Comox-based Aurora does duty over Libya

As part of his routine of system checks on a CP-140 Aurora, aviation technician Cpl. Alex Jalbert-Landry signals to a fellow maintainer on board the aircraft to open the bomb-bay doors. - Photo by Cpl. Jackson Yee
As part of his routine of system checks on a CP-140 Aurora, aviation technician Cpl. Alex Jalbert-Landry signals to a fellow maintainer on board the aircraft to open the bomb-bay doors.
— image credit: Photo by Cpl. Jackson Yee

SIGONELLA, ITALY — Originally designed for anti-submarine warfare, the CP-140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft is showing off its capabilities in the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions that have come its way on Operation MOBILE.

The bi-coastal Auroras — one is from 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S., and the other came all the way from 19 Wing Comox, B.C., — arrived March 25 at the NATO naval air station in Sigonella, Italy.

The Sigonella detachment was the last-deployed element of Task Force Libeccio, the air component of Canada’s contribution to NATO-led efforts to empose an arms embargo against Libya, impose a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace, and protect civilians in Libya in compliance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1973.

The Aurora detachment includes about 80 personnel — 26 aircrew, and three crews of aircraft technicians and support staff from 19 Wing and 14 Wing.

It’s a small group to make such a big impact.

The first task the Auroras took on was to identify vessels in the embargo zone — the waters of the central Mediterranean Sea off Libya — and relay that information to the NATO task group patrolling the waters off Libya.

Since March 23, a large fleet of NATO warships, including the Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown, has patrolled the embargo zone to reduce the flow of mercenaries, arms and related materiel to Libya.

Throughout those early maritime surveillance missions, the Auroras showed their top-class form.

Not only fast — they can do 400 knots, as fast as the CT-114 Tutor jets the Snowbirds fly — Auroras have plenty of stamina, staying aloft for up to 12 hours.

They carry an array of sensors to gather and record the precise, reliable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data required to create a clear picture of the situation at ground level or at sea.

With this unique combination of capabilities, the Auroras were a natural choice for inland ISR missions, and they now provide ISR data on Libya’s coastline, highways and command and control centres.

“This is a new role for us,” said Capt. Stephanie Hale, the Air Combat Systems Officer and Operations Officer on Roto 0 of the Sigonella detachment. “The new mission suite systems, including electro-optic infrared and overland equipment, have changed what we’re able to provide and changed where we’re able to work.”

The overland equipment mission suite (OEMS), a new addition to the Aurora, was acquired for Operation PODIUM, the Canadian Forces participation in security for the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

With the OEMS, an Aurora crew can record three live video feeds from improved electro-optic infrared (EOIR) cameras. At the end of each sortie, the resulting imagery is transmitted to the Combined Air Operations Centre in Poggio Renatico, Italy.

“We’re taking all the resources we have available in theatre and using them to maximize the effect of the mission,” said Maj. Derrick Hotte, the Sigonella detachment commander on Roto 0.

The Aurora detachment’s most important resource is its people, who deployed on very short notice and flew their first mission within 72 hours of arriving in Sigonella.

They’ve flown every day since.

“We’ve maintained a serviceability rate of over 90 per cent,” said Hotte. “That really speaks to the commitment and dedication of the maintenance staff and the team approach to how we conduct operations. All of the staff have exceeded expectations and have done a lot to bring credit to the long-range patrol aircraft community and to the Canadian Forces.”

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