Canada’s modernized CP-140 Aurora has ‘James Bond’ properties

News Article / May 20, 2014

By Captain Wright Eruebi

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) knows it as the Block III CP-140M Aurora long-range patrol aircraft. And it’s an airplane that is crammed with gadgetry fit for James Bond.

Fourteen Auroras are undergoing a significant modernization; six have now passed rigorous RCAF testing and achieved “Initial Operational Capability” (IOC).

The upgraded Auroras have “M” appended to their alphanumeric designation.

Major-General Pierre St-Amand, the commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and Canadian NORAD Region, which is headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said it is difficult to overstate the capability of the ‘new’ Aurora.

“The Block III modernization puts the Aurora tops among the world's leading surveillance planes of its kind,” he said.

“Given Canada's vast maritime domains, its Arctic region to protect, including the wide variety of missions that we do both domestically and internationally, the modernized Aurora will deliver capabilities to better enable commanders to react decisively in any mission.” 

19 Wing Comox, British Columbia, and 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia, are home to the Aurora. The aircraft functions primarily as a “command, control, communication, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” (known as C4ISR) platform for domestic and international operations.

The Aurora, Canada's strategic surveillance aircraft, is tasked with domestic surveillance of Canada’s Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic coastlines and maritime approaches. It also conducts anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, maritime and overland ISR, strike coordination, and supports search and rescue in a secondary role.

The Aurora enables the Government of Canada to project deterrence and control illegal or hostile activity anywhere in Canada's remote regions. It has also been carrying out an increasing role as an overland ISR platform for security operations overseas. 

The Aurora was originally acquired in the 1980s, and the Aurora Incremental Modernization Project (AIMP), consisting of blocks of modernization work, began in 1998 to upgrade its capabilities. To ensure its continued viability as an ISR platform, the RCAF additionally developed the Aurora Extension Proposal (AEP), which combines the original Aurora Incremental Modernization Project and the Aurora Structural Life Extension Project (ASLEP) with three additional capability enhancements. Moreover, the total number of modernized and life-extended aircraft is now 14, up from 10.

This work will ensure that the fleet remains effective up to the 2030 timeframe.

The AIMP consists of three blocks:

Block I. Legacy improvements including replacement/upgrade of high frequency radio gear, cockpit voice recorder, flight data recorder, and speed and range expansion antennae. Completed.

Block II. Navigation and communications upgrades, which will enable the Aurora to continue operations until they reach the end of their structural life limit. Completed.

Block III. Mission computer and sensor upgrades to provide a world-class ISR package to enable the Aurora to meet all of its assigned ISR missions both overland and over ocean surveillance requirements. Ongoing.

With the modernization of avionics and communications systems complete, the current focus is Block III. This includes the installation and integration of the new sensor suite and the development of new training, tactics and procedures. With AEP, three capabilities are being added to the sensor suite, all based on lessons learned during the air campaign over Libya. 

Concurrently, ASLEP continues with the structural upgrade of the 14 Auroras. ASLEP involves the replacement of the outer wings, the lower surfaces of the centre wings, the horizontal stabilizer and other maintenance-intensive structural components to ensure the aircraft remains structurally sound and airworthy into the 2030 timeframe.

The Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and governmental departments such as the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will also benefit from the modernized aircraft. These benefits include access to the new onboard radar that mimics high-resolution photography; improved collateral damage assessment; high-grade images and videos of targets; and improved, real-time, battle-space situation information.

“Together with the Department of National Defence, we have been working with IMP Group and other Canadian defence industries to modernize the Aurora,” said Colonel Iain Huddleston, the commander 14 Wing, Greenwood, Nova Scotia, where Canada's largest Aurora fleet is based.

“Six of the 14 Auroras earmarked for Block III upgrade now have new avionics, greater computing power, new acoustics; listening capabilities in the realm of science fiction, and ‘eyes’ that see farther, wider, deeper, and clearer, in all weather conditions, night and day.

“The Aurora may look the same but it is a ‘new’ aircraft,” he said.

The modernization of the CP-140 Aurora is a Canadian innovation success story, delivering a world class product sourced primarily from Canadian industry with companies such as General Dynamics Canada, MacDonald Dettweiler and Associates, L3 and IMP Aerospace.

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