Spotlight on Canadian Military Exports: Pratt & Whitney Canada Pursues Huey Helicopter Upgrades

Kenneth Epps

Kenneth Epps

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2002 Volume 23 Issue 2

Pratt & Whitney Canada, based at Longueuil, Quebec, is marketing a commercial engine as an upgrade for the worldwide fleet of military Huey helicopters. If it is successful in winning upgrade contracts, the Canadian company will be able to supply commercial turboshaft engines to foreign armed forces, including those at war or perpetrating human rights abuses, without oversight by the Canadian government.

In November 2001, Pratt & Whitney Canada successfully flight-tested a UH-1 Huey helicopter refitted with a PT6C-67D turboshaft engine built at Longueuil. The company expects to soon receive certification of the new engine from Transport Canada and the US Federal Aviation Administration, both of which will qualify the engine for commercial use. Upon certification, Pratt & Whitney Canada plans to promote the engine as a “commercial off-the-shelf”solution to upgrade both military and civilian versions of the Huey helicopter. The cost will be about US $1 million per helicopter.

According to industry sources, the Huey helicopter is one of the most widely used helicopters in the world. Flown extensively by US forces during the Vietnam war, variants of the Huey have been transferred to the armed forces of countries around the globe through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program of the Pentagon. Of more than 10,000 helicopters produced, over 3,000 remain in service in military and non-military roles. Over 90 per cent of these helicopters are “under the military configuration” supported by the US Army under the FMS program. However, the US Army is phasing out its own fleet of Huey helicopters, and has announced that it will no longer support foreign Hueys after September 2004. The announcement is viewed to be a commercial opportunity by Pratt & Whitney Canada and other aerospace companies.

The UH-1 helicopter is a workhorse of military forces involved in “counter-insurgency” operations, including troops currently fighting internal armed conflicts. Surplus Canadian Hueys were recently sold to the US State Department for retransfer, after upgrading in Texas, to government anti-narcotics battalions battling insurgents in Colombia (Project Ploughshares 2001, p. 22).

Pratt & Whitney Canada is well-placed to obtain foreign Huey upgrade contracts. Apart from the competitive costs of its new engine, the company can offer “commercial, off-the-shelf support of P&WC’s established global service network” (Pratt & Whitney Canada 2002). By promoting its commercial engines and servicing Pratt & Whitney Canada also can avoid government scrutiny of its upgrade sales to military end-users. According to existing Canadian export controls, the company must obtain export permits for the transfer of engines built to military specifications to any country outside of the US. However, commercially-certified aerospace products do not require export permits regardless of their end destination. Thus, unburdened by export controls which would preclude some military engine transfers, Pratt & Whitney Canada may export its commercial engine to any Huey helicopter user, including a government at war or violating human rights.


Pratt & Whitney Canada 2002, press release, February 14.

Project Ploughshares 2001, The Ploughshares Monitor, Waterloo, June.

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