January 16, 2015

Germany and Canada are neck-and-neck … in the helicopter fail zone

Filed under: Europe,Military,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Every now and again, I’ve reminded you about the sad, sad state of the Canadian Armed Forces’ long quest to get new helicopters. If any other western country has had a worse time trying to re-equip their military with capable helicopters, Germany must come close to the top of the list:

As early as the mid-1980s, German army aviation needed new helicopters. Its Vietnam-era Bell UH-1s and Sikorsky CH-53s had seen better days.

France, West Germany, Italy, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom got together in 1985 and drafted a scheme to develop a new fly-by-wire, multipurpose helicopter—the NH90. The U.K. soon left the project.


The NH90 itself struggled through its long years of development—and ultimately proved less than perfectly reliable. The Dutch have struggled to prevent corrosion in their naval NH90s that deploy aboard warships. The Germans have had problems of their own.

In Germany, the NH90 was originally supposed to open a new era of air-assault operations, wherein different variants of the NH90 would haul troops, vehicles and equipment in lightning-fast attacks behind enemy lines. There would also be a naval version.

But when the Cold War ended, funding became scarce. The German military had wanted more than 200 HN90s but ultimately ordered just 122, making large-scale air assaults unlikely. The first few machines arrived in December 2006.

Another seven years passed before Germany deployed the NH90. In April 2013, several of the copters began flying medical-evacuation missions in Afghanistan.

On June 19, 2014, an engine on one of the deployed NH90s exploded during a training mission over Uzbekistan. On Nov. 17, the German aviation security advisory board grounded the whole fleet.

November 9, 2014

A Canadian Mistral (or two)? Not likely say the experts

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

Remember those palmy days of summer, when the French helicopter carrier Mistral visited Canadian waters for a joint exercise with the Canadian Army? I half-joking referred to it as Canada “kicking the tires” … but the idea hasn’t gone away completely. In the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese reported earlier last week that the International Business Times had run an article about it.

Halifax, Nova Scotia. FS Mistral (L-9013) is an amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

Halifax, Nova Scotia. FS Mistral (L-9013) is an amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

The deal is worth $1.6 billion to $1.8 billion (different figures are out there) to the French. The Russians are interested in three of the ships. The French haven’t proceeded yet with the sale to Russia because of the situation in Ukraine.

But how probable is it that Canada would buy the Mistral-class ships?

Earlier this year, the Royal Canadian Navy was looking at buying surplus U.S. Navy supply ships. But that is not going to happen, RCN commander Vice Admiral Mark Norman told Defence Watch. What is being examined is the purchase of a commercial oiler (maybe).

The RCN is in dire need of an oiler/supply ship……not, at this point, an amphibious assault ship. So if there is an extra billion dollars or more around, the focus might be on acquiring an oiler/supply fleet to replace the decommissioned AORs.

Mistral-class ships are capable of carrying 16 helicopters, landing barges, up to 70 vehicles and 450 soldiers. They also come equipped with a hospital.

Canadian shipyards could also be expected to oppose such a purchase. There would be little for them (except maybe in-service support) in such an acquisition and they could argue that such a purchase would undermine the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.

In September, I called the idea of Canada buying the Mistrals as the maritime equivalent of “pie in the sky”, despite a passionate article in the US Naval Institute News pushing the idea. They even showed what a Canadian Mistral would look like:

Mistral-class ship, ‘Sevastopol’ configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

Mistral-class ship, Sevastopol configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

So, on the surface, the idea isn’t likely to go anywhere for practical and economic reasons. But, a couple of days later Pugliese posted another article on the Mistral debate, responding to criticism from University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris:

If the Paris had actually read the articles in question he would have found out that the stories arose not from Hugh Segal’s comments from May but from the fact that the delegation led this week by French President François Hollande to Canada contained a significant contingent of the country’s defence industry representatives, including those from Mistral shipbuilder DCNS. That group included the firm’s diplomatic adviser.

In addition, sources have told Defence Watch that the delegation did indeed try to interest Canada in Mistral-class ships, as well as the FREMM class frigates.

Will they succeed with Mistral? Like I have mentioned a number of times at Defence Watch, including in the posting cited by Paris, the answer is likely no.


