Externally similar to the widely used and highly successful Lockheed P-3 Orion, the CP-140 Aurora is in fact a different machine entirely. Named after the Greek goddess who restored Orion’s eyesight, Canada took delivery of the first of its 18 strong fleet of CP-140 Auroras in May 1980 (with the last delivered in August 1981) and the aircraft, equipped with a string of upgrades and re-designated CP-140M, is expected to fly until at least 2020. AeroResource joined 405 Long Range Patrol Squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, as part of the Royal Canadian Air Force contingent of Exercise Joint Warrior 14-1 to discover more about the latest incarnation of this formidable platform.

Originally called the CP-3C Orion (but swiftly changed to the CP-140 Aurora), Canada’s Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA) comprised the airframe of the P-3 Orion with a modified version of the mission suite found in the Lockheed S-3 Viking. Purchased to fulfil the anti-submarine warfare role in the northwest Atlantic sector (as part of Canada’s obligations to NATO), the CP-140 replaced the Canadair CP-107 Argus (a locally produced modification of the Bristol Britannia), of which 33 had been in service since 1957. Shortly after the introduction of the Aurora, the Royal Canadian Air Force participated in, and won, the prestigious Fincastle competition at RAAF Edinburgh, Australia. Fincastle pits crews from the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada against one another in tasks involving anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, as well as intelligence and surveillance. The Fincastle win was a good indication of how formidable the Aurora was to become and today it maintains its status as one of the world’s premier Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA).

405 Long Range Patrol Squadron – The Pathfinders

Formed under Article XV (squadrons formed from graduates of the British Commonwealth Air Training Agreement of 1939), 405 Squadron was the first Royal Canadian Air Force squadron to be formed overseas. Standing up at Driffield, Yorkshire in 1941, 405 Squadron flew their first mission on 12-13th June when three Wellingtons bombed railway marshalling yards at Schwerte. 405 converted to the Halifax II in April 1942 before being selected for No.8 (Pathfinder) Group in 1943. As part of the Pathfinder Force, 405 flew Lancasters ahead of bombing raids to mark targets for the rest of the force. The selection for the Pathfinders, as well as the status as the first RCAF overseas unit, is remembered in the squadron motto “Ducimus” – We Lead.

Disbanded at RCAF Station Greenwood in 1945, 405 stood up again in 1950 as 405 “Eagle” Squadron and were assigned to the maritime patrol mission. Equipped with a Maritime Patrol version of the Lancaster, 405 went on to fly the Lockheed P2V-7 Neptune, Canadair CP-107 Argus and today flies the Lockheed CP-140 Aurora. Still based at Greenwood in Nova Scotia, 405 are assigned to 14 Wing as one of two operational Aurora squadrons – the other being 407 Squadron with 19 Wing at Comox (404 Squadron also flies the Aurora in a training role).

Aurora Incremental Modernisation Program

It is widely agreed that during the Cold War most nations with access to nuclear submarines (particularly the USA and Russia) at some point transited, and operated, in the Canadian Arctic. A new resurgence in submarine capability and usage – particularly from China, who in 2006 managed to remain undetected whilst shadowing a USN Task Group and was only identified when it surfaced well within torpedo range – has meant that the Northern Passage is likely to become a strategically more important region. As it stands, only the most modern aircraft, such as the AIMP equipped Aurora and the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, are likely to prove effective at maintaining control of the region if required.

The Aurora Incremental Modernisation Program is aimed to update and keep viable the capabilities of the CP-140 until a future successor platform can be found. Initiated in 1998 and starting in 1999, the AIMP has been split into several Increments known as Block stages. There was speculation that the project may never reach fruition after the Canadian Department of National Defence halted the program amid spending evaluation and consideration of the implementation of new aircraft as a straight replacement. This suspension was short-lived and the AIMP program was reactivated and expected to be implemented on ten of the 18 CP-140s in service, at an anticipated cost of over $2 Billion. In March 2014, Canadian Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson announced that an additional four CP-140s would be upgraded to Block III standard with all upgrades due to be completed by 2021.

