HALIFAX - Two-thirds of Canada's new fleet of 28 navy helicopters won't begin delivery until June 2012, almost 3 1/2 years behind the original schedule, the Defence Department has confirmed.

The delivery date in the $5-billion contract with Sikorsky to replace the aging Sea King fleet was November 2008. The Defence Department delayed that last year when it renegotiated the deal so that an "interim" version of the CH-148 helicopter would begin delivery in November 2010.

The department had stated those helicopters would be delivered at a rate of one per month, which would have brought 19 of the choppers to Canadian bases by June 2012.

However, Lianne Lebel, a spokeswoman for the Defence Department, says six interim helicopters will come before 2012.

"In October 2009, Sikorsky advised the government that it would deliver six interim helicopters starting in November 2010 in advance of the delivery of fully compliant helicopters in June 2012," she said in an email.

"Six interim helicopters are sufficient to complete the necessary operational testing and training until fully compliant helicopters are delivered."

The remaining 22 helicopters will have upgraded engines and begin delivery in 2012, at which time the group of six early choppers will be sent back to have their engines retrofitted, said Lebel.

Col. Sam Michaud, the commander of 12 Wing Shearwater air base in Nova Scotia, told The Canadian Press in August 2009 that the first helicopter was expected in November 2010 and there would be "one per month after that."

He went on to say, "according to the revised contract, Sikorsky will deliver essentially the complete aircraft, but it has some performance shortfalls related to power output and weight. They have until the 19th aircraft to come up with the final maritime helicopter configuration ..."

In an April 2009 issue of Jane's Defence Weekly, a Defence Department spokesperson is quoted as saying, "the new contract requires the delivery of one helicopter per month starting no later than November 2010. ... The government will accept no more than 19 helicopters that are not fully compliant."

New Democrat MP Peter Stoffer, who represents the Halifax-area riding where the Shearwater base is located, said the meaning of the renegotiated contract should have been made clear from the beginning.

"I think the government has been ... playing fast and loose with the truth here. They should tell the Canadian public the exact truth. If we're going to be much further delayed, then just say it," he said.

Stoffer said he worries the delay will mean millions of dollars will be spent keeping the Sea King fleet of navy helicopters flying as the navy awaits delivery in 2012.

Sikorsky spokesman Paul Jackson said the company wouldn't talk about the number of interim aircraft to be delivered.

"I will have to decline to provide specific details as is our general practice ... but I will note that the program is continuing to progress and we are on track to deliver an interim aircraft by the end of the year," he said in an email.