France, over the last two years, has embarked on a significant push into Canada to promote its defence products, particularly in the naval arena. With $35 billion on the table for shipbuilding who can blame them?

There was a specific reason a Mistral-class warship sailed across the Atlantic this summer to take Canadian soldiers on board for amphibious exercises. And it wasn’t about any close relationship between the French and Canadian militaries, although that might have played a minor role.

No, the French are interested in selling. They want to sell Canada warships, warship designs, and naval equipment like that on board the Mistral-class and the FREMM frigates. That is the reason the FREMM ship Aquitaine also visited Canada.

Personally, I’d love to see the RCN acquire a pair of Mistral-class ships, but they would not come cheap, they wouldn’t create a lot of jobs in Nova Scotia, Quebec, or British Columbia (and therefore wouldn’t be useful for gathering votes from those provinces), and they’d require the government to fully equip them … helicopters are extra. And we all know how the Canadian government can’t manage to say the word “helicopter” without wasting millions of dollars, never mind actually buying any.

October 17, 2014

Germany’s arms procurement plight

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Europe,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:22

Peter Dörrie explains the German government’s current embarrassment due to the revelations about the desperate straits of all German military branches. The combination of delivery delays, cost overruns, technical faults, and low equipment availability mean that Germany could not come to the aid of NATO allies in a crisis:

The German armed forces have come clean. They’ve admitted they’re incapable of managing arms procurement — and have systematically neglected the hardware that’s already in service.

Military procurement and management in Germany have been under heightened scrutiny ever since Berlin’s attempt to buy an European version of America’s Global Hawk drone ended in miserable failure in mid-2013.

In late September, the German military sent an explosive report to parliament, confessing that half of the armed forces’ heavy equipment is unserviceable and can’t deploy in a crisis.

The German navy, for example, possesses 15 Sea King helicopters, but 12 of them are grounded. The situation is similar with respect to the naval Sea Lynx helicopter — just four out of 18 can fly — and the heavy-lifting CH-53 helicopter. Sixteen out of 43 CH-53s are functional.

The Luftwaffe can field only 80 Typhoon and Tornado fighters, out of 140 on the books. So short of equipment, at present Germany would be powerless to respond if a fellow NATO member were to ask for military assistance.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. On Oct. 6, Defense Minister Ursula Von Der Leyen released a report by an outside consultancy analyzing the military’s nine biggest weapons purchases.

The report is damning. Every single procurement effort suffers some combination of cost overruns, delays and technical shortfalls. And owing to the ministry’s unwillingness or inability to negotiate proper contracts, the government has had to pay for the overruns itself. The arms manufacturers waltz away with their full fees.

This is sounding disturbingly similar to Canada’s military procurement problems.

September 22, 2014

A Canadian Mistral? What’s the maritime equivalent of “pie in the sky”?

Filed under: Cancon,Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 17:30

A few months back, the French amphibious assault ship Mistral took part in joint exercises with Canadian troops from the Royal 22e Régiment (the “Van Doos”). I wondered at the time if it might be an opportunity for the RCN to “kick the tires” of the Mistral with an eye to eventually adding that to their theoretical shopping list (if they ever manage to get anything built this decade). At USNI News an opinion piece by Jim Dorschner looks at the benefits to NATO if the RCN leased one of the Mistrals being built for Russia while NATO itself took on the other one:

The September decision by France to withhold delivery of two Mistral-class Landing Platforms Helicopter (LPH) building for Russia is an opportunity for NATO, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and for the French shipbuilding industry and economy. France should not suffer economically for taking a stand against Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. Rather, NATO, France and Canada can benefit if a little mutually beneficial creativity is applied.

While France desperately wants to complete the two amphibious warships — and get paid for them — NATO and Canada need the capabilities these ships can provide.

For Canada, an LPH would help buttress logistic support for the upcoming Canadian Joint Support Ship (JSS). The replacement to Canada’s fleet oilers originally required a level of expeditionary capabilities which were ultimately not included in the final ship design.

Furthermore, while one of the Russian Mistrals is already undertaking sea trials and the second is scheduled for completion in 2016, the first of three new Queenston-class JSS for the RCN will not even begin building in Vancouver until 2017 or 2018 at best, with delivery by 2019 or 2020.

