Canada and North Atlantic Defense: The Coming of the Cyclone


2017-10-06 By Robbin Laird and Murielle Delaporte

Canada has placed a priority on anti-submarine warfare in its NATO contribution.

According to the Royal Canadian Air Force Chief of Staff, Lt. General Hood, “I am exceptionally proud of our ASW capability and when I couple it with the new advanced capability on our upgraded frigates, I see us a backbone of NATO’s ASW capability.”

The current ASW capabilities of Canada are built around an upgraded CP-140 with the acquisition of a new CH-148 Cyclone ASW helicopter and the modernization of the Canadian frigates integrated into the ASW coalition operations.

Over the decade ahead as the maritime domain awareness and strike enterprise is reworked with the coming of the P-8 and the Triton (among other assets) Canada will add an unmanned capability, continue upgrading the CP-140 and work closely with the allies in reshaping the maritime domain awareness and strike networks.

And added to that as well will be new satellite sensor and communications systems as well.

In addition to modernization of the Canadian variant of the P-3, Canada is adding a unique maritime helicopter to the mix, the CH-148 Cyclone.

The helicopter was crafted as a replacement for the Sea King, which would operate mission systems similar to the MH-60R (used by the US Navy and allies) into a larger aircraft, which could do a range of missions, including ASW, ASuW, HDS, SAR, with no or minimal reconfiguration of the aircraft.

And the helicopter had to be designed to land on Canadian sized frigates in high sea states.

The Cyclone at sea onboard a Halifax frigate in high seas. Credit: Sikorsky

The high sea state environment was a calibration made from calculations of deck accelerations.

The helicopter also had to fit within the Canadian concepts of operations, whereby the crew could multi-task while in flight, without a need to return to the ship to reconfigure for changing missions.

The new helicopter is built on a commercial S-92 foundation but the defense customizations fit where 21st century technology was going, namely an information, communications and decision making transformation.

And the work flow onboard the helicopter very much fits into what the Block 3 upgrade to Aurora provides along with the P-8 — the front end and back end of the aircraft shape a workflow for the entire flight and work crew. Screens in the cockpit of both the Cyclone and the Aurora bring the data in the back forward to the cockpit.

A work in progress is to determine exactly who does what, but SA for Search and Rescue is now available to the front end of the aircraft which obviously allows for better decision-making and outcomes with regard to the new helicopter.

What the helicopter will connect to in terms of information flow is a work in progress, but the platform is coming to the force PRECISELY when the entire maritime domain awareness and strike enterprise in the North Atlantic is being reworked, and this helicopter has the information tools to both contribute to and leverage the new approaches being shaped.

A CH-148 Cyclone helicopter moves into position over the flight deck of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Montreal for refuelling on April 20, 2016 off the coast of Nova Scotia.

We had a chance to visit 12 Wing Shearwater located in Nova Scotia on September 18, 2017.  We first had an opportunity to tour the helicopter and get briefed as well as to sit down and discuss the Wing and the way ahead with the Wing Commander, Colonel Sid Connor.

We started by discussing the challenges of building a new maritime helicopter, which met the requirements set by the Canadian Air Force.  The Canadians were seeking a maritime helicopter, which did not exist off the shelf in any allied Navy air force, but opted to develop a unique helicopter, which met a specific set of requirements.

Although one could note that having developed an aircraft which can combine advanced ASW within a larger air frame for multi-tasking, the Canadian RCAF may have stimulated the development of a maritime helicopter clearly of interest to other navies, notably those operating off of smaller ships.

Colonel Sid Connor: “Our requirements were tough because we operate under a different philosophy in our maritime helicopter fleet than do our allies.  We focus on our crews doing autonomous operations as we leave the ship, which is not the norm for maritime helos.

“Normally, you’re very dependent on getting tactical direction from the ship. Whereas in our case, though we can operate that way and we do, we also have the ability to be autonomous and we prioritize our ability to retask during operations.  Rather than landing on our ships and then repurposing our helos, we want to be able to do such repurposing built into the helicopter itself.

“This led to requiring a larger helicopter to do ASW and the multi-missions, which we want to do with the helicopter.

“And all of this leads to the complexity of the requirements of the Cyclone flying ready to do any mission because you don’t have the option to go back to the ship. We want to reconfigure the aircraft as you transition from an ASW mission to an anti-surface mission, for example.

