Ottawa to spend $1.24 billion to extend life of search-and-rescue chopper fleet

Ottawa to spend $1.24 billion to extend life of search-and-rescue chopper fleet

The Department of National Defence (DND) quietly announced Thursday that it will spend $1.24 billion to extend the life of the air force’s search and rescue helicopter fleet — part of a long-standing, problem-plagued procurement effort.

The announcement was made by press release late in the day by Defence Minister Anita Anand’s office on behalf of Public Services and Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek.

The upgrade to the country’s 13 CH-149 Cormorant helicopter fleet was first proposed more than five years ago in the Liberal government’s defence policy.

The sole-source project hit a major snag almost two years ago when upgrade proposals turned out to be costlier than the government anticipated.

“Negotiations with the contractor were put on pause due to the proposals being unaffordable,” said a one-page internal presentation used to update senior officials at the time.

The initial budget for the life extension — to keep the helicopters flying until the 2040s — was pegged at $1.03 billion.

On Thursday, the Liberal government announced two contracts — one for the upgrade, the other for simulators.

CAE Inc. of Montreal will offer the simulators while Leonardo U.K. Ltd. (Yeovil, United Kingdom) will perform the overhaul.

The work will, among other things, equip the choppers with advanced electronics. The government also says it will add three more helicopters to the fleet.

In the statement, the department said the extra aircraft will ensure the air force can continue to perform search and rescue operations out of Comox, B.C., Gander, N.L. and Greenwood, N.S., and can resume operations out of Trenton, Ont.

“The CH-149 Cormorant helicopter is a critical asset for search and rescue operations in Canada and these contracts provide the best solution for Canada to upgrade its fleet and provide the accompanying training tools to our aviators so that they can continue to keep Canadians safe – now, and in the years to come,” Anand said in a media statement.

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