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Miscellaneous: 10 Jan 2008
No Sea King successors until 2010
Canada's faltering helicopters may not last until the Cyclones land, military expert warns
The long-awaited arrival of new military helicopters to replace Canada's worn-out Sea King fleet has been delayed by up to three years, CanWest News Service has learned.
The obsolete, 1960s-era Sea Kings were due to be phased out starting this year with the arrival of new CH 148 Cyclone helicopters, designed to be flown off the decks of the navy's warships.
The first of 28 Cyclones. which were ordered in 2004 from Sikorsky International in Connecticut, at a cost of $1.8 billion, was scheduled to arrive at the Shearwater air base near Halifax in November this year, with additional aircraft coming one per month thereafter.
But military staff at Shearwater have been told that the first new Cyclone won't arrive until 2010 or 2011 -- two to three years later than promised.
The team of pilots, mechanics and technicians assembled to do trials on the first new helicopter has also been put on hold because of the delay.
That means the military will have to keep the old Sea Kings flying -- already a difficult task -- another two or three years until the Cyclones are delivered and made operational.
"Trying to maintain Sea King operations until the arrival of the Cyclone is already a very trying exercise," says Lee Myrhaugen, a retired air force colonel, Sea King pilot, and former deputy commander of the military's maritime air group.
"Parts are being taken from other aircraft, we're down in fleet numbers, down in flying hours, down in serviceability. All of this is putting a strain on operations."
Col. Myrhaugen, one of a number of retired officers who have campaigned hard to have the Sea Kings replaced, says negotiations are currently under way between the federal government and Sikorsky, the prime contractor, to rewrite portions of the Cyclone procurement contract.
He says new engineering requirements -- likely a result of technology advances in certain aircraft components, which weren't foreseen in 2004 -- mean the original contract must now be reworked.
"Manufacturers may well have new equipment or upgrades available. And as a result of it, they've come to a situation where the original contract is undeliverable," Col. Myrhaugen says. "What's being negotiated between Sikorsky and the Crown is how we get the end product in view of that situation.
"This is not abnormal," he says, "but when contracts change, it has an impact on arrival time and cost, and it's almost like starting over in some respects."
The original 2004 contract included penalties against the manufacturer in the event of delivery delays.
Col. Myrhaugen says he isn't aware of any penalties being levied yet, and no announcement has been made about any delays. Sikorsky's website still says the first Cyclone is due for delivery in November.
Officials at Sikorsky and the Department of Defence did not answer requests for interviews on the matter.
But Jacques Gagnon, spokes-man from the office of Public Works Minister Michael Fortier, said the government was "considering all possible options with respect to Sikorsky's default on the timely delivery of the maritime helicopters."
Col. Myrhaugen says Sikorsky may still find a way to deliver the aircraft on time, but warns that if a delay occurs, "the likelihood of making the Sea Kings survive is extremely limited."
The Sea King's primary job is flying off Canada's frigates and destroyers.
It is a valuable tool for surveillance, search and rescue, and transport .
But some Canadian warships no longer sail on overseas missions with helicopters -- or with their full detachment of helicopters -- because there aren't enough reliable Sea Kings available.
Those aircraft that do go to sea must be used sparingly, because the old airframes (an aircraft's structure) and engines now require roughly 30 hours of maintenance for every hour they spend in the air.
Col. Myrhaugen says helicopter crews are only getting a fraction of the flying hours they were once required to have to maintain proficiency. "They've cut back to the absolute essentials," he says.
Online: Delivery Delay
Global National's Ross Lord reports that Canada's aging Sea King fleet of helicopters is at least three years away.
To view a video report go to Today's Videos at ottawacitizen.com
Richard Foot, The Ottawa Citizen
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