It was just announced that one of the two the current support ships HMCS Protecteur and the three Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Algonquin, HMCS Athabaskan, and HMCS Iroquois will be withdrawn from service immediately, and the Queenston-class are not going to be built any sooner.

Mistral-class ship, ‘Sevastopol’ configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

Mistral-class ship, Sevastopol configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

A RCN Mistral could operate the full range Canadian helicopters, including CH-148 Cyclones and CH-147F Chinooks. Ideally, Canada should obtain 6-8 additional Cyclones configured for the Commando Helicopter role as part of a financial settlement with Sikorsky over the Maritime Helicopter Program (MHP). Commando Cyclones would be optimized for Special Operations, tactical assault, medical evacuation and utility missions, with troop seats in place of maritime sensors, though retaining the CH-148’s FLIR system.

The make-up of a Tailored Air Group (TAG) for the RCN LPH would depend on the mission. A mix of Commando Cyclones, Griffons and Chinooks for amphibious, SOF, Arctic support and humanitarian operations. Cyclones for maritime security and ASW task forces. Exchange aircrew from the US Marine Corps, the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force and the Royal Danish and Norwegian Air Forces should be embedded within the Cyclone squadron forming the core of the TAG. This is critical for building expertise and interoperability among Arctic and NATO partners. By way of building a more direct partnership, Resolute could regularly embark RDAF EH-101 Merlin tactical helicopters and MH-60S Seahawk maritime helicopters.

Not least of the challenges facing the RCN would be manning. Fortunately, Mistral was designed from the beginning to operate with a small crew – just 20 officers, 80 petty officers and 60 sailors.

The foremost challenge for Canada may be convincing the government and the public that obtaining a Mistral LPH for the RCN is sensible and affordable, despite being outside the NSPS construct. Given the challenges now emerging for NATO member states and for Canada itself, the answer is surely a resounding ‘Yes’.

Given the current government’s allergy to spending actual money on military priorities (as opposed to nice-but-cheap uniform changes for photo ops), this grand notion is probably dead in the water with no hopes of success … but it’d be a nice boost for the RCN, and nearly as useful for the Canadian Army and RCAF. But it wouldn’t win key voting blocks in Halifax or Vancouver.

October 10, 2013

Replacing the Sea King – a British alternative

Filed under: Britain,Cancon,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:21

At Think Defence, Fedaykin wonders if the best solution for the Royal Canadian Navy’s Sea King helicopter might just be the Merlin which is in Royal Navy service:

With the Canadian government threatening to cancel the CH-148 contract, the sending of team to inspect Royal Navy Merlin is an interesting development.

Whilst the Merlin has developed a bit of a reputation for being fragile and expensive to maintain it has nevertheless seen many years of service now and is finally catching its second wind of maturity.

The Royal Navy is upgrading 30 Merlin from HM1 to HM2 standard leaving 8 airframes unchanged. Initially, thinking was these 8 spare airframes would probably form part of Crowsnest getting a permanent AEW fit. Sensibly (in my opinion) the MOD and navy has decided that Crowsnest will instead be a quick fit solution to any of the HM2 fleet ensuring that we don’t end up with “fleets within fleets”.

That leaves 8 standard HM1 going spare and possibly a home for them.

If the Canadian government was to suck up the embarrassment they could buy the AW Merlin HM2 with the 8 HM1 being given to them at a throw away price as a hot swap to get them going.

Once new build HM2 become available off the line the older HM1 in Canadian service can be upgraded to the common standard. The second article does clearly state the Canadian team did look at the HM1 in particular so is a happy solution close to hand.

The main barrier as it stands is the Omni-shambles of the Victoria class procurement, the Canadian public is not exactly happy about that disaster despite a significant proportion of blame being laid at their own door.

The UK does not do enough in terms of defence co-operation with Canada, New Zealand and Australia and there is much we can learn from each other.

H/T to Tony Prudori for the link.

September 5, 2013

Sea King replacement program branded as “the worst in Canada’s history”

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:37

Sea King unit patchThe Royal Canadian Navy is still operating the Sea King helicopter — which is 50 years old — and the planned replacement helicopters appear to be no closer to delivery than they were 20 years ago:

A naval helicopter procurement program described as the worst in Canada’s history was doomed from the start but could be made “viable and operationally relevant” if the federal government urgently adopts a new approach, says a confidential new report obtained by CBC News.

