After a review of Canadian military requirements that began in the 1980s, the conservative party went on to select the AgustaWestland EH-101 "Merlin" medium-lift multi-role helicopter to replace the long-running Sikorsky CH-124 "Sea King" types for its armed forces. The Sea King, a variant of the Sikorsky SH-3 "Sea King" of the US Navy - had been in service since 1963 to which approximately 41 had been procured for anti-submarine warfare and general utility roles. However, the mount had grown "long in the tooth" with technology and capabilities of modern types outclassing the old rotary-wing design and the arrival of the Italian-British Merlin would have changed all that save for the arrival of the liberal ruling party who promptly cancelled the procurement deal in 1993 for seemingly political reasons. This opened the door to a formal review of the standing requirement and delayed selection and purchase of a new helicopter type for the time being. It was not until November of 2004 that the Canadian government announced a 28-strong procurement deal with the American firm of Sikorsky to deliver said helicopters under the designation of "CH-148 Cyclone". The first flight of a production-quality bird was recorded on November 15th, 2008 while deliveries of the new breed were expected for January of 2009. However, delays in development have since pushed the procurement completion date to December 2013. To date, only 5 "interim models" of the intended 28 helicopters have been completed (2012) and none of these have yet to be delivered to the Canadian government (both air force and naval units are expecting to operate the product). For the foreseeable future, the CH-124 Sea King will remain in active service with the Royal Canadian Navy. The Canadian government has taken to levying financial penalties against Sikorsky for the delays.
The CH-148 is based on the airframe of the Sikorsky S-92 series, a modified variant of its Sikorsky S-70 series (the S-70 itself the basis for the US Army UH-60 "Blackhawk"). This helicopter family does not feature the requisite large side doors for cabin occupants and instead makes use of four rectangular access doors (two forward, two aft) with a window-lined fuselage and a rear loading ramp. Engines are uprated types and the airframe makes increased use of corrosion resistant materials required of over-water operations. The two pilots sit behind a short nose assembly and lightly-framed cockpit canopy with generally good views of the outside action. The fuselage design is relatively straight forward, encompassing the short cockpit, large crew area and raised empennage capped by a vertical tail fin and applicable horizontal planes. The twin engine arrangement is comprised of 2 x General Electric CT7-8A7 turboshaft powerplants in a side-by-side configuration driving a four-bladed composite main rotor and four-bladed tail rotor. The main rotor sits atop a short mast held close to the fuselage roof while the tail rotor is set to face the starboard side of the aircraft. Two large sponsons (each housing a 15-man lift raft) are fitted to either side of the fuselage that allow for some limited "amphibious" capabilities while the wheeled undercarriage is retractable (two double-tired main landing gear legs and a single double-tired nose leg). Overall construction is of metal and composites which produce a relatively lighter airframe while retaining robust tolerances required of the role. The CH-148 will be used in an anti-submarine warfare role (when outfitted as such) as well as general transport (up to 22 occupants).
Overall length of the CH-148 is listed at 56 feet with a height of 15.4 feet and rotor diameter of 58 feet. The system weighs 7,070kg when empty and carries a full mission MTOW of 13,000kg. Maximum speed if listed at 190 miles per hour with a cruise speed of around 160 miles per hour. Service ceiling is expected to be around 15,000 feet. While crewed by the two pilots, the standard operating crew of the CH-148 will include a tactical coordinator and sensor operator - up to six additional personnel in the ASW mission role.
For the anti-submarine role, the CH-148 will be outfitted with launched sonobouys, maritime Telephonics APS-143B radar, FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared) and HELRAS dipping sonar. These systems will be utilized for the location of underwater vessels to which the CH-148 will either relay data or attack as needed. The aircraft will be properly "navalized" for the rigors of over-water operations which vary considerably when compared to over-land operations. Primary armament will feature 2 x Mk 46 class torpedoes fitted to BRU-14 series folding weapons pylons. Point-defense may be provided by 1 or 2 x 7.62mm General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMGs) fitted to door mountings. Electronic defense will be handled by the AN/ALQ-210 Radar Warning and Locator System (RWAL) as well as the AN/ALQ-144Av5 countermeasures suite.
Beyond Sikorsky as the primary contractor, the CH-148 initiative involves L-3 and General Dynamics Canada. Germany is the only other party that has shown an interest in the new CH-148 though Canada remains the only military customer of the type. By 2010, the CH-148 program has cost Canadian tax payers C$6.2 billion since the original C$2.8 billion contract announcement of 2002.
July 2015 - It was announced that the first CH-148 Cyclone helicopter had been accepted by Canada. The event was originally scheduled for 2008. The first six units are set aside as test and trainer models with a second batch, made up of operational-level examples, is expected to be at strength in 2018. These will be of the Block 2 standard with complete functionality.
April 2017 - Canada has grounded its fleet of CH-148 helicopters following a descent rate issue encountered during a training exercise.
November 2017 - It is expected that the CH-148 will be formally introduced for service in the RCAF sometime in 2018.
April 2020 - A CH-148 was involved in a crash on April 29th, 2020, leading to an operational pause of the entire CH-148 Cyclone fleet.
June 2020 - Mechanical failure has been ruled out as a cause in the April 2020 crash involving a single CH-148 helicopter.
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