33 Comments

I am not personally fussed that overseas suppliers provide the technical muscle for military equipment. I have long been sceptical of the capacity of Cdn industry to get in the game and produce cutting edge equipment. This has nothing to do with the innate capabilities of Cdn engineers and scientists and everything to do with a very small order book, complete disinterest in allies in procuring from Canada, lengthy gestation periods due to lack of orders, and very high costs as a result. If the Cdn cheque book is limitless for National Defence procurement projects, then sure spend the money. However, we all know that Cdn governments - Tory or Liberal - are very reluctant to spend money on defence so the cheque book is anything but limitless. We could speed up procurement by buying more offshore and almost certainly spend less. However, we can all await he howls of protest and the resultant political pressure not to go this route. A useful example has been with shipbuilding. Cda has had three post-WWII programmes - the St. Laurents in the 1950s-60s, the Tribals in the 1960s-70s, and the CPFs in the 1980s-90s (all involved vital overseas assistance so you can debate how 'Cdn' these ships actually were or are). These programmes were followed by an order book desert and the running down of the capacity very expensively built in delivering these programmes. We're now in the fourth such programme and I doubt very much if anything has been learnt from these examples. All said, we pay far more than we might and take far longer than we should.

I am way off base most of my ex-Service colleagues on this but Canadianisation is costly and slow. And, futile as nothing is done with the expertise developed to deliver a project. When we have some success, the industries involved get crucified as soon as they sell to some sort of dodgy overseas regime - see armoured cars and Saudi Arabia. Might as well have bought American or European equivalents and been done with it.

Rant over. Feel much better now.

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The Navy/Maritime Air’s chickens are coming home to roost regarding the Cyclone. The “Orphan” aircraft that is not flown by anyone else is not supportable because Sikorsky doesn’t want to invest that amount of cash to support 27 aircraft. Economy of scale is Canada’s Achilles heel.

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This commentary comes alongside the National post Commentary written by John Iveson. In many ways, a contrast in opinions. Perhaps both views are relevant. However, it doesn't require a PhD to understand the Canadian military is woefully under equipped, more woefully understaffed and there seems to be little effort made to correct these deficiencies. Hopefully, a future administration will tackle this problem.

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"Although we’re used to hearing that Canadian defence procurement is broken and that the military is stuck with rusting equipment that isn’t being replaced, the past 12 months suggest that it’s time to ease up on that trope. Procurement isn’t the biggest problem facing the CAF anymore"

With all due respect for the author who knows more than I do about the CAF I would suggest he's wrong here. Procurement still remains at or near the very top in failings. Just because we've signed up to buy a lot of new hardware has not remedied the underlying problems:

1) We get incredibly poor value for what we pay. The new frigates contemplated, small ships indeed, carry a price-tag of about $5B each when an entire Ford-class of aircraft carrier costs the US about $13B. There's another angle to the value discussion that is yet to play out. How bad are the limitations with the F35's we're buying? The defence journals describe issues that seem very serious indeed.

2) The procurement process takes far too long. Witness the sidearms replacement program that started in 2011, will complete in 2026 and result in a cost-per-firearm of 4X what the Brits paid in their identical program. Oh, and the Brit program took three years start-finish.

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Buying off the shelf equipment makes a great deal of sense until the dysfunctional Canadian procurement bureaucracy is fixed. The quest for industrial offsets and a parochial fixation on unique "Canadian requirements" has led to a lot of failed and disastrously over-budget programs.

Consider 3 aircraft procurements initiated by the Harper government during the peak of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan: the C-17 and C-130J buys were essentially bought as-is off the production line, entered service quickly, and have performed well. The contemporaneous CH-47F Chinook buy was subject to the usual Canadian procurement process, took 6 years to enter service, and unit cost was much higher than what the US was paying due to all of the customization for Canadian requirements. Even worse is a piece of bespoke equipment like the Sikorsky Cyclone maritime helicopter: delayed a decade by development issues, has had some notable problems in service due to immature flight control technologies, and looks to be an ongoing concern for future support because the type is unique to Canada.

There's still a good case for Canada to develop specialized systems to address Canadian needs or improve the capabilities of the standard system. We've got to get a lot better at the program management, though. A failure to establish clear, fixed requirements drags out development and runs up costs, and poor management of contractors does likewise.

