Canadian aircraft engines shipped to states at war

Wendy Stocker Conventional Weapons

Kenneth Epps and Brockenshire Lemiski

The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 34 Issue 1 Spring 2013 

From public sources Project Ploughshares has compiled a picture of aircraft engines manufactured and exported by Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC) for military use during the 20-year period 1992– 2011. The picture is incomplete because neither Pratt & Whitney Canada nor the companies producing aircraft with PWC engines report all sales. Nevertheless, during the two decades studied there were at least 18 documented cases in which aircraft powered by PWC engines were sold or shipped to the military forces of states involved in armed conflict.1 These cases are summarized in Table 1.2

Table 1 includes at least three states suffering internal armed conflict—Angola, Chad, and Colombia—in which government forces used aircraft powered by PWC engines in the conflict. Given the volume of shipments included in Table 1, it is possible that PWC engine-powered aircraft have been used in combat by other states, but details have not been made public. It also is possible that these aircraft have been used in combat support roles, such as transport or surveillance.

The federal government claims that Canada has a restrictive arms export control policy that “closely controls” the shipment of military goods to countries that, among other criteria, “are involved in or under imminent threat of hostilities” (DFAIT 2013). Yet Table 1 includes sales of PWC engines for military use to states involved in hostilities. Moreover, the accompanying case studies provide evidence that the engines were used to propagate hostilities. The use of PWC engine-powered aircraft in armed conflict is a clear breach of the spirit of Canadian export control guidelines. How has it been possible for Canadian-built engines to be regularly shipped to—and used in—war zones? The answer: two loopholes in Canadian export controls.  

Pratt & Whitney Canada, based in Longueuil, Quebec, is a subsidiary of U.S.-based United Technologies. The company produces turbine engines for many types and models of aircraft built by Canadian and foreign manufacturers. It is one of Canada’s largest aerospace corporations, with a global export reach. According to its website, PWC powers “the largest fleet of business and regional aircraft and helicopters—49,000 engines in more than 200 countries.”

Most turbine engines built by Pratt & Whitney Canada are certified as civil engines. When shipped from Canada, civil-certified engines do not require export permits. This certification relieves Canadian authorities of oversight of their final destination and use, even in cases in which the engines power aircraft purchased by foreign military forces.

Goods defined as “dual-use”—for both civilian and military markets—are included in Group One of Canada’s Export Control List. As with all ECL groups, goods in Group One require export permits. Yet, despite their use for both civilian and military purposes, PWC engines are not included in ECL Group One. The persistent civil certification of PWC engines in the face of their clear “dual-use” is the first export control loophole.

Some PWC engines require export authorization because they have been modified to become military or “controlled” products. In some cases, the modification is minor. For example, the U.S. Army designated the PT6-20 engine as the T74-CP700 during the 1980s and 1990s, although the two engines were distinguished only by the serial numbers and model numbers assigned during production.3 In other cases, technical data, software, and other articles used in the operation of the PWC engine may be classed as military technology and, as a result, export authorization is required for the engine.4

“Military” PWC turbines requiring export permits are routinely approved by Canadian authorities for shipment to aircraft manufacturers in Brazil, Italy, South Korea, Switzerland, the United States, and elsewhere. The Canadian government considers the final destination of such exports to be the point of manufacture, not the point of aircraft use, and they are authorized accordingly.

The authorization procedure, which under Canadian export regulations requires an assessment of the risks of the export, does not consider the risks of the final destination of the completed aircraft and engines. The government cedes the responsibility for authorizing the final destination of PWC engines to the interim government, which may authorize military exports using less stringent methods and standards. In this way, Canadian engines are shipped to military end-users even when the end-users may not be eligible to receive the same engines directly from Canada. This is the second loophole through which PWC turbines are shipped to states at war.

The negotiation and subsequent implementation of a strong and effective global Arms Trade Treaty this year offers Canada the opportunity to close these export control loopholes.5 The second loophole in particular could be removed by the adoption of high common export authorization standards by all states parties to the treaty. If Canada and the interim manufacturing states to which PWC supplies engines use common standards when approving exports to military end-users, Canada could have greater confidence that aircraft with PWC engines are shipped only to those recipients to which Canada would approve direct engine shipments.        

Dual-purpose equipment is unlikely to be part of the scope of the ATT, so Canada cannot look to the treaty as a near-term opportunity to close the “dual-use” loophole. Instead, Canada should consider unilateral action to add PWC engines to Group One of the Export Control List. Because Group One goods require export authorization, the government would gain oversight of civil engines shipped for military end-use.

Canadian action on dual-use PWC engines would not contradict or weaken the provisions of the Arms Trade Treaty. As many states have noted during negotiations, the treaty is intended to be “a floor, not a ceiling” for conventional weapons control, and states parties may improve on the standards of the treaty in their national export controls. Following treaty agreement, the treaty information-exchange and review processes will offer opportunities to draw on higher national standards to improve global export control practice and regulations. Through this process, Canadian improvements on the export regulation of dual-use goods could influence the dual-use regulations of other states.

Canadian-built engines have been used in combat in contravention of Canadian export control guidelines because existing export controls are inadequate. With relatively minor adjustments to existing controls, Canada could close loopholes. These improved export controls could in turn advance international standards through the new multilateral arms control venues and exchanges provided by an effective Arms Trade Treaty.

1. Armed conflict as defined and documented in Project Ploughshares’ Armed Conflicts Report. 

2. Table 1 is drawn from a larger table that Project Ploughshares assembled of recent shipments for military end-use of aircraft containing Pratt & Whitney Canada engines. The larger table will be the subject of a future, more comprehensive report on PWC engine exports for military purposes.  

3. According to the website of Aerotek Aviation. 

4. Indeed, in some of these cases, export authorization is required from both the Canadian and U.S. governments. When PWC has modified its engines using articles controlled by U.S. International Traffic in Arms regulations, such engines have become subject to U.S. export control and approval. Examples of these engines include the PT6A-62; PT6A-68, 68B, and 68C.

In 2012 the U.S. State Department fined Pratt & Whitney Canada $75-million. In 2002 and 2003 PWC illegally shipped 10 PT6C engines to China, claiming they were for civilian helicopters. The investigation revealed that PWC officials knew that the Chinese were intending to use them to develop military combat helicopters (Gallagher 2012).  

5. The “final” diplomatic conference to negotiate the Arms Trade Treaty will take place at the United Nations in New York, March 18-28, 2013. While it is far from certain that the conference will reach agreement by the consensus called for in the rules of procedure, there are widely held expectations that the treaty will be concluded later in the year by the UN General Assembly. 

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT). 2013. Report on Exports of Military Goods from Canada 2007-2009.  

Gallagher, Sean. 2012. How U.S. software ended up powering Chinese assault helicopters. Ars Technica, July 3.


Spread the Word