Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Maritime Helicopters a Cautionary Tale for Taxpayers on F-35: Expert: Maritime Choppers a Cautionary Tale for F-35s

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Maritime Helicopters a Cautionary Tale for Taxpayers on F-35: Expert: Maritime Choppers a Cautionary Tale for F-35s

Article excerpt

OTTAWA - The Harper government agreed to go easy on the maker of the air force's long-delayed maritime helicopters after winning a series of economic concessions, new documents reveal.

The ongoing saga involving the CH-148 Cyclones serves a cautionary tale for taxpayers in the raging debate over the F-35 stealth fighter, says a defence expert.

In exchange for not receiving fully capable and operational helicopters on time in 2010, Public Works and National Defence managed to wring $110 million in extra industrial and economic promises out of U.S.-based Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., says a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

It also won concessions from the manufacturer on the cost of operating the helicopter, an extension to the long-term maintenance contract and a vague promise to "restructure liquidated damages," which were the result of Sikorsky's failure to deliver aircraft on time.

The documents, dated June 2010, were released just recently to The Canadian Press under access-to-information laws.

The $5.7-billion program, which has been beset by cost-overruns and delays, has been the subject of intense criticism by the auditor general, similar to the much more expensive F-35 fighter program.

Philippe Lagasse, an assistant professor of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, says the Cyclone is a civilian helicopter that's being battle-hardened for the military and has had a lot of development glitches, much like the F-35, which is being built from scratch.

"Be careful when you are buying a developmental aircraft. I think that's the simplest lesson here," he said Monday. "And that goes for any piece of military kit. Until it's flying in the air, or sailing at sea, you don't know how long it's going to take."

Also, like the stealth fighter deal, Lagasse said the Conservatives have been eager to keep the Cyclones off the public radar, dodging questions in the House of Commons from critics.

"It speaks to a general attitude about not admitting difficulties publicly with some of these procurements and not being more forthright," he said. …

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