Canadian Coast Guard Helicopters – Converting available Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones to enhance capabilities of new Polar Icebreaker

Originally published on Canadian American Strategic Review October 2014

When the new Polar class icebreaker,  CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, enters service early next decade the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) will be equipped with a state of the art platform for sovereignty assertion, northern resupply, search-and-rescue, and environmental protection.

CCGS John G. Diefenbaker will have an organic shipboard aircraft capability in the form of a medium-lift helicopter. The medium- lift helicopter will be the Bell Textron Canada 412EPI a ‘Twin Huey’ descendant and, essentially, the same aircraft as Royal Canadian Air Force  CH-146 Griffon utility helicopters.

In Canadian Coast Guard service, the new medium-lift helicopters will support Canadian Coast Guard Ships’ missions as well as providing a Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP) capability, and, aboard icebreakers, act as ice scouts. With the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker, there is an opportunity to better  ‘leverage’  this icebreaker’s capabilities with a  larger and more capable helicopter.

Within its category of  Medium-Lift Helicopters, the CCG includes its single Sikorsky S-61N, a civil equivalent to the RCAF’s CH-124 Sea King shipboard helicopter. This is a much larger aircraft than the Bell 2412 being acquired. This also shows that the CCG would not completely rule out the use of  a larger,  ‘Heavy-Lift Helicopter’.  So, where do we find such a helicopter?

Just one ‘fall-out’  from the endlessly delayed shipboard Maritime Helicopter Project (MHP) is the appearance of  ‘non-compliant’  CH-148 Cyclone airframes known as Interim Maritime Helicopters (IMHs). DND’s current plan is to rebuild existing IMH Cyclones to bring these airframes  up  to  ‘fully  compliant’  standards. A simpler proposition is transferring the ‘non- compliant’ IMH to the Canadian Coast Guard.

There are only a handful of  CH-148 Interim Maritime Helicopters. [1]  Rather than rebuilding IMHs, the Government of  Canada could insist that Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation substitute newly-built and fully compliant CH-148 Cyclones as compensation for late delivery on their Maritime Helicopter Program contract.  IMH airframes could  then be transferred to the CCG.

A Canadian Coast Guard variant of the Sikorsky CH–148 Cyclone maritime helicopter would provide the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker with an aerial asset better matching – and extending – its own capabilities. CCG Cyclones would retain most of their RCAF equipment fit. In CCG service, the IMH’s surface search radar and other sensors  –  including the powerful thermal imaging electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) turret  –  would greatly extend the capabilities of the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker.  Even dedicated anti-submarine warfare capabilities such as the ability to deploy sonobuoys and dipping sonar might have utility as scientific research aids.



CCG Cyclone. Image courtesy of Stephen Priestley/CASR


Breaking Ice – Interim Maritime Helicopter meets National Aerial Surveillance Program

There is a possibility to go even further though. A CCG Cyclone has no need of the complex Mission Data Management System (MDMS) software to be used by its RCAF siblings. That MDMS package might be replaced with MSS 6000, the mission management system used by the patrol aircraft of  Canada’s  National Aerial Surveillance Program. The Swedish MSS 6000 would allow the use of a sophisticated Side-Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR). [2]  With that, Canada would have a powerful  tool  for  Arctic Sovereignty and  environmental protection.

Every time the  CCGS John G. Diefenbaker  Polar class icebreaker deployed,  it would bring with it an extension of  the environmental and sovereignty patrol capabilities of  NASP. [3]

[1] Currently, four Interim Maritime Helicopters (MH 805, MH 806. MH 807, & MH 808) are at CFB Shearwater. Transferred to the CCG, this would be sufficient for one helicopter onboard the CCGS John G Diefenbaker, one spare, and two for cooperative CCG/RCAF joint training. Other than joint training, the CCG would also be in a position to take advantage of the RCAF In-Service Support maintenance contracts and benefit from the larger supply of spare parts.

[2] NASP aircraft are fitted with twin SSC/Saab side-looking airborne radar antennae. SLAR can detect both oil slicks and very small vessels, making SLAR an ideal sensor for large area surveillance. The SLAR antenna provides a day/night view 25 nautical miles (46.3 km) to the aircraft’s side. One option for longer-range patrols would be to carry a single SLAR antenna on one of the CCG Cyclone’s sponson stores pylons with a fuel tank on the opposite pylon.

[3] The real secret to NASP aircraft’s ability to find oil slicks is their 1221 IR/UV line scanner. The NASP sensors were sole-sourced from Daedalus Scanners, part of US-based Sensytech. Since then, Sensytech merged with Argon Engineering to form Boeing subsidiary Argon ST. In the CCG Cyclone sideview (at the top of this page), the IR/UV scanner is shown mounted in a  ‘canoe’  fairing beneath the tail boom. A controllable searchlight has also been depicted.

15 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. I now write to let the thoughts in my head get out where I can see 'em. :)

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Posted in Arctic, Canadian American Strategic Review, Canadian Forces, CASR, Environment, RCN, Sovereignty
2 comments on “Canadian Coast Guard Helicopters – Converting available Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones to enhance capabilities of new Polar Icebreaker
  1. Thanks for your input! Glad to know somebody knowledgeable is reading the material. 🙂

    I quite honestly missed the retirement of the S-61 when I wrote this. Which is weird, because I knew it had happened! Mea Culpa!

    On the funding side, I quite honestly thought I had addressed that in the post.. and it isn’t there! Proof reading your own material is a real pain sometimes, you know what you mean and don’t always see what you actually said. There’s something missing from the text here, and the original at CASR, now that I look.

    The transferred helicopters, in the idea as originally envisioned, were to be transferred operationally only. Ownership would still remain with the Royal Canadian Air Force. The image above does show a civilian registration on the nose… but it also carries part of it’s RCAF registration as 148902 on the tail. This allows all major maintenance to be performed by the normal CF maintainers, in the normal manner. Routine maintenance would still be carried out in the same manner CCG always does. Sparing would also come from the CF logistics system as for any other aircraft, with the notable exceptions of CCG-specific equipment. This would ameliorate the worst of the budget issues facing CCG.

    I will fully admit though, the nature of my ideas such as this one are also part of a larger scheme…

    I’m trying to convince the “Powers That Be” that if they just gave a bit more in funding, our front line guys could do a whole lot more!


  2. Captain David (Duke) Snider (Ex CCG Regional Director Fleet Western Region) says:

    One minor error in the article, CCG has not flown the single S-61 since the early part of the decade when it was decommissioned and sold in order to standardize the fleet. A used 212 that matched the remainder of the then medium lift fleet was obtained as a temporary replacement until the medium lift fleet was replaced by the now ongoing rollout of Bell 412EPIs.

    Though the design of the Polar Icebreaker includes the capability to support a heavier helo (support to the RCAF SAR EH101s was in mind) it is most likely that either the light Bell 429 as the standard “shipboard helo” or the more capable 412EPIs will remain the machines of choice for the Polar Icebreaker. Operating a third fleet of large helicopters would require a substantial increase in CCG operational funding above current levels that are already insufficient to meet ongoing fleet demands. Its not just a matter of getting airframes cheaply as the author suggests, but the ongoing operational costs are well beyond CCG at present.

    Though I would love to see a return to heavy lift, knowing full well the primary reason CCG got out of that sector in the first place was operational cost, I don’t see a return likely without a major shift in CCG fleet operational profile.


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Canadian ~ American Strategic Review

CASR has announced that it will cease operations on 31/December/2016.

I have grateful to have been given the opportunity to write for them, and to repost my material on Defence Muse.

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