The Canadian defense ministry has awarded two contracts for the upgrade and upkeep of the CH-149 Cormorant helicopter fleet that will enable them to support continue search and rescue (SAR) operations across the country.
Announced by defense minister Anita Anand, the two contracts for the Cormorant mid-life upgrade and their simulator solution are valued at up to $1.24 billion (approx. USD911 million).
Leonardo UK Ltd of Yeovil, United Kingdom, will be responsible for the helicopter upgrades, while CAE Inc. will deliver the simulators from Montreal, Canada, under a C$78 million contract.
In addition to upgrading the helicopters, Canada will also acquire additional airframes/parts to increase the fleet size from 13 to 16 aircraft. This will allow continued SAR operations from British Columbia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and add to the SAR capacity from Trenton, Ontario.
Canada has one of the world’s largest areas of responsibility for search and rescue (SAR) operations, with a territory covering 18 million square kilometers of land and water, and more than 243,000 kilometers of coastline connecting three oceans. The challenges associated with such an enormous area are compounded by the varied and often austere terrain, mountainous regions, extreme weather conditions and low population density that characterize many parts of the country, making Canada one of the most difficult environments in which to conduct SAR operations.
The CH-149 Cormorant helicopter has been the RCAF’s primary all-weather helicopter dedicated to SAR since 2001, after demonstrating it could meet all of the requirements and face the challenges of the harsh Canadian environment. Since entering service the CH-149 has proven to be an excellent asset for the RCAF, providing an effective long-range, all-weather rotary-wing SAR capability.
As part of the upgrade, the helicopters will receive new navigation, communication, and flight management systems, as well as safety systems to comply with new Canadian, United States, and European airspace regulatory requirements, and to address obsolescence.
The update to AW101 612, the most advanced version of the helicopter and the same model Norway has recently procured to conduct its rotary-wing SAR missions, will also introduce improved sensor capability and in-cabin wireless communications.
Delivery of these upgrades and training systems are expected to begin in 2026, and are anticipated to be fully operational in 2029.
“The top item in my mandate letter from the Prime Minister is to ensure that the Canadian Armed Forces has the capabilities, equipment and culture needed to implement the objectives in our Defence Policy. The CH-149 Cormorant helicopter is a critical asset for search and rescue operations in Canada – and these contracts provide the best solution for Canada to upgrade its fleet and provide the accompanying training tools to our aviators so that they can continue to keep Canadians safe – now, and in the years to come,” Minister of National Defence Anita Anand said.
Leonardo said it would be working with its principle Canadian subcontractor IMP Aerospace and Defence, in addition to GE Canada, and Collins Aerospace Canada, to complete the majority of the work in Canada, primarily at IMP’s Halifax, N.S. facilities.