Canada has kicked off its long awaited Maritime Helicopter (MH)project to replace 30 ageing Sikorsky CH-124 Sea Kings by releasing a "statement of operational requirement" on which a request for proposals (RFP)will be based.

Art Eggleton, minister of national defence, says Canada will acquire 28 helicopters costing C$2.9 billion ($2 billion) over eight years.

Two competitions will be held, one for the helicopter and another for the mission system. An RFP is due to be released shortly with the Department of National Defence hoping to award a contract for the airframes "as soon as possible" next year with the mission system to be selected shortly thereafter. Delivery of the helicopter is scheduled for 2005.

As well as maritime roles - anti-submarine, anti-surface vessel, over-the-horizon-targeting for the Boeing Harpoon anti-ship missile, and vertical replenishment - the helicopter will be used for search and rescue (SAR), economic exclusion zone enforcement, peacekeeping and disaster relief.

The mission system will consist of a mission computer to integrate and display sensor and navigation data, a direct-line-of-sight and over-the-horizon communications suite, day/night electro-optical sensors, radar, dipping sonar, sonobuoy processor, electronic support measures and a self protection suite.

The helicopters will embark aboard the Canadian force's 12 Halifax-class frigates, four modernised Iroquois-class destroyers and two replenishment ships.

Helicopter manufacturers have started to team with mission system specialists. AgustaWestland is teamed with Boeing to offer the EHIndustries EH101 and is already supplying 15 EH101s for SARmissions.

Sikorsky has linked with Lockheed Martin Canada to provide the mission system for a bid based around the S-92. Other likely bidders include the Eurocopter Cougar and NH Industries NH90.

Canada cancelled a $5.8 billion order for the maritime EH101, following the election of a new government in 1993.

Source: Flight International