VICTORIA, British Columbia — Sikorksy Aircraft has begun delivering the first of its new Cyclone maritime helicopters to Canada, but the aircrafts' engines aren't capable of fully meeting the requirements.
The helicopters being delivered under the CAN $5.7 billion program (US $5.4 billion) will need to be upgraded over the next three to six years. The upgrades will include electronic systems and engines.
The Canadian government on June 19 accepted the first six Cyclones, part of a procurement that Public Works Minister Diane Finley acknowledged "has had a torturous history."
The government had been refusing to accept the helicopters being built for the Royal Canadian Air Force by the Stratford, Connecticut-based company and in the summer of 2013 threatened to cancel the project. But the ruling Conservative Party government decided to stick with Sikorsky, agreeing to the acceptance of, at least initially, a less capable helicopter.
Sikorsky originally signed the contract in 2004 to build 28 Cyclones, a maritime variant of its S-92. The first fully equipped helicopter was supposed to be delivered in November 2008, with all deliveries completed by early 2011.
Department of National Defence spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said the first helicopters are suitable for aircrew training and testing, search and rescue, utility transport and surface surveillance missions. Improvements will be made starting next year, he added.
"Sikorsky is designing improvements to the engines to increase their power output for a very few circumstances, specifically at high-density altitudes in hot conditions in which the Cyclone could be flown," Le Bouthillier said in an email.
Other changes include the installation of improved self-protection systems, mission systems and communications. On board tactical displays will also be upgraded.
Canada will see the delivery of the first fully capable Cyclone starting in 2018, Le Bouthillier said. All 28 helicopters will be fully capable by 2021.
Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson said in a statement to Defense News that, "We are working very closely with the government to ensure all requirements are being met and that full operational capability will be assured per our contract."
The aircraft are to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force's 50-year-old Sea King helicopters.
Problems with the Cyclone project surfaced shortly after work began in 2005-2006. Several years later Canada agreed to renegotiate the delivery schedule and under a new deal pay Sikorsky CAN $117 million extra for improvements to be made to the helicopter, as well as changes to the long-term in-service support package for the aircraft.
The government also agreed to a new delivery schedule, with the first fully compliant maritime helicopter arriving in June 2012. But Sikorsky failed to meet that timetable.
Sikorsky has agreed to pay Canada CAN $88.6 million in damages for late delivery of the aircraft.
Joyce Murray, defense critic for the Liberal Party, one of the opposition political parties in the House of Commons, said the government mismanaged the Cyclone procurement.
"The Conservative government made a mistake in re-opening the contract with Sikorsky," she said.
But Finley, whose department is in charge of procurement, said that the government made a concerted effort to turn the program around and it will stick to the schedule in acquiring the rest of the helicopters.
In 2013 the Conservative government did look at canceling the contract and RCAir Force officers were sent to the United Kingdom to examine the possible purchase of Merlin Mk. 2 helicopters, which are upgraded variants of the AW101. The Air Force also operates AW101 variants for search and rescue missions.
But Canada backed away from its threat to buy new aircraft. Industry sources say key to the decision to proceed with the Cyclone acquisition was the fact that the government had already spent CAN $1.7 billion on the project.
In a report on the project's status, released in October 2010, then Auditor-General Sheila Fraser pointed out that the Department of National Defence failed to assess the risks involved with what was a developmental aircraft.
The Cyclone helicopters lacked capabilities in areas of mission system software and in the exchange of tactical data between ships and the helicopter, Fraser concluded in her 50-page report, "Acquisition of Military Helicopters."
Sikorsky is the prime contractor for the project. Principal sub-contractors are General Dynamics Canada Ltd. Ottawa, which is developing and testing the on-board mission systems; and L-3 MAS, Mirabel, Quebec, which will perform the in-service support engineering activities and will manage that support program.