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The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) will be seeking an upgrade to its CH-146 Griffon maintenance and flight training simulators as part of a life extension project for the multi-role utility helicopters.
The first phase of the project, which is intended to keep the fleet of 85 Griffons flying until at least 2031, took off on Jan. 26 with the award of a $90 million contract to Bell Helicopter Textron Canada to develop and design options for the avionics systems, engines, integrated sensors and cockpit displays.
A follow-on contract to install new systems and upgrade others is expected in 2022.
Around the same time, the federal government will be inviting industry to respond to a request for proposals to modernize the Griffon simulators, according to a Department of National Defence spokesperson.
“The upgrade to the flight simulation devices will be procured under a separate contract,” she said in an emailed response.
The CH-146 simulators were built by CAE and delivered to the RCAF in the mid-1990s, shortly before the helicopters entered service between 1995 and 1997. CAE continues to provide in-service support.
As part of what is being called the Griffon Limited Life Extension (GLLE) project, the RCAF wants to replace a number of the helicopter’s avionics systems, including communications radios and cryptographic equipment, cockpit voice and flight recorders, the navigation systems, the automatic flight control systems, and the control display units. Obsolescence of critical components has been a problem for maintenance technicians for several years now.
The design phase will also look at upgrades to the engines and to the sensor suite. The CH-146, which is based on the Bell 412, performs a variety of transport, close fire support and armed escort missions for tactical aviation and special operations forces. However, it has a top speed of around 260 kilometres per hour, well below that of the Boeing CH-147F Chinook that it escorts during missions such as Operation Presence in Mali.
“These helicopters have performed extremely well over the years and with these new upgrades, they will continue to be a valuable asset that will allow our personnel to carry out missions and operations successfully well into the future,” RCAF commander LGen Al Meinzinger said in a statement.
While aircrews would like more speed, more lift and bigger guns as part of any upgrade program, the current platform meets most of their needs, Col Travis Morehen, commanding officer of 1 Wing, the RCAF’s tactical aviation headquarters in Kingston, Ont., told Skies in a recent interview.
“I think we have done a really good job of exploiting what we can do with the Griffon,” said Morehen, who is currently serving as commander of the Canadian Armed Forces task force in Mali. “I don’t think there are many nations that have been as agile and flexible with that type of platform as we have, whether it is the combat service support role for search and rescue, or precision insertion for special operations . . . or what we are doing in terms of utility lift, or providing, with the GAU-21 (.50 Cal machine gun), stand off fires.”
Whatever the changes that are ultimately accepted as part of the initial design phase now being conducted by Bell, the helicopters will require upgraded flight training and maintenance simulators to match.
The GLLE project, including modernized simulators, is expected to reach initial operational capability by 2024 and be fully operational by 2026.