VICTORIA, British Columbia ― Sikorsky plans to offer Canada its S-92 civilian helicopter for the Royal Canadian Air Force’s search and rescue operations, hoping to make a case that it’s cheaper to buy new rather than upgrade the existing fleet of Leonardo’s Cormorant rotary aircraft.
The Royal Canadian Air Force is currently introducing into service the Cyclone maritime helicopter, a military variant of Sikorsky’s S-92. It also operates a fleet of 14 Cormorants for search and rescue. That helicopter, a variant of the EH-101, is built by Leonardo, formerly AgustaWestland.
The service is now working on a project to modernize its search and rescue fleet, but it has yet to decide whether to buy new aircraft or upgrade the Cormorants. Depending on its decision, the cost of the project would range from CA$500 million to CA$1.5 billion (U.S. $391 million to U.S. $1.2 billion)
Nathalie Previte, Sikorsky’s vice president for strategy and business development, said the firm is hopeful Canada will hold a competition for rotary search and rescue. A Sikorsky bid would involve the S-92 in a search and rescue configuration, supported by in-service support from Canadian firms.
“Our value proposition would be focused on providing a solution that is more affordable at acquisition and throughout the entirety of the lifecycle,” Previte said in an email.
Sikorksy officials say the S-92 has a high mission-readiness rate, the latest in de-icing technology and can operate in extreme temperature conditions. S-92s are used for search and rescue by the Irish Coast Guard and for similar duties in the United Kingdom. The South Korean Coast Guard also operates the S-92 for search and rescue and other missions.
Leonardo has proposed to the Air Force that it modernize the existing 14 Cormorants. In addition, it has suggested that seven of the nine presidential VH-71 helicopters, purchased from the U.S. in 2011 for spare parts, could be put into service for search and rescue operations. The VH-71 is a variant of the company’s EH-101 helicopter.
Air Force spokesman Maj. Scott Spurr said the service is close to deciding how to proceed on the helicopters. “The project team is currently finalizing the options analysis phase, which will identify a preferred option,” Spurr said.
No date was provided on when that preferred option would be identified.
David Pugliese has been Defense News' Canada correspondent since 1989. He has covered conflicts in Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia and Africa. In 2020, he won the Spencer Moore Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom. He is the author of two books on special operations forces.