAAF,
RDAF and Italian operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, the typical
tactical load is 3 x 463L pallets and 75 pax. The operating environment
is also typically at high pressure altitudes and in hot temperatures
which greatly effects engine performance. In the mountainous terrain of
Afghanistan, engine out performance becomes a safety issue. In these
environments, a four engine platform provides the reserve power to
carry heavier loads and climb out of threat areas, atmospheric
performance and safety required to assure mission success.


Peter Simmons Communications Manager, Air Mobility Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company


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