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The Cyclone Chronicles

by Martin Shadwick

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Since 1867, successive Canadian governments have battled, bungled or procrastinated their way through the treacherous shoals of defence procurement. Some of their choices, such as the St. Laurent-class frigate and the seemingly evergreen Hercules (which has now served nine prime ministers), were inspired. But far too many capital projects have fallen victim, in one way or another, to undue politicization, the hyperactive quest for industrial benefits, the vagaries of defence economics and inconsistent or non-existent strategic direction. Realities outside of the purely political realm, such as inter-service and intra-service rivalry and uneven reportage, have admittedly helped to transform defence procurement into something of a spectator sport, but defence procurement is clearly not the forte of Canadian governments.

Few capital projects can match the tortured dynamics of Sea King replacement. The Sea King’s intended successor, the Anglo-Italian EH101, ignited a media and political firestorm during the concluding stages of the Mulroney government and provided a most unwelcome controversy for the embattled Kim Campbell during the 1993 election campaign. The new prime minister, Jean Chrétien, promptly honoured a campaign commitment by aborting the EH101 but – apart from a 1998 volte face which bequeathed the EH101-derived Cormorant search and rescue (SAR) helicopter – lapsed into what Chrétien biographer Lawrence Martin has characterized as “a decade-long marathon of indecision, unconscionable delays, and political meddling in helicopter procurement requirements....” Not surprisingly, the painful and protracted quest for a Sea King replacement has come to symbolize the myriad problems confronting Canadian defence procurement, the Canadian Forces and Canadian defence policy.

Whether the Sea King replacement file proves any kinder to Paul Martin remains to be seen. His government’s 23 July 2004 selection of the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone (i.e., the H-92 Superhawk) as Canada’s new maritime helicopter brought a heartfelt sigh of relief in many quarters. However, it also re-ignited debate over the “lowest cost compliant” procurement strategy, the ability of Sikorsky and its partners to deliver the Cyclone in a timely fashion, the civilian (i.e., S-92) roots of the H-92, and the relative technical merits of the H-92 and the competing AgustaWestland EH101. The selection also landed Ottawa in court, with an AgustaWestland lawsuit alleging that the government’s evaluation of the maritime helicopter bids was “biased, unfair and contrary to the rules of the procurement.”

The economics of helicopter procurement have resurfaced with a vengeance – no doubt to the delight of calculator and battery manufacturers. Interested parties attempt, with difficulty, to accurately compute and compare the respective costs of the original Mulroney plan for 35 maritime and 15 SAR EH101s, the Campbell plan for 28 maritime and 15 SAR EH101s, and the combined Liberal total for EH101 cancellations costs, 15 Cormorants, 28 Cyclones, and the expenditures incurred in stretching the Sea King’s service life.

Legal and financial issues aside, what is the significance of the July decision? First and foremost, it suggests that the Martin government has grasped the harsh reality that the Sea King cannot last forever and that even serviceable Sea Kings – an increasingly rare breed – are of limited value in the post-Cold War and post 9/11 geostrategic environments. Some might see in the nascent order for 28 Cyclones a greater sensitivity to security and defence, but such an interpretation demands a heavy dose of optimism given the numerous, and expensive, competing demands upon the public purse. Still, it is intriguing to note that Paul Martin’s relatively new government has already pencilled in 28 military aircraft. Its predecessor, in a full decade, purchased only 19: two Hercules, two Challengers and 15 Cormorants.

The Cyclone will provide a quantum leap over the Sea King, not only in terms of anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance – all 28 Cyclones will receive full mission avionics suites – but in terms of flexibility and role adaptability. Transport applications, for example, will be facilitated by the rear cargo ramp and by the ability to quickly remove sensors, avionics racks and operator consoles. The transport role, particularly in support of the Army, is clearly growing in importance and will demand that transport-configured Cyclones be equipped with a full complement of troop seating. Indeed, some might posit that a follow-on buy of Cyclones, dedicated to Army support, would be a useful supplement to, and a partial replacement for, the Griffon utility tactical transport helicopter.

The requirement for 28 Cyclones is itself intriguing in that the number of air-capable warships has declined since the short-lived Campbell government reduced the projected maritime helicopter buy to 28 aircraft. If the surviving Iroquois-class destroyers are eventually scrapped without replacement, the case for 28 anti-submarine warfare/maritime surveillance Cyclones could be weakened. The case would become weaker still in the event that three Halifax-class frigates were converted to command and control/area air defence configuration and, in the process, forfeited their ability to carry an embarked helicopter. On the other hand, the proposed troika of Joint Support Ships could prove to be a major operator of the Cyclone, irrespective of configuration.

There are, of course, other important issues surrounding the Cyclone. The argument that the type is a warmed-over ‘civilian’ helicopter is somewhat specious given the scope of the militarization and marinization process and the blurred distinction between military, and increasingly more demanding civilian, standards and specifications. That said, the comfort zone for Canada would be noticeably larger if the H-92 was already in quantity production for US forces and other customers. It would also be illuminating to learn exactly how much the lack of commonality between our SAR Cormorants and maritime Cyclones will cost the Canadian taxpayer. This issue received inadequate attention in the government’s July statements and briefings. Finally, as Peter Donaldson notes in Defence Helicopter, Sikorsky and its partners “have four years from contract award to begin deliveries of fully integrated maritime H-92s. This is a tall order.”

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Martin Shadwick teaches Canadian defence policy at York University. He is a former editor of Canadian Defence Quarterly.

royal military college of canada

annual military history symposium 17-18 march 2005

call for papers

The History Department of the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston Ontario will host its annual Military History Symposium on 17-18 March 2005. This year’s format will feature a mix of invited speakers and panels of graduate students and new scholars. The theme will be:

“Old Wars – New Perspectives:
The Way Ahead for Military History in the New Millennium”

The Symposium will provide a convivial forum for the community of military historians to discuss and debate new perspectives and emerging trends in four broad areas: pre-1914, the First World War, the Second World War, and the Cold War, including peacekeeping and peacemaking operations. The RMC History department extends a special invitation to graduate students and new scholars to present their innovative research. There is a possibility of financial support for panellists.

Terry Copp, Director of the Laurier Centre for Military and Disarmament Studies (WLU) will be the Keynote Speaker and Desmond Morton, Hiram Mills Professor of History at McGill, will deliver Concluding Remarks. Four other notable speakers will share their vision of the way ahead for military history in the new millennium. The Organizing Committee welcomes papers and panels that address as many topics as possible. This includes, but is in no way limited to: operational history; war and society; war and remembrance; military leadership and decision-making; war, gender, ethnicity and culture; the technologies of war; media, propaganda and intelligence; and civil-military relations.


The deadline for proposals
(250 words max) is Monday 17 January 2005. Presentations will be limited to 20 minutes, followed by a discussion period.


Major Michael Boire,
(613)-541-6000 x 8781.