VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Royal Canadian Air Force plans to combine two training programs under a single, multibillion-dollar project, a move that will lead to incumbent contractors CAE and a consortium led by KF Aerospace facing off against a series of large firms.
The government plans to issue a call for bids from defense companies next year for the Future Aircrew Training program, or FAcT. A draft bid package is expected to be released by the end of the year so prequalified firms can provide feedback to the Canadian Armed Forces.
The contract is estimated to be worth at least CA$5 billion (U.S. $3.75 billion) and will provide training for Air Force pilots and crew for 20 years. Canada plans to award the contract in 2023.
The government has already approved a list of firms that will be authorized to bid on FAcT, including Babcock Canada, Leonardo Canada, Lockheed Martin Canada and SkyAlyne Canada. SkyAlyne is a partnership between major Canadian defense firms CAE and KF Aerospace. Those two companies currently provide the two main aircrew training programs to the Air Force.
Under FAcT, the number of pilots trained annually will slightly increase. The pilot production numbers for FAcT are expected to range from about 105 to a maximum of 120. In addition, air combat systems officers and airborne electronic sensor operators will also be trained under the program. Currently, that training is done in-house by the service.
“We’re very focused on getting this to contract,” Air Force Col. Pete Saunders, director of air simulation and training, said of FAcT. “In the end, the foundation of the Air Force is our ability to generate qualified aviators. That is what FAcT is all about.”
FAcT will combine two existing training programs. The first, NATO Flying Training in Canada, is provided by CAE’s military aviation training division, which operates out of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. The program offers undergraduate and postgraduate pilot training in military-controlled airspace using training aircraft with advanced glass cockpits. That contact ends in 2023.
The second program is the Contracted Flying Training and Support, which is run by a KF Aerospace-led consortium. Training is conducted out of the Southport Aerospace Centre near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba. The program “oversees the flying training and support services contract for the Primary and Basic Flying Training, Multi-Engine and Helicopter pilot training programs,” according to the government. That contract ends in 2027.
Training for Royal Canadian Air Force pilots involves various fixed-wing aircraft — including the Grob 120A, CT-156 Harvard II, CT-155 Hawk and King Air C90 — as well as Bell 206 and 412 helicopters. Air combat systems officers and airborne electronic sensor operators are trained on CT-142 Dash-8 planes. Simulation is also extensively used in aircrew training.
Saunders said the Air Force is being as flexible as possible to allow industry competitors to come up with what they believe will be the best solution for the service’s training needs.
“The way we’re approaching this is that it is up to them to determine what training aids are required,” he explained. “They will determine what is the appropriate mix of simulation and live fly. They will look at the number and type of aircraft they require in order to meet their training solution.”
However, officials are leaving no room for flexibility in the training’s outcome. “What we are being prescriptive about is the standard that a graduate has to achieve,” Saunders said.
The service has cooperated with the qualified bidders, consulting with them on components of what will be in the FAcT bid package — essentially the request for proposals. Saunders said he hopes to release the RFP by mid-2021.
Apart from providing training and maintenance, the winning bidder must revitalize the aging training infrastructure, he added. The Air Force expects the construction of a new training center for air combat systems officers and airborne electronic sensor operators, as the current facility in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is quite old. Other new infrastructure, such as hangars, will also likely be built.
Officials are requiring the winning supplier to invest in Canada equal to the value of the contract, but the government is also focused on a winning bid that emphasizes domestic firms playing a major role in training, simulation and in-service support.
The government also has an ongoing competition for the acquisition of a new fighter jet to replace the Air Force’s fleet of CF-18 aircraft. Canada isn’t expected to announce the winning bid until at least 2022, with deliveries of aircraft scheduled for 2025.
But Saunders said training for that future aircraft will be separate from FAcT, as the requirements are set by a different Air Force program office.
David Pugliese has been Defense News' Canada correspondent since 1989. He has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and Africa. In 2020, he won the Spencer Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. He is the author of two books on special operations forces.