Are we go­ing ‘full cir­cle’ on mar­itime he­li­copters?

RCN News - - News - By Ken Hansen, CFPS Res­i­dent Re­search Fel­low 9 Septem­ber 2013 .

Fri­day’s news car­ried a cou­ple of sto­ries that spec­u­lated on whether or not the Siko­rsky H92 ‘Cy­clone’ he­li­copter deal will be can­celled. CBCNews ran a story, en­ti­tled ‘Other op­tions’ sought for Sea King He­li­copter re­place­ments, that quoted Pub­lic Works spokesper­son Am­ber Ir­win as say­ing, “the gov­ern­ment is con­sid­er­ing other op­tions for the mar­itime he­li­copter project.” An ar­ti­cle by Mur­ray Brew­ster for Cana­dian Press, en­ti­tled Harper gov­ern­ment now eval­u­at­ing he­li­copters ‘other’ than trou­bled Cy­clones, cited Ir­win fur­ther as say­ing, “We are con­duct­ing an anal­y­sis of price and avail­abil­ity of other air­crafts man­u­fac­tured by other ven­dors.” Brew­ster’s ar­ti­cle also states “an of­fi­cer from the air force direc­torate of the air re­quire­ments branch vis­ited a south­ern base in the United King­dom re­cently to look at Royal Navy HM-1 Mer­lin he­li­copters.” At first glance, it all seems to in­di­cate that a change may be im­mi­nent and that the air force and navy are once again en­ter­tain­ing the idea of the Mer­lin he­li­copter. I am not so sure about this. For any­one not aware, the HM-1 Mer­lin is the same EH-101 he­li­copter orig­i­nally se­lected by the Mul­roney Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment as the Sea King re­place­ment and sub­se­quently can­celled by Lib­eral Prime Min­is­ter Jean Chre­tien in 1993. The con­tract can­cel­la­tion re­sulted in a penalty clause be­ing evoked that cost ap­prox­i­mately $500m. So, what would be the cost of can­cel­ing the ex­ist­ing con­tract for the Cy­clones? There would cer­tainly be a penalty clause in this con­tract as well, but things have pro­gressed a lot fur­ther than they had with the EH-101s when that de­ci­sion was taken. Air­craft, hangars, main­te­nance fa­cil­i­ties and train­ing sim­u­la­tors have all been built. Air force per­son­nel are in the process of lean­ing the new sys­tems and plan­ning for their use in op­er­a­tions. The twelve Halifax-class frigates are be­ing mod­ern­ized to em­ploy the new air­craft. None of this had hap­pened when Chre­tien made his ‘Zero He­li­copters’ de­ci­sion. In other words, the cost to the mil­i­tary of chang­ing he­li­copters now would be far greater than just a penalty clause in the con­tract. I think the fi­nal cost of un­do­ing all of this work would make the penalty paid for can­celling the EH101s pale into in­signif­i­cance. At the Cana­dian De­fence Se­cu­rity and Aero­space Ex­hi­bi­tion (At­lantic) held in Halifax last week, RearAd­mi­ral Pa­trick Finn, Chief of Staff for the Ma­te­rial Group at NDHQ, in­di­cated that the con­ver­sion of Halifax-class frigates to take the Cy­clone he­li­copters is still pro­ceed­ing, with some mod­i­fi­ca­tion. All of the ma­jor work on the frigates for the new he­li­copter re­quir­ing the ship to be taken into a dry dock is still go­ing ahead. Some lesser work de­tails are not be­ing com­pleted that will per­mit the ships to op­er­ate the old he­li­copter. Th­ese last re­main­ing items will be fin­ished as the new he­li­copters en­ter ser­vice with the fleet. The ma­jor rev­er­sion that took place with HMCS Regina will not hap­pen again, but the mod­ern­iza­tion pro­gram is still mov­ing swiftly ahead. So, when will the Cy­clone en­ter ser­vice? There have been so many missed dead­lines that any new date promised for he­li­copters will not seem cred­i­ble. Wisely, Ad­mi­ral Finn did not of­fer an es­ti­mate when he pre­sented a brief­ing on the ma­jor cap­i­tal pro­grams. How­ever, he did say that Halifax-class Mod­ern­iza­tion Pro­gram is cur­rently on sched­ule and that Ini­tial Op­er­at­ing Ca­pa­bil­ity is due to be achieved in Jan­uary 2015 and Full Op­er­at­ing Ca­pa­bil­ity will fol­low by Jan­uary 2018. Be­cause the mod­ern­ized ship is de­signed to op­er­ate with the new he­li­copter, nei­ther IOC nor FOC can be achieved with the old he­li­copter. I asked the ad­mi­ral if the two con­tracts were “still har­mo­nized” and “whether there was still enough elas­tic­ity be­tween the two for them to achieve the ca­pa­bil­ity tar­get dates?” Ad­mi­ral Finn thought that this could still be ac­com­plished. Re­gard­less of what pro­duc­tion con­tracts may say, the RCAF and RCN are work­ing to­ward gen­er­at­ing a ca­pa­bil­ity for the de­fence needs of the coun­try. The fi­nal tar­get date for that is still a good dis­tance off. While some ‘due dili­gence’ con­tin­gency plan­ning may be un­der­way to ex­am­ine op­tions, the ma­te­rial changes to the fleet, bases fa­cil­i­ties, train­ing pro­grams and lo­gis­ti­cal sys­tems are all still mov­ing

for­ward as though Cy­clone will be the Cana­dian mar­itime he­li­copter of the fu­ture. This is un­likely to change. The “Hi­tachi Re­port” on the Cy­clone ac­qui­si­tion, which was ob­tained by CBC and is cited by Kath­leen Har­ris in her CBCNews ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled “Cy­clone he­li­copter con­tract re­vi­sions urged by re­port,” states clearly that the state-of-the-art tech­nol­ogy and ad­vanced in-ser­vice sup­port as­pect of the Cy­clone will re­sult in a ca­pa­bil­ity “that is likely un­sur­passed in the world to­day.” The prob­lems stem mainly from the bu­reau­cratic pro­cesses in­volved with pro­cure­ment and the odd no­tion that the gov­ern­ment thought that it was buy­ing an “offthe-shelf” prod­uct from Siko­rsky. How they got that im­pres­sion prob­a­bly de­serves in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The air­craft it­self will very likely pro­vide the type of “rel­e­vant ca­pa­bil­ity” that the re­port says should be the goal of gov­ern­ment ef­forts go­ing for­ward. The most wor­ri­some as­pect of this prob­lem is that the gov­ern­ment has an elec­tion com­ing in 2015. For the sake of po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­di­ence in the run up to an elec­tion, would they ac­tu­ally undo all of the work that has been ac­com­plished thus far and which is still pro­gress­ing? More likely is the prospect they are do­ing the nec­es­sary staff checks to see if any so­lu­tion can be ac­com­plished in the short term and for rea­son­able cost. I ex­pect that the an­swer to that ques­tion, once a full tab­u­la­tion of all the as­so­ci­ated costs is ex­am­ined, will be a re­sound­ing “No.”

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