Canada replacing aging military transport fleet with 9 Airbus planes

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Canada’s aging fleet of Polaris VIP and transport aircraft are being replaced with nine new Airbus planes — some brand new, some secondhand — including one to be used specifically for transport of high-ranking government officials.

Defence Minister Anita Anand made the announcement in a statement on Tuesday, nearly three years after the government first pledged to do so amid ongoing mechanical problems.

The replacements are a part of what the government calls the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability Project, with the goal of enhancing the Royal Canadian Air Force’s air mobility and air-to-air refuelling capacity.

Under the project, A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft will replace the CC-150 Polaris, with the fleet being named the CC-330 Husky.

It’s anticipated to have a lifespan of 30 years.

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The air force’s main executive jet was grounded in October 2019 after sustaining “significant structural damage” during a hangar accident that month. And last week, a Canadian Polaris “came into contact” with a French military plane on the ground at the Andersen Air Base in Guam.

An investigation into that incident is underway.

The RCAF bought the Polaris fleet in 1992.

Of the nine aircraft making up the CC-330 Husky fleet, four will be new and five will be used craft purchased from the commercial market, according to a release by the department.

At least eight of the planes would be used as “true multi-role aircraft” and provide air-to-air refuelling, as well as strategic airlifts of troops or passenger transport. In addition, where needed, these aircraft could also deliver specialized aeromedical evacuations.

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One of the used planes would be utilized to provide secure transport of government officials, but could also be converted into a Multi-Role Tanker Transport as well.

The announcement comes as the Canadian government is also expected to announce soon which company will be contracted to replace the military’s 14 CP-140 Aurora maritime patrol planes, built by Lockheed Martin, that are set to retire in 2030 after almost 50 years in service.

Bombardier and Boeing are both eyeing the contract, though the government has said it was still weighing its options for the multibillion-dollar contract.

Refuelling will be a major duty for the Polaris replacement planes, with the aircraft not only tasked with filling up current and future RCAF fighter aircraft, but also those used by the U.S. as part of NORAD and by NATO partners.

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According to the department, new infrastructure will be needed to house the aircraft, which will be built at two main operating bases in eastern and western Canada, with at least one NORAD forward operating location.

All three locations, however, are still to be determined with the one in eastern Canada to be announced later this year.

In the meantime, Ottawa International Airport will serve as the location for the first two used planes.

The first two of the used planes are expected to be delivered in summer and fall 2023, with both to enter into service following aircrew conversion training, with the other three expected in 2024.

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