Ottawa has issued a letter of interest for the aerospace sector in order to begin attracting possible contractors for the procurement.
The helicopter project aims to procure the choppers over the next five years for the coast guard fleet and to support missions of a Polar-class icebreaker named after former prime minister John G. Diefenbaker.
That ship is expected to be built in 2017.
The federal government says the new helicopters are expected to have a service life of about 30 years.
There is no precise cost estimate for the project.
But the federal government said in its spring budget that it plans to spend $5.2 billion over the next 11 years to renew its fleet of helicopters and vessels.