Cablegate: Maritime Helicopter Announcement Nearly Overshadows Hmcs

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A


1. SUMMARY: The new Defense Minister hit the ground running by
announcing a decision in favor of Sikorsky on the long-delayed
maritime helicopter replacement program. He also welcomed home
HMCS Toronto, which returned to a tumultuous welcome in Halifax
after a six-month deployment with a U.S. strike force in the
Persian Gulf. END SUMMARY.

2. Newly-appointed Minister of National Defense Bill Graham
ended years of waiting by announcing that Canada had decided to
select the Sikorsky H-92 to replace the Air Force's 40-year old
Sea King helicopters. Graham, flanked by Nova Scotia Cabinet
members Geoff Regan and Scott Brison, made the announcement at
Halifax's CFB Shearwater, where many of the new choppers will be
based. COMMENT: Graham, who told CG he appreciated the
Secretary's thoughtfulness in calling him to congratulate him on

his new job, seemed happy to be in his new portfolio, and the
military brass seemed comfortable with him and happy that he was
not a newcomer to security policy. One noted that Graham had
been a naval reservist, had visited Canadian troops in
Afghanistan and other places and understood how stretched the
military really was. END COMMENT.

3. Shortly after the announcement, Graham and CDS Ray Henault
joined military families and senior military officers and
civilians, including CG, in a rousing ceremony to welcome home
HMCS Toronto, returning after a six-month deployment in the Gulf
with the USS George Washington Strike Group. In remarks to the
crew broadcast as the ship was steaming into Halifax harbor,
Chief of Maritime Staff Ron Buck praised Toronto's contribution
to the war on terrorism and to "defending our way of life."
Asked later about when the next Canadian frigate would deploy to
the Gulf, VADM Buck said he thought it would be around October,
but that a final decision had not been made.

4. Waiting for Toronto to pull up to the dock, VADM Buck told
CG that he expected EH Industries to challenge the award of the
contract to Sikorsky, possibly through litigation, but he said
the decision was clearly "the right helicopter for the right
price" and would withstand any appeals or lawsuits. He also
suggested that DND was much more comfortable with Sikorsky's
approach to customer service, and that EHI had not helped itself
in the competition with its attitude in this area. Other senior
military officers with whom CG spoke expressed relief that a
decision had finally been made and said they were pleased that
Cabinet had acted early in the new government's mandate to
address a long-overdue requirement. Buck and others said they
were hopeful that the Martin government would address a number
of other crying resource needs for the Canadian Forces.
Fisheries Minister Regan echoed that point, saying that it was a
good sign that the new Cabinet had decided to buy a U.S.-built
helicopter as one of its first items of business. He said it
showed that the Prime Minister was serious about re-building
defense capabilities, and working with the U.S.

5. In addition to providing desperately-needed capabilities for
the Canadian Forces, the helicopter program will breathe some
new life into CFB Shearwater, which has been dying the death of
a thousand cuts for years. The most visible evidence of decline
was the transfer this year of the annual fall air show to the
Halifax International Airport since Shearwater's runway has
become unsafe and the military could no longer afford to support
the event. Outgoing 12 Wing Commander told CG several months
ago that once the announcement of the new helicopter was made
the base would begin a construction program to build new
training and maintenance facilities for the H-92. He
anticipated that the Sea King would be in service in parallel
with the H-92 for up to five years, until all of the new
aircraft were operational. This will put a serious strain on
Canadian Air Force staffing, since during the transition period
the CAAF will have to have two sets of pilots, crews and
maintenance staff.

6. COMMENT: A good news day all around, with the successful
completion of a lengthy deployment with U.S. forces and -- one
hopes -- the successful conclusion of a procurement that has
dragged on an embarrassingly long time. It would be nice if
this announcement presaged a period where government devoted the
attention and resources to the Canadian Forces that they so
badly need, but the Martin Team faces a lot of hard choices in
coming months and unfortunately it is all too easy in Canada to
kick military spending needs down the fiscal road rather than
act on them. END COMMENT.

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