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Subs vs. Cormorants


Army.ca Veteran
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I saw this editorial today in the Halifax Chronicle Herald, kind of a neat comparison and a blatant example of how the media jumps on one thing but not another similar problem.



Monday, October 25, 2004  The Halifax Herald Limited

Sub context

INTERESTING, isn't it, how no one is calling the Cormorants pieces of junk?

Yet the new fleet of military helicopters has been grounded, save essential search-and-rescue missions, for the third time this year. In February, the concern was faulty fuel lines; in April, it was tail rotors; and now, it's the same part of their anatomy again.

This latest glitch comes on the heels of a report this month that the fleet of 15 helicopters, purchased in 1998, requires more than twice the maintenance time than expected.

The Cormorants were supposed to get by with about seven hours in the shop per hour of flight, but have been hangar-bound an average of 16 to 18 hours per hour of flight. (As a point of reference, the servicing/flight ratio is 30 to 1 for the 40-year-old Sea Kings.)

The good news is that as technicians' expertise and numbers grow, maintenance times are falling.

(Typically, maintenance costs for military hardware are highest at the beginning and at the end of a machine's lifespan. They level off when the equipment is in its prime.)

At a cost $790 million, the 15 new choppers are in the same price range as the four subs Canada purchased from Britain, also in 1998.

But the subs - one of which has suffered a fatal fire, while the others have been plagued by technical glitches during their "Canadianization" process - are taking far more flak for their troubles. The PR difference, presumably, can be explained by the fact the Cormorants were bought new, while the subs are second-hand. Nobody likes second-hand equipment, even if it is good quality.

But the distinction between "old," "used" and "new" is not as pronounced as the public might think.

The Sea Kings are routinely described as aging - aren't we all? - but the truth is their parts have been replaced so many times over the years that original components are more the exception than the norm.

This is not to say they're as good as new, because they're not. But they're not as "old" as people think, either. They're simply examples of the law of diminishing returns: Keeping them in peak condition, so that they may be flown safely, is too much work.

The Sea King that crashed on the deck of the destroyer Iroquois last year was not a victim of age per se. The engine that stalled had just been refurbished. In fact, an investigation into the mishap revealed that an overtightened screw, hampering air intake, was the prime culprit. A similar tuning error could just as easily happen on a new aircraft.

The bottom line is that high-end military machinery, whether old or new, is finnicky. Invariably, things will go wrong with it. The price you pay for high performance is high maintenance.

If Canada had bought its subs new, at four times the cost, there would still be problems with them in the early going. That they are second-hand may or may not be germane.

We can only hope that the Commons committee now investigating the sub purchase will approach the job with the eye for complexity of the military technician, not the instinct for simplicity of the political tactician.

Copyright © 2004 The Halifax Herald Limited


Wish I could find that kind of logical writing on military issues in the papers out here.

When the subs were all brought back to port, a few friends of mine (non-military) commented how the problem must be huge and the subs a write-off if they have to be docked. They didn't understand my complete lack of interest, as I'm usually quite vocal with them about military issues - in retrospect I think they were trying to start me on a rant about military equipment for entertainment (it was a slow day). It took a bit of explaining to get them out of the media-induced tunnel vision and to understand the parallel that grounding an entire fleet of aircraft when a problem is encountered on even just one airframe isn't exactly rare. Since the result of failure on a sub is roughly equivalent to the result of failure on an aircraft, holding the subs' operations for a bit just shows that the brass who made that decision have more brains than the media jumping all over it as a sign that the subs are useless.

I can only dream that the commons committee investigating the sub purchase will shift their attention onto the REAL problems of the military - political apathy.

And for the shameless cheap shot...
"INTERESTING, isn't it, how no one is calling the Cormorants pieces of junk?"
Interesting only in that EH would probably find some way to try and sue anyone if they did - good helo, whiny company.


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I would just like to add some thing to the Servicing to flight ratio of the aircraft in the Canadian forces.  As and AVN Tech
on the CP-140, this is the man hours that go into a 3 hour training flight.

B check.---- 3 pers 40 minutes each    120 minutes
fuel ----------3 pers 35 minutes each    105 minutes
paper work 4 pers 20 minutes each        80 minutes
FE preflight  1 pers 120 minutes          120 minutes
Launch-----  5 pers 10 minutes            50 minutes

post flight
A check    6 pers 45 minute                270 minutes
Fuel        3 pers 35 minute                105 minutes
paperwork  6 pers  30 minutes            180 minutes

total                                                1030 minutes=17 hours for 3 hours flight

so that is 5.7 : 1 servicing to flight ratio...

and this is all in a perfect world........now add training.....scheduled maintenance and  non scheduled maintenance
it adds up

the Canadian forces works on the principle with their aircraft if we maintain the last longer that is why our auroras have 20 000 hours on them and the American P-3 which is the same aircraft get mothballed after 10 000