The independent evaluation of the multibillion-dollar purchase of 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to replace a 50-year-old fleet of Sea Kings, obtained by CBC News Network’s Power & Politics host Evan Solomon, concludes the government can get the problem-plagued program back on track by negotiating with primary supplier Sikorsky to “re-scope” the project’s structure, specifications and delivery approach.

“[The] project could be viable and operationally relevant with a new structure and governance model as described in our recommendations,” reads the report from Hitachi Consulting.


“A fundamental problem existed at the outset of this project — this set the stage for significant misalignment,” reads the key finding.

The report says the government believed it was buying an “off-the-shelf” product by Sikorsky — a conclusion also drawn in a 2010 auditor general’s report. Yet the project should have been treated as a development program because the “state-of-the-art” aircraft incorporates advanced technology and an in-service support capability “that is likely unsurpassed in the world today,” according to the report.

While the fleet was to begin delivery in late 2008, so far only four of the Cyclone helicopters have been delivered — and only on an “interim” basis. The government won’t formally accept them because they don’t fully meet the specifications.

Last year, then defence minister Peter MacKay cited the Sikorsky deal as an example of how procurement can “go badly wrong.”

“This is the worst procurement in the history of Canada, including the $500-million cancellation costs that are attached to the maritime helicopter program and then the costs of the further maintenance to fly the 50-year old helicopters,” he said at the time. “They’re going to go right out of aviation service and into the museum in Ottawa. And that’s not a joke.”

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

September 3, 2013

Britain’s new aircraft carriers in the news again

Filed under: Britain,Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:16

It’s from the Daily Mail, so a certain level of de-hystericization is called for…along with salt to taste. First, the discovery that the two carriers will initially be without radar for early warning of incoming planes and missiles:

The Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers could set sail without a crucial radar which warns commanders of incoming enemy warplanes and missiles.

A damning report by MPs reveals the Crowsnest early warning system will not be ready until six years after the first of the £5.5billion Queen Elizabeth-class warships enters service in 2016.

Delays in fitting the ‘eyes in the sky’ system to military helicopters until 2022 were a ‘concern’, the Commons’ Public Accounts Committee (PAC) says today.

And the costs incurred by changing the planned acquisition of F-35 aircraft to equip the carriers is rather eye-watering:

The bill for the two new warships, given the green light in 2008, is almost twice the original £3.6billion — and there are ‘huge risks’ it will increase further, says the report.

MPs heap criticism on the Coalition for wasting money after a U-turn over the type of warplanes to fly from the aircraft carriers.

In 2010 ministers controversially decided to scrap the last Labour government’s plans to buy a fleet of jump jets, which take off and land vertically.

Instead, Prime Minister David Cameron ordered conventional versions of the US-built F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that would need catapults and arrester gear to take off from and land on the vessels.

But this was based on ‘deeply flawed information’, say the committee. When the cost of fitting the ships with ‘cats and traps’ more than doubled to £2billion, Mr Cameron flip-flopped and returned to buying the jump jet.

The move cost a staggering £74million in squandered in lost man hours, administrative costs and needless planning.

Labour MP Margaret Hodge, the PAC’s chairman, said: ‘The Committee is still not convinced that the MOD has this programme under control. It remains subject to huge technical and commercial risks, with the potential for further uncontrolled growth in costs.’

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

Queen Elizabeth class side and overhead views

The switch back to the jump jet was made last year. Back in 2010, I was rather pessimistic that the carriers would even be built and I suggested that India would likely take them off the Royal Navy’s hands once they were complete.

August 12, 2013

The controversy over Japan’s latest “destroyer”

Filed under: China,Japan,Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:32

Apparently our eyes can deceive us. For most people looking at this image — at least if they know much about naval vessels — the description that comes to mind is “aircraft carrier”:

JS Izumo DDH-183

JS Izumo DDH-183

However, for constitutional reasons she is officially classified as a “destroyer”. In the South China Morning Post, Stefan Soesanto explains why this classification matters:

The Izumo‘s distinctive features certainly do not resemble anything one would typically classify as a destroyer. Indeed the warship currently under construction in Yokohama harbour is an aircraft carrier in anything but in name. Its size, tonnage and speed are closer to the US Essex aircraft carrier class, than to any of the two previous helicopter destroyers Japan has built so far.

