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MULTI-MISSION AIRCRAFT – Replacement options for the CP-140

MULTI-MISSION AIRCRAFT – Replacement options for the CP-140

BY JOETEY ATTARIWALA

: The CP-140 is currently scheduled to retire from service in 2030 Credit: Corporal David Veldman, Combat Camera

CMMA Project

CDR asked Aviation Editor, Joetey Attariwala, to investigate and provide an analysis on all possible replacement options for the venerable CP-140 Aurora. Here is that report.

 As part of its defence policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged; the Government of Canada is seeking to replace the CP-140 Aurora fleet with a Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft (CMMA) for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).

Canada procured the CP-140 in 1980 as a long-range patrol aircraft that is Canada’s primary airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft. The Aurora provides a full range of maritime, littoral and overland surveillance capabilities for domestic and deployed missions in support of Canadian sovereignty and international objectives, as well as anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW), strike coordination, and search and rescue. It can also assist other government agencies to combat illegal fishing, pollution, drug trafficking, and more.

The CP-140 is by all accounts an incredibly capable platform which, in recent years, has seen considerable investments into the platform.

From an airframe perspective, new life was breathed into the platform through the Aurora Structural Life Extension Project (ASLEP) which involved replacing the wings and horizontal stabilizers on the entire fleet of aircraft, which extends the operational life of the CP-140 Aurora fleet to the 2030 timeframe — and research indicates that it is entirely possible the aircraft can viably operate into the 2030s.

From a mission capability perspective, the fleet has been modernized with a world-class Canadian-developed integrated mission suite with state-of-the-art avionics, communications systems, computer networks, and sensors. These improvements and enhancements are part of the Aurora Incremental Modernization Project (AIMP) which involves 23 individual projects to acquire, integrate and install new mission systems and sensors onto the CP-140 for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. This project is being executed in a phased approach with four Blocks; Blocks I, II and III are complete, and Block IV is in the implementation phase and is expected to be completed by December 2024.

The world-leading capability resident in the RCAF CP-140 Aurora has been highlighted in recent years from Aurora crews who competed against other allied aircraft at Exercise Sea Dragon, a premier multinational anti-submarine exercise which is hosted by the U.S. Navy at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam. The exercise includes over 270 hours of in-flight training, ranging from tracking simulated targets to the final challenge of tracking a United States Navy submarine at sea. Canada’s CP-140 and its crews were a back-to-back winner of the exercises’ coveted Sea Dragon Championship Belt, having won in 2021 and 2022, and this year placing 3rd in the competition, with the win going to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) P-1 multi-mission aircraft which is built by Kawasaki.

The CP-140 is currently scheduled to retire from service in 2030, so the Government of Canada has embarked on the process to procure a replacement fleet which is required to ensure Canada’s military has the equipment it needs to continue protecting Canadian sovereignty along its coastline.

A Request for Information (RFI) was released in February 2022 to obtain information from industry. Following engagements with industry and Canada’s closest allies, the government determined that the P-8A Poseidon, built by Boeing, is the only currently available aircraft that meets all of the CMMA operational requirements, namely anti-submarine warfare and C4ISR.

With a view to exploring this option in more detail, Canada has recently submitted a Letter of Request (LOR) through the United States government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program outlining Canada’s requirements and requesting an offer. These requirements include up to 16 P-8A Poseidon aircraft and associated equipment and initial servicing, as well as access to intellectual property and technical data.

The issuance of a LOR does not commit Canada to purchasing the P-8A Poseidon and the project remains in Options Analysis. The final decision will be based on the capability offered, availability, pricing and benefits to Canadian industry.

This article strives to touch on most of the options that are available or in development.

Boeing P-8 arrives in Ottawa during CANSEC 2023 Credit: Joetey Attariwala

BOEING P-8A 

CDR recently published a detailed feature on the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, which is the world’s newest and most prevalent multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft in operation with allied forces.

The platform is a proven capability that is operated by several of Canada’s defence partners including all of its Five Eyes allies: the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand; as well as Norway and South Korea. Germany has also recently purchased the platform.

As a prelude to the CANSEC trade show, Boeing hosted a media briefing about its P-8 solution for Canada, which included its Team Poseidon partners consisting of CAE, GE Aviation Canada, IMP Aerospace & Defence, KF Aerospace, Honeywell Aerospace Canada, Raytheon Canada, and Standard Aerospace.

Speaking at the briefing was Ted Colbert, Chief Executive Officer of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. “We are committed to Canada’s pursuit of peace and prosperity for those we defend and serve, and we are confident the unmatched P-8 capabilities – and our P-8 offering for Canada – reflect those ideals.”

Boeing currently has over 550 Canadian suppliers across all provinces, including 81 suppliers to the P-8 program. According to an independent study by economists at Ottawa-based Doyletech Corporation, the selection of the P-8 Poseidon for the CMMA requirement would generate annual benefits of nearly 3,000 jobs and $358 million in economic output to Canada.

