The federal government intends to purchase 50 EH-101 helicopters, at a minimum estimated cost of 54 5 billion Major military projects such as this are often prone to large cost overrun. The frigate program almost doubled, as did the CF-18 purchase. By the same token the EH-101 project could eventually cost the Canadian tax payers as much as 510 billion.
The EH-101s were initially meant for hunting down the large "Alpha" class Soviet submarines. Now that the Russians are our allies, the need for attack helicopters no longer exists. Realizing this, proponents of the project have stressed job creation.
Investment in such sophisticated military equipment generates far fewer jobs when compared with similar in-vestments in non-military sectors, such as manufacturing. When government is cutting back on training programs for youth, women, and others, It is unthinkable that it should waste taxpayers money to create jobs through the production of unnecessary hardware.
Other options exist that would equip D.N.D. with adequate helicopter power, but they have been ignored. The Sea King helicopters could be refitted, and remain serviceable for another IS years.
Likewise, the current fleet of Labrador helicopters, used in air-sea rescue, could be upgraded for less than 510 million each. According to some experts, the result would be a better aircraft for the task. D.N.D officials say that the Labradors are too old to be refurbished, but specialists in the field say this would be quite safe and feasible.
Unlike the EH-101s, which are too large to be maintained on board ship, Sea Kings can have their rotor blades and engines re placed on board.
When considering refurbishing the Labradors and the Sea Kings, it is important to realize that the Canadian models have been well maintained: most have barely logged 11,000 hours, whereas Sea Kings around the world have now flown as much as 37,000 hours.
A recent Gallup poll confirms that most Canadians want military spending cut by at least 10%. Wider public scrutiny of this proposed purchase is certainly needed. There is still time to cancel or scale back this project. The first helicopters are not expected to be ready until 1997. One hopes that the government will have the courage to review its position on the helicopters.
Canadian security needs could be better met by addressing more urgent problems such as the destruction of the ozone layer, the health care crisis, staggering unemployment, a lack of affordable housing, and poverty. The 54.5 billion that the Mulroney administration wants to spend on helicopters is more than double the Ministry of Environment's "Green Plan."
By Jim Hollingworth, member of the Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War