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CC-188 Polaris Strategic Transport Aircraft

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Origins of the RCAF CC-188 Polaris Strategic Transport

Initially, the RCAF had minimal interest in the US Lockheed Hercules tactical transport. [1] Instead, Department of National Defence planners proposed another rebuild of in-service Fairchild Flying Boxcars for the tactical role. The money saved could then be redirected to a strategic transport and tanker aircraft purchase. To support overseas missions, DND proposed the procurement of the jet-powered Lockheed C-141 strategic transport. In Canadian service, the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter was envisioned playing two major roles. The first was as strategic transports flying equipment, spares, and personnel to reinforce the Canadian military presence in West Germany. The second was as an inflight refuelling tanker. The latter role also related to Canada's NATO commitments, being focused on refuelling Canadair CF-5 fighters enroute to Europe - West Germany or Norway - in a crisis.

Image Lockheed Aircraft drawing of proposed Starlifter inflight refuelling variant and an impression of the CC-141 strategic transport in RCAF service. Note the retractable ski undercarriage arrangement - the development of which Canada was to fund.

DND found it difficult to formulate a firm requirement - with the needed numbers of C-141s varying from four to 11. The latter number was based on replacing the RCAF's then-current fleet of 13 Canadair CC-106 Yukon turboprop long-range transports. The obvious problem was expense. In 1965, 11 Lockheed C-141s would cost Canada $175M (or $1.47B in 2021 CAD). To constrain costs, at one point DND proposed a mixed fleet of C-141s and civilian DC-8 airliners. The DC-8 was intended simply as a back-up personnel carrier (although, light cargo could also be carried - or heavier freight if a cargo door was installed). However, DND planners and RCAF procurement officers continued to be divided on both required numbers and on the Douglas airliner - with many viewing the DC-8 as diverting resources away from a larger C-141 purchase.

The Way of Things - First Money, Then Politics

Promises made during the 27th Canadian general election would have a profound effect on the RCAF and its future procurement. Among those promises were improved connections with the Canadian Arctic [2] and increased RCAF NorPats (Northern Patrols to assert Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic). To achieve these goals, the Liberal Leader, The Right Honourable Lester B. Pearson, pledged the immediate purchase of existing jet airliners from a Canadian airline. Based on performance numbers already provided by DND, the Douglas DC-8 was the natural choice.

Here, a question which often arises must be addressed. Why didn't Canada simply buy the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker in service with the US Air Force? The answer relates to a planned USAF purchase of Canadair CL-44s - akin to the RCAF CC-106 Yukons - in exchange for F-101 Voodoo interceptors to fill the RCAF's NORAD role. Faced with domestic objections, the USAF dropped its Canadair contract to buy KC-135s instead. That made a Boeing purchase untenable for Ottawa. Fortunately for the GoC, informal inquiries of Canadian airlines had revealed that Vancouver-based Canadian Pacific Airlines (CPA) would be quite happy to divest itself of its earlier-model DC-8s.

The Government of Canada intended that these repurposed civilian airliners would also provide immediate replacements for the RCAF's fleet of Canadair CC-106 Yukon turboprop transports. [3] However, this would not be a one-for-one replacement of the CC-106s. Instead, the GoC intended to match its DC-8 purchase with the procurement of additional Lockheed Hercules tactical transports for the RCAF. With negotiations already underway with Canadian Pacific, DND was informed of the Government of Canada's DC-8 decision through the Department of Defence Production (DDP). Things were moving fast and there more shocks coming down the pike for DND and the RCAF.

Changes on Changes - Canada's 1966 White Paper on Defence

DND was already feeling under the gun. The March 1964 White Paper on Defence led the way for the Canadian Forces Reorganization Act which was intended to 'unify' the Canadian military. [4] However, towards the end of the 27th Canadian general election the Liberal Party of Canada announced their intention to draught yet another White Paper. The hastily-prepared January 1966 White Paper on Defence was meant to organize the implementation of political promises made during that late 1965 Federal Election. This Paper recommended a major shift in the emphases for the branches of the Canadian military. A new emphasis on the Canadian Arctic has already been mentioned. More significant for the RCAF was a planned draw-down of its European combat elements stationed at CFB Lahr and CFB Baden-Soellingen. For Canada's NATO commitment, the air emphasis would now be on the cross-Atlantic transport of men and matériel.

In one fell swoop, the 1966 White Paper on Defence eliminated further consideration of an inflight refuelling capability for the RCAF. The air transport role was to be just that. Under the new plan, DND would focus on leased sea transport in peacetime for the forward-positioning of heavy equipment, ammunition, etc., for the defence of West Germany. This meant the reversal of plans to close the Canadian Army base at Soest while building up Lahr and Baden-Soellingen. It was also planned that the Canadian Army in Europe would integrate more of its procurement with that of the German Bundeswehr. To this end, Canada's Department of Defence Production was to expand its offices in Bonn. By contrast, the Canadian presence in south-western Germany was to be drastically cut back as bases were transferred back to West German control.

(To be continued ...)


[1] Ultimately, the Government of Canada forced the issue. DND's plan to rebuild its twin-engined Fairchilds was over-ruled and, instead, an order was placed for five Lockheed CC-130B Hercules turboprops.