AIMP consists of 23 individual projects, grouped into four installation blocks which will require each Aurora to visit the IMP Aerospace & Defence (who are performing the installation) plant in Halifax four times in order to receive the full Block III CP-140M update.

The fleet is currently in various Block standards, as the Block III aircraft begin introduction to fleet service. This requires a complex management strategy, as well as needing crews to be proficient and current on each block as the systems on board are very different to operate.

Block II

Block II of the AIMP was implemented in two phases focussing on Navigation and Flight Instruments in the first set, and Communications Management Systems in the second. The Navigation and Flight Instrument Modernization Project (NFIMP) provided a new Electronic Flight Director Indicator (EFDI), Electronic Horizontal Situation Indicator (EHSI) and Display Control Units for the pilot and co-pilot, as well as providing EHSI and DCUs at the Navigator-Communicator station. Also installed under NFIMP are two new Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial (EGI) navigation systems, a new Automatic Flight Director System, new Radar Altimeter and Altitude Warning System (RAAWS) and Aircraft Collision Avoidance System (ACAS). The second phase of Block II was the Communications Management System Project (CMS), which updated the UHF, VHF, HF and SATCOM communications ability of the aircraft.

Block III

The first Block III conversion course (CT0) was launched on March 18th 2013, and comprised one line crew from 405 LRPS, a training and standards crew from 404 LRPS and was based with 14 Wing at CFB Greenwood. The 9 week course comprised distance learning, in-house lectures and demonstrations before moving onto simulator sessions and finally flights in the CP-140M. Joint Warrior 14-1 therefore marked the first deployment of the CP-140M to the UK, with CP-140M 140115 being present alongside Block II example 140113. Other CP-140M examples (140105 and 140111) also dropped in to transport additional mission equipment and personnel.

Visually, the CP-140M is very similar to the Block II model. The key external difference is the new AN/ALQ-217 Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system on each wingtip which is more bulbous than the legacy AN/ALR-502 Block II system it replaces. Both versions of the ESM system contain four receiver antennas that are used to passively detect and locate Radio Frequency emitters in a full 360 degrees around the aircraft.

Internally however, the Block III systems are immediately obvious. Block III focuses on a major update of the aircraft Data Management Systems (DMS), with a completely new mission computer and associated multi-purpose displays. Each mission station now has two large monitors with the lower of the pair being a touch input display. The two Acoustic Sensor Operator stations face aft at the rear of the mission area, whilst the two Non Acoustic Sensor Operator stations face forward at the front of the area. In between are three stations on the port side of the aircraft (facing outboard) for Tactical Communications, Tactical Navigations and Navigator-Communicator mission crew. Block III also sees the AN/APS-506 radar system replaced with a new Aurora Imaging Radar System (AIRS)

The first aircraft equipped with Block III mission systems (140108) was delivered to Canada on 12th March 2010.

Future Upgrades

The Royal Canadian Air Force anticipates that the Aurora upgrades will continue past Block III, in a process known as the Aurora Extension Proposal (AEP). This project would complete the AIMP updates for the remaining four aircraft to bring all 18 Auroras up to the same standard. Phase two of the project will provide a new Link 16 Datalink, updated Beyond Line of Sight (BLOS) communication system and new Self Defence Suite with these updates expected to provide fleet viability until at least 2030.

Aurora Structural Life Extension Program

The original Canadian requirement for 24 CP-140s was cut to 18 aircraft by Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government. However, the operational requirements remained unchanged which has meant that aircraft for aircraft, the CP-140 has been employed at approximately twice the usage rate of P-3s from other nations. As a result the Aurora is reaching its 20,000 hour fatigue life limit far quicker than anticipated. The Aurora Structural Life Extension Program (ASLEP) is being implemented across the CP-140 fleet to extend the structural life of the aircraft from 2020 to 2030.

