Vanguard Magazine

Jun/Jul 2015

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

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flIght of the CormorAnt a aIr FORCE 20 JUNE/JULY 2015 h ow do you do a midlife upgrade of one of your primary search and rescue fleets without affecting too drastically your ability to conduct search and rescue? The Royal Canadian Air Force is con- sidering options to that question as it explores an upgrade program for its current fleet of CH-149 Cormorant helicopters. The AgustaWestland-built aircraft first entered service in 2002, replac- ing nine CH-113 Labrador twin- rotor helicopters, and have been a mainstay of search and rescue (SAR) operations on both coasts. The aircraft have a projected operational life through to 2025, but the air force would like to ex- tend that to around 2040. With just 14 helicopters (Canada original acquired 15 but one was lost to a crash in 2006), pulling a few from service at a time could pose a challenge to SAR capacity. As a result, although the Directorate of Air Requirements (DAR) has stood up a Cormorant Midlife Upgrade (CMLU) project of- fice, a range of options remain on the table. During the Air Force Outlook in April, conducted under the Chatham House rule, DAR and Air Force Development officials acknowledged they are still assessing whether an upgrade pro- gram is really the best course of action: "Is this as cost-effective as buying new or leasing?" a senior officer asked, adding that DAR will have to prove its case before the government's inde- pendent review panel, a recent component of the Defence Pro- curement Strategy. Jeremy Tracy, AgustaWestland's head of region in Canada, says the company is prepared to support whatever path the govern- ment chooses – it recently won a Norwegian SAR competition, beating out the incumbent NH90, Sikorsky S-92 Superhawk, and Eurocopter EC225 Cougar, among others. But it is encouraging an alternative option that would upgrade the existing Cormorant fleet while increasing their numbers. In 2011, the government purchased nine VH-71 airframes and a substantial quantity of spare parts from the U.S. Navy for a sale price of $164 million when the Obama administration cancelled the presidential helicopter replacement program after costs re- portedly doubled. The VH-71 Kestrel was developed by a Lock- heed Martin-led team of AgustaWastland and Bell Helicopter and is a variant of the CH-149. Tracy says seven of the aircraft could be reconfigure to SAR specifications and, with a midlife upgrade of the 14 Cormorants, would give Canada a fleet of 21. In addition, the inclusion of an Air Transportation Kit with the VH-71 sale would allow one Whether to expand the fleet? by vanguard staff

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