Simplicity with Wings
Spain’s connection with the maritime environment is an historic one. In the sixteenth century, its ships explored the oceans, patrolled the seas against pirates and transported soldiers and cargoes between the Old World and New. Today, the country of the galleons and conquistadores is hoping to repeat its success with the CASA-295.
The twin turbo-prop military transporter is a stretched version of its 1980s CN-235, with the same highwing, rear loading configuration. Built by then state-owned CASA (Construccionnes Aeronauticas SA), the CN-235 (also called the Persuader) was a success in the maritime patrol role. It fit the budgets of small air arms such as the Irish Air Corps and Columbian security forces as well as the requirements of a super power like the United States – where designated as the HC-235, it is currently used by the US Coast Guard for its Integrated Deepwater System (IDS) Program (www.useg.mil/deepwater).
In May 2003, the US Coast Guard announced the CASA 235-300M was the best choice for its medium range surveillance Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Its capability for immediate aerial delivery of search and rescue equipment such as rafts, pumps, and flares was important to the US Coast Guard. They realized that it could serve as an on-scene commander platform when outfitted with the IDS Command and Control (C2) System.
Coupled with a state-of-the-art C4ISR suite, the C-235 was seen to be particularly effective at locating targets in a large search area and vectoring “prosecution assets” to the target. The US Coast Guard sale is CASA’s greatest contract to date.
Currently part of the European aerospace giant, EADS, the Spanish manufacturer is able to call on, and use, the best available aviation technologies from Germany, Britain, France and now Poland where some of the C-295 aircraft will be built. The Spanish firm has just obtained a 5% stake in the wholly owned EADS Eurocopter, tying CASA closer to the Franco-German conglomerate.
At a time when aircraft development is prone to cost overruns and delays, EADS CASA is selling the C-295 as a cost-effective means of securing borders and protecting resources.
The basic design has been improved to make the aircraft multi-role, such as for transport of freight, medevac and paratroops. Avionics were upgraded with a glass cockpit, with four Thales liquid crystal colour displays including radar, TCAS, and a global positioning warning system. For operating in areas of hostile conditions, radar “warners” and chaff/flare dispensers can be fitted.
The C-295 MSA (Maritime Surveillance Aircraft) flew in 2001 with the latest antisubmarine mission sensors and the EADS Fully Integrated Tactical System. This consists of four multi-function consoles that can integrate data from the sensors. The advantage couples the sensor suite to the mission requirement and with forward-looking infra red (FLIR) and TV cameras allows the aircraft to be configured to any number of missions: from SAR to maritime surveillance, anti-submarine warfare, homeland security to fisheries protection. The colour weather radar, a Honeywell RDR-1400C has search, beacon and vertical navigation ground mapping modes. It is basic off-the-shelf technology and at a bargain price. Cesar Arteaga, Director of Sales in Canada, emphasizes that a customer can chose a basic platform and then tailor it to his needs. All MSA airframes are treated with ant-corrosive material.
Naturally, the Spanish Ministry of Defence was the launch customer with an order for nine C-295 in 1999. Other orders have come from Poland (8), United Arab Emirates Navy (4) Brazilian Air Force (12) for its Amazon monitoring project, the Swiss Air Force (2), and the Royal Jordanian Air Force (2).
In most of these competitions, the C-295 was competing with the LM Alenia C-27J and the An-32. The Brazilian competition had similarities with Canada’s requirement, as the C-295s were bought to replace their obsolete C-115s.
Like the aircraft it hopes to replace, the CASA-295 is good value, affordable and well-tested. But the Canadian military has never bought Spanish aircraft, and after the turbot war and the arrest of Spanish trawlers in 1995, it is ironic that it is now being offered a Spanish-built MSA that will protect our maritime assets.
However, in what might be CASA’s greatest advantage in its Canadian sales pitch, the C-295’s PW127G turboprops are Canadian-made, built at the Pratt & Whitney Canada plant in Longueuil, Quebec.
Whether the Canadian Forces chooses the C-295 or not, the sale of every aircraft employs Canadians and is an export earner for this country. Should Canada consider a future purchase of EADS A400 military airlifter, the C-295 is the perfect lead-in to the European aerospace market.
Peter Pigott is an aviation author whose twelfth book “Taming the Skies: A Celebration of Canadian Flight” has just been published.
© FrontLine Defence 2004