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I think the vast majority of DND's staffing issues relate entirely to equipment. All these new purchases are great. But if you were working there 2 years ago and watching the government do nothing as the the equipment you use to put your life on the line is fourth rate and fading fast, would that motivate you to re-up? Retention of good people is something a lot of companies have forgotten about in their arrogance. But risking my life to flog a 40 year old sub hunter 100 feet above thr Atlantic on a dark and stormy night for the same money the airlines wold pay me to start would be a pretty easy choice.

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founding

Much of this commentary has focussed on the capital programs, overlooking the other important point made -- the CAF doesn’t have the people resources to manage the programs, or to man the ships, aircraft etc once acquired. Part of the problem is the supposedly booming economy, and if you read this NP article you can understand why the CAF has a retention / recruitment problem (fwiw I’m glad I left when I did, I like to think I’m quite tolerant and respectful, but I’d have a hard time choking this down): https://nationalpost.com/opinion/first-reading-the-canadian-militarys-all-in-embrace-of-far-left-anti-oppression-dogma

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I can't say whether the military procurement system in Canada is broken or not but I do have to look at one aspect that seems to have escaped some notice: We can buy transport planes, boats and fighter aircraft off the shelf which is great and is a really showy piece of political showmanship (care to 'whip out' your F35s now Justin?) BUT the non showy stuff like side arms, body armour, helmets, uniforms and dare I say tanks get no notice and no priority. It is easy for a ploitician and military leader to stand by an F35 and say 'wow, look at that beauty, we just bought those!' but how does the same person stand in front of body armour or side arms and do the same dance?

Much like the police forces in Canada (let's not even start with the U.S.) the Canadian military has been neglected and maligned for too long (look at what they just put out about the military being a patriarchy and needing to be more intersectional) so is it any wonder that both careers are struggling to find enough bodies to fill vacancies? A whole new focus on Canadian history is needed and a proper celebration of the achievements of police and military will help to bolster recruitment - buying a jet is a bandaid.

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Useful essay.

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To quote an old adage -So soon old so late smart. Great to see this, but sadly this is so long overdue that the ability of the CAF has been severely handicapped. It is a long way from becoming a meaningful presence in any military action. Frankly the governments have let things slide to the point of embarrassment. Also the equipment is only good if you have the qualified people to use it. Attention to staffing and maintaining adequate military personnel has been sorely neglected. It will render the new gear somewhat useless if this is not addressed. We have a lot of great people in the military, but even more who have left it. That has to be a major focus going forward.

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The MQ9-B by General Atomics now includes Wescam MX sensor system, which is designed and made in Hamilton, Ontario. I think American pressure has little to do with this. Our politicians have been pampered by our relative peace over the last half-century allowing them to avoid the problem of military procurement until it became critical.

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"Still another interpretation may be that the government is trying to counter perceptions that it is indecisive and can’t get stuff done. " This is their pattern. Announce something to show they are doing something (buying the jets that they cancelled) for execution in the future. This way they spend the bare minimum on defence but can say they stepped up and in doing so have committed the next government to the costs. Having said that, it's about time.

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I'd be happier if Canada were to start actively signing contracts with Canada's existing defence contractors and start pumping out ammunition and other consumables.

GDOTS-Canada - 81mm rounds for mortars, 105 and 155 mm rounds for artillery, 120mm rounds for tanks, 25, 30 and 35 mm rounds for LAVs and Air Defence.

Magellan Aerospace - 70mm missiles that are effective as unguided artillery, as laser guided missiles and are useful against a variety of targets including "drones".

Rheinmetall - Air defence systems and light automatic cannons.

Diemaco - small arms.

I'd also like us copy the Aussies and build our own missile factory / centre of excellence.

All of these things we can start now. All of these things we need, our allies need and Ukraine needs.

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It's worth noting that the US just announced it is buying 3 Bombardier aircraft for a surveillance plane prototype project shortly after the Canadian P-8 procurement. Possibly a quid pro quo in part.

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Excellent read. Lagassé understands the intersection of defence and politics better than most. More from him please, on this and all things Parliament Hill. Maybe Dave Perry too, if he's willing.

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A good analysis - and the necessity of finally doing something must be dire given Justin Trudeau's attitude towards anything military. Canada is a small country - the last time we tried to do anything major was the Avro Arrow. My Dad lost a job when that was cancelled, though he didn't talk about it given the Official Secrets Act (he worked at a place called DRML - Defence Research Medical laboratories, then a government operation).

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