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THE MARITIME HELICOPTER PROJECT
February 2006

The Maritime Helicopter Project (MHP) was commissioned by the Chrétien government in the year 2000 to provide twenty-eight replacements for the CH124 Sea King maritime helicopters used by the Canadian Navy. The project came seven years after the same government had cancelled a similar project of the Mulroney government, and paid a hefty cancellation fee of several hundred millions of dollars, that would have replaced the Sea King well before massive media attention (with respect to maintenance and safety problems) dogged the fleet heading into the new century.

The Mulroney government project was known as the New Shipboard Aircraft (NSA) project and was to have initial delivery of the Sea King replacements, to be the EH101 Merlin, by 2003. The delivery, slated to be the first worldwide delivery of this then-new aircraft, would have brought major industrial benefits to Canada in addition to providing upwards of fifth helicopters to replace both the Sea King fleet and the aging CH113 Labrador search and rescue helicopter fleet. The new helicopter fleet, split into the maritime variant and search and rescue variant, would be known by the names CH148 Petrel and CH149 Chimo, respectively. By the latter days of the Mulroney era, the costs of the project had ballooned to over four billion dollars (1993 CA$) and was promptly cancelled by the incoming Chrétien government, which referred to the helicopters as being “Cadillac” compared to what the military needed.

In 1998, the Chrétien government would face political embarrassment as both helicopter fleets began to degrade in service quality, with maintenance hours required per hour of flight reaching upwards of 30 for the Sea Kings alone. There would be no replacement for the Sea Kings in 1998; instead, there would be a project to purchase fifteen replacement helicopters for the Labrador fleet. The chosen helicopter, competing against a more modern version of the Labrador airframe, was none other than the EH101 Merlin. The name of the helicopter was changed to EH101 Cormorant for the Canadian search and rescue variant to minimize political fallout.

The 2000 announcement of the Maritime Helicopter Project brought with it a sigh of relief that the government that had cancelled much needed replacements in the early 1990s had finally come to the realization that the Sea Kings needed to be replaced. The political fallout of the Cormorant contract weighed heavily on the minds of the Chrétien government ministers and, as alleged by EH Industries, the makers of the Merlin/Cormorant, and Canadian media alike, the government did its best to prevent Team Cormorant from winning the MHP contract. One tactic which made the process of replacing the desperate Sea King fleet that much longer was the splitting of the contract into two separate contracts: one for the airframe, and one for the electronic suite.

In 2002, John McCallum, considered by many involved in the Canadian military field to be the first Minister of National Defence in the post-WW2 era who showed genuine concern for the military’s well-being as well as financial wisdom which helped correct many problems in the Department, replaced Allan Rock in that role. He quickly reverted the MHP contract back to one single agreement in order to streamline the process and permit the delivery of the new helicopters to begin by 2008; the decision to split the contract delayed the original 2005 delivery date for the first helicopter.

The competition for the $5 billion contract to replace the Sea Kings with twenty-eight new helicopters was a very intense process. Three competitors initially announced bids – EH Industries’ Team Cormorant; the Sikorsky H92 Superhawk, and; the NH Industries’ NH-90. To those involved in the field, Team Cormorant seemed like the obvious choice to win the contract given that the Superhawk was still on the drawing board and the NH-90, while teaming up with Lockheed Martin for its electronic outfitting in this contract, brought little benefits to Canadian industry. The NH-90 team eventually withdrew from the competition, leaving the remaining two vying for the contract.

In the end, the Superhawk was announced as the replacement for the Sea King via the Maritime Helicopter Project on 23 November 2004. The cost of the twenty-eight H92 Superhawk helicopters, to become known as the CH148 Cyclone, was CA$1.8 billion, with a $3.2 billion 20-year servicing agreement. The inclusion of penalty fees means that Sikorsky is expected to deliver the first helicopter by 30 November 2008. The Superhawk is considered by several in the Air Force community to be the best platform for the maritime helicopter task. One major drawback of the Cormorant is its bulky size, which does not coexist well with the small decks of Canadian warships – major structural refit to the hangar of the Canadian Patrol Frigates would have been required if the Cormorant was selected.

The loss of the most expensive Canadian military contract of the Chrétien era did not sit well with Team Cormorant. Heading into 2006, the consortium is currently undertaking court action against the Government of Canada to the tune of $5 billion in damages, citing that the Cormorant was the best platform for the project compared to the Superhawk. Team Cormorant alleges that political interference from the Chrétien government over the history of the aircraft in recent Canadian military history was the primary reason why the contract was lost.

Regardless of the outcome of this court case, the MHP is safe and will produce twenty-eight CH148 Cyclones starting in late 2008 for use by the Canadian Navy. The Superhawk is a very new design and Canada will be the first nation to fly the helicopter in a military role (there is a S92 civilian variant of the helicopter that has been in service for several years). This concerns some in the Canadian military community, though recent chronic, and seemingly unsolvable, problems with cracking in the rotors of the Cormorant fleet have caused some doubts about whether or not the Cormorant would have been the best decision for the military. That rotor cracking has effectively grounded the Cormorant search and rescue fleet from operations for most of 2005, and continues into 2006, except for emergency search and rescue flights.

The CH148 Cyclone (H92 Superhawk)

CH148 Cyclone with Canadian Forces Paint Scheme
Photo by Canadian Forces Joint Imaging Centre (CFJIC)

The H92 Superhawk is the militarized version of the S-92 medium helicopter used by the civilian world and is designed to be the successor of the popular H60 Blackhawk family of helicopters. It is currently being touted as a possible replacement to the 146 United States Air Force Pavehawks which perform recovery operations of downed-pilots, among other tasks.

The Canadian CH148 Cyclone variant of the Superhawk will have its system integration and Mission Data Management System outfitted by General Dynamics Canada (formerly GM Defence Canada). Telephonics will supply the maritime surveillance radar, the APS-143B(V) multi-mode radar with integrated Mark XIIA Identification Friend of Foe.

Quick Facts

-          can be scrambled in less than two minutes

-          six-foot wide aft ramp permits quick load and offload of troops and equipment

-          can hover up to 3,261 metres

-          can carry up to 22 combat-outfitted marines

Whether or not the Cyclone will be used in the role of troop transport beyond regular-sized boarding parties, such as those seen in the boarding of the GTS Katie to recover illegally held Canadian military equipment from corporate hands, has not yet been announced. There are currently plans by the Canadian Forces to convert 5 Sea King model B helicopters to tactical troop transport for the new rapid reaction force entering into service this year.

Specifications

These specifications are listed for the H92 Superhawk. To date, the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces have yet to release the official specifications of the CH148 Cyclone variant.

source: Air Force Technology.com

Dimensions

Length with rotors turning

20.88m

Fuselage length

17.12m

Fuselage width including sponsons

3.89m

Height with rotors turning

5.46m

Height to top of rotor head

4.70m

Rotor diameter

17.71m

Tail rotor diameter

3.35m

Cabin Dimensions

Cabin length

6.10m

Cabin width

2.01m

Cabin volume

16.9m³

Weights

Empty weight (SAR configuration)

7,257kg

Empty weight

6,895kg

Internal fuel

2,143kg

Engines

Type

GE CT7-8C

Rating

3,000shp

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