July 24, 2018 |
When your squadron lineage includes bomber, strike, fighter, operational training, and combat support roles, and your predecessors have flown everything from the Handley Page Halifax bomber to the Avro Lancaster, Canadair F-86 Sabre, Lockheed CF-104 Starfighter, Canadair CC-144 Challenger, and CT-133 Silver Star, it’s perhaps fitting that you get reborn as an operational test and evaluation squadron.
At a ceremony at 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., on May 31, the Royal Canadian Air Force reformed the 434 “Bluenose” Squadron as 434 Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E) Squadron, under command of the RCAF Aerospace Warfare Centre (RAWC).
The squadron last served as a combat support squadron in the 1990s, based at 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S. It was disbanded in 2002 and its colours placed in the All Saints Cathedral in Halifax.
“The fact that [the squadron] has flown so many different aircraft is [appropriate], in that we have now taken on OT&E for every single aircraft within the RCAF,” said LCol Graham Edwards, a long-range patrol navigator and the new commanding officer.
434 Squadron is being reformed and re-branded in response to the government’s 2017 defence policy. With 13 initiatives specific to the RCAF and many aircraft due to be replaced or modernized, the workload for operational test and evaluation is going to increase.
By amalgamating five existing test and evaluation flights (TEFs)–helicopter, long-range patrol, transport, land aviation, and fighter–with two new flights for search and rescue and aerospace systems under one command, the Air Force hopes to better manage its limited resources as more platforms and systems require testing and evaluation.
“It was deemed that the status quo won’t work if we are to achieve success with those initiatives,” said Edwards.
Historically, test and evaluation has been managed within each fleet of aircraft, but it has often drawn people from the operational squadrons and into the testing seats to conduct a trial of a new aircraft or aircraft system. Each community will continue to develop its own testing expertise, but by centralizing decisions about how those people are assigned, 434 Squadron hopes to manage the strain when capabilities are being introduced at the same time that the aircraft are being deployed. Search and rescue aircraft, the CP-140 Aurora or the strategic transport CC-177 Globemaster, for example, rarely have a dip in operational tempo.
“They can keep the structure of their operational force together,” Edwards said of the operational squadrons. “As the fleets convert back to operations with the new platform, we’ll take the people from the test and evaluation chairs and move them back to the operational chairs. And then I can reallocate those test and evaluation [positions] to the next fleet that is undergoing the next transition.”
The two new flights are intended to address the arrival of the new CC-295W search and rescue aircraft into service in 2019 and the many ground-based and airborne systems that support all the fleets being introduced in the coming years, such as navigation aids, communication systems, ground-based radars, data link systems, and even simulators.
“The new Aero TEF is going to provide that body of expertise and create a body that is responsible to deliver that ground capability,” said Edwards, noting that a coordinated process will ensure interoperability between all systems during the OT&E phase. “There’s no sense modifying the fleet with data link systems when we have not done the ground support with it.”
By including 434 Squadron under the RAWC, which has been transformed in recent years as one of the RCAF’s core pillars with 1 Canadian Air Division (operations) and 2 Canadian Air Division (training), lessons acquired during the test and evaluation phase should be more readily incorporated into the development of doctrine and tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that shape training and operations.
Among Edwards’ immediate priorities are the amalgamation of the TEFs and establishing a new governance structure, what he called an “air test and evaluation master plan.”
But the process won’t be completely new. As an exchange officer with RAF Waddington in 2008, he was part of the transformation of 56 Squadron into an OT&E unit for C4ISR (Command, Control, Computers, Communications and Intelligence, Surveillances and Reconnaissance), conducting trials on unmanned aerial systems, Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft, and Hawker Siddeley Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft.
The return of the squadron’s colours was a proud moment and the members are keen to carry on its Bluenose traditions. No. 434 Squadron, adopted by the Rotary Club of Halifax, was the RCAF’s 13th overseas bomber squadron, formed on June 13, 1943, at RCAF Station Tholthorpe in England. It was reformed as 434 Strike/Attack Squadron in 1963 and as 434 Operational Training Squadron in 1968. It was then re-designated 434 Tactical Fighter Operational Training Squadron in 1970, as 434 Composite Squadron in 1992, and finally as 434 Combat Support Squadron in 1993.
In its first two years of operations, the squadron accomplished eight significant battle honours, reflective of what it is trying to do now in a brief period, said Edwards. But he’s hoping to break with at least one 434 Squadron tradition.
“The squadron would stand down every time it switched to a new aircraft. Now that we have all the aircraft of the RCAF under the remit of 434, I hope to see a bit more longevity in the squadron.”
Helicopter Operational Test & Evaluation Flight at 12 Wing Shearwater, N.S., is responsible for the operationalization of the CH-148 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter.
Long Range Patrol Operational Test & Evaluation Flight in 14 Wing Greenwood, N.S., is focused primarily on the CP-140 Aurora.
Transport Operational Test and Evaluation Flight, located at 8 Wing Trenton, Ont., deals with all air mobility fleets like the CC-130J Hercules, CC-177 Globemaster, and CC-150 Airbus.
Land Aviation Test and Evaluation Flight is in St Hubert, Que., and supports tactical aviation helicopters like the CH-147 Chinooks and CH-146 Griffons.
Fighter Operational Test & Evaluation Flight is in 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alta. and deals with fighter aircraft.
(new) Search and Rescue Test & Evaluation Flight will be stood-up at 19 Wing Comox, B.C., and will be responsible for the new Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue, CH-149 Cormorant, and the CC-130H Hercules and CH-146 Griffon SAR fleets.
(new) The Aerospace Systems Test & Evaluation Flight will be co-located with 434 Squadron headquarters in 8 Wing Trenton and will deal with ground-based aeronautical systems such as radars, navigational aids, meteorological systems and data links.