Many are aware that the P-8 is based on the 737NG airframe, which is now manufactured solely for military applications. There is pressure on that production line as the U.S. Navy is nearing the end of its planned buys of the P-8, but what is unclear at the moment is if the U.S. Air Force (USAF) buy of the E-7 Wedgetail aircraft, which is also based on the 737NG, will alleviate the pressure on the production line. According to the U.S. Air Force production of a USAF-specific E-7 is to begin in 2025.

BOMBARDIER DEFENSE & GDMS-C

Relatively new to the CMMA discussion is Bombardier Defence, which is partnering with General Dynamics Mission Systems–Canada. You can find a detailed report on their solution on page 36 in this issue.

Leveraging their combined expertise, these Canadian-based companies are joining forces as Canada’s Multi-Mission Aircraft Team, and is basing their solution on the Global 6500 aircraft, which according to Bombardier is the right-sized jet for the CMMA with next-generation engines, long-range, high endurance, and coupled with proven reliability and superior fuel efficiency as documented in the jet’s recently published Environmental Product Declaration. The aircraft will play home to General Dynamics’ best-in-class integrated mission systems, drawing directly from experience developing and delivering the newly modernized CP-140 Block IV and CH-148 Cyclone.

This solution is a compelling one as a number of operators use the Global 6000/6500 for military applications, notably Saab with their GlobalEye multi-role airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) platform; Germany with their future Pegasus platform, and the United States with the E-ll BACN, and a contractor owned and operated technology demonstrator for the U.S. Army’s Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System (ARES), among others.

Although military customers use the Global 6000/6500, none to date have carried weapons. This is no small feat as it would require extensive engineering and test and evaluation to certify the capability. One can look at this as an opportunity to develop a capability.

With that said, the Bombardier solution would allow Canada to have sovereign control of intellectual property, it would deliver economic benefit to the country, and it would allow the potential to export.

P-4 & P-6 FROM PAL 

PAL Aerospace believes there exists a significant global market for missionized turboprop aircraft, especially in the MPA and ISR market. The unique capabilities in their P-4 solution, which is based on the Dash 8-400 platform, in combination with PAL’s demonstrated global capability as a full-service provider of specialized aircraft modification, technology integration and special missions operation, delivers a unique value proposition for clients looking for leading edge MPA and ISR programs. Although a very capable platform in its own right, the size, speed and endurance of the P-4 likely does not meet specifications for the CMMA.

PAL’s proposed P-6 multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft is based on the Global 6500. It leverages the company’s work on the P-4 MPA and could very well meet speed and range requirements, but it too faces the challenge of integration and certification of weapons capability. Another undeniable fact, the elephant in the room so-to-speak, is Bombardier is the OEM for the Global 6000/6500 so it holds an edge in numerous respects, but this should not imply that PAL isn’t capable of delivering on the requirement.

KAWASAKI P-1 

As Japan further opens its defence market to the world, the Kawasaki Heavy Industries Aerospace Company P-1 maritime patrol aircraft becomes a compelling solution which is, by all accounts, a very capable platform as noted with its success at Exercise Sea Dragon earlier this year.

The P-1 is a 4-engine turbofan aircraft which is replacing Japan’s fleet of turboprop Lockheed Martin P-3C Orions. The aircraft has an advanced mission system and sensors, and has the capacity to employ a number of weapon types through its bomb bay and external hardpoints. Designed to operate at high altitude and at low speeds closer to the water, the P-1’s closest analog is the P-8, which means it could be a strong option to deliver on CMMA requirements.

What cannot be overlooked however, is the P-1 has a comparatively small global footprint — Japan is the only operator thus far — which means the global supply chain for maintenance and support is equally small, and would therefore be a challenge for international operators.

With that said, Kawasaki is clearly watching the CMMA project as it had a presence at the CANSEC trade show.

ATR 72MP

The ATR 72MP is a twin-turboprop aircraft optimized for maritime patrol missions. The aircraft is manufactured by ATR, a joint venture led by Airbus and Leonardo, and retains the reliability, maintainability, low lifecycle cost and comfort features of the ATR 72-600 on which it is based, while also including a state-of-the-art mission system, advanced sensors and a complete communication suite. Current operators include the Turkish Navy, Italian Air Force, and Pakistan Navy.

The ATR 72MP features Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) capabilities which enable the monitoring of sea lane traffic, fisheries protection, counter smuggling and counter drug trafficking operations, exclusive economic zones (EEZ) patrol, as well as Search and Rescue (SAR) operations. The aircraft can also be used to transport personnel and materials, and can perform anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (AsuW) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) missions. The ATR 72ASW integrates the ATR 72MP mission system with similar on-board equipment, but with additional anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

As a turboprop aircraft, the ATR 72MP/ASW would be economical, but it would not have the speed, range or payload of some of the larger jet-powered maritime patrol aircraft.

