By David Pugliese
Discovery Air Defence will be providing the Canadian Armed Forces with training and other services after it won a major program that will unfold over the next decade and potentially beyond.
The project, known as the Contracted Airborne Training Services or CATS, will run over an initial 10-year period, followed by the option to continue for another five years.
Discovery Air Defence of Montreal will provide aircraft to the CAF to simulate hostile threats for ground and naval forces as well as fighter pilots. The firm will also provide aircraft to tow targets and carry electronic warfare systems for various training scenarios.
Discovery Air Defence has been providing adversary air training and support for the Canadian military since 2005, but on short-term contracts.
The Canadian government stated in a news release that the initial contract is for $480-million. But over the 10-year period, along with the options of another five years, the total value could reach $1.4-billion.
The government estimates that the training aircraft in the CATS program will have to fly between 2,500 and 3,500 hours a year.
Garry Venman, vice president of business development and government relations at Discovery Air Defence, said CATS provides the firm with long-term stability. “This is a long-term contract, 10 years plus options that takes us out well beyond 2030,” he explained. “That’s good for us and it gives us a strong foundation for all the pursuits we are doing internationally.”
Discovery Air Defence already provides similar services to the German and Australian militaries.
Venman said the Canadian contract is a good foundation for the company’s efforts to participate in the Air Support to Defence Operational Training program being run by the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence. Firms will be pre-qualified and then invited to bid on the contract in the coming year.
“They want to know whoever they provide a contract to has a track record of delivering these aircraft, have high availability, well-engineered solutions, proper air worthiness and safe operations,” he said. “We think the Canadian program speaks volumes to that.”
Two firms had publicly acknowledged they submitted bids for CATS: one from Discovery Air Defence, the other from CAE, also from Quebec, who had allied itself with Draken, a U.S. firm.
Discovery Air Defence traces its lineage to 2001 when it was founded by three former CF-18 pilots. The company’s aircraft have flown 66,000 hours in support of military training without an accident.
Discovery Air Defence has what is considered the world’s largest fleet of operational fighter jets in private hands. The majority of services for CATS will be provided in Victoria, B.C.; Cold Lake, Alberta; Bagotville, Quebec; and Halifax, N.S. Other training flights could take place outside Canada, including in the U.S. and Mexico.
Venman said he is hoping that Discovery Air Defence could provide the military and government with even more training in the future. He noted that the CAF has been trying to determine how to stretch out the life of its CF-18 fleet as it waits for a new fighter jet.
“We fly with those guys all the time,” he said. “We can continue to give them more support so some of the training missions they’re still flying with the F-18 they don’t have to do.”