[2] This had escalated from an initial promise of a $100M (2021 = $845M) road-building program in northern Canada. Added during the election debates was a further promise to reduce Arctic living costs while ensuring Canadian sovereignty in the Far North.

[3] The Yukons were not scheduled to reach the end of their operational life until 1973 but the GoC elected to eliminate this fleet while there was still value in the airframes.

[4] Ultimately, this which would lead to the conjoining of the RCAF, Royal Canadian Navy, and Canadian Army on 01 Feb 1968.

Found this one in the National Defence Image Library. Not bad for pre-photoshop!

I'm liking where this is going!

The Big Gimper:
One from John Lacey.

Thanks folks!

That 'almost-was' CC-141 inspires a fair bit of artwork. I used to have an image of a Lockheed-supplied model in RCAF markings too.


The RCAF CC-188 Polaris - Dissention in the Top Ranks

Integration of the Canadian military began with the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) - the co-ordinating meetings of the Chief of the General Staff, Chief of the Air Staff, and Chief of the Naval Staff. Oddly, the final Chairman of the COSC had been the Deputy Minister of National Defence from 1955 to 1960. In April of 1960, former DM Frank Miller had returned to uniform as an Air Chief Marshal. As a move from integration to unification, the COSC was replaced by a single Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) in August 1964. ACM Miller was appointed as Canada's first CDS by the Minister of National Defence, Paul Hellyer.

The relationship between the Minister and the first CDS would be a rocky one. It was Paul Hellyer who most strongly advocated a full unification of the Canadian military. And it was Hellyer who had championed the abandoning of the RCAF's nuclear strike role in NATO. [1] As CDS, ACM Miller strongly opposed unification and saw Hellyer's preference for conventional strike aircraft in the form of the lightweight Northrop F-5 as completely unworkable. A clash between the MND and his CDS was obviously brewing. But, as a former Deputy Minister at DND, Frank Miller knew the inner workings of that department intimately. Hellyer was in for the fight of his life. And, as history would show, neither man would have things all go his own way ...

"Ah what chilling blows we suffer — thanks to our own conflicting wills ..."

At first, Minister Hellyer seemed to prevail in this battle of wills. NATO HQ in Paris had been put on notice of Canadian role change plans. Then, on 15 July 1965, the Pearson Cabinet approved the purchase of Northrop fighters. Disagreements quickly arose over how many of the Canadair-built CF-5s could be bought for the budgeted $215M (or $1.75B in 2021 values). As Canadair crunched the numbers, the January 1966 White Paper on Defence was unveilled in Parliament. As binding contracts had yet to be signed with Canadair (or engine-maker Orenda), the entire CF-5 programme could be unceremoniously dropped. First goal to ACM Miller.

Thanks, in part, to ACM Miller, the RCAF would not get stuck with the Northrop 'TinkerToy'. As a former student of the Northrop Aeronautical Institute, this had to be a bitter pill for Hellyer.  But, unfortunately for the CDS, the abandonment of the CF-5 programme had no bearing upon planned role changes for the RCAF. Despite that nuclear role having been brought about by the current Prime Minister, the MND had convinced the rest of Cabinet of the correctness of his views on airpower. Prime Minister Pearson made no objections. Indeed, the Government of Canada had now become even more determined to wind down the RCAF's nuclear strike role in Europe. In this area, the MND and CDS had scored a draw.

Unification of the Canadian military was also proceeding on schedule. Any hopes to the contrary had been dashed with the release of the 1966 White Paper. That document made clear that the air role in NATO was to be completely rewritten. Would there be a new tactical fighter at all? With the GoC shifting the RCAF away from a combat role in Europe, perhaps a replacement NORAD interceptor was in the offing? No answers were forthcoming. But, explicit in the new White Paper was that the CC-106 Yukon fleet was to be retired ahead of schedule and replaced by a fleet of used airliners. If that was a goal at all, credit must go to the Finance Minister, Walter Gordon.

Meanwhile, the Department of Defence Production (DDP) had taken the transport bit between its teeth. The DDP was operating under a rather misleading working title - the Military Aircraft Procurement Options for Canada (MAPOC) programme. [2] Taken literally, MAPOC suggested an omnibus programme. At the time, however, MAPOC was very much a one-trick pony. Some would say that MAPOC was simply a cover operation for the DC-8 purchase - known behind closed-doors as the 'Strategic Transport Aircraft Procurement Options' (STAPO) project.

(To be continued ...)


[1] Ironically, it had been Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservative government which had declined to accept nuclear warheads for the RCAF CF-104s in Europe. Accepting nuclear weapons had been a divisive point in the Canadian political debate since 1960. But, it was the newly-elected Liberal Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson who finally accepted nuclear warheads for RCAF Boeing CIM-10 Bomarc missiles on 31 Dec 1963. That decision temporarily improved US-Canada relations but also put Pearson under increased pressure to approve nuclear bombs for RCAF CF-104s.

[2] Within the DDP, MAPOC was often referred to by its French acronym, OAAMC (for Options d'approvisionnement d'avions militaires pour le Canada). It has since been inplied that such usage was intended to cloak GoC actions from a then anglophone-dominated DND.


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