At a cost of US$1.14 billion, the Izumo is officially conceptualised to host up to 14 helicopters whose missions would range from anti-submarine warfare and maritime border surveillance to humanitarian relief operations. In this regard, the Izumo‘s objectives are identical to the two Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers that were put into service in 2009 and 2011.

The current discussion among analysts and military brass as to whether Japan’s helicopter destroyers are considered aircraft carriers is not new. According to The Japan Times, Maritime Self-Defence Force chief of staff Admiral Keiji Akahoshi stated in 2009 that the Hyuga-class falls outside the conventional definition of an aircraft carrier because it lacks a fair degree of offensive functions. This argumentation has been notably employed by the Japanese government to circumvent Article 9 of the peace constitution to portray its helicopter destroyers as purely defensive military assets.

While Beijing’s criticism towards the Hyuga-class has been largely used as a means to support its own aircraft carrier expansion plans, the unveiling of the much larger Izumo has prompted widespread fears in China. Major Chinese media outlets went to great lengths to link Japan’s militaristic past to plans by the Japanese government towards constitutional revision. Indeed, the Chinese defence ministry even put out a statement saying that it is “concerned over Japan’s constant expansion of its military equipment”.

Reflecting on its own aircraft carrier plans, however, Chinese experts such as Li Daguang, professor at the National Defence University of the People’s Liberation Army, seem to make a simple leap of faith by suggesting that “the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning was mainly built for training purposes while the Izumo was built for real war”.

Of course, this isn’t a new thing, as a quick glance at the JS Hyūga also shouts “aircraft carrier” rather than “destroyer”:

JS  Hyūga

JS Hyūga

April 2, 2013

Mistral in Russian is Vladivostok

Filed under: Europe,Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:44

Strategy Page on the largest purchase of Western military equipment by Russia since the end of the Second World War:

The Russian Navy intends to have its version of the French Mistral amphibious ships (the Vladivostok Class) carry 30 helicopters (compared to 16 on the French version) and have several other modifications to the ship itself. The Vladivostok Class ships will be armed with two AK-630 multibarrel 30mm autocannon for anti-missile defense. There will also be two quad-launchers of shoulder fired type anti-aircraft missiles (with a 5 kilometer range and good against helicopters) and two or more DP-65 55mm grenade launchers for defense against divers.

The Vladivostoks will also be winterized for use in arctic conditions. The hull with be strengthened to deal with ice and the well deck door will completely close. The flight deck will have a deicing system and the ship will be modified to operate for extended periods in arctic conditions. There is also different electronics and this means a different arrangement of radomes and antennae.

In the aircraft handling areas below the deck height will be higher for the taller Ka-52K and Ka-29 helicopters. The Ka-52K is a navalized version of the Ka-52 that went into production last year. In addition to being equipped with coatings to resist sea water corrosion, the K model will also have a lightweight version of the high-definition Zhuk-AE AESA radar used on jet fighters. This radar currently weighs 275 kg (605 pounds), but the helicopter version will weigh only 80 kg (176 pounds) and enables the Kh-52K to use the Kh-31 anti-ship missile. This weapon has a range of 110 kilometers and travels at high speed (about one kilometer a second.) The Kh-52K can also carry the sub-sonic Kh-31 missile, which has a range of 130 kilometers. Both of these missiles weigh about 600 kg (1,300 pounds) each.

[. . .]

Russia is buying two French Mistral class amphibious ships for $1.7 billion. This is the largest Russian purchase of Western weapons since World War II. The deal was delayed for a long time because the Russians demanded the transfer of shipbuilding and electronics technology (which is now agreed to).

The French navy received the first of the 21,500 ton Mistrals in 2006, with the second one arriving in 2007. Both were ordered in 2001. These two ships replaced two older amphibious landing ships. This gave France a force of four amphibious ships. The two Mistrals are also equipped to serve as command vessels for amphibious operations. The French have been very happy with how the Mistrals have performed.

