Quotulatiousness

February 14, 2013

Crony capitalists make pitch for industrial policy in defence purchases

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:02

Canada doesn’t really have a defence industry — certainly not in the sense of Britain, France, or the United States. We have some companies which happen to make products of use to the military (armoured vehicles, for example), but our government is not tightly tied to the fortunes of these companies in some sort of maple-flavoured Military-Industrial Complex. Some movers-and-shakers want to change that:

It goes without saying that the proposal to siphon funds to defence contractors is gussied up in industrial-policy jargon. For instance, we’re told how defence industries are “important sources of technological dynamism and innovation [and] leading-edge participants in global value chains.” (Who today isn’t part of a global value chain?) Also in keeping with current industrial-policy trendiness, the government is instructed to be strategically selective in KIC-starting the sector. “KIC,” you see, stands for “Key Industrial Capabilities,” which is what we’re told we should focus on.

But despite the alluring bells and whistles, the message to firms selling to the government is clear: Either pay up or forget about getting the contract. From now on, if the committee gets its way, how you plan to spread the industrial booty around the Canadian economy will weigh directly in the balance with how your product performs. The new fighter jet doesn’t accelerate quickly enough to elude missiles? Well, never mind that, it comes with a new plant in Mississauga. Shells pierce the new tank’s armour? Too bad. But the innovation spinoffs for Thunder Bay are just too good to pass up.

You might think that interpretation extreme. Surely safety for our soldiers and value-for-money for our taxpayers come first. But what else could be meant by the recommendation that bidders specify the industrial benefits they’re offering as part of their bid itself, rather than as an add-on after the performance characteristics of their product or service have won them the contract?

Suppose that instead of causing defence contracts to be inflated with offsets for Canadian industry, this committee consisting of a high-tech CEO, a former chief of staff at national defence, an IP specialist in a defence company, a retired general and Paul Martin’s one-time policy guru recommended levying a 5% tax on all government defence purchases and using the revenues thus generated to subsidize Canadian defence contractors?

I sent the original Globe and Mail URL to Jon saying, “The very last thing Canada should be attempting is to use government money to build a ‘defence industry’. Let the military buy what they need on the open market — regardless of country of origin — at market prices. The fetish to have a domestic defence industry is pure crony capitalism clothed in a “patriotic” fig leaf.”

February 7, 2013

Almost a clean sweep of top Canadian military leadership

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

As Andrew Coyne noted in a tweet, “In some countries, this would be big news”. Lee Berthiaume in the Ottawa Citizen on the upheaval at the top of Canada’s defence establishment:

Spring cleaning has come early at the Department of National Defence as the Conservative government announced Wednesday it was sweeping out a number of the military’s top officers — including the head of the Canadian Army and the Royal Canadian Navy — in a major shuffle.

The moves represent a dramatic change at the top as National Defence faces a major shift in focus from the days of the Afghanistan war and increasing budgets, to a state of deep budget cuts and limited deployments.

[. . .]

In addition to [vice-chief of defence staff, Vice-Admiral Bruce] Donaldson, those leaving include Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison and Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin.

Maddison’s deputy, Rear-Admiral Mark Norman, will take over as commander of the navy; Lt.-Gen. Marquis Hainse, who was serving as deputy commander to the NATO headquarters in Naples, Italy, is the new head of the army.

Lt.-Gen. Walter Semianiw, who oversaw all Canadian military missions inside Canada and North America, including the Caribbean, is also on the way out, the apparent casualty of a Defence Department restructuring that started last year.

January 3, 2013

The Avro Arrow model hunt

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:00

Updating an old story (original posting at the old blog from 2004) on the search for the scale models used to develop the Avro Arrow:

Andrew Hibbert knows they’re down there somewhere. At the bottom of Lake Ontario, with more than 50 years’ worth of zebra mussels clinging to their hulls, sit nine models of the Avro Arrow.

The models were part of a program to test the hull design of the legendary Canadian plane, cancelled before it could truly soar. Strapped to high-powered booster rockets, the 10-foot models weighed nearly 500 pounds and flew over Lake Ontario at supersonic speeds. Their onboard sensors — revolutionary for the 1950s — relayed information back to the launch site at Point Petre, in Prince Edward County.

