The Canadian government could be set to face a protracted legal battle, after it disqualified a Lockheed Martin-NH Industries bid to offer the NH90 for its C$3 billion ($2.26 billion) Maritime Helicopter Program. The contest to replace the military's fleet of 28 Sikorsky CH-124A Sea Kings, will now be fought by EH Industries' EH101 Cormorant and Sikorsky's S-92 Superhawk.

The government says the NH90 failed to measure upduring the contract's pre-qualification phase, although neither party would discuss the matter further. Lockheed Martin's legal team is poring over 50,000 pages of documents in preparation for a likely appeal to the Canadian International Trade Tribunal or legal action in the Federal Court of Canada. "We would be prepared to do whatever we had to, to defend our interest," says Lockheed Martin. "Suing your customers is never a very nice thing."

The disqualification comes as Ottawa formally issued a request for proposals for the requirement, 10 years after former prime minister Jean Chrétien cancelled the original contract, awarded to the Cormorant by the former administration, for being too costly. Canada already operates 15 Cormorants in the search and rescue role. The two finalists must respond to the request for proposals by 30 April to deliver 28 search and rescue and anti-submarine helicopters, with a contract decision in mid-2004.

Under the competition, the contract will go to the lowest bidder for both the new helicopters and a 20-year support programme, which will bring the total price tag to C$5 billion.

The first aircraft are expected to be delivered within 48 months of contract award, with others following at a rate of two a month. Ottawa says it will award C$2 million a month for early delivery of the first helicopter and penalties of $3 million a month for late delivery.

Source: Flight International