Canada Expands CH-149 Cormorant Fleet

yellow helicopter flies above mountains in the haze
CH-149 Cormorant.  Source: Royal Canadian Air Force

Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced that Canada will expand its fleet of 14 CH-149 Cormorant helicopters by at least two aircraft.  The additional airframes will likely be sourced from the VH-71 (AW101-519) helicopters that Canada purchased from the U.S. in 2011.

Canada paid $164 million for nine VH-71s and thousands of spare parts that were a part of the canceled presidential helicopter program in the U.S. The inflow of spare parts helped alleviate the low operational availability of the Cormorant fleet due to how hard the aircraft are pushed.  Seven of the nine VH-71s purchased by Canada were deemed airworthy at the time.

The entire CH-149 fleet is also being upgraded to keep them operational until at least 2042.  The program encompasses replacing avionics and communications systems, adding a new infrared search capability, replacing ice protection components, and improving corrosion management.  The aircraft will be upgraded to the AW101-612 configuration, which is the search-and-rescue variant recently procured by Norway.  The upgrade program is valued at CAD1.39 billion ($1.05 billion).

The government announced in May 2018 that it would move forward with a sole-source deal with Leonardo and IMP Aerospace on the CH-149 upgrade.  Leonardo is the manufacturer of the AW101, which the Cormorant is based on, and IMP Aerospace is responsible for in-service support of the aircraft.  At the time, the terms of the deal specified that the fleet could be expanded by up to seven aircraft, likely reflecting the seven airworthy VH-71s.  It is possible the fleet could be further expanded beyond 16 aircraft, or that some of the VH-71s will be used as attrition replacements or harvested for spare parts down the road.

The CH-149s are based at 19 Wing Comox, 9 Wing Gander, and 14 Wing Greenwood.

UPDATE (September 16, 2019): New reports have indicated that the airworthy VH-71s will not be integrated into the Cormorant fleet, and will instead be stripped for parts.  This news means that the CH-149 fleet expansion will be accomplished using new airframes.

About Shaun McDougall

As editor of International Military Markets, North America, Shaun has cultivated a deep understanding of the vast defense markets in the United States and Canada. Shaun's perspective on defense procurement and budget issues has been cited in a variety of defense periodicals, including Defense News and National Defense Magazine. Further, Shaun played an integral role in the development of Forecast International's U.S. Defense Budget Forecast product, which offers an unprecedented level of insight into the Pentagon's acquisition budget. In addition to providing original analytical content for the U.S. Defense Budget Forecast, Shaun oversees an internal defense budget forecasting process involving Forecast International's team of skilled systems analysts following release of the DoD's annual budget request. Shaun is also in charge of managing Forecast International's Weapons Inventory database.

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