Officials met with Cyclone rivals as Tories consider ditching chopper program

OTTAWA – Senior National Defence and Public Works officials have met quietly behind closed doors with rival aircraft makers hoping to chart the way forward in the troubled and long-delayed replacement for the air force’s Sea King helicopters.

Multiple defence sources tell The Canadian Press the meeting on Thursday involved Sikorsky, the manufacturer of the CH-148 Cyclones, as well as competitors from AgustaWestland and NH Industries.

Each was handed an abbreviated set of requirements and asked whether their aircraft could meet the criteria.

The companies were told to respond within three weeks; the Harper government is expected to decide sometime this fall whether to jettison the Cyclone program, started 10 years ago under Paul Martin’s Liberals.

Government officials are engaged in a mini-version of the process they undertook in the politically-explosive F-35 stealth fighter program, which was put on hold last year pending a detailed market analysis that’s still ongoing.

Sikorsky is under contract to deliver 28 helicopters to replace the 50-year-old fleet of Sea Kings, but it is five years late and has only produced four “test” aircraft which the government has not accepted.

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