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MHP: Final Approach

The fact that the worldwide market for new medium-lift helicopters could top 2,000 over the next few years helps to explain the huge resources committed to three potential Maritime Helicopter Project (MHP) contenders.


July 18, 2007
By Ken Pole

Topics

The fact that the worldwide market for new medium-lift helicopters
could top 2,000 over the next few years helps to explain the huge
resources committed to three potential Maritime Helicopter Project
(MHP) contenders. Also, the level of investment might help to explain
why the prospect of not winning has, at times, frayed tempers and
precipitated corporate slanging matches during the long-delayed project.

At
28 aircraft and related services worth some $3.1 billion to the
successful prime contractor and its suppliers, the
politically-sensitive MHP competition has become increasingly intense.
E.H. Industries hopes to build on its success in providing Canada with
its fleet of 15 EH101 Cormorant search-and-rescue (SAR) helicopters.
Meanwhile, NHIndustries sees its next-generation NH90, which has been
chosen as the Nordic Standard Helicopter, as having an edge. But then
so does Sikorsky, whose even newer H-92 Superhawk is also
state-of-the-art. Canadian defence planners consider all three viable
candidates to replace Maritime Command's fleet of Sikorsky CH-124 Sea
Kings, some of which have become an international embarrassment due to
a series of age-related problems over the past few years. Each
potential replacement is of a size to adapt to the shipboard hangars
currently used for the Sea Kings, but each brings different attributes
to the MHP competition.

The Department of National Defence is
waiting to see how those differences will be presented in response to
its Request for Proposals, release of which is believed to be imminent
and which will outline all the elements the prime candidates will need
to submit their bids. "The winning bidder is going to be the one that
offers the best solution," said Ken Ready, chief of staff in the office
of Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) Alan Williams. "We have to be
sure that what we're getting will meet the requirement. We have scarce
resources; we can't afford to poorly specify something and end up with
something we don't want."

The EH101 is unique in the helicopter
industry in that it has three engines. Coupled with valid arguments
about the merits of fleet commonality with the military's new SAR birds
(one of the main ones being a claimed need for fewer spares), the
triple-engine configuration is said to offer enhanced safety. Spokesmen
for the other potential prime contractors – Sikorsky and
Lockheed-Martin Canada, the latter having been confirmed as prime
contractor on the NH90 – argue that their twin-engined aircraft are
just as safe and don't have the added weight to contend with. They also
cite the EH101's use of mechanical rather than fly-by-wire (FBW)
controls.

Gabriel Galleazzi, vice-president of international
sales at the Team Cormorant office in Ottawa, is courtly in his quiet
frustration with the whole exercise. He conceded that it was
"technically possible" to convert the EH101 to FBW but questioned the
need. "Of course, everything is possible, but where's the justification
for such a job to be done? To achieve what? The NH90 was born with
fly-by-wire in mind, because it is the latest technology and the
designers wanted to achieve a weight saving. I think that the
experiment was extremely good; they have reason to be satisfied. But
it's just a way to control the aircraft. If you get that result through
a traditional pushpull rod or whichever other mechanical controls you
have, you stay where you are…. Another debate was cable versus
push-pull rods. Again you achieve the same thing at the end – you
control your aircraft…. It is an achievement but it's not that the
helicopter improves because it has that."

Galleazzi also
suggested that mechanical controls are less vulnerable to
electromagnetic or other interferences and he seemed to take comfort
from Boeing's involvement in Team Cormorant as mission system supplier
with a development of the system designed for the British Nimrod
maritime patrol aircraft. As for the fleet commonality argument, which
"we are pushing very much," it offer the opportunity for "a great
saving for the Crown." He said the saving would amount to "hundreds of
millions of dollars" over the anticipated service life of the aircraft.

Olivier
Francou, Ottawa-based area sales director (Canada) for NHIndustries,
conceded the apparent logic of fleet commonality, calling it an
"important" argument. "But is it a decisive one?" he countered. "I'm
not sure, because you are speaking really of two different aircraft."
He noted that mission systems represent more than half of the value of
a delivered aircraft "and it has nothing to do between the current bid
and the search-and rescue aircraft."


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