No replacement for RCAF Snowbirds, the Tutor to be kept until 2030

Canada upgrade Snowbirds Tutor
RCAF Snowbirds aerobatic team.

The Government of Canada has launched a $ 30 million program to keep the Canadian Air Force's current Snowbirds jets operational for another nine years, postponing procurement of a new platform.

A replacement for the Snowbirds could cost up to $1.5 billion, an expense the Liberal government would have difficulty justifying at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is damaging the economy and fuelling record levels of spending, according to military officers. Instead, the government decided to modernize the old plane that entered the RCAF inventory in 1963.

Public Services and Procurement Canada awarded a $ 26 million single source contract to L3 Harris on March 11 to develop a new avionics suite for Tutors. Subsequently, an additional contract will be signed to install the new equipment, bringing the total cost of the project to $ 30 million.

The modernization will include a variety of new equipment, including electronic flight display systems and navigation and communication equipment.

"The initial operating capability of four modified aircraft is scheduled for October 2022 with modifications to all remaining aircraft by end-2024," said Department of National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande.

The CT-114 Tutor aircraft have been used by the Snowbirds since 1971. The Tutors were supposed to be retired in 2010, but that date was then extended to 2020. The latest extension allows the aircraft to fly until at least 2030.

The RCAF, however, is facing a potential dilemma with the replacement of the aircraft. The federal government would like the aerobatic team to continue operating as it is seen as a key tool for sponsoring military activities. On the other hand, some members of the defense have asked not to spend money on the team because it does not contribute directly to the combat capabilities of the service.

Lamirande said the Canadian Forces is also working on improving the aircraft’s escape system. Those upgrades include improvements to the parachute system and harness, with initial tests conducted in 2016.

"Based on those results, it was determined that the most effective way to improve the system would be through a parachute upgrade program, which will identify and assess candidate canopy designs, perform testing for airworthiness clearance, and eventually implement an upgrade to the current parachute system in the CT-114," Lamirande said.

She noted that the life-extension program for the planes recognizes that the CT-114 Tutor aircraft "has proven to be a very resilient platform to maintain and upgrade, with continued functionality well into the future."

Among the top candidates to replace the Snowbirds CT-114 is the Italian Leonardo M-345 trainer jet which was intoduced in Canada as Tutor II.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: Maj Wickett

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