The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) is buying at least two new Cormorant helicopters and extending the life of the entire fleet until 2042, the Department of National Defence has announced.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was in Comox, B.C. for the announcement Thursday, where many of the air force's current CH-149 Cormorant search and rescue choppers are stationed.

Upgrades to the 14 existing Cormorants in the RCAF fleet will be completed by a partnership of Canadian defence firms IMP Aerospace and CAE, as well as Italian helicopter manufacturer Leonardo.

The improvements are part of a $1.39-billion project to update the aging helicopters with new airframes, communication, navigation and flight-recording systems.

The addition of at least two more Cormorants to the Canadian fleet will also see the helicopter's return to Trenton where it will replace the CH-146 Griffon helicopter in the search and rescue role.

“Canadians rely on the women and men of the Royal Canadian Air Force to conduct successful search and rescue operations in challenging circumstances," Sajjan said Thursday.

"These enhancements to the CH-149 Cormorant fleet will ensure that search and rescue crews have the right equipment to continue providing these life-saving services.”

The Cormorants first entered RCAF service in 2001, but 18 years later the helicopters are beginning to experience issues with obsolescence, unavailable replacement parts and new regulatory requirements.

The RCAF's 14 existing Leonardo-built Cormorants fly an average of 1,000 search and rescue missions per year from bases in B.C., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, according to RCAF commander Lieut.-Gen. A.D. Meinzinger.

Delivery of the first upgraded Cormorant is expected in 2022.

Earlier this month, the Canadian military scrapped its last remaining Sea King helicopters, which had been providing anti-submarine, patrol and rescue capabilities for the RCAF since 1963.

Vancouver Island-based Rotor Maxx Support Ltd. purchased 15 of the remaining Sea Kings, which the company plans to refurbish and resell to eligible buyers.

The CH-124 Sea King is being replaced with the faster CH-148 Cyclone.