The models represent a key part of the development of the scrapped plane project.

The Avro Arrow made its first flight in 1958. The interceptor was widely regarded as ahead of its time in terms of aerospace technology. Its Malton plant employed nearly 15,000 people.

But development was cancelled abruptly in 1959, after five Arrows had flown. All were ordered destroyed, along with any documentation and related equipment.

The models, however, were safe from the scrubbing, protected by 30 metres of water.

Eleven models were tested in total: nine at Point Petre and two in Virginia. None has been recovered yet, but that hasn’t stopped so-called “Arrowheads” from hunting for them, often at great cost of both treasure and time.

The Arrow story has shown up a few times on the blog before.

Update: Colby Cosh is always good for summarizing:

I put it in a more wordy form in an earlier posting:

Even people who care less than nothing about aircraft or military technology seem to have opinions about the Avro Arrow (usually allowing them to take free shots at former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker for the decision to scrap the plane). It’s far enough in the past that the facts are more than obscured by the myths of the cottage conspiracy theory industry (artisanal Canadian myth-making, hand-woven, fair-trade, and 100% organic).

December 14, 2012

Once upon a time, ministers of the crown would resign over cock-ups as blatant as the F-35 project

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:57

In Maclean’s, John Geddes illustrates why we are not as mature a society as we think:

It was painful to listen to Defence Minister Peter MacKay this afternoon as he faced repeated questions from reporters about whether he has any regrets about his handling of the government’s program to buy F-35 fighter jets.

Today’s news, not surprisingly, is that the problem-plagued Lockheed Martin fighter is only one of several jets whose costly tires the government will soon be kicking. And so pretty much everything MacKay has ever said about the necessity and inevitability of the F-35 procurement has proven to be dead wrong.

He might have made it easier to hear his answers without wincing had he just admitted to past mistakes. Failing that mature, obvious response, he might have clung to a fragment of dignity by resolving at least not to drag Canadian men and women in uniform into it.

But no. His couldn’t restrain himself. He couldn’t resist bringing up his concern for the troops when pointedly asked if he had any regrets about his past harsh words toward critics who raised what turned out to be entirely valid concerns about the F-35 program.

And another article from earlier this week from Andrew Coyne:

Yet, even now, MacKay and his officials are still trying to claim operating costs should not really be included, because “we’d have to spend that money anyway,” i.e. regardless of which plane was purchased, or even if we somehow hung onto the old CF-18s. This is interesting, but irrelevant. It’s useful to know how much more one plane would cost than another. But we also just need to know the cost, period. We don’t just need to compare the cost of one fighter jet with another. We also need to compare the benefits of spending a given sum on fighter jets, as a budget item, versus the other purposes to which the same money could be put: tanks, or health care, or cutting taxes.

And this brings us to the second reason this matters: because whatever the rules are, the government is obliged to follow them; because it knew what the rules are, and didn’t. I can understand why, in a way. There’s no doubt life-cycle costs can be misunderstood, or misrepresented, as if that $45.8-billion were just the acquisition cost, or as if it all came out of one year’s budget. But just because a rule is inconvenient does not entitle you to ignore it.

And even if one were inclined to excuse the initial deception, what is really inexcusable is the government’s subsequent refusal to back down, even when it was called on it, but rather to carry on spinning — as it did after the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s report, as it did after the (current) Auditor General’s report, as it is doing even today.

Update: Paul Wells in Maclean’s:

It has been that kind of month. More or less explicit repudiation of previous acts and stances has been the theme of the year-end for Stephen Harper and his colleagues. One of the questions we are left with is how Harper, notoriously a risk-averse, control-freak incrementalist, managed to leave hundreds of feet of skid marks around a bunch of big files.

[. . .]

Of course what happened is that times changed. The government’s costing of the F-35 was optimistic and short-term to begin with. Optimism worked out the way it usually does when you’re buying something big and untested. The old talking points grew stale, then ludicrous, and the government stuck with them until the government looked stale and ludicrous, and now it denies saying what it once said. None of this is a tragedy: the jets haven’t been bought, no purchase order has been cancelled, there is still time to choose a more realistic course. But it’s all been a bit awkward.