“That’s what led us to our requirements for the Cyclone being more robust than for the S-60-Romeo where they are configured for a certain role when they take off.”

Ch-148 Cyclone from on Vimeo.

Question: What is your current status with the Cyclone?

Colonel Sid Connor: “We are now in the late stages of phase one of introducing the Cyclone into service. We just started our first conversion-training course for pilots at the Wing.

“The training is being done as part of the ISS contract with Sikorsky at our training squadron here at the Wing. We are in the process of taking ownership of the simulators as part of the standup of training as well.

Question: During our visit to the Cyclone, your staff provided an excellent overview to the aircraft, and we discussed with them how the new technologies onboard the helicopter facilitated a change in the work flow.  The crew was sharing a common operational picture based upon which they could work as a team.

 In other words, it is not just about the technology but shaping a new workflow?

Colonel Sid Connor: “Absolutely. The tactical officers in the back of the aircraft are in charge of working the missions, while the pilot focuses on flying the aircraft.  That continues as a key thread but now there is a clear opportunity to move tasks around onboard the aircraft as appropriate to the mission.

“Depending on the mission, and the conditions and different flight regimes, we will choose to push tasks that are primarily done in the backend, we can actually push to the front end as appropriate.

“On an older aircraft, the two pilots in the cockpit focused almost exclusively on flying. Because the Cyclone is a fly by wire aircraft, depending on the regime of flight, the aircraft is flying the aircraft.

“There will be a primary pilot who’s monitoring aircraft flight and that frees up the second pilot to take on some of those mission tasks, to be operating the EOIR system, for example, or adjusting the radar or taking over tasks that maybe are not the primary task related to the mission you’re doing, but is still important with regard to augmenting information. It’s information flow, management of information, for sure, that’s going to be important to keep that crew dynamic going.

“The Cyclone is an information rich aircraft and managing the flow of information to determine how best to meet the task is a key challenge and opportunity generated by the new technologies onboard Cyclone.

Question: How have you prepared for the new workflow?

Colonel Sid Connor: “The first time we really analyzed this in any kind of detail for this platform, was during a training needs analysis before the contractor award. We understood from the outset that the technology that was going to be available would change the workflow.  During different regimes of flight, who would be doing which primary tasks?”

Question: One could make a simple point, namely that this is not a problem facing the Sea King, but it is not a platform born in the information age. How are you shaping a way ahead to deal with the shift?

Colonel Sid Connor: “During takeoff the pilots are concentrating on flying. All the tasks will be done in the back. As you get into different regimes of flight, especially if you’re not going into the hover for example, then the piloting task is less of a load. Therefore, the non-flying pilot would be able to take on some of these other tasks, so we have worked through that approach. Now knowing the equipment that we’re dealing with, we’ve thought it through again. But we really won’t know until we go out and test our assumptions in actual operations.

“But it is a key part of leveraging the technology and shaping decision-making approaches as we go forward.”

Question: The aircraft is also a digital aircraft and as such maintenance will be quite different.  How would describe this difference?

Colonel Sid Connor: “There’s an awful less fixing things and a lot more changing components. Getting inside the black box isn’t going to be very common for us. It’s going to be taking out the black box and replace it with a functioning black box, right.

“The maintenance network that we’re tied into with the similarities from the CH-148 and the S-92 and that’s, again, we’ve started in a position that’ll evolve. The other interesting thing is, is there’s a little more motivation on Sikorsky than would be otherwise, in that in our ISS contract, we don’t own, for example, any of the spares for this aircraft. When the spares are off aircraft, they’re owned by the contractor and there’s an obligation for those spares to be available to us when we need them.

“It’s what we call power by the hour. They get paid in the ISS contract dependent upon how much we fly and at certain percentages of availability throughout the contract. It’s in their best interest to make it more maintainable, to make it more efficient flight hour per maintenance hour. For example, it’s their bottom line that’s impacted, not ours.

“We currently have a 25-year contract with Sikorsky with regard to parts and related issues.”

Question: A very tough requirement is to operate in very high sea states.  And you have asked the Cyclone to land in sea states that other maritime helicopters are really not optimized to operate in.  How did this requirement develop?

Colonel Sid Connor: “The requirement to operate a Sea State 6 is not directly connected to the upgrades to Halifax class. They are related more to our history than anything else.