The Mistrals are similar in design to the U.S. LPD 17 (San Antonio) class. Both classes are about 200 meters/620 feet long, but the LPD 17s displace 25,000 tons. The French ships are more highly automated, requiring a crew of only 180, versus 396 on the LPD 17. On long voyages on the open ocean, the Mistrals require as few as nine sailors and officers on duty (“standing watch”) to keep the ship going.

February 21, 2013

RCAF still confident that Sea Kings will last long enough, hopefully

Filed under: Cancon,Military,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:27

Sea King unit patchDid you know that the Canadian military is still waiting for the delivery of their new helicopters? This leaves the military brass with little to do but put on a show of confidence and perhaps cross their fingers behind their collective backs:

The head of the Royal Canadian Air Force says he’s confident the military’s 50-year-old Sea King helicopters can stay in the air long enough for their troubled replacements to arrive.

“It’s good for a while,” Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin said of the Sea Kings, in an exclusive interview with Postmedia News Wednesday.

“In the short term, the Sea King can fly. Eventually I’m going to replace some equipment on it if I want to keep it flying longer, but I’ve got flexibility.”

That flexibility will likely be needed amid recent reports that the air force won’t receive the first of its planned Sea King replacements, U.S. aerospace giant Sikorsky’s Cyclone maritime helicopters, until 2015 — seven years later than scheduled.

Here’s the long, twisted history of Canada’s attempt to replace the venerable Sea King helicopters:

  • In 1963, the CH-124 Sea King helicopter (a variant of the US Navy S-61 model) entered service with the Royal Canadian Navy.
  • In 1983, the Trudeau government started a process to replace the Sea Kings. That process never got far enough for a replacement helicopter to be ordered.
  • In 1985, the Mulroney government started a new process to find a replacement for the Sea Kings.
  • In 1992, the Mulroney government placed an order for 50 EH-101 Cormorant helicopters (for both naval and search-and-rescue operations).
  • In 1993, the Campbell government reduced the order from 50 to 43, theoretically saving $1.4B.
  • In 1993, the new Chrétien government cancelled the “Cadillac” helicopters as being far too expensive and started a new process to identify the right helicopters to buy. The government had to pay nearly $500 million in cancellation penalties.
  • In 1998, having split the plan into separate orders for naval and SAR helicopters, the government ended up buying 15 Cormorant SAR helicopters anyway — and the per-unit prices had risen in the intervening time.
  • In 2004, the Martin government placed an order with Sikorsky for 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to be delivered starting in 2008 (after very carefully arranging the specifications to exclude the Cormorant from the competition).
  • Now, in 2012, we may still have another five years to wait for the delivery of the Cyclones.

July 6, 2012

Maybe Obama has scaled back the War on Drugs

Filed under: Government,Law,Military,USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:45

At least, that’s the highly charitable conclusion reached by some supportive media folks. Jacob Sullum explains how they came up with this revelation:

One-upping GQ‘s Marc Ambinder, who recently predicted that Barack Obama “will pivot to the drug war” in his second term if he is re-elected, The Daily Beast‘s James Higdon claims the president already has scaled back the crusade to stop Americans from altering their consciousness in politically disfavored ways. Higdon’s evidence: less money in the administration’s fiscal year 2013 budget for marijuana-spotting helicopters. Seriously:

    Until now, the DEA and state law enforcement could count on the National Guard to fly hundreds of helicopter hours over national forests and other public land, where growers became active following the passage of property-seizure laws in the Reagan years—but the FY13 budget changes that.

    The 50-percent cut is not being apportioned evenly across the states — it’s a two-thirds cut in Oregon and a 70-percent cut in Kentucky, while the Southern border states are receiving less severe reductions in funding. It’s essentially a diversion of Defense Department assets away from the interior American marijuana fields to where the national-security risk is greatest: along our Southern border.

Higdon sees this budgetary rejiggering, which by his own admission will have no impact on the amount of marijuana supplied to or consumed by Americans, as a landmark on “the road map to pot decriminalization.”

I guess you need to pretend there’s a pony somewhere when you’re digging through that much horse shit.

July 4, 2012

Canada’s new Cyclone helicopters — already 4 years late — may not arrive for another 5 years

Filed under: Cancon,Military,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:32

Greg Weston reports for CBC News:

Canada’s long-promised fleet of new Sikorsky naval helicopters, already four years late and $300 million over budget, likely won’t be delivered and ready for combat for up to another five years, informed industry sources tell CBC News.

