Observers of Canada’s tortuous military procurement system have long since come to the conclusion that there are major problems. We have lost far too much procurement expertise and that lack of skilled procurement professionals is hampering our ability to acquire the equipment that the Canadian Forces need to conduct its various missions.
While this problem is certainly a major one, it is not insurmountable. Acquisition success will tend to lead to more success as skills are gained. We can “train” the needed skillset by making relatively straightforward purchases. We have to ask though… does the current Liberal government want to fix military procurement?
Instinctively, we answer “Yes, of course they do!”
Instinct may be wrong though. Making progress on military procurement would reveal that the cupboard is bare, there’s no money to make the needed purchases. The current backlog of needed purchases is rapidly approaching $100 billion. It may even exceed that already. Add it up, new frigates, new tankers for the Royal Canadian Navy, new fighters, new tankers for the Royal Canadian Air Force… the list is extensive. And all we see is pushback. Projects are delayed by “definition” phases that transparently exist only to delay the eventual expenditure. Two projects for the Royal Canadian Air Force stand out, the fighters and the tankers.
The fighter project has widely been faulted for taking far too long. We know the players, we know what we need, we even know we need the replacement soonest. And yet, he project languishes as Canada pretends to need time to study what is on offer and what we need. It would be laughable, if the delay wasn’t wasting billions of dollars on things like the acquisition of used Australian fighters, and life extension (beyond what was recommended by the RCAF) of our existing CF-18’s. Farce becomes tragedy.
On the new RCAF tanker front the delay is downright disingenuous. We hear that there is a need to wait until the fighter decision is reached. Funny that, there are only two rational choices of a replacement tanker/transport. Those choices are the Boeing KC-46 and the Airbus A330 MRTT (Multi Role Tanker Transport). Either choice can refuel via the flying boom system used by fighters such as the F-35, AND can use the probe/drogue system used by other aircraft such as our current CF-18’s. There is no need to wait, none at all. It is only rational that the RCAF receive a new tanker that can refuel both ways, it expands the usefulness of our fleet and allows us to make a greater contribution to allied operations. So, why the delay? Replacing the 5 CC-150 Polaris aircraft is not a huge program by numbers or cost. 5 total airframes, with a cost of about $300 million US each. We could do this now. Give procurement a win and get the planes started on the assembly line.
Unless the plan is to avoid wins, avoid expenditures.