December 8, 2012

Granatstein: What Canada needs first is a defence policy

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Writing in the National Post, historian J.L. Granatstein discusses the rise and fall of the government’s “Canada First” defence policy:

No one who has followed the history of Canadian defence has any doubt that for their first four years in power the Harper Conservatives were the best government for the Canadian Forces since the 1950s St Laurent government. Coming into power at the beginning of 2006, the Tories supported the troops in Afghanistan with the equipment–Leopards, C17s, new C130J Hercules transports, Chinook helicopters, anti-mine vehicles– and personnel they needed, they extended the mission twice, they increased defence spending massively, and they even produced their Canada First Defence Strategy in 2008.

[. . .]

If Afghanistan was one blow to the government’s defence plans, the Canada First Defence Strategy was another. The CFDS, despite its name, was not a strategy so much as a list of promised equipment purchases. It did not try to lay down much of a rationale for the nation’s defence or indicate how the government envisioned the ways in which the Canadian Forces might be employed in the future. Instead it promised guaranteed growth in defence spending, proposed a modest increase in personnel strength, and promised a long list of equipment to be acquired–15 combat vessels, support ships, the F35 fighter, and a fleet of land combat vessels. In all, the government pledged to spend almost a half trillion dollars over the next twenty or so years.

And maybe it might have done so, the voters permitting. But the sharp recession of 2008 tossed all plans into the garbage bin, and deficit fighting, not defence spending, soon became the Tories driving force. Instead of the promised increases, there are cuts that are already north of ten percent of the DND budget. The Army has already reduced its training, and there will be more cutbacks everywhere.

The new equipment was necessary — and welcome — but Canadians don’t have the almost instinctive deference Americans sometimes demonstrate to the demands of the generals and admirals for ships, planes, and tanks. Canadians are proud of their armed forces, but will not support endless demands for military toys and don’t welcome the idea of sending in the troops when things go wrong overseas. A well-thought-out, well-articulated defence policy is needed sooner rather than later to outline exactly what the government intends the army, navy, and air force to do in pursuit of our national goals and in protection of Canada and Canadians.

December 7, 2012

Is this the epitaph for Canada’s F-35 plans?

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:56

At the National Post, Kelly McParland offers two interpretations:

Ottawa is finally owning up to the fact the F-35 jet fighter purchase program is dead in the water. The Prime Minster’s Office insists the decision has not been made yet, but that’s reportedly just a formality. The killer was the cost: the government just couldn’t keep pretending it could deliver the jets for $9 billion plus expenses; it was more likely to be around $30 billion (which, curiously enough, is roughly what Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page said they’d cost. Probably just a lucky guess. We’d ask him, but the Tories have duct-taped his mouth shut). The half-full view is that Ottawa bought into what seemed a worthwhile fighter, only to have the program unravel, and it’s doing the right thing (if a bit belatedly) in admitting it. Half-empty view is that the Tories totally mucked up the whole operation and were too pig-headed to look at alternatives from the beginning. Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer choice.

The odds against the RCAF ever getting their hands on the F-35 have been getting longer for a while: “GAO latest to attempt to shoot down the F-35” (March), “F-35 and the “bubbling skin” problem” (March), “David Akin: The F-35 fiasco is now a boondoggle” (April), “The F-35 program is “Military Keynesianism”” (April), “The F-35, the “supersonic albatross”?” (April), “The F-35 is “unaffordable and simply unacceptable”” (July), “The F-35 program in the cross-hairs” (November).

October 30, 2012

Meet the new Chief of Defence Staff, General Tom Lawson

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:54

David Akin reports on the change-of-command that happened yesterday as General Walt Natynczyk handed over to General Tom Lawson:

Canadians have a high regard nowadays for their military.

Not only did our soldiers earn our admiration and thanks for the way they conducted themselves in the longest war in Canadian history — the last decade in Afghanistan — but the last two chiefs of defence staff did much to advance the cause of uniformed men and women with their own outsized personalities.

Gen. Rick Hillier, the top general from 2005 to 2008, was a quote machine and a favourite for the TV cameras. His popularity sometimes caused headaches for his political masters, but the troops loved him.

