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  • ​Leonardo proposes AW101 conversion for Cormorant modernisation

​Leonardo proposes AW101 conversion for Cormorant modernisation

Leonardo and IMP Aerospace & Defence (IMP) are teaming up to convert AW101-519 helicopters to support the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) CH-149 Cormorant Search and Rescue (SAR) modernisation programme, Leonardo announced 29 May.

“Team Cormorant,” a joint venture comprised of Leonardo Helicopters and IMP, is bidding for the Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade (CMLU) and Conversion programme. The effort will stretch the legacy CH-149’s lives until 2040 and could cost between $500 million and $1.5 billion, according estimates from the Canadian government.

Team Cormorant’s bid would modify Canada’s inventory of AW101-519s, the model once slated to replace the US president’s helicopter, along with the RCAF’s current fleet of 14 Cormorants. The common fleet would include new avionics, advanced radars and sensors, vision enhancement and tracking systems, Leonardo states in a 29 May release.

Both the Lockheed Martin VH-71 Kestrel and the CH-149 are militarised versions of the medium-lift military transport AgustaWestland AW101 helicopter, formerly the EH-101. The US selected the VH-71 for the presidential helicopter recapitalisation programme, but escalating costs drove President Barack Obama to scrap the replacement rotorcraft in 2009. Ottawa bought nine AW101s in 2011 and the RCAF has kept them in storage for spare parts to support the aging CH-149 fleet.

Ottawa is undertaking an "options analysis phase" for the CMLU and contract award is slated for this year. Final delivery is expected in 2024. Upgrades will include improved avionics, ice protection, communication and corrosion management, as well as a new infra-red search and track capability.

In its recent report, Reinvesting in the Canadian Armed Forces, a Canadian senate committee on defence recommended activating the dormant fleet of nine VH-71s to boost the RCAF’s search and rescue rotary fleet.

“The fleet of VH-71s should be modified to match the current capacity of the search and rescue Cormorants and temporarily moved to the East and West Coasts to provide additional support for search and rescue while the CH-149 are systemically upgraded,” the committee writes. “Eventually, the VH 71 should be stationed at CFB Trenton to provide support for search and rescue operations, after the mid-life refit of the Cormorants.”

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