Lockheed Martin was given a $156 Million contract in November 2008 to provide ten (later fourteen) structural life extension kits for the Aurora, with the installation and integration work performed by IMP Aerospace and Defence in Halifax. The ASLEP kit comprises an all-new outer wing section, central wing lower surfaces, horizontal stabilizers, leading edges (for wing and horizontal stabilizer) as well as other miscellaneous items that will be installed on a case-by-case basis dependant on the fatigue status of each airframe. The ASLEP kit aims to provide an additional 20-25 years of service (translated from a 15,000 additional flying hour requirement) to the Aurora, and will greatly decrease the associated maintenance costs of the aircraft.

To Lockheed Martin, ASLEP refers to the Aircraft (Not Aurora) Structural Life Extension Program as the kit has already been implemented on the Royal Norwegian Air Force P-3, US Customs and Border Protection P-3 and a limited number of US Navy P-3s.

IMP Aerospace and Defence rolled out the first ASLEP equipped Aurora in December 2011 and, after testing, it was delivered and accepted by 14 Wing at Greenwood in April 2012. The second and third aircraft were delivered in December 2012 and May 2013 respectively, with the RCAF expecting the remaining aircraft to be equipped with ASLEP by 2016. Although originally scheduled for only ten airframes, ASLEP is now proposed to be installed on fourteen, in line with the Block III upgrades to CP-140M standard.

Flying and Fighting the Aurora

Although the primary role for the Aurora was Long Range Patrol and Anti-Submarine Warfare, the demands placed on the aircraft led to a drastic increase in capability. Today the Aurora is a true Multi Mission Aircraft (MMA) and can participate in Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Control (ISR&C), Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance (SCAR), Naval Gunfire Support (NGS), maritime interdiction, psychological operations, counter narcotics, sovereignty patrol and search and rescue – alongside the traditional LRP and ASW missions.

The Aurora typically flies with a crew of ten. 2 pilots and flight engineer on the flight deck, 2 Non Acoustic Sensor Operators (NASOs), 2 Acoustic Sensor Operators (ASOs), a Tactical Navigator, Tactical Communications Officer and a Navigator-Communicator – although the exact composition of the crew can vary depending on the mission required. The crew build up does not change between Block II or III equipped aircraft.

For anti-submarine operations, the Aurora is exposed to the rough flight regime required for effective use of the Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), mounted in the boom on the tail. Flying at 300ft, the aircraft scans the surrounding ocean attempting to detect minor distortions in the natural magnetic field created by the submarine (through the use of the MAD’s magnetometer). The relatively short range of this system dictates the low altitude needed for operation.

The Aurora also carries a complement of Sonobuoys which complement the MAD for submarine detection. Three Pressurised Sonobuoy Launch Tubes (PSLTs) are used in addition to the 36 external tubes to deploy the devices – which weigh around 40lb per piece (although this weight could feel twice as much during some of the high-g low altitude manoeuvres encountered during missions). 56 sonobuoys are carried in racks at the rear of the aircraft and deployed through the PSLTs, providing additional launch capability whilst retaining aircraft pressurization. A general purpose chute is also mounted behind the three PSLTs for deployment of smoke markers or illumination flares. After takeoff, a continuity check of the external sonobuoys ensures that none have detached during launch which has happened at Lossiemouth during Joint Warrior on some P-3 variants before.

As well as being able to detect submarines, the Aurora can operate in an offensive capability using the Mark 46 anti-submarine torpedo. Typically also launched from 300ft, the torpedo can be launched from other altitudes but would require reassessment of the launch trajectory before doing so.

Like other aircraft tasked with a Maritime Patrol role (a task in particular focus at the time of writing due to the loss of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and the multi-national search effort to find the wreckage), the Aurora is also equipped to locate and assist survivors of a maritime accident. Aside from the extremely large cockpit windows there are two spotter locations forward of the main mission area with large bubble windows which provide a clear view over the area around the aircraft and human eyesight can be augmented by a Wescam MX-20 Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) camera mounted in the nose of the aircraft. To assist survivors in the water, the CP-140 can deploy a Survival Kit Air Droppable (SKAD) or Arctic SKAD from the torpedo bay. The SKAD looks like a large red kayak and, upon impact with the water, forms a large life raft equipped with supplies and survival equipment. The aim for the CP-140 crew is to deploy the SKAD such that it inflates its two parts around the survivors, allowing them to gain easy access. Due to the cost of the system, the mission profile to deploy the SKAD is often flown and practiced, but the device itself is rarely deployed.