He was followed by Walt Natynczyk who, though not as over the top and outgoing as Hillier, was so much a favourite of the troops that he was given the nickname Uncle Walt.

Uncle Walt finished his four years as chief of defence staff Monday in an emotional ceremony at the Canadian War Museum, handing off his responsibilities to Gen. Tom Lawson with the words, “My duty is complete. The nation is secure.”

[. . .]

Lawson seems a very different leader from the two tank commanders who were his predecessors. Though he may yet flower in front of the TV cameras or develop a “bone-rattling” back-slap, he does not seem to to be the media personality his predecessors were. That’s not a criticism, but it does mean that Canadians and the 65,000 men and women who now serve under him will see a different style at the top.

He is well spoken, crisp in his speech and smart. But there is a coolness to his manner that was absent from Natynczyk and Hillier.

September 10, 2012

Guaranteed headline in Canadian papers: mention the Avro Arrow

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:29

Today it’s the National Post (actually, it’s just a Canadian Press wire piece) chumming the waters with a report on an “Avro Arrow redesign pitched as alternative to controversial F-35″:

A Canadian company is seeking to go back in time to help fly Canada’s air force into the future.

Documents obtained by the Global News program “The West Block” indicate an update to the storied CF-105 Avro Arrow was put forward as an alternative to the purchase of F-35 stealth fighter jets.

And among the project’s champions is one of Canada’s top soldiers, retired Maj.Gen. Lewis MacKenzie.

The Arrow was an advanced, all-weather supersonic interceptor jet that was developed in the 1950s. Several prototypes were built and flight tests were conducted, but the project was abruptly shut down in 1959 and the aircraft never went into production.

Even people who care less than nothing about aircraft or military technology seem to have opinions about the Avro Arrow (usually allowing them to take free shots at former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker for the decision to scrap the plane). It’s far enough in the past that the facts are more than obscured by the myths of the cottage conspiracy theory industry (artisanal Canadian myth-making, hand-woven, fair-trade, and 100% organic).

The Avro Arrow is the story that never dies in Canadian papers.

April 30, 2012

The F-35, the “supersonic albatross”?

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:24

Foreign Policy has a feature up called “The Jet That Ate the Pentagon” by Winslow Wheeler:

The United States is making a gigantic investment in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, billed by its advocates as the next — by their count the fifth — generation of air-to-air and air-to-ground combat aircraft. Claimed to be near invisible to radar and able to dominate any future battlefield, the F-35 will replace most of the air-combat aircraft in the inventories of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and at least nine foreign allies, and it will be in those inventories for the next 55 years. It’s no secret, however, that the program — the most expensive in American history — is a calamity.

[. . .]

How bad is it? A review of the F-35’s cost, schedule, and performance — three essential measures of any Pentagon program — shows the problems are fundamental and still growing.

First, with regard to cost — a particularly important factor in what politicians keep saying is an austere defense budget environment — the F-35 is simply unaffordable. Although the plane was originally billed as a low-cost solution, major cost increases have plagued the program throughout the last decade. Last year, Pentagon leadership told Congress the acquisition price had increased another 16 percent, from $328.3 billion to $379.4 billion for the 2,457 aircraft to be bought. Not to worry, however — they pledged to finally reverse the growth.

The result? This February, the price increased another 4 percent to $395.7 billion and then even further in April. Don’t expect the cost overruns to end there: The test program is only 20 percent complete, the Government Accountability Office has reported, and the toughest tests are yet to come. Overall, the program’s cost has grown 75 percent from its original 2001 estimate of $226.5 billion — and that was for a larger buy of 2,866 aircraft.

At those prices, there are few allies who will be able to afford them — Canada clearly not among them.

April 20, 2012

Confused about the F-35 program? Scott Feschuk will help you

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Humour, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:51

No, really:

What exactly is an F-35?

It’s a new fighter jet being manufactured by Lockheed Martin. Its full name is the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lightning II. We probably shouldn’t be at all concerned that this sounds like something a little boy would name his tricycle.

What’s this got to do with Canada?

