May 8 (UPI) -- The Canadian defense minister has indicated that the upgrades of Bell Griffon and AugustaWestland Cormorant helicopters must be prioritized in defense spending or be removed from service.
Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan made the statements at a conference involving retired military personnel and defense industry executives on Thursday. The conference is part of a series focused on the Defence Policy Review, which has been going on since April and is expected to run through July.
The Bell Griffon helicopter is an upgraded variant of the famed UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the Huey. It is a light utility helicopter whose models have been in use for decades. It played a very prominent role during the Vietnam War and has been used in every American and Canadian military conflict since, including Afghanistan and the Iraq War.
The CH-149 Cormorant is used for search-and-rescue operations at sea. It also has anti-submarine capabilities. It is a joint venture with AugustWestland and the Italian defense firm Leonardo.
The upgrades are expected to cost up to $2 billion CAD. The potential cost has created some debate in Canada's Parliament. Upgrades to the Griffon are expected to cost $1.5 billion CAD, with the Cormorant projected to cost between $500 million CAD and $1.5 billion CAD, depending on the upgrades.
The helicopter is one of several facets of the military that Canadian leaders, including Sajjan, say has been neglected in recent years. The inadequate funding, Sajjan says, has left the nation's defense forces with a series of "complex challenges."
"Years of inadequate funding have left the CAF lacking the resources they need," Sajjan said in a statement last week. "From the Army to the Navy to the Air Force -- our women and men have not received the equipment and support they need. A prime example is our Cormorant search and rescue helicopters. These helicopters provide a vital service that Canadians rely on. Yet the previous Government did not make any provisions for the needed upcoming mid-life upgrades."