Something Has to Give: Why Delays Are the New Reality of Canada’s Defence Procurement Strategy
Recent waves of political controversy over military procurement programs, most notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project, are symptoms of an ongoing and increasingly strategic choice Canada is making in the way it equips its military. From the failure to settle on a design for the Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship (which had an originally planned delivery date of 2013), to the un-awarded contracts for new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft (initially anticipated nearly a decade ago) and the incomplete Integrated Soldier-System Project (once expected to be active by this year); to the delay in cutting the steel for the Joint Support Ship (initial delivery planned for 2012) needed to replace vessels that are now being decommissioned, Canadians are witnessing the results of a new philosophy behind the government’s procurement process.
Canadian governments have always insisted on industrial and regional benefits for Canada when buying military equipment. But the massive defence spending promised under the 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy exacerbated this approach. The emphasis has now formally been placed on favouring industrial benefits for Canada in defence acquisitions, while heightened political cautiousness has placed a higher priority on ensuring maximum value for taxpayer money with a zero tolerance for mistakes environment.
A relatively small Canadian defence budget has put pressure on military officials to be creative about ordering new equipment — in some cases, perhaps too creative. Officials have taken to commissioning vehicles and equipment that are more versatile and are capable of carrying out more than their traditional functions. In certain instances, this has meant wish lists that cannot be fulfilled in the expected time frame, or even at all.
This is the case, for example, with the Joint Support Ship, which went from a plan for new refuelling and replenishment ships to one for vessels that could also provide a command and control centre for forces ashore and sealift for ground forces, including space for helicopters on deck, making this ship unique. Another example of where fiscal prudence has resulted in procurement complications is in the Canadian Surface Combatant project: here, the Navy is trying to use a common hull for both frigates and destroyers to generate savings in crewing, training, maintenance and logistics. Often, the demand for more versatility and the need to stretch spending have led to plans for equipment that do not yet exist and are so technologically ambitious that industry cannot deliver what the Canadian government requires, as has happened with the highly problematic Maritime Helicopter Project.
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