By David Pugliese
The Royal Canadian Air Force is in varying stages of modernizing its rotary aircraft fleet. Esprit de Corps takes a look at the status of the main projects under way.
The acquisition of the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter to replace the aging Sea Kings continues to move along. As of October 18, a total of 13 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters have been delivered and accepted by the RCAF, military officials told Esprit de Corps. The aircraft currently at 12 Wing Shearwater, Nova Scotia, are being used for training and operational testing, as well as conversion training.
Training is progressing from initial cadre training (teaching aircrew to operate a new aircraft for the purposes of testing it and training on it) to building the cadre of operational aircrew.
The crews that went through initial cadre training are continuing with the operational test and evaluation program of the CH-148 Cyclone, while others are instructing new crews who are now undergoing conversion training from the Sea King to form the CH-148 fleet’s operational aircrews, Department of National Defence spokeswoman Dominique Tessier explained.
The Cyclone fleet is expected to reach initial operating capability by spring of 2018 and is scheduled to be ready for operational employment by the summer of 2018.
Delivery of all 28 Cyclone helicopters, in their final configuration, is expected to be completed by 2021.
CH-149 CORMORANT MODERNIZATION
Earlier this year, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan suggested that an upgrade program for the CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue helicopters would be a key program for the RCAF in the future.
Leonardo Helicopters and IMP Aerospace & Defence re-established their “Team Cormorant” to pursue the proposed modernization of the Cormorant fleet. Team Cormorant comprises Leonardo Helicopters, the original equipment manufacturer of the EH101/AW101/Cormorant helicopters; IMP, the prime contractor for Cormorant in-service support; and other key Canadian companies that will supply and support critical aircraft components, technology, systems, simulation and training. Those firms include CAE, GE Canada and Rockwell Collins.
The Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade (CMLU) and Conversion Program proposed by the companies combines the current fleet of 14 CH-149 helicopters with additional helicopters obtained by the Canadian government when it acquired the assets of the U.S. VH-71 presidential helicopter program. Those helicopters and parts are currently in storage at IMP Aerospace in Halifax. The CMLU and Conversion Program offers a single, common fleet incorporating the latest avionic and mission systems, advanced radars and sensors, vision enhancement and tracking systems, according to Team Cormorant.
The team wants to install modern cockpit displays, a new aircraft management system, avionics, weather radar and other systems. In addition, an electro-optical surveillance system would be included. GE would provide its CT7-8E engine, a 3,000-horsepower turboshaft engine, for the modernized helicopters.
DAG puts the price tag at $500-million to $1.5-billion. The RFP was supposed to be issued in 2018 and a contract awarded in 2019, but it is unclear at this point whether the Department of National Defence and Public Services and Procurement Canada will be able to meet those deadlines.
CH-146 GRIFFON MODERNIZATION
The Griffon Limited Life Extension project will extend the service life of the CH-146 Griffon beyond the current estimated life expectancy, allowing it to continue to be relevant for support to the Canadian Army and Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) units.
The life extension project is projected to allow the Griffon helicopters to continue to operate out to the 2030s, said Capt. Trevor Reid of the directorate of Air Force public affairs.
“The project will replace obsolete cockpit instruments and avionics with components that are supportable to the mid-2030s,” Reid noted. Adaptation and integration of existing avionics and electronic flight instruments in the aircraft will enable an extension of the life of the Griffon. The CH-146’s flight simulators will be modified to conform to the fleet. Finally, the project will ensure integrated logistic support, supply of initial spares and training, Reid added.
The anticipated timeline is as follows:
• 2018 — Definition Approval
• 2020 — Implementation Approval, Request for Proposal Release, Contract Award
• 2024-2025 — Initial Operating Capability for Life-extended Griffons
• 2026 — Final Delivery
It should be noted that this project has been delayed from its previous schedule. In 2015, the RCAF put definition approval for 2016. In addition, implementation, issuing of an RFP (request for proposal) and awarding a contact were all to be done in 2018. Final delivery of the upgraded helicopters was to have taken place in 2024 under the old schedule.
The preliminary cost estimate for the project has also climbed. In the Defence Acquisition Guide (DAG) 2015 the cost was put at between $500-million and $1.5-billion. But in DAG 2016 that price tag was set at “more than $1.5 billion.” DAG 2017 has not yet been released so it is unclear whether the cost will continue to increase.
Eventually, a new helicopter will be acquired through what the RCAF is calling a Tactical Reconnaissance Utility Helicopter project.