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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sea King Helicopters not going Quietly

It was earlier this year when Defence Minister Jason Kenney announced that the RCAF would be receiving its first delivery of Sikorsky Cyclone maritime helicopters; and that the RCAF would move forward with the retirement of the dated Sikorsky Sea King helicopters originally purchased in the 1960s. Now it seems that they will be flying until at least 2018; perhaps as long as 2021.

CH-124 Sea King.jpg
A RCAF CH-124 Sea King Helicopter landing on the USS Pearl Harbor during Exercise PANAMAX 2007. 

The government announced that the Cyclone delivery would mean a 2015 retirement date for much of the Sea King fleet as promised, but that just is not the case. Only 2 of the RCAF's 26 Sea King fleet have been retired, and they were taken out of flying serving a while ago due to damage. Another 4 are set to be retired by March 2016. The remaining 20 will most likely keep flying well into 2018, and perhaps as long as 2021.

Sikorsky has missed several deadlines with the delivery of the Cyclone - and after a renegotiation in 2014, agreed to deliver all 28 helicopters by the end of 2018 - but they would not be fully combat operational until 2021.

Sikorsky is still working on the final combat software needed for the helicopters to work at the full capacity, and the engines earlier this year were considered weaker  than expected. So the Cyclones that are delivered will be limited to training flights, and ground search and rescue. The update due in 2021 will allow the Cyclones to operate at Sea in all weather conditions and partake in Anti-Submarine Warfare; something the Sea King excelled at.

In order to keep the Sea Kings 'current', DND quietly approved a $500,000 update program to the fleets infrared, optic and digital sensor systems. This program is required - especially if Sikorsky falls behind on the final 2021 fully operational deadline. According to the RCAF - more than half that budget has already been spent, and the remainder will be spent on deliveries expected in the next 12 to 18 months; which in it self puts the Sea Kings quietly active into 2017.