All the cool countries are getting F-35s, so we’re buying some too. In fact, our Department of National Defence wanted this hip new toy so badly that it structured the procurement process to ensure no other jet could win. In 2010, the Conservative government dutifully announced plans to purchase 65 F-35 fighters, at a cost of $9 billion. On one hand, that sounds like a lot of money, but on the other hand, why do you hate our troops, first hand?

[. . .]

Doesn’t $9 billion seem like a reasonable price for basically a whole new air force?

Did the government say $9 billion? It meant $15 billion, by which it actually meant $25 billion.

Wait — why have the numbers changed?

That meddling Auditor General of ours happened to notice that National Defence low-balled the total cost of the F-35 program by the teeny-tiny amount of ten thousand million dollars.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay said this was “a matter of accounting.” What he meant was that he and his cabinet colleagues were “a-counting” on Canadians not catching on to the fact they were concealing some $10,000,000,000 in costs.

That’s a lot of zeroes.

I’ll thank you not to refer to members of the federal cabinet that way.

April 16, 2012

A more sensible way to analyze the F-35 issue

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:15

In the National Post, Shaun Francis and John Kelleher offer an easier-to-understand method of analyzing the costs and benefits of the F-35 program:

Consider a car. Let’s say you’re considering buying a subcompact or an SUV, which you plan to hold onto for five years. A subcompact has a one-time purchase cost of $20,000 followed by $7,000 in annual, recurring costs on things like gas and maintenance. Your total costs over five years are therefore $55,000, or $11,000 average cost/year.

Meanwhile, the SUV has a one-time purchase cost of $25,000 and recurring costs of $7,500, leading to a five-year total cost of $62,500, or $12,500 average total cost/year.

To examine whether buying an SUV makes sense, you take the costs of the SUV and you subtract the costs of your next best alternative, the subcompact. Then you ask yourself, is it worth a premium of $1,500 per year to drive an SUV versus a subcompact?

From a decision point of view, it doesn’t make sense to get upset over the $62,500 total cost of the SUV. That’s not the pertinent figure here. You can’t walk to work. You need a car. So the pertinent question is the cost differential — in this example the $7,500 premium between your preferred choice and the next best option.

Canada’s F-35 decision should have been framed in a similar fashion by the Auditor General. The appropriate question? Do we want to pay a premium for the world’s best fighter jet, which will be cutting edge for decades to come, or can we make do with more reasonably priced planes that are bound to become obsolete sooner?

In the article they say “no one is questioning whether Canada needs fighter jets”, which is not actually true. Significant portions of the NDP, the Greens, and even some Liberals feel we should not be buying any military equipment that does not have a primarily humanitarian use. In their view, transport aircraft might be acceptable but combat aircraft would not. Trucks, yes, but tanks, no.

April 10, 2012

Jack Granatstein calls for the heads of the deputy and associate deputy minister of defence

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:24

Jack Granatstein is very well respected as a military historian and analyst. His interpretation of the F-35 situation leads him to — in effect — call for the dismissal of people whose names are not generally being bandied about in the media:

Then let us look at the decision-making process in the Department of National Defence. Almost all the commentary in the media and Parliament has pointed fingers at the CDS, Gen. Natynzcyk. But he is only the military leader of the department, not the sole ruler. Co-equal to him — and, in fact, in most knowledgeable observers’ judgment substantially more than that — is the deputy minister, Robert Fonberg, in his post since 2007. The associate deputy minister materiel, responsible for all procurement projects, reports to Mr. Fonberg, and the deputy determines what his minister, Peter MacKay, and eventually the cabinet sees. The public messaging in the department is handled by the assistant deputy minister (public affairs), who also reports to Mr. Fonberg. The civilian defence bureaucrats truly wield the power.

The point is this: The uniformed officers of the department provide the best military advice they can. Sometimes they are incorrect; most times they pray they are right because they know their decisions will affect their comrades’ lives. But the estimates of costs, and the spin that has so exercised the Auditor-General, the media and the Opposition, are shaped and massaged by the deputy minister, in effect DND’s chief financial officer, who advises the minister of national defence.

