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Forces said no to overhauling of Hercules

Bidder's proposal would have cost less than half of C-130J fleet price

David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen, 27 Dec 06

Article Link

 

Canada was offered a chance to acquire aircraft specially designed for an Afghanistan-type war for less than half of the price of the new fleet of C-130J Super Hercules the government plans to purchase.

 

Government officials, however, decided against the proposal from a U.S. company, Snow Aviation International, whose plan was to overhaul the Canadian Forces' existing C-130 Hercules so they could land and take off from short runways in war zones such as Afghanistan.

 

Snow Aviation was one of the firms vying for the multibillion-dollar project to provide a replacement for the military's existing C-130 Hercules aircraft. Lockheed Martin was selected as the winner with its C-130J, a newer version of the C-130.

 

Negotiations are now under way to purchase 17 C-130Js.

 

But Snow officials say Canada missed an excellent opportunity to get a plane capable of working in Afghanistan and on other counterinsurgency operations while saving more than $1 billion that could be used to buy other needed gear.

 

The company's Hercules modernization package, developed with funding from the U.S. air force, involves installing a new tail, engines, propellers and new wings. The length of the Hercules would be extended to allow it to carry more equipment and the modifications would allow it to land and take off on short, austere runways. The cockpit would also be modernized.

 

The result would be new, certified planes with 25-year-plus service life.

 

Each plane would cost about $40 million U.S., said company president Harry Snow, a C-130 pilot with combat experience.

 

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has told the Commons that Canada will be paying Lockheed about $85 million U.S. for each C-130J.

 

Mr. Snow said his proposal had additional savings for Canada because the modernization package uses the support and maintenance equipment the military already has now for its existing C-130s. Mr. Snow said he knew his firm was facing an uphill battle in persuading the Canadian government to go with the cheaper proposal. "They had the requirements for that program written for a new airplane," he said.

 

In addition, defence officials tend to want to work with larger companies rather than smaller aerospace firms, Mr. Snow added.

 

But he maintains that his firm could deliver the modernized aircraft well before Canada will receive new planes from Lockheed.

 

The Snow Aviation package was put together by former Lockheed Martin engineers and the designer of U.S. special operations aircraft such as the Specter gunship.

 

Mr. Snow, who has several thousand hours flying Hercules, said the C-130 is an excellent aircraft, but the C-130J has had a series of serious deficiencies. Last year, some Canadian military officers raised concerns about problems with the C-130J.

 

But Lockheed Martin representatives say there are no issues with the plane and that it meets all of Canada's needs. The C-130J also recently received a big boost from Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier, who said he is confident the aircraft is the right one for the job and that pilots love the plane.

 

Aerospace consultant Ben Works said the savings offered by the Snow Aviation proposal and the new capabilities in its modernization package was a deal that should not have been passed up.

 

"We're talking about well over a billion dollars you can save and that Canada could invest in other very needed assets," said Mr. Works, who had been employed in the past as a Snow Aviation consultant. He is now working at the Pentagon in the intelligence branch.

 

Mr. Works said the C-130J and similar aircraft are "irrelevant to counterinsurgency warfare" such as in Afghanistan. "What you need is high-capacity, low stall speed, short landing and takeoff," he said. "That's what we're all going to need."

 

The Snow Aviation C-130s would also have more robust landing gear installed to handle landings and takeoffs from remote runways. The company could upgrade any of the existing C-130s in the Canadian Forces inventory, Mr. Works said.

 

Public Works spokesman Pierre Manoni said the government can't get into specific details about the Snow Aviation proposal because of privacy regulations. He said the selection process for the Hercules replacement was fair, open and transparent.


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