INGRESS: New Eyes for Canada’s Griffon Helicopters
In 2005 Canada was facing a complete lack of integrated in-theater helicopter support. Worse, the Canadian Forces faced an equally complete lack of options. Canada had never operated attack helicopters, so there were none to be had. Its heavy lift CH-47s had been sold to the Dutch in 1991, and the program to belatedly replace them cannot deliver before 2011-2012. The navy’s Sea King fleet was dangerously old and needed for maritime roles, and their replacement CH-148 Cyclones/H-92 Superhawks have yet to be delivered. New CH-149 Cormorant/EH101 search-and-rescue helicopters are non-military versions that are needed along Canada’s huge coastlines, and the helicopters have encountered serious and long-running reliability issues during their short lifetimes. Finally, other Army helicopters like the CH-146 Griffon/ Bell 412 lacked the carrying capacity required to operate as true utility helicopters in Afghanistan’s performance-sapping high altitudes and hot temperatures.
Outside organizations like the Canadian-American Strategic Review (CASR) had looked at this problem, and proposed a pair of solutions. One option involved buying, leasing, or trading for Mi-17 helicopters used by Afghanistan’s air force and by several NATO countries. Faced with a Parliamentary threat of forced withdrawal unless it produced transport helicopters in a timely manner, the Canadian government finally signed a contract in April 2008 to buy 6 used CH-47Ds instead, and have them delivered by 2009. The other CASR proposal looked at the Bell 412’s strengths and limitations. It argued that CH-146 Griffons could be turned into armed reconnaissance helicopters that would emulate the US Marines’ UH-1Ns by providing overwatch, escorting transport helicopters, and even performing limited casualty-evacuation duties.
Now, a program called INGRESS is taking the first steps along very similar lines, in order to prepare Canada’s Griffons for front-line deployment.
The Interoperable Griffon Reconnaissance Escort Surveillance System program aimed to install surveillance and targeting turrets in Canada’s CH-146 Griffons, “along with equipment that will allow for the operation of the sensor for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Escort tasks.”
INGRESS was let as a formal RFP on Canada’s MERX system in April 2008. Bids closed on May 23/08, and on July 14/08, the Canadian government announced that L-3 Wescam Inc. in Burlington, Ontario, Canada had won a C$ 25.9 million (about $25.8 million, includes value-added tax) contract.
L-3 Wescam will offer its Wescam MX-15 True HD stabilized EO/IR turrets with onboard image processing to sharpen images, along with accompanying digital HD recorders, HD displays, multi-functional moving map displays, tactical video downlinks, and display consoles. These sensor systems will comply with NATO’s strict ISR interoperability architecture standards, and will be bundled into integrated mission kits that can be installed or removed as needed. Some Griffons have carried Wescam’s Model 16SS-A/AAQ-501 with first-generation infrared sensors on S-shaped side mounts since 1997; the new INGRESS turrets will also be mounted there, instead of being installed in the nose of the helicopter.
L-3 Wescam states that the turrets will be provided in 2 configurations: ISR, and Escort versions. Given the mention of laser target marking in the MERX solicitation, the likely difference is the addition of laser targeting capability in the escort versions. MX-15 True HD is solely a surveillance turret, while other MX-15 turrets like the MX-15i and MX-15D add laser rangefinding and illumination to guide precision weapons.
System deliveries will begin in late 2008 and will be completed in 2009. Engineering, Installation and Airworthiness Certification support for the Canadian Forces CH-146 fleet will be completed by the Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Ltd., the helicopters’ original manufacturer.
- MERX solicitation, via CASR (April 16/08) Interoperable Griffon Reconnaissance Escort Surveillance System – Letters of Interest ( LOI ) Notice. Reference PW-$$BF-106-16843, Solicitation W8475-08EB11/B
- Government of Canada (July 14/08) – Government of Canada Invests in Equipment for the Forces, Contract Awarded for Surveillance System
- L-3 Wescam (July 14/08) – l-3 Wescam to Provide High Definition Imaging Systems for INGRESS CH-146 Griffons.
- CASR (updated Dec 2007) – A Modest Proposal – An Armed CH-146 Griffon for Kandahar?