The Aurora has a minimum altitude of 100ft, but can only manoeuvre at 200ft or higher because of the roughly 100ft wingspan of the aircraft. For low level operations both pilots must be on the flight deck, but for long duration sorties when above 1000ft, 2 of the three aircrew (2 pilots, 1 flight engineer) can be on deck at a given time, allowing the third some rest time.

In recent times the Aurora has been deployed in Task Force Libeccio as part of Operation MOBILE – Canada’s contribution to Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR, the NATO mission to protect civilians and impose a no-fly zone over Libya during the 2011 Libyan Civil War. Two Block II aircraft (one each from 405 Squadron and 407 Squadron) deployed to Sigonella in Italy, reporting to the Canadian Forces HQ in Naples. Auroras provided SCAR (particularly after the fall of Tripoli) and NGS capability alongside the role of maritime surveillance, assessing shipping traffic in the area for threats. The Aurora also typically carried two SKADs for a secondary search and rescue duty during sorties and assisted other Canadian deployments by escorting aircraft such as the CF-188 Hornet across the Atlantic (much as the USAF HC-130P/J does for US deployments).

Joint Warrior Auroras

The Royal Canadian Air Force deployed two CP-140 Auroras to Joint Warrior 14-1 – a CP-140 Block II from 407 LRPS and a CP-140M Block III from 405 LRPS. Support to the deployment was provided by an additional CP-140M which flew in personnel, sonobuoys and other supplies needed for the Joint Warrior missions. Although a CC-177 or CC-130 transport type would have been preferable for support, taskings meant they were unavailable. The additional CP-140 was able to ferry the support equipment required, whilst also providing valuable training for newer Aurora pilots requiring a long distance navigation sortie.

Each aircraft had one crew assigned to it for the exercise, with each crew being provisionally allotted 7 missions apiece. Joint Warrior offers a unique training experience for the RCAF crews particularly in relation to the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) operations available. Whilst training in Canada, the Auroras are able to work with the four Victoria class submarines although the chances to do so are often limited due to other demands placed on the fleet. Also of note is that the Aurora crews can become too familiar with the Victoria class, able to recognise it’s unique signatures and traces. Joint Warrior provides new targets and challenges, particularly the two submarines participating in the manoeuvres (HNLMS Walrus and HNoMS Utsira). To provide the most experience possible, sorties on Joint Warrior were flown with an additional Aircraft Commander and NASO to allow for crew rest, as well as additional training.

Initial exercises for the Auroras were centred on mutually beneficial training – the CP-140s would brief the submarines on the actions needed to fulfil their training requirements, before making themselves available as training aids to fulfil the submarine training needs. Later missions evolved to larger scale operations, in which the submarines and CP-140s would act in more “real-life” scenarios. Whilst Joint Warrior pits a “Red Force” against a “Blue Force”, the side for which the Auroras would operate in the exercise was not a major factor on the training benefits as the CP-140s would operate to similar requirements and scenarios regardless of overall alignment to the exercise.

Having completed their work at Joint Warrior 14-1, 405 and 407 Squadrons departed for home on Friday 11th April 2014. Whilst the long term future of Canada’s maritime patrol requirement is still in flux, there is no doubt that the Aurora will once again be present at future Joint Warrior exercises – the mission systems upgrades paying due testament to the viability of the original design, and the world class capabilities that this truly Multi Mission aircraft possesses.

AeroResource would like to extend their sincere thanks to 405 Squadron and the RCAF Joint Warrior Detachment (Major Ray Townsend, Captain Barrie Ransome, Captain Julien Letarte), Lossiemouth MCO (Flight Lieutenant Helen Baxter) and MAOC (Squadron Leader Lloyd Barrett) for their help in producing this article.