Defence department upgrades surveillance aircraft

Thales Systems Canada has been awarded a $111 million contract to upgrade the communications capabilities in 18 of Canada’s surveillance aircraft.

The Ottawa-based company has about three-and-a-half years to deliver

a communications management system (CMS) in the CP-140 Aurora aircraft. Its primary function is to monitor the Canadian coastline, but is also used for search and rescue missions.

Maj. Bernard Goyette with the Department of National Defence is the group manager for the install. He says the equipment is being replaced because with a procurement data that goes back more than 20 years — the planes were bought in 1980 — an upgrade was due. The legacy gear will be replaced by technology from a number of suppliers. Palomar Products will provide the intercom system, for example, while Rockwell Collins and Raytheon will supply radios. CMC Electronics of Kanata, Ont. is responsible for the software to control the radios. All the pieces will be assembled by the IMP Group International Inc. of Halifax.

Goyette says the advancing age of the plane was not the only factor that influenced the decision to give the fleet an overhaul.

“”(We needed) to improve commonality and interoperability with our allies as well as the army and the navy. That’s why we’ve got wider range, wider band coverage,”” Goyette says. “”We found the new operations involve far more stakeholders and partners; we’re no longer operate in isolation. We’re supporting different assets.””

Some of the changes are driven by air traffic control regulation. The VHF AM modernization, for instance. The VHF AM band in Europe is going to be broken in 8.33khz increments compared to the old 25 or 20. The government needs to have a control panel that will be able to select these frequencies, Goyette says.

Malcolm Dunne, a communications systems manager at Thales, is one of the people responsible for piecing the solution together. He says the first 18 months of the project will consist of the preliminary and detailed design phase and the construction of a hot bench, “”a laboratory version of all of the communications equipment that will eventually be installed on the aircraft.””

The next step is to create a prototype followed by ground and flight test. After this is the proof-of-fit stage when Dunne says everything should be in working order. Come February 2005 the upgrade on the remaining 16 planes will begin. The process is expected to last three months per plane, says Goyette, two months for installation and one month of ground and flight testing.

This isn’t the first government contract win for Thales. Dunne says it has also done work for the army and the navy. He says there is more to getting public sector bids than submitting the lowest offer.

“”You’ve got to pay very close attention to the request for proposal, all the requirements and the evaluation plan. The killer is non-compliance. When they say they want something and it’s mandatory you’ve got to give them that,”” Dunne says.

“”Price is important, but this was not a lowest compliant bidder type of procurement: it was what they term best value. So they look at the overall technical solution and the price and weight it.””

The planes, which typically carry a misson crew of about 12 to 15 people, are located in 19 Wing Comox in British Columbia and 14 Wing Greenwood in Nova Scotia.

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