Where are the helicopters?

CH-148 Cyclone: A day late and a dollar short? You wish.

More details have emerged about the controversial Maritime Helicopter Program, which looks more and more like a money pit (Murray Brewster, “Air Force to get only five test choppers as manufacturer faces $80 million fine,” iPolitics.ca, 26 January 2012):

The manufacturer of the air force’s new maritime helicopter has told National Defence it will deliver only five test aircraft this year — opening the door to tens of millions of dollars in fines on a project the auditor general has said is late and over budget.

Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. is supposed to deliver a “fully mission capable” version of the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter by June, or face a further $80 million in contract penalties on top of $8 million the federal government has already levied.

The Cyclones are the highly touted replacement for the CH-124 Sea Kings, which will mark a milestone 50 years in service in 2013.

Originally, the company was supposed to deliver its first chopper in 2008 and have the whole fleet of 28 on the flight line by end of last year. When it became evident a few years ago that schedule wasn’t going to be met, the Harper government worked out a deal with the Stratford, Conn.-based corporation to provide a handful of scaled-down aircraft, which would be retrofitted later.

The so-called interim helicopters, which are minus combat systems, were supposed to allow crews to train. But only one helicopter was delivered last year and it arrived late, prompting the government to impose an $8 million fine.

Sikorsky has still not completed full certification of the training aircraft, although it is expected to happen sometime this year. But that’s a long way from delivering a “fully capable (maritime helicopter), with all its mission software,” which is what the contract stipulates.

When originally proposed 12 years ago, the cost was expected to be $2.8 billion, but that has ballooned to an estimated $5.7 billion, according to a 2010 report by former auditor general Sheila Fraser.

She criticized the Cyclone purchase as well as the plan to buy 15 CH-147-F helicopters, saying Defence turned what was supposed to be off-the-shelf purchases into a customization nightmares.

New Democrats have slammed the Harper government for apparently not collecting the initial $8 million fine.

But senior defence officials said that penalty and the anticipated additional $80 million will be deducted from future payments the federal government will make for maintenance on the helicopter fleet. [Emphasis added.]

In the meantime, the Liberals and the Conservatives continue to blame each other for the mess (David Pugliese, “Considering the Ongoing Problems With Its Canadian Program, Will Sikorsky’s Cyclone Helicopter Sell Overseas?Defence Watch, Ottawa Citizen blog, 1 February 2012):

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has blamed the Liberal government for ongoing problems with the Cyclone project, noting it was the Liberals who signed the original deal. He, however, has said the Cyclone is a “great aircraft.”

For their part, the Liberals have countered that mismanagement of the Cyclone project occurred entirely under the watch of the Conservatives.

DND photo

Tags: Cyclone, Defence policy, Helicopters, Military procurement, Sea King, Sikorsky