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Tough line urged on helicopter procurement

Government should consider options for Sea King replacement: report


OTTAWA—A newly released report about Canada’s maritime helicopter procurement is urging the government to “get tough” in dealing with the company set to replace Canada’s aging Sea King helicopters.

Michael Byers, a military and political expert at the University of British Columbia, says it’s unacceptable that pilots are still flying the old Sea Kings, almost 50 years after they were introduced and 20 years after Brian Mulroney’s government promised to replace them.

The worst procurement in the history of Canada: Solving the maritime helicopter crisis, by UBC political scientist Michael Byers and Stewart Webb, Visiting Research Fellow at the Rideau Institute and Research Associate at the Salt Spring Forum, questions whether Canada should cancel the contract with US company Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation and begin the procurement process anew.

In the report for the Ottawa-based Rideau Institute, Byers says it’s important to look at alternatives, the way the government is doing with the oft-maligned F-35 stealth fighter, because the Cyclone helicopter is still in the development stage. He says no other country has bought or is flying the aircraft and it’s time to say enough is enough.

Twenty years have passed since Ottawa cancelled the contract for EH-101s that were supposed to replace the Sea Kings, the authors say. As well, a decade has gone by since the government signed a contract for the CH-148 Cyclones with Sikorsky. To date, no fully operational Cyclone has been delivered.

The authors make three recommendations, namely that the government:

  • provide full transparency on the Maritime Helicopter Project;
  • get tough with Sikorsky regarding the overdue and over-budget CH-148 Cyclone by imposing the late penalties, and refusing further top-up funding; and
  • begin an accelerated review of off-the-shelf alternatives, so as to be in a position to negotiate a new contract with another supplier if the helicopters ordered from Sikorsky fail to be delivered.

“The latest attempt to replace the Sea Kings has become mired in delays and setbacks,” said Stewart Webb. “The government should urgently re-consider its options for replacing these aged and unsafe aircraft.”