Back in December the Canadian Press news agency had a story revealing a new series of problems affecting the RCAF’s new maritime helicopter, the CH-148 Cyclone, and its sonar system. The article outlined how the sonar system used by some CH-148 Cyclones must be removed before the helicopters are allowed to land on ships.
|Crewmembers onboard Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) MONTREAL conduct vertical replenishment training with the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter during Exercise SPARTAN WARRIOR 16 in the Atlantic Ocean on October 31, 2016. Photo: MCpl Jennifer Kusche, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS15-2016-0003-042|
What is the issue with the sonar equipment on the CH-148 Cyclones?
The HELRAS is a deployable sonar system onboard the CH148 Cyclone. The HELRAS internal reeling machine (used to recover the unit after it has been deployed) on the Block 1 CH-148 was modified (tilted slightly) to improve the hover characteristics of the aircraft while deploying the sonar into the water. The slight “tilt” of the reeling machine results in the sonar protruding slightly from the base of the helicopter once it has been recovered into the helicopter.
The protrusion from the base of the helicopter introduces a risk of the sonar striking the Cyclone – Recovery Assist Secure and Traverse (C-RAST) during a ship landing. Analyses have shown that, in theory, it is possible for the sonar submersible unit to contact the ship mounted assisted recovery system when operating in a high sea state condition. If contact occurred, it would not prevent the safe recovery of the helicopter but it could cause damage the submersible unit.
To prevent damage, the sonar submersible unit is not installed whenever the Block 1 configured Cyclones conduct shipborne operations. The Block 1 aircraft can fly from shore-based locations with the sonar installed.
This has had no impact on flying or training, as maintenance personnel can remove the sonar prior to conducting embarked operations.
How effective is the Cyclone as a maritime helicopter without its sonar system? Without its ship landing system?
Using its Sonobuoy Processing Sub-System (SPSS) to prosecute sub-surface targets by deploying sonobuoys into the water and processing their signals, the CH148 Cyclone is an effective ASW asset. The HELRAS is an additional system that can be used to prosecute sub-surface targets, but it is not the only means of conducting ASW operations. All of the other sensor systems on the CH148 can be used unrestricted (Radar, IR camera, etc.), making it an effective weapons system across the spectrum of operations.
Without the use of C-RAST, the CH148 is limited to a conservative ship motion envelope for takeoff and landing, and cannot be traversed into or out of the hangar. Again, CH148 maintenance personnel can remove the HELRAS system to conduct shipborne landings as required. Helicopter Air Detachments that embark with a Block 1 CH148 include the HELRAS as part of the equipment pack-up onboard ship. In the case of a requirement to use the HELRAS, the CH148 can be disembarked to a shore location where the sonar can be installed and operations conducted from the land based airfield.
What’s being done to fix the issue?
In the Block 2 configuration, the sonar system has been re-positioned so that the submersible unit will be housed completely inside the fuselage when stowed. This redesign eliminates the possibility of contact between any part of the helicopter and the ship mounted assisted recovery system.
The first 6 Block 2 Cyclones are scheduled to be delivered to Canada by June 2018.
Block 1 Cyclones have already begun a phased return for induction into Sikorsky’s Block 2 production line. For example, of the fifteen Block 1 helicopters delivered, seven have been rotated back to the contractor for retrofit and delivery in the Block 2 configuration. All 28 aircraft will be retrofitted, and final delivery is expected to be completed by 2021.
In its final configuration, the CH-148 Cyclone will be capable of a full range of anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, search and rescue and utility missions in various environments, making it one of the most capable maritime helicopters in the world.
How much is it costing to fix the issue?
There is no additional cost to the Crown to rectify this issue.
What are the Block 1 Cyclones doing now?
The Cyclones currently in Shearwater are suitable for training and operations for a number of missions including Search and Rescue, utility transport, and surface and sub-surface surveillance, from both ashore, and while embarked on Royal Canadian Navy ships.