New paint scheme for search-res­cue planes

Air­craft could be used in com­bat mis­sions

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - CLASSIFIED - DAVID PUGLIESE

Canada’s new search-an­dres­cue 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-an­dres­cue 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-an­dres­cue air­craft such as the Cor­morant he­li­copters.

“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-an­dres­cue 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-an­dres­cue air­craft as a way to in­stead out­fit it­self with a new fleet of multi-mis­sion trans­port planes.

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 for 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-an­dres­cue.

“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.

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