|Going on 50 years of service, the CH-124 Sea King|
Yesterday, it was announced that Canada's Sea King replacement, the CH-148 Cyclone, is not expected to enter service until 2015, if at all. So much has been said about the troubled Sea King replacement program that it bears little repeating. The original replacement, the EH101 "Merlin" was ordered by the Mulroney government in 1987. In 1993, the newly elected Chretien government cancelled the order, stating it was a "Cadillac" that was too extravagant of a purchase during a time of high government deficit. This resulted in a $500 million cancellation fee with no new helicopters in the pipeline. It wasn't until 10 years later, after Chretien retired, that tenders were put out for a new helicopter.
Suspiciously, the new helicopter requirements seemed to all but specifically exclude the EH101, which had already been adopted as Canada's search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopter, the CH-149 Cormorant. This was done, presumedly, to save the still Liberal government the embarrassment of purchasing the same aircraft it had previously cancelled at great expense.
|The Sea King's eventual (maybe) replacement, the CH-148 Cyclone.|
The Cyclone was announced in 2004, with deliveries promised for 2008. As of 2013, troubles with development has resulted in that delivery date being continuously pushed back. Current Defence Minister Peter MacKay has dubbed it "the worst procurement in the history of Canada". After over $500 million dollars have been spent and 26 years later, Canada still has nothing to show for it. To this date, no other country has ordered the Superhawk for military use, and, given Canada's difficulty with it so far, it will likely stay that way. This will leave us stuck with an "orphan" aircraft that sees little development, low production, and likely high operating costs.
|CC-117 Globemaster III. Procurement done right.|
The only two aircraft considered were the Boeing C-17 "Globemaster III" and the smaller Airbus A400M "Atlas". In 2006, the wise choice was made to purchase the larger C-17 along with newer model C-130J "Super Hercules". The A400M was still under development while both the C-17 and C-130 were proven, yet still recent, designs. Better still, C-17 production was currently overcapacity, thanks to the U.S. congress insistence on keeping the assembly line running, despite the USAF having all the aircraft it needed. Canada was even able to "jump the line" by acquiring airframes on the construction line that were originally slated (but not really needed) for the USAF. Canada acquired its first C-17 in August of 2007, a mere 13 months after it was selected.
Since then, the CC-117 has become an invaluable addition to the Canadian fleet, performing humanitarian missions in Libya and Haiti, as well as combat missions in Afghanistan and Mali.
What can we learn from these two very different aircraft procurements?
- DO: Identify a need and look for an aircraft to satisfy that need.
- DO: Procure a proven, but still current airframe.
- DO: Look for aircraft with a definite delivery date.
- DON'T: Cancel a program for simply political reasons.
- DON'T: Cancel a program without a plan for an alternative.
- DON'T: Order an unproven, undeveloped, untested design.