When I kick back in the evening with a glass of Navy rum and diet coke (got to keep it a bit healthy) and ponder the various UK procurement bungles over the years a little voice in the back of my head says “At least it is nothing in comparison to Canada”.
Over the years Canada has made some spectacular procurement bungles (some unfortunately with our help…Victoria class ho hum) that can make the mistakes made by the UK MOD and armed forces look like minor hiccups in comparison!
But there is nothing more spectacular then the CH-124 Sea King replacement, a bit of history first:
Like the UK Canada during the cold war was mainly concerned with prosecuting an ASW war in the North Atlantic and Arctic Circle against the Soviet Horde of Submarines. An important component of that is a decent ASW helicopter and it is no surprise that like the UK the superlative Sikorsky S61 Sea King was at the top of the shopping list.
In 1961 an order was placed for 41 Sea King designated as the CH-124 with deliveries starting in 1963.
Roll onto the 1980′s and like the UK Canada realised that their rapidly ageing Sea King were in need of replacement for two key reasons:
1) Increased maintenance of the old airframes
2) A new generation of new ultra fast and quiet Soviet Submarines
Like the UK a replacement program was instigated and in 1986 a request was made for proposals, three manufacturers replied offering the choice of the Sikorsky S-70 SeaHawk (a SH-60 derivative), Aérospatiale’s AS332F Super Puma and finally, EHI’s new EH-101 which also happened to be designed as a direct Sea King replacement. In 1987 the Mulroney government ordered 35 EH-101 to replace the Sea King. In
1991 the CH-113 Labrador SAR replacement was tagged on with a further 15 being added to the order.
At this point it is worth invoking the legendary Sir Sydney Camm and his prescient comment:
“All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span,length, height and politics.”
Politics happened to the EH-101 in a big way, the Liberal opposition decided to make the EH-101 procurement an election issue with their leader Jean Chrétien describing the helicopter as a Cadillac.
Terminating the helicopter was made a top election priority.
With the change in government in 1993 the EH-101 replacement for the CH-124 was cancelled but not rather strangely the order for 15 SAR examples that did eventually enter service as the CH-149. Huge penalty payments had to paid to the EH industries and Canada was left with a helicopter in dire need of replacement.
Eventually a new replacement program was declared with its detail specifications carefully set to ensure that the EH-101 could not possibly qualify.
In 2004 a Sikorsky H-92 derived solution was chosen called the CH-148 Cyclone.
Just one catch this was a paper aeroplane that would have to be developed first before it could be delivered into Canadian service. As of 2013 only 4 aircraft have been delivered in an interim configuration for crew training (basically it hasn’t got the mission systems) and the Canadian government in dispute with Sikorsky over cost over runs and a failure to meet key requirements.
Which leads me to the point of this article, going on this and a bit of further research the Canadian governments patience looks to be finally wearing thin and a certain degree of humble pie might well have to be eaten:
With the Canadian government threatening to cancel the CH-148 contract, the sending of team to inspect Royal Navy Merlin is an interesting development.
Whilst the Merlin has developed a bit of a reputation for being fragile and expensive to maintain it has nevertheless seen many years of service now and is finally catching its second wind of maturity.
The Royal Navy is upgrading 30 Merlin from HM1 to HM2 standard leaving 8 airframes unchanged. Initially, thinking was these 8 spare airframes would probably form part of Crowsnest getting a permanent AEW fit. Sensibly (in my opinion) the MOD and navy has decided that Crowsnest will instead be a quick fit solution to any of the HM2 fleet ensuring that we don’t end up with “fleets within fleets”.
That leaves 8 standard HM1 going spare and possibly a home for them.
If the Canadian government was to suck up the embarrassment they could buy the AW Merlin HM2 with the 8 HM1 being given to them at a throw away price as a hot swap to get them going.
Once new build HM2 become available off the line the older HM1 in Canadian service can be upgraded to the common standard. The second article does clearly state the Canadian team did look at the HM1 in particular so is a happy solution close to hand.
The main barrier as it stands is the Omni-shambles of the Victoria class procurement, the Canadian public is not exactly happy about that disaster despite a significant proportion of blame being laid at their own door.
The UK does not do enough in terms of defence co-operation with Canada, New Zealand and Australia and there is much we can learn from each other.
If not the Canadians do have another domestic solution available