Well, it's happened; the long rumored sale of the nine VH-71 helos that at one time made up the beginnings of the Marine One replacement fleet have been officially sold to Canada dirt cheap.
Nope, the VIP birds won't be ferrying the Canadian prime minister around or flying the Queen on her visits to the frozen north instead they'll be hangar queens. Yup, the tricked out helos will be used for parts for Canada's fleet of Cormorant rescue choppers.
The fleet was reportedly mothballed out at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland. The nine helicopters were in various stages of being outfitted with all sorts of creature comforts, communications gear and countermeasures required to carry the commander in chief when the program was ended a couple of years ago.
From this Ottawa Citizen article by my old colleague at Defense News David Pugliese:
The nine US101 helicopters as well as additional spare parts were purchased at a cost of around $164 million. That price includes shipping, handling, and engineering support.Wait a second; the canucks are saying that 'hey, we can't get any spare parts for our almost brand new helicopters, eh." Wait, what?
The Obama administration had pulled the plug on the US101, also known as the VH-71, after the projected cost of the aircraft doubled from $6.5 billion to $13 billion U.S.
News reports indicate the U.S. government invested $3 billion into the helicopters, before the Pentagon decided to withdraw from the program.
"This package is considered an excellent one-time opportunity for the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces to address long-standing CH-149 Cormorant fleet availability issues related to the availability of spare parts," noted Defence Department spokeswoman Kim Tulipan.
The VH-71s and the Cormorants are similar variants of the AgustaWestland EH-101 helicopter so there are a number of common parts, she added.
An initial shipment of spare parts arrived in March. The remainder of the items will follow between now and September.
The availability of spare parts for the CH-149 Cormorant fleet, delivered to units starting in 2001 and 2002, remains an ongoing problem, military officers have said.
One big question we have here at DT is; in a time of tight budgets, why aren't these birds being reused by the U.S.? Especially since the Pentagon recently renewed the VXX presidential helicopter replacement program.