The "worst procurement in the history of Canada" has suffered another setback, with Ottawa announcing it now plans to get its long-awaited fleet of maritime helicopters in 2018, or 10 years behind schedule.
In a news release late on Friday, the federal government announced a deal with aircraft-manufacturer Sikorsky to start receiving 28 "fully capable" CH-148 Cyclone helicopters in four years. The helicopters are designed to replace the nearly 50-year-old Sea Kings on the Royal Canadian Navy's frigates for military operations around the world.
The new delivery schedule means the marine choppers will arrive 14 years after Ottawa awarded the contract to Sikorsky, and a decade after their original arrival date. The company failed to meet a revised deadline for delivery in 2012, which was part of a contract amendment with the government in 2008.
Ottawa refused to state on Friday whether it will receive the entire fleet in 2018 or over a longer period.
Between 2015 and 2018, the Canadian Forces are planning to operate Cyclones with "sufficient" operational capability to start replacing the Sea Kings, but not the full capabilities that Ottawa is paying $5.7-billion to obtain.
Sikorsky encountered technological problems in developing the helicopters.
"As the pre-eminent helicopter manufacturer in the world, we regret that we have not executed this program to the satisfaction of the Government of Canada and that no aircraft were delivered in 2013," Mick Maurer, president of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., said in the news release.
"We recognize that we and our subcontractors must do better," he said.
If the latest timetable is followed, it will mark the end of a complicated process to buy new helicopters that started in the 1980s and was marred by a political fight between the Conservatives and the Liberals. When he was the government's minister of defence in 2012, Peter MacKay famously dubbed the military acquisition the worst in the country's history.
The current Conservative government has imposed financial penalties of $88.6-million against Sikorsky for the delays.
"Under the new terms established in the Principles of Agreement, Sikorsky has committed to deliver the needed helicopter capability at no additional cost to Canada," Public Works Minister Diane Finley said in a statement. "In addition, the Government of Canada will only issue further payment to Sikorsky upon capability delivery."
Ottawa had threatened to scrap its contract with Sikorsky and to explore the acquisition of other helicopters given the delays. However, it reached a deal with Sikorsky on Dec. 31 to stick with the Cyclones.
"The decision to continue with the maritime helicopter project is consistent with our goals of getting the Canadian Armed Forces the equipment they need while protecting the investments taxpayers have already made in this program," Defence Minister Rob Nicholson said.
Sikorsky had already started to provide helicopters to the Canadian Forces, but they were not officially counted as having been "delivered" because they did not meet all of the contractual requirements for power and certification.
"The restructured program will see the continuation of the initial training and testing of the Cyclone now under way in Shearwater, Nova Scotia," the news release said.