Janes Defence Weekly
November 10, 2014
Canada 2014 yearend review
Harper starts war, cuts defence
In late November Canada’s Harper Government launched military strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq. Surprisingly, as with previous attacks on Libya, conducted as part of the NATO mission there, the acts of war took place amidst continued cuts in defence readiness.
According to Public Accounts of Canada documents obtained by Canadian Press, a local agency, annual spending on equipment, weapons systems and procurement in 2013-2014 fell by nearly $1 billion since its peak in 2010-2011. Ironically, the notionally defence-friendly Conservatives began their tenure in power, which began in 2006, on a promising note.
As part of a “Canada First Defence Strategy,” the government announced the intention to buy tens of billions of dollars worth of major land, sea and air equipment over the coming decade. Although technically this strategy remains in tact, few, if any of those major procurements have materialized.
Delays, reconfiguring and outright cuts have reached a point that Andrew Leslie, a former Chief of Land Staff, recently told a Liberal convention that the Conservatives had “the worst record,” on military procurement of any government in the last 50 years and that they are unable to “even buy a fleet of trucks painted green.”
Backtracking on JSF?
The Harper Government’s most glaring problems relate to plans to acquire 65 F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters, from Lockheed Martin. Joining the other early JSF adopters would give local contractors lucrative opportunities the government said.
However estimates of the program’s cost, which was already slated to the largest in Canadian military history ballooned, eventually rising fourfold. This forced the Harper Government, - which had skirted elementary procurement procedure by awarding the contract without soliciting competitive bids, - to announce a review of its policy.
Adding further uncertainty to the mix, late last month, a Department of National Defence official told reporters that funds will be made available to extend use of the country’s existing 77 CF-18s by five years to 2025. The hope appears to be to postpone a decision on JSF until after the coming election, scheduled to occur next year.
Naval programs inch along
Things are going slightly better on the naval front. In 2011 the Harper Government announced the selection of shipyards on Canada’s east and west costs to build up the country’s naval capabilities, as part of its National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy. Irving Shipbuilding Inc. was chosen to build the $25 billion combat vessel portion, including Arctic patrol ships and a new fleet of surface combatants. Seaspan Marine Corp. was chosen to build $8 billion worth of non-combat craft, notably support ships and science vessels.
These contracts included hundreds of millions of dollars for Irving and Seaspan to upgrade their yards, both of whom have made substantial progress. Earlier this month Seaspan announced the completion of a $170 million modernization of its Vancouver Shipyard facilities.
However in recent months the Harper Government’s decision to commit Canada to the multi-decade effort is starting to look suspect as well. True, that decision, which took place at time when arguably Canada’s largest yard - the facilities just south of Quebec City currently owned by Davie Shipbuilding were in restructuring, looked good at the time.
However an investment team headed by Alex Vicefield, chief executive officer of the Inocea Group, recently re-launched Davie Shipyards and quickly began filling up an attractive order book. Earlier this year Vicefield offered to build one of the NSPS ships - a polar icebreaker, for half the projected cost, saving the country an estimated $500 million. However the Harper Government, hamstrung by its earlier commitments was forced to decline the offer.
Close Combat Vehicles cancelled
On the land front, Harper Government backtracking from Canada First Defence Strategy goals, took the form of outright cancellation of the Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) program, quietly announced days before the Christmas holidays last year. Canada’s backbone light armoured vehicles will thus be its LAV IIIs, which General Dynamics Land Systems is in the process of upgrading.
A risky strategy
In all, the Harper Government’s policy of attacking countries which few Canadians could find on a map, without beefing up the country’s defences, particularly on the homeland security front, appears risky. That lack of readiness played out in spades this fall when Canada was hit by two “terrorist” (a government characterization) attacks.
One suspect, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, allegedly killed a Canadian Forces Corporal at the gates of Parliament, before he himself was gunned down in the building itself, as politicians cowered under desks inside their offices. In an unrelated incident, a Quebecer, Martin Rouleau-Couture, who allegedly turned to Islam, is accused of running over two Canadian solders in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, home to a Canadian military base.
True, Islamic State forces likely remain too bogged down fighting a two front war with Syria’s Assad regime and the United States to worry much about Canada. However Sun Tzu wrote that one of the best ways to defeat an enemy is to break up its alliances, something a direct attack on Canada might well accomplish, given weak public support for the war.
Right now Harper Government policy appears to consist of praying that Islamic State militants don’t read Sun Tzu.
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Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.