FARNBOROUGH, England — The introduction into service of the C-27J by the US Coast Guard is giving a handy boost to the aircraft ahead of Canada's selection of a new search and rescue aircraft, according to a source at Italian manufacturer Leonardo-Finmeccanica said on Thursday.
After receiving four of 14 C-27s, the Coast Guard flew one of the aircraft to the Farnborough International Airshow this week for static display. The four aircraft are now operational in Sacramento, replacing older C-130H aircraft, while up to six will be deployed to Florida with others used for training.
Later this year, Canada is expected to choose between the C-27J and the Airbus C-295 as its new search and rescue aircraft, following a long, drawn-out selection process.
The entry into service of the C-27J in April with the Coast Guard was "a very important demonstration that it is capable of the mission" ahead of the Canadian decision, the source said Thursday. "It shows it is not just a military transport aircraft."
The C-27J was not originally destined to enter US Coast Guard service. Purchased by the US Air Force, the aircraft were then parked in the Arizona desert following a change of procurement policy before they were farmed out to the Coast Guard in 2014, which is using them to replace C-130Hs for search and rescue missions.
"This aircraft meets our mission needs for endurance, speed and efficiency," said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Allen, the Coast Guard's C4ISR platform manager. According to Allen, Coast Guard pilots were easily able to shift from flying the C-130Js the service also flies thanks to the commonalities between the two aircraft.
With a 2,300 nautical mile range, the C-27Js can fly 10 hour missions.
The next step is to fully prepare the aircraft for its new mission, with plans to give them surface-search radar, EO/IR sensors, a C4ISR suite and bubble observation windows. A US mission system called Minotaur will be tested for installation on the aircraft at the US Navy's Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
The Coast Guard deployment may be a calling card for Leonardo-Finmeccanica in Canada, but Airbus was keen at Farnborough to point out that its contender, the C-295, is already fully prepared for its new mission and is in service with four customers as a maritime patrol aircraft.
Down the static line from the Coast Guard C-27J stood Portugal's C-295 maritime patrol aircraft, complete with radar and sensors. Airbus has also sold the aircraft to Oman for maritime patrol missions, to Brazil for both maritime patrol as well as search and rescue missions, and to Chile, which uses the C-295 for maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare missions.
"We are hopeful about Canada and we understand we will have news this year," said Fernando Ciria, Airbus' head of marketing for tactical airlifters and ISR. "We are fully missionized with four operators already using the aircraft.
"We have multimission radar, with EO turrets. We are fully proven, operational and mature. We consider that is important for the Canadians."