LOCKHEED’S SEA HERC

Lockheed Martin has in the past showcased a Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA) based on their C-130J Super Hercules, dubbed the Sea Herc. The concept seems to be dormant at the moment, but the potential of a Hercules aircraft with MPA capability is incredibly compelling. In fact, the U.S. Coast Guard operates sensor laden Hercules aircraft in their mandate to conduct search and rescue. A dedicated Sea Herc variant seems to have been replaced with a kit solution for the Super Hercules since the aircraft has the size and power to accommodate roll-on / roll-off mission systems. Lockheed Martin, and the U.S. Department of Defense, have validated sensor and weapons capabilities for Super Hercules variants, like the U.S. Marine Corps KC-130J.

Torpedoes, to our knowledge, have not yet been employed by a Super Hercules, but a torpedo release system from the rear cargo area has been developed. What is most compelling about a Super Hercules solution is the additional capacity and commonality that it would bring to existing operators like Canada.

Replying to a query about the Hercules was Stephanie Sonnenfeld Stinn, a Lockheed Martin spokesperson who said, “We continue to review requirements and insights about the CMMA program as shared by the Government of Canada to determine our decision in offering the C-130J as a CMMA option.”

AIRBUS A320NEO

The Airbus Defence and Space C295 MPA is based on the proven C295 platform. The aircraft is capable of performing persistent ISR, ASW and ASuW missions. At its heart is the Next Generation Fully Integrated Tactical System (FITS). The C295 MPA detects, tracks and classifies underwater contacts using a combination of active and passive sonics, including multistatic capability, and a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD). In addition, the C295 MPA can carry out overland and electronic surveillance, with a high-performance radar, ESM / ELINT, COMINT and IMINT sensors.

Although a very capable solution, the C295 MPA, like the P-4 and the ATR 72MP/ASW, are limited in their speed, range and payload when compared to larger jet powered aircraft.

What is compelling however is Airbus’ MPA concept solution based on the A320neo. In early January, the French Defence Procurement Agency awarded Airbus a study contract for the architecture of a future maritime patrol aircraft based on the Airbus A320neo. In an online statement, Airbus said that the A320neo “is the most suitable platform among Airbus’ extensive airliners portfolio to be converted in order to respond to the full range of missions of the French Navy. It would be designed for long range maritime patrol (MPA) including the most demanding anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface (ASuW) missions.”

Airbus Defence and Security also provided a written statement to CDR regarding their interest in the CMMA: “Airbus Defence and Space continues to monitor the Canadian Multi-Mission Aircraft project. Airbus DS answered the RFI in 2022 to demonstrate our interest and will remain engaged in accordance with Canada’s decision on the way forward.”

OFFLOADING CAPABILITIES

With three oceans and an over-land ISR mandate, and the requirement to deploy as needed, the 14-strong CP-140 Aurora fleet has a lot of territory to cover, and now that it has a cutting-edge self-defence suite, it is more up to that challenge than ever before.

The Aurora has gone through a metamorphosis based on Canadian-developed technology, and that means there is considerable life in the platform yet. There is no doubt there are some dated systems on the aircraft which need attention, like air conditioning, which if upgraded would help the aircraft in terms of mission availability. Canada could also leverage the non-recurring engineering that has benefitted other P-3 operators, like the cockpit modernization that IMP Aerospace & Defence has installed for the Chilean Navy’s fleet of P-3s. Doing these things would further enhance the capability and reliability of the CP-140.

There are other factors to ponder because 14 aircraft (or 16 as outlined for the CMMA project) can only deliver so much effect, and there is no doubt that more aircraft are needed if Canada is truly serious about the threats that exist.

For example, (personnel issues notwithstanding) the RCAF could keep the CP-140 in light of the considerable investment Canada has made into the fleet, which is still being implemented as previously mentioned, and augment it with a new CMMA fleet.

The intent of this article is meant to encourage discussion, so if one were to further broaden the aperture of “what-ifs,” what if the RCAF re-rolled the sensor-laden CC-295 Kingfisher from its Fixed Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) role into a littoral and maritime patrol / ISR aircraft — thereby freeing up the CP-140 for high-end operational requirements — and allowing the Government to seek out another platform for the FWSAR mission.

Similarly, the forthcoming Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) could download some of the ISR work that the CP-140 does, or the CMMA for that matter, thereby enabling either to focus on ASW and ASuW.

How about integrating the Canadian-developed GDMS-C mission system on the P-8, the P-1 or any other potential CMMA platform? That is easier said than done, but if the Canadian mission system is something the country truly values, then it is something to think about.

What is clear is that there are various permutations of capabilities that could fulfill the requirements of the CMMA project. Some ideas are noted above, and they feed the notion that the Canadian government should indeed take the time to explore all options available to them. This will ensure the RCAF and the Canadian Armed Forces have both the mass and the capability that will be needed in the future.

Joetey Attariwala is CDR’s Aviation Editor

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