Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Sea Kings, Cyclones and CC-117s, procurement dos and don'ts.

Going on 50 years of service, the CH-124 Sea King
The Canadian Armed Forces can't seem to procure any new platform lately without some sort of controversy and delay.  Leaky submarines, pricy stealth fighters, and helicopters that seem to little more than figments of our imagination.  One starts to wonder why it is so hard for our men and women in uniform to get the equipment they need.

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.
Instead, it was decided to order a "militarized" version of the civilian S-92 "Superhawk", to be dubbed the CH-148 "Cyclone".  This was despite the fact that the military version of the S-92 only existed on paper at the time.  The other contender, the NH90, was already flying in prototype form and had been ordered by several countries.  

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.
Now, contrast this with the purchase of the CC-117 "Globemaster III".  After relying on either hitching rides with the Americans, or leasing Russian heavy-lift aircraft, it became overwhelmingly apparent that Canada had a true need for a strategic heavy transport for military operations and disaster relief.

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?

  1. DO:  Identify a need and look for an aircraft to satisfy that need.
  2. DO:  Procure a proven, but still current airframe.
  3. DO:  Look for aircraft with a definite delivery date.
  4. DON'T:  Cancel a program for simply political reasons.
  5. DON'T:  Cancel a program without a plan for an alternative.
  6. DON'T:  Order an unproven, undeveloped, untested design.


  1. I'll say this, Canada should have gone with Blackhawks, Seahawks and Jayhawks. Even could have brought more CC-17 and CC-130Js. The A-400M is just a 21st century version of the C-130J.

    1. I've always wonder why we didn't get Seahawks myself. They were fairly new when the Sea Kings needed replacement the first time around, and they have certainly proved themselves since then. Perhaps they couldn't fit on Canada's naval ships?

      If the Cyclone deal falls through, hopefully we can pick up some NH90s or Seahawks as quickly as we did the C-17.

    2. Canada needs to come to its sense's and see what kind of Military dose it want to be for the next 50 to 100 years. I think for Canada's best choice is to go with Blackhawks, Seahawks, battlehawk and Jayhawks. It wouldn't hurt if they got more C-17's and C-13J's. They can even have a C-130J do Tanker/Transport. As for their Navy, Canada needs to get an proven SSK such as Type 212/214, French Scorpene, Spain's S-80 or Swedish A-26. if Canada wants a Destroyer, they can see about buying into a Burke or a Spanish f-100. As afor a Frigate, maybe see if Canada can get in on the Type 26 or Frances FREMM frigate. A JSS type could be a San Antonio class LPD or Endurance class LPD. For a supply ship, canada can look at getting either a Berlin-class replenishment ship or a Lewis and Clark class dry cargo ship

    3. You are exactly right. Canada needs to figure out what kind of military it needs and what it can afford.

      The current Government's "Canada First" strategy would seem to suggest maintaining our own sovereignty first, providing aid to nearby allies second, and then worrying about the rest of the world. If this is the case, than we must place priority on protecting our airspace and territorial waters, including the arctic.

      Canada needs UAV's and ice breakers for arctic patrol and reconnaissance. We also need submarines capable of operating under the ice. Our current Victoria class subs would need to be upgraded, if we ever get them operational... At this point buying a newer, proven design might be a more sensible option.

  2. Both, the NH90s and SH-60 Sea Hawk would be good helicopters for Canada.

    When it comes to submarines I would recommend extreme caution. Submarines are among the most complex and expensive weapon systems in the world. Australia's Collin's Class submarines have been plaged with huge problems just as Canada's victoria class submarines, which appeared to be a bargain at the time.

    Canada should choose a ship yard with a proven track record in submarine design.

    In my mind, two ship yards stand out: The Swedish Kockums AB based on the Gotland class submarine.

    The German Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft based on the Type 212/214/216.

    Given the advances in non-nuclear air independent propulsion systems, I would not get a nuclear powered sub. Nuclear subs are extremely expensive and considerably louder than their non-nuclear equivalents without offering any decisive advantage.

    1. Both those boats look like a good choice, good to know that Canada would not necessarily need a nuclear sub for arctic patrol.

      Thanks for the youtube links!

    2. That's why I think NH-90's and Seahawks are perfect for Canadian Air force and Canadian Army. An NH-90 would be perfect for the Canadian Air force & Army. The Canadian Navy can use Seahawks that are in production right now.

      As for Submarines, I think A German Type 212/214 would be perfect for them. It's a proven design and can be upgraded to under ice capability. It's current, latest and in production. The Gotland was last built in the late 1990's. Though their newer class the A26 submarine is being built right now.

      hough for Nuke boats, I think the French Barracuda-class submarine would be perfect for them as well. It would of course have to be upgraded for Under Ice capability that the 688I boats, Seawolf and Virgina class SSN's have.

    3. Here's another video about the Type 212.

      For Canada, you may want a larger version of this sub with a longer range. The Israelis bought a customized version of the sub called dolphin class:

      The main advantage of a nuclear sub used to be its capability of staying submerged for months without even snorkling. The fuel cell in this diesel-electric sub lets this sub dive for about a month without snorkling, so that you can actually criss cross the north pole beneath the ice. You no longer need a nuclear submarine to do that.

      Additionally, this sub has a lower noise and heat signature than a nuclear submarine. The main advantage of a nuclear submarine is its greater top speed (around 55 km/h (30 Knots) vs. 37 km/h (20 Knots). But, in a submarine, stealth should have priority over speed.

      Consequently, a modern diesel-electric submarine with an air independent propulsion system - such as fuel cells - is superior to a nuclear submarine. Additionally, you save a boatload of money. But, submarines don't come cheap. Depending on what you want to get, you will have to dish out around 500 million US $ for a single conventional submarine and around 2.5 billion dollar for a single virginia class nuclear submarine. The sub could be built in Canada. South Korea, Greece and Turkey chose to manufacture them in their respective ship yards. Israel has them built completely in Germany.

    4. Thanks again for the great links.

      Admittedly my knowledge when it comes to submarine types is quite limited. It used to be, nuclear, diesel, attack, and hunter/killer... And that was it. I didn't even know there non-nuclear subs capable of operating under the ice cap.

      Thanks for the information and the education!

  3. Psst... About the A26..

  4. I don't know much about the Cyclone procurement other than the fact it has been a disaster. I have two questions for those who are a bit more informed with helicopters:

    1) Do you think Canada will ever get its Cyclones? Or do you think the programme will fall through and we'll have to go with something else?

    2) Do you think that Canada should cut its losses, ditch the Cyclones, and go with something else, like the various X-hawks?

    The Cyclone is a lot like the F-35, when you think about its development history.

    1. I think Canada should take extra interest in the U.S.A.'s upcoming sequestration deadline. If the U.S. enters sequestration, they may need to unload some helicopters to cut costs. This might offer Canada a similar opportunity as it had when it procured the C-17.

      As far as acquiring new build SeaHawks, Canada might be able to force Sikorsky to provide that airframe instead of the Cyclone. Sikorsky does make both the SeaHawk and the Cyclone, which begs the question: Why did Canada not go with the SeaHawk in the first place?