Canada’s new search-and-rescue aircraft will abandon their familiar yellow paint scheme, instead getting a makeover that will allow them to be used in other missions, including combat.
The Royal Canadian Air Force has requested that its new fleet of 16 search-and-rescue planes be painted tactical grey and have asked for a change in the original contract which stipulated a yellow colour scheme.
The C-295W, being built by Airbus, will replace the main search-and-rescue fleet of six Buffalo aircraft as well as the Hercules transport planes which are also used at times in a search-and-rescue role.
The Buffalos are painted yellow, as are Canada’s other fully dedicated search-and-rescue aircraft such as the Cormorant helicopters.
|Royal Canadian Air Force staff board a Brazilian C-295W plane Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at CFB Trenton, Ont. Luke Hendry/Belleville Intelligencer/Postmedia Network|
“The RCAF has made the decision to use a grey colour scheme for the C-295W fleet to enable surging flexibility for the very wide range of missions the RCAF is required to conduct, from humanitarian and disaster relief missions, to security missions with partners, and all the way to full spectrum operations,” Department of National Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said Thursday.
He noted that the Hercules used in the search-and-rescue role are painted grey so they can be used in missions other than rescue.
Sources inside DND, however, have raised concerns about what they say is a unilateral decision by the RCAF leadership. They worry the RCAF used the opportunity to replace the search-and-rescue aircraft as a way to instead outfit itself with a new fleet of multi-mission transport planes.
They said at the time that it provided the high visibility needed for search-and-rescue, both for those in the air and on the ground
When the Liberal government awarded the contract to Airbus in December 2016, cabinet ministers highlighted the importance of having the right aircraft for the search-and-rescue job. “With this technology, we are giving our women and men in uniform the tools they need to continue to deliver effective and essential search and rescue operations,” defence minister Harjit Sajjan said at the time
RCAF insiders defended the change in the paint scheme, saying any aircraft can be called upon to be used in a variety of missions, including in an overseas war zone.
Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said it was the Canadian Forces that decided to switch to the yellow paint scheme in the 1970s because it aided in search-and-rescue. “They said at the time that it provided the high visibility needed for search-and-rescue, both for those in the air and on the ground,” said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University.
The Buffalos, first purchased in 1967, are key to search-and-rescue on the west coast and in parts of the Rockies and the yellow paint scheme was deemed to be an advantage in those situations.
Shadwick said the decision to have the new fleet of planes available for potential overseas missions raises new questions. Under the existing contract, private-sector employees are going to play the main role in maintaining the planes.
“So, if you are now going to use the C-295 in a front-line role, maybe even as combat transport, does that mean your private-sector workers go along on the overseas mission?” Shadwick said.
The project to buy new search-and-rescue planes took more than a decade. In 2004 the then-Liberal government announced the program as a priority. The project was re-announced by the Conservatives in 2006; the contract was supposed to be awarded in 2009 but continued being delayed for years.
Other questions have also been raised about the purchase. After the contract was awarded, it emerged that the Canadian government made a last-minute change to the amount of money available to spend on its new fleet, but didn’t bother informing the bidders trying to win the contract. Though the program’s budget jumped from $3.4 billion to $4.7 billion, the losing bidder, Italian aerospace firm Leonardo, was still under the impression Canada could only afford to spend the lesser amount and cried foul after tailoring its bid based on that information.