No one comes out of the F-35 affair smelling like a rose. Mr. MacKay undoubtedly made mistakes in overselling the aircraft, and Gen. Natynzcyk likely did as well. But it would be a miscarriage of justice if these two lost their heads to the vengeful axe demanded by an aroused media, and the deputy minister and his civilian bureaucrats escaped unscathed.

April 8, 2012

The F-35 program is “Military Keynesianism”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 11:25

Wayne K. Spear explains the ordinary and the extraordinary parts of a military procurement process, as illustrated by the F-35 project:

A straight-shooting bureaucrat will admit that procurement processes are often initiated with the final selection a foregone conclusion. If you know in advance what you need, and you furthermore know who’s most qualified to deliver, then formalities intended to promote transparency and accountability are at best inconveniences to circumnavigate — and every public servant knows well how to steer that ship. That this occurs regularly within the bureaucracy is an open secret.

The Joint Strike Force program, at the centre of which is a proposed purchase of F-35 fighters, introduces disturbing wrinkles to an otherwise unremarkable bureaucratic occurrence. On military matters I refer to the self-described “prolific Ottawa blogger” Mark Collins , who has been training his keen eye on this fiasco for years. At his site you’ll find links to a range of useful resources, for example a DND PowerPoint which makes it clear that military leaders chose the F-35 and only later manufactured the selection criteria. Again, not unusual in procurement. The department however did so on grounds no one has yet admitted, never mind defended. That’s only one of many problems.

Reviewing the Auditor General’s report and the media coverage of this issue, I infer that the F-35 achieved the status of a foregone conclusion for the following reasons. 1) Canada had invested millions of dollars into the F-35 program as early as the 1990s; 2) Lockheed Martin Aeronautics lobbied aggressively, and more effectively, than its rivals (and employed Prospectus Associates, a consultancy firm with the inner track to Defence Minister Peter MacKay); and 3) the F-35 series of fighters — although years from completion and with many important details unclear and ever-changing (including year of completion, engine cost, cost to maintain) — were the only “fifth generation” fighters on the table. As the Auditor General points out, fifth generation “is not a description of an operational requirement.” My own research suggests this phrase means something like ”Ooo!” — which is what I often say when I see a jet fighter in action.

It’s a given that the Royal Canadian Air Force needs to address the rapidly aging CF-18 fleet before 2020 (the estimated end-of-life for the current fighters). The choice had appeared to be simple: follow on our pre-existing development deal with a purchase of F-35 fighters. The problems were that the development schedule had slipped multiple times, the estimated costs had climbed and climbed again, and the technical “teething” issues were still promising longer delays and higher costs. Canada had intended to buy 65 aircraft — in my opinion at least 33% less than the RCAF actually needed — at a “fixed” cost.

The F-35 is still years away from being in service in any air force, there’s no way to be sure that the government’s budget will be enough to buy the minimum number of aircraft, and the CF-18 isn’t getting any younger.

We need (some) new fighter aircraft in the next eight years, but the F-35 is no longer the automatic choice to fill that role.

There’s another root problem, and it’s also to be found in the 2012 federal budget. This document superstitiously relies on the notion that everything the feds do creates jobs. Every spending initiative in the budget creates jobs. Every departmental trim, and every restraint, ditto. Having gone through the budget, I wonder if Mr. Flaherty thinks a job is created when he sneezes. At the same time I was reading the budget, I was reviewing the federal government’s 2010 F-35 sales pitch — which, coincidentally, was the DND’s and Lockheed Martin’s sales pitch. Again, it’s all about “industrial benefits.” Lo and behold: the F-35 program creates jobs!

One name for this line of argument is “Military Keynesianism,” the idea that a brilliant and effective way to create jobs and boost the economy is to give folks like Lockheed Martin billions of dollars of public money. In the 1980s, the American public heard many Pentagon procurement stories concerning $40 staplers and $200 hammers, all part of a federal stimulus effort which by 1988 had tripled the nation’s deficit. There are distinctions to be made between this and the present case. Nonetheless, these staplers and hammers came to my mind as I dug down into the bogus F-35 procurement process and my shovel chipped the Reagan-era bedrock.

April 4, 2012

David Akin: The F-35 fiasco is now a boondoggle

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:21

Nobody in the government or the Department