OTTAWA -- Senior National Defence and Public Works officials have informally asked rival aircraft makers if they can step in to pick up the pieces if the troubled CH-148 Cyclone helicopter program is cancelled, The Canadian Press has learned.
The attempt to chart a new course for the long-delayed Sea King replacement program took place in Ottawa on Thursday at an unusual meeting that involved not only government officials and executives of AgustaWestland and NH Industries, but also Cyclone manufacturer Sikorsky.
Details of the meeting were provided to The Canadian Press by multiple sources with knowledge of the meeting, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
Late Friday a spokesman for public works confirmed the meeting took place and said the companies were solicited to "obtain their views" on the way ahead.
"The government will take the time it needs to complete its data gathering engagement with those companies and will not make any further comment," said Pierre-Alain Bujold in an email.
The companies were told the military needs a maritime helicopter capability, and the government has instructed officials to develop a backup plan, the sources said.
Each company, including Sikorsky, was handed an abbreviated set of requirements, asked whether their aircraft could meet the criteria and told to respond within three weeks.
The exercise is a mini-version of the process officials 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.
Both procurements have been political headaches for the Harper government, including scathing reports by the auditor general that dented the money-management credibility of the Conservatives.
The Harper government has made it clear it's looking at options "other" than the Cyclone, even sending an air force team to Britain last summer to check out the Royal Navy HM-1 Merlin helicopters built by AgustaWestland.
NH Industries, which was representing Eurocopter at the meeting, was asked about its NH-90 chopper.
Sikorsky was also asked for information about its other maritime helicopter, the MH-60 Sea Hawk, which is in service with the U.S. Navy.
No one from the Department of Public Works was immediately available for comment Friday. No decision has yet been made to scrap the Cyclone program, the sources insisted.
-- The Canadian Press