“When we lost our carriers but had the Sea King we had to find a way to operate the Sea King off of a smaller ship.  We pioneered a system in Canada with Canadian technology to do so, and we developed what became known as the RAST system, which is now used by other navies as well.

“We are North Atlantic and Pacific folks and so we see heavier sea states for a higher portion of our time than some other allied navies.

“So these two requirements – operating off of a smaller ship and regularly having to operate in high sea states – drove the need to have our larger ASW multi-mission helicopter operate to meet these requirements.

“When we set the requirements, we initially focused on pitch and roll. But our scientific community came back to us and indicated that it was not really pitch and roll, which we were interested in, it was really about deck accelerations. We then did the calculations and we determined that we needed to operate above sea state four closer to sea state 6.”

Question: How important is NATO cooperation for your efforts?

Colonel Sid Connor: “It is obviously important and we both sponsor and participate in NATO North Atlantic exercises.  And with the return of the Russian challenge, obviously ASW has returned as a key capability for the NATO navies. There is a lot more cooperation on these issues now than we saw in the 1990s.

“ASW is becoming a key priority, which provides an important reinforcement of the need to invest in this area of competence.  As a small air force, we have to shift resources to the highest areas of need or priority; with the ASW focus, this highlights the importance of what we do within the overall defense forces.

“And we receive a great deal of support from the Royal Canadian Navy because we provide a core capability for their operations, even though we are an Air Force asset.”

Question: How does the Cyclone fit into the way ahead with regard to information management and decision-making?

Colonel Sid Connor: “We are a connected asset with Link 11 and are looking to add Link 16.  But we are designed to operate without a need to download data to a ship to process our data.

“We have standalone kit on the helicopter, which allows us to mission system planning and decision making as required.  We don’t have to plug into the ship with our mission data. After a flight, we plug it into our own system, analyze it, and then push out the relevant data.

“We are designed to operate as a single ship up to engagement within a task force. And as such we need to operate on our own or to network as required with the task force, without having to do so to execute our basic missions.

“As the networks evolve, you have to look at the whole picture. You have to look at all the players. You don’t know for sure when you’re collecting data where ultimately that sensor shooter equation will be executed going forward. And we have to evolve with this approach as well.

“And in this shift it is about the management of information and getting the right information to the right people in a timely manner.”

Question: Moving from Sea Kings to Cyclones is bringing about a shift in cultures as well because of the technological shifts and the work flow shifts.  How will you deal with the culture change?

Colonel Sid Connor: “We have elements of our culture that we absolutely must maintain and we have elements of our culture that going forward we absolutely must drop. We need to figure out which is which and that will happen as we operate and shape lessons learned from our operations. We really won’t know the right answers until we operate and learn from those operations.  But culture change is clearly part of the challenge.

“We are doing exercises this Fall and next year which will help shape our thinking about load sharing within the helicopter in executing missions more effectively.  The first will be the Submarine Commanders Course and the next will be at RIMPAC 2018.”

Colonel Sid Connor

Colonel Sid Connor joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1991 and earned his wings as an Air Combat Systems Officer (ACSO) in 1993.

His operational flying was with 423 (MH) Squadron where he deployed several times in HMCS’s FRASER, PRESERVER, IROQUOIS and VILLE DE QUEBEC. At 406 Maritime Operational Training Squadron his duties included instructing on Maritime Helicopter (MH) Crew Commander, MH Tactical Coordinator (TACCO), Helicopter Towed Array Support (HELTAS) TACCO and Sensor Operator (SENSO) courses.

Colonel Connor’s staff appointments include 12 Wing Staff Officer for the MH Program, Executive Assistant to the 1 Canadian Air Division A3, Operational Requirements and Training Manager for the Maritime Helicopter Project, Chief of Staff (COS) Coordinator at Canadian Joint Operations Command, Coordinator for the Director of Structure Integration and as staff in the Directorate of Strategic Coordination within the Chief of Force Development team.

Colonel Connor has command experience as Commanding Officer of the Helicopter Operational Test and Evaluation Facility (HOTEF), Commanding Officer of 12 Wing Operations, and as the Air Component Commander for Op NANOOK 2011. In 2015 he was the Deputy Director Combat Operations Division as an embedded officer within the 609th Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in AFCENT. Since July 2017, Colonel Connor is the Commander of 12 Wing.

