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INDUSTRY PROFILE – Bell Textron Canada

INDUSTRY PROFILE – Bell Textron Canada

BY JAMES CARELESS

The V-280 will more than double the speed and range currently achieved with conventional helicopters 

Going Full TILT

Any time a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) CH-146 Griffon helicopter flies overhead, it exemplifies the longstanding relationship between Bell Textron Canada Limited (Bell) and the CAF. The relationship between the two dates back to the 1970s, when the CAF was equipped with the CH-135 Twin-Huey and CH-136 Kiowa helicopters and its Combat Support units with the Bell 205. Twenty years later, all three fleets were replaced by a procurement of 100 CH-146 Griffon helicopters, most of which remain in service today.

To keep the CAF’s helicopter capabilities up-to-date, Bell is supporting through two projects. The first is the Griffon Limited Life Extension (GLLE) contract, which will extend the life of the RCAF’s 85 CH-146s to at least 2031. The second is the CH-146 Optimized Weapon System Support (OWSS) contract, where Bell keeps our CH-146s flying through the provision of

aircraft maintenance services, consumable and spare parts, engineering and technical publications, and a range of management services.

Bell is also looking to the future of CAF non-fixed wing flight, which the RCAF is exploring through its next Tactical Aviation Capability Set (nTACS) project. As a true leader in next-generation rotary wing aircraft, Bell has some solid suggestions to fulfill Canada’s nTACs needs.

GLLE 

The updates being implemented into Canada’s CH-146s under the GLLE are sweeping. They include replacing avionics systems such as automatic flight control systems, cockpit voice and flight recorders, communications radios and cryptographic equipment, control display units, and navigation systems. The Griffon’s cockpit displays and engines will also be upgraded under the GLLE, and its sensor systems will be integrated to improve onboard data sharing and situational Awareness.

“The GLLE will span up until 2028, and the new designation for this aircraft will be CH-146C Griffon MK II,” said Marc Bigaouette, Bell’s Director of Canadian Government Programs. “The project is now in implementation and the first aircraft will fly in Q1 of 2024.”

The RCAF’s CH-146s are being upgraded through GLLE & OWSS

LOOKING AHEAD  

The CAF’s past and present helicopter missions have been varied and challenging. Looking to the future, Bigaouette expects more of the same.

“If one considers the deployed and domestic mandates assigned to the CAF and the wide spectrum of capabilities delivered by the Griffon fleet at home and abroad, there is a high likelihood that the RCAF will seek to retain an inventory of multirole assets to deliver the widest possible range of capabilities,” he told CDR. “The new Tactical Aviation Capability Set (nTACS) is the project which we understand will seek to deliver the right mix of assets required to provide these tactical air mobility capabilities from 2035 on.”

One key consideration for the Canadian military is likely to be the evolving threats to Canadian and international security from hostile players and the next-generation rotary lift trends that are emerging with some of our closest allies.

US ARMY REQUIREMENTS 

A case in point: “The US Army has stood up the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) concept which is broken down in two major programs: FARA (Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft) for which Bell will compete the 360 Invictus; and FLRAA (Future Long Range Assault Aircraft), which Bell won in December 2022 with the V280 Valor tiltrotor to replace the Blackhawk,” said Bigaouette. “This last choice is a recognition that speed and range — which translate into reach — will be key elements of military success going forward.”

As a tiltrotor platform, the V-280 will more than double the speed and range currently achieved with conventional helicopters. “On the battlefield, this will translate into an ability to support land forces and Special Operations Forces (SOF) without unduly exposing aviation assets, it will deliver enhanced survivability and the ability to relocate forces in much less time,” Bigaouette said. “In addition to the United States, a number of Canada’s closest allies are showing interest in this platform. This being the case, the capabilities, speed and range associated with this FLRAA are likely to become key elements of interoperability for our own armed forces.”

These points alone are enough to make the V-280 a prime contender for the eventual nTACs contract. But that’s not all: Two of Canada’s greatest air mobility challenges are the sheer size of our country and the scarcity of infrastructures (roads and runways) to support aircraft beyond 200 miles of the Canada-US border. In this context, a tiltrotor platform that can deliver speeds that are near those of fixed-wing aircraft while offering helicopter-style runway independence, offers Canada a degree of reach, flexibility and responsiveness that is unmatched.

“A tiltrotor such as the V-280, if strategically deployed in three locations, could reach without assistance any point of the Canadian landmass — North to South and East to West — within less than a day,” said Bigauotte. “If one considers the evolving security environment in the Canadian Arctic and the ever-increasing accessibility of the Northwest passage that comes as a result of the melting icecap, a tiltrotor could offer options to the Government of Canada that it will most likely require but does not currently have.”

Adopting tiltrotor technology could also offer the RCAF the possibility of fleet rationalization. While the immediate focus of the V-280’s development will be on its military applications, the unmatched versatility that this platform can offer would support a number of other roles such as logistic support and Search and Rescuer capabilities.

“In this context, the RCAF may wish to consider a tiltrotor to eventually replace Twin-Otters in Yellowknife,” Bigaouette said. “Tiltrotor technology could also offer the opportunity of consolidating both aspects of the SAR mandate under one platform for inland missions, which are currently assigned to a mix of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.” Canada has an opportunity to join the US Army and other key allies during the development phase of this platform to make informed decisions as to the path it wishes to pursue in 2035 and potentially as a way to bring Canadian considerations to the table. 

The bottom line: Bell Textron Limited Canada is as ready to support the CAF in the future as it has in the past. In fact, the impressive multirole capabilities of the V-280 tiltrotor may result in Bell doing more to support Canada than ever before.

James Careless is CDR’s Ottawa Bureau Chief

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