Canada sticking with controversial Cyclone helicopters

Jan. 27, 2014 at 7:32 PM
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OTTAWA, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Canada will stick with its plans to acquire Sikorsky's CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters despite persistent controversy surrounding the $5 billion deal.

The twin-engine, multi-role shipboard Cyclone is to replace near-obsolete CH-124 Sea Kings in the Canadian inventory that are seen to be aging to dangerous levels and keep breaking down.

The CH-148 is the military version of Sikorsky's H-92 Superhawk civilian and utility transport helicopter and is being designed to serve from the decks of Canada's naval ships as well as ground bases.

"While Canada's 50-year-old Sea King fleet aged and deteriorated to potentially dangerous levels, political pettiness and lack of concern turned a straightforward, off-the-shelf buy into a 25-plus-year-long odyssey of cancellations, lawsuits, rebids and more," Defense Industry Daily said.

Canada is also the only military customer for the soon-to-be adapted H-92.

The defense website cited "badly missed milestones and delivery delays," deeper questions about the aircraft's suitability for Canada and about the way Canada's Department of Nation Defense handled the program.

Canadian media have been scathing about Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Cyclone program, which is based at Sikorsky's facility in Stratford, Conn.

The latest moves by Harper's government to rescue and restructure the program also leave unclear whether current plans will leave a gap in the Canadian military's ability to do its job "as it will be forced to use less capable helicopters for at least three years," O.Canada news website reported.

Sikorsky was originally expected to begin delivery in November 2008, with the last ship-borne helicopter arriving in 2011, but "not a single fully capable Cyclone has yet been produced," O.Canada said.

Sikorsky and Canadian government officials hope to hammer out an agreement on a delivery schedule by March, Defense News reported.

Canadian dissatisfaction with the aircraft's specification led to a row last year, when Canada threatened to cancel the project.

One reason Canada chose instead to rescue the program is the expense already incurred, said to be in excess of $1.7 billion. Canada contracted in 2005 to buy 28 of the Cyclones.

When the restyled and reconfigured Cyclones finally arrive by 2018 they'll be a decade behind schedule, Defense News said.

Canada is willing to accept Cyclones with a lesser operational capability so it can start retiring its Sea Kings in 2015, Defense News said. A program to bring those Cyclones up to a fully capable level would be performed later, the news site said.

Meanwhile, a Canadian coast guard plan to buy two dozen new helicopters is also in trouble after the Sept. 9 crash of one of its helicopters in the arctic region. The crash killed the pilot, the captain of the coast guard icebreaker Amundsen and a University of Manitoba scientist.

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