Last month, Connecticut-based Sikorsky missed its latest contract deadline to finish delivering 28 sleek, state-of-the-art Cyclone maritime helicopters to replace Canada’s aged fleet of increasingly unreliable Sea Kings, now nearing 50 years old.

In fact, delivery of the new choppers hasn’t even started.

[. . .]

As of last month, Sikorsky had only provided a couple of prototypes that have no military mission systems, and aren’t certified to fly over water or at night.

The two helicopters apparently spend most of their time on the tarmac at Shearwater Heliport at CFB Halifax as “training aids” for ground mechanics.

The machines are so incomplete the Canadian government refuses to accept them as an official delivery of anything in the contract.

What is it about helicopters in particular that makes it so difficult and so expensive for the Canadian government to acquire? Here’s the sad chronology:

  • In 1963, the CH-124 Sea King helicopter (a variant of the US Navy S-61 model) entered service with the Royal Canadian Navy.
  • In 1983, the Trudeau government started a process to replace the Sea Kings. That process never got far enough for a replacement helicopter to be ordered.
  • In 1985, the Mulroney government started a new process to find a replacement for the Sea Kings.
  • In 1992, the Mulroney government placed an order for 50 EH-101 Cormorant helicopters (for both naval and search-and-rescue operations).
  • In 1993, the Campbell government reduced the order from 50 to 43, theoretically saving $1.4B.
  • In 1993, the new Chrétien government cancelled the “Cadillac” helicopters as being far too expensive and started a new process to identify the right helicopters to buy. The government had to pay nearly $500 million in cancellation penalties.
  • In 1998, having split the plan into separate orders for naval and SAR helicopters, the government ended up buying 15 Cormorant SAR helicopters anyway — and the per-unit prices had risen in the intervening time.
  • In 2004, the Martin government placed an order with Sikorsky for 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to be delivered starting in 2008 (after very carefully arranging the specifications to exclude the Cormorant from the competition).
  • Now, in 2012, we may still have another five years to wait for the delivery of the Cyclones.

Update: In the National Post, Kelly McParland tries to draw some useful conclusions from the longest-running Canadian comedy act:

If there is a solution to this farce it’s not easily identified. Canada desperately needs the helicopters and it is far too late to return once again to the drawing board. The blame is so widespread that politicians barely bother to bestir themselves to try: if Jean Chretien’s government hadn’t maliciously cancelled Brian Mulroney’s original 1992 purchase, a full decade might have been cut from the script, but there is no guarantee other mishaps wouldn’t have occurred. Ottawa’s only option now is to hound Connecticut-based Sikorsky relentlessly and mercilessly, recover every cent possible for its repeated failure to live up to its promises, and accept nothing less than full compliance with its contracted responsibilities.

The greater lesson lies in the nether world that surrounds military procurement. It’s a world where no promise can be accepted as reliable, no cost guarantee assumed to be binding, no contract treated as worth the paper it’s written on. The federal Conservatives should think long and hard on the Sea King saga as they push ever deeper into their own purchase of new fighter jets, whether the F-35 or otherwise. Prime Minister Stephen Harper would be well-advised to abandon his usual aggressive approach and tread warily. The uncertain costs, the shifting due dates, the obdurate insistence of the military mandarins on having their way, the determined stonewalling of the politicians : it has all the identifying markings of a Sea King re-make.

Update the second: On Facebook, Damian Brooks suggests that Kelly McParland is only able to see the humour because he hasn’t been close enough to the situation: “I’d be curious to know if McParland’s ever flown in one of our Sea Kings, with tranny fluid dripping down the fuselage, practicing autorotations ad nauseum (literally). I suspect not. If he had, I have a feeling he’d find the situation much more disgraceful and much less funny.” He also posted a link to this:

December 9, 2011

US Marine Corps has to economize on V-22 Osprey . . . by buying more helicopters

Filed under: Military,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:39

The USMC is very happy with their V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor for its speed and durability, but it is still far more expensive than ordinary helicopters. As a result of the high individual cost of V-22’s, the USMC is having to buy upgraded CH-53 helicopters to carry some of the burden:

The U.S. Marine Corps recently admitted that the lifetime cost of operating their new V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft had increased 64 percent over the last three years (to $121.5 billion). Although the marines MV-22s have flown over 100,000 hours in Afghanistan and have an excellent safety and reliability record, they are very expensive. With major cuts in the defense budget coming, there is pressure to cease production of the MV-22, and put more money into cheaper helicopters. That is already happening.

