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Canadian Military Journal

Procurement and the Perfect Storm

Martin Shadwick
Martin Shadwick teaches Canadian defence policy at York University. He is a former editor of Canadian Defence Quarterly, and the resident Defence Commentator for the Canadian Military Journal.
Abstract :

It is a depressing but reasonable assumption that the myriad controversies associated with defence procurement in relatively-recent years (i.e., EH101, Cyclone and F-35, AOPS [Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship] and the Victoria-class submarine, and the CCV [Close Combat Vehicle] and assorted truck programs) have convinced an increasingly skeptical, if not cynical, public that it is virtually impossible to bring major—and many not so major—defence procurement projects in on time, on budget, and on specification. Concurrent and often messy, but clearly necessary debates over the perceived usefulness and cost-effectiveness of proposed (or aborted) acquisitions, competitive tendering versus sole-sourcing, the appropriate level of Canadian industrial benefits, and the place of defence procurement in a broader Canadian industrial strategy, the politicization of defence procurement, the utility and veracity of life-cycle costing that extends out multiple decades, and how best to reform what is clearly a dysfunctional defence procurement system must further stoke public unease. The only real certainty in this unsettling environment is that the analysis of defence procurement should continue to provide continuity of employment for the Office of the Auditor General, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and assorted ‘think tanks,’ journalists, and pundits.

This is not to suggest that fireworks over defence procurement are something new to the Canadian political and military experience. Indeed, controversies and scandals over defence procurement are as old as the country itself. Nor is it to deny that one can find procurement success stories mixed in with the flotsam and jetsam of failed or blighted procurements. The Diefenbaker government’s handling of the Arrow cancellation was breathtakingly clumsy, but the same government did make the eminently sensible and cost-effective decisions to acquire the Hercules and the Sea King. The Trudeau government parked brand new CF-5s, flirted with the diminutive Scorpion direct-fire support vehicle, and encountered some decidedly awkward moments during the Long-Range Patrol Aircraft (LRPA) program, but did better with the Canadian Patrol Frigate, and, in particular, the CF-18 Hornet. Success stories during the Mulroney era arguably included the Coyote reconnaissance vehicle and ADATS, but it miscalculated on SSNs, and was ultimately forced, on financial grounds, to scupper almost all the procurement initiatives outlined in its barely one-year-old white paper. The financially strapped government of Jean Chretien controversially (and expensively) ‘axed’ the EH101 helicopter inherited from the Tories, but its performance on the procurement four-pack outlined in its 1994 white paper (ultimately the LAV III light armoured vehicle, the Cormorant search and rescue helicopter, the Victoria-class submarine and a new replacement for the Sea King) ranged from very good, to poor, to thoroughly embarrassing in the case of the Sea King replacement. The latter was, in essence, passed to the Martin government, but the resulting Cyclone has itself come down with a nasty, perhaps even fatal, case of the maritime helicopter blues (a global malady not confined to helicopters selected by Canada). The Harper government had successes with the C-17A, the C-130J and the Leopard 2, but has faired less well on other projects (i.e., AOPS, JSS, CCV and FWSAR [Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue]). Some of the latter, in fairness, were projects inherited in imperfect form from previous Liberal governments.

Keywords :
Procurement and the Perfect Storm

Date Deposited : 08 Apr 2015 11:25

Last Modified : 08 Apr 2015 11:25

Official URL:

Volume 14, Number 1, - 2014

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