Canada’s “zombie” procurements
Canada’s defence industry has been characterized by plenty of talk, but less action, during the past year. On paper, the notionally defence-friendly conservative Harper Government’s ministers have announced scores of vast land sea and air defence procurements. However delays, compliance issues, budget cuts and outright backtracking, mean that few purchase orders have been issued.
The upshot is that Canada is awash in “zombie” procurements, which have a semblance of life, but which for practical purposes are like the walking-dead.
The latest program to get the stall was a $5 billion contract for 28 Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone marine helicopters. Just four test units have been shipped in a program that was awarded in 2004, but which has been mired with snags and finger-pointing. Competing explanations as to why the wheels fell off the project, center around design and specification changes related to the 2009 crash of a civilian version of Cyclone, which caused 17 deaths.
Rob Nicholson, the Minister of National Defence appears to have lost his patience. In October his department and Public Works and Government Services Canada initiated a “data-gathering engagement,” which included asking alternate providers Eurocopter and Augusta Westland, as well as Sikorsky itself, to suggest solutions to get the project back on track.
The marine helicopter program’s delays mirror those in several other defence procurement initiatives. For example the future of the Royal Canadian Army’s $2 billion Close Combat Vehicle initiative now appears in doubt as well. Experts say the procurement is significantly behind schedule and Rick Hillier, a former Canadian Chief of Defence Staff recently suggested cancelling it and shifting the funds to other uses.
As if that were not enough, Canada’s CDN $33 billion National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, which was announced with great fanfare in mid-2010 (as the then-minority Harper Government was preparing its upcoming election strategy) quickly slipped to the bottom of its priority pile, after the Tories sealed a Parliamentary majority.
A pricey design contract has been awarded for patrol ships, and the names of two proposed Joint Support Ships were announced with great fanfare (Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Queenston and HMCS Chateauguay, in recognition of the Queenston Heights and Chateauguay battles during the War of 1812). However construction remains far off on the horizon.
Canada’s much troubled bid to buy Lockheed-Martin Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters is also ambling at a turtle-like pace. Following huge run-ups in projected costs and months of bureaucratic finger-pointing, the Harper Government, has asked other manufacturers about what options they have on the table.
The fate of JSF will be heavily influenced by the release of a report by Tom Jenkins earlier this year regarding defence sector procurement. The report recommended that Canada focus on building up key industrial capabilities, notably In-Service Support, which on Canada’s existing F-18 Hornet fighters, is currently being performance by Montreal-based L-3 MAS.
The fact that a Lockheed deal would likely move much of that work out of the country could thus prove to be a major additional hurdle in getting JSF off the ground again.
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Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.