Four years ago the U.S. Marine Corps began working on an updated version of their heavy, CH-53E, transport helicopters. The new version was the CH-53K. First flight of a CH-53K was to take place this year, with first CH-53Ks entering service in 2015. But now this has all been delayed. First flight won’t take place until 2013, and the CH-53K won’t enter service until 2018. Technical problems are blamed, although helicopter advocates imply that the marines don’t want to take money away from their MV-22 program to keep the CH-53K program on schedule.

There is still a lot of enthusiasm for the CH-53K. Two years ago, the marines decided to replace their elderly CH-53Ds with CH-53Ks, rather than the more expensive MV-22s. The CH-53K was to cost about $27 million each, compared to about three times that for an MV-22. However, delaying the introduction of the CH-53K will cost over a billion dollars, and add about $5 million to the cost of each CH-53K. Replacing the CH-53Ds means more CH-53Ks, for a total of about 200. It’s expected that the final costs of the CH-53D will be higher, but still about half the cost of an MV-22.

Image from Sikorsky website.

August 17, 2011

RCAF finds that equipment is easier to obtain than trained crews

Filed under: Cancon,Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:08

From Strategy Page:

Canada is finding it’s easier to buy new helicopters, than find the people it needs to operate and maintain them. Such is the case with a new CH-47 transport helicopter squadron, which will require 482 pilots, maintainers and support staff. Pilots are in training, as are some of the maintainers.

The problems is that the Royal Canadian Air Force has only 14,500 personnel and it’s difficult to round up 482 specialists for a new squadron. The new unit does not reach full strength until 2014, and three years is believed sufficient to recruit or transfer the people needed for the new unit. But maybe not, because it’s always a problem with smaller armed forces in this age of ever evolving technology. The U.S. Air Force has 330,000 personnel, and has been downsizing for the last two decades. All those people give you a lot more flexibility, and fewer problems in forming new units.

Canada has been leasing and trying to buy CH-47s for the past four years. That’s because the CH-47 is the best helicopter for use in Afghanistan, having proved able to deal with the dust and high altitude operations better than other transport choppers. The CH-47 has been engineered, over the years, to deal with the dust, and always had the engine power to handle high altitude operations. For these reasons, Canada is buying fifteen more CH-47Fs and forming another air force squadron to operate them.

July 11, 2011

The long, quiet development of weaponry

Filed under: History,Military,Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:20

Strategy Page titled this one as “Four Decades To Become An Overnight Sensation”:

Wonder weapons, in general, aren’t. Those spiffy and seemingly magical new “wonder weapons” tend to be old weapons designs that finally got to the point where they lived up to the original hype. Take smart bombs. They were invented, and used quite successfully, during World War II. But these were radio controlled, and required skilled operators to succeed. Expensive as well, and no one wanted to spend the money to train effective operators in peacetime. In wartime, price was no object, and experience was easy to get.

Thus the U.S. dropped smart bombs from their arsenal after World War II, and didn’t revive them until the 1960s, when lasers (developed a decade earlier) were used to bounce their light off a target. A bomb was equipped with a seeker that could home on the reflected laser light, and a guidance kit (battery and motors to operate small wings) to hit the target without an operator. This was cheaper and more effective than the earlier smart bombs. The next big jump, in the 1990s, was the GPS guided bomb, which finally perfected the smart bomb. Thus this wonder weapon took four decades to become an overnight sensation.

Other examples are helicopters, which became iconic of the Vietnam War: first flown in 1904, used sparingly by both sides in World War II, but not in wide use until the 1950s.

While many of these systems are called “wonder weapons,” they aren’t. That’s because every new weapon quickly produces new tactics and combat techniques that reduce the improved capabilities of the new weapons. This is often ignored by historians. Self-preservation is a great motivator, and in the face of new weapons, the enemy will quickly find ways to diminish the wonder.

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