Col Connor completed the Joint Command Staff Programme at the Canadian Forces College and the United States Air Force Air War College at Maxwell AFB. He holds a Bachelor of Military Arts and Science and Master in Defence Studies both from Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC), in Kingston, as well as a Master of Strategic Studies from the United States Air Force Air University.

The RAST System

A helicopter deck(or helo deck) is a helicopter pad on the deck of a ship, usually located on the stern and always clear of obstacles that would prove hazardous to a helicopter landing. In the United States Navy, it is commonly and properly referred to as the flight deck

In the Royal Navy, landing on is usually achieved by first lining up on the port quarter parallel to the ship’s heading, then once the deck motion is deemed to be acceptable the pilot sidesteps the aircraft laterally using a white painted line (the bum line) as a reference.

Shipboard landing for some helicopters is assisted though use of a haul-down device that involves attachment of a cable to a probe on the bottom of the aircraft prior to landing. Tension is maintained on the cable as the helicopter descends, assisting the pilot with accurate positioning of the aircraft on the deck; once on deck locking beams close on the probe, locking the aircraft to the flight deck. This device was pioneered by the Royal Canadian Navy and was called “Beartrap“. The U.S. Navy implementation of this device, based on Beartrap, is called the “RAST” system (for Recovery Assist, Secure and Traverse) and is an integral part of the LAMPS Mk III (SH-60B) weapons system.

Operating in High Sea States

Operating helicopters from the deck of naval vessels in poor weather is a significant challenge demanding the highest levels of skill and a number of technologies.

Small vessels like frigates, destroyers and offshore patrol vessels represent an even greater challenge, for obvious reasons.

Regardless of wave and weather helicopter operations must continue if essential activities like anti submarine warfare are required.

In addition to training and avionics a number of systems exist that allow a helicopter to be secured to the heaving, rolling and pitching flight deck and once secured, moved into the hangar.

Australia, the USA, Canada, Japan, Spain and Taiwan use the the Curtis Wright (Indal Technologies RAST(Recovery Assist, Secure and Traverse) system. US Navy ships use RAST, except the LCS, where the MacTaggart Scott TRIGON is installed. RAST is a development of a system used by the Royal Canadian Navy in the 1960s’.

RAST assists with landing and is then used to move the helicopter (or UAV) into the hangar using a rail embedded into the flight deck and hangar.

The operation sequence is as follows;

 The typical operation of the RAST system begins with the pilot making a normal approach to the flight deck and establishing a hover. The messenger cable is lowered to the deck and is manually connected to the main recovery assist tethering cable, which is then hauled up to the helicopter and automatically locked into the main RAST probe.

During a period of quiescence in the ship’s motion, the pilot requests the LSO to apply tension to the recovery assist cable. This tension produces a strong centering effect to stabilize the hover and directs the helicopter toward the designated landing area, as the pilot slowly flies the craft down. Immediately upon touchdown, the LSO closes the RSD’s arresting beams securing the helicopter probe. The aircraft is ready to be aligned and traversed into the hangar.

The RSD is often referred to as the ‘bear trap’

RAST requires personnel on deck to secure and position the helicopter and an operator, the aircraft pilot alone can not operate the system. It is also not suitable for helicopters with nose wheels but can be used to enable recovery in up to Sea State 5 conditions. Because on the SH60 the probe is not at the centre of rotation, once down, the RSD is released in one direction to enable the helicopter to be positioned ready for the movement.

To enable use with other helicopter types Indal also produce the ASIST and TC-ASIST system.

MacTaggart Scott (another one of these brilliant UK defence manufacturers very few have heard about) pioneered helicopter recovery systems.

Their TRIGON system was originally developed for use with the Wasp helicopter and much smaller flight deck. As the Lynx replaced Wasp, the same system was developed and used.

The deck lock system requires the pilot to hover over a steel grid in order to deploy the locking ‘harpoon’.

Once engaged the hydraulic actuator system, from Claverham, pulls the helicopter onto the deck, compressing the oleo leg in conjunction with negative thrust from the rotor. This system can secure the helicopter to the deck without needing any personnel to approach it, an important safety consideration.

The deck lock grid is available from a number of manufacturers and widely used.

Cyclone Sea Trials, April 2016 from on Vimeo.

Editor’s Note: The slideshow above shows the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter operating from the flight deck of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Montreal on April 20, 2016 off the coast of Nova Scotia. Photos: Leading Seaman Dan Bard, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The videos are credited to the RCAF.