Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Politics of Procurement: Military Acquisitions in Canada and the Sea King Helicopter
By Aaron Plamondon
UBC Press 2010 978-0-7748-1715-8 Soft Cover
The Canadian Navy in the late 1950s realized it would never be able to provide the ASW escorts they had pledged to NATO. So to fill this gap, it was decided to introduce a large shipborne helicopter onto its destroyer and destroyer escort sized ships that were capable of autonomous operations. This was in fact several years before other nations followed suit; they believing that a smaller airframe, acting as an extension of the ship's weapon system was preferable. Canada introduced the Sikorsky HSS-2 Sea King, an aircraft originally designed for operation from aircraft carriers. The Sea King was purchased in the early 1960s from United Aircraft in Quebec who built them under license, a program that saw the last delivery in 1969. Replacement planning was planned to begin in 1975 but this convoluted program is still going on today (2010) with deck trials of a replacement S-92 recently taking place in Halifax. The book goes into great detail on the behind the scenes machinations of the workings of Ottawa and the intrigues. One aspect missed that I would have like to see was the purported deal between Maritime Command head VADM Douglas Boyle handing over control of the Sea Kings to the Air Force in exchange for the latter's support in maintaining the current surface fleet. The eventual choice of the EH-101 to replaced the Sea King in the 1980s would have provided an up to date successor but this being Canada, was not to be. After calling the EH-101 an "attack" helicopter and promising to scrap the program if elected. He eventually was and he cancelled the program, an act costing almost half a billion dollars in termination fees. The program was dragged out again and the specificaitons constantly changed to preclude the EH-101 to avoid political embarrassment to the Prime Miinster. One small research error was noted: describing the post-World War Two fleet as containing four Tribal Class destroyers when in fact it was only three (HMCS Athabaskan was sunk in the English Channel in 1944). After he finally left office the inferior S-92 was selected from Sikorsky which should hopefully be operational by 2015, fully 40 years after the original replacement specification. Writer Aaron Plamondon is commended for his excellent research and narrative skills and I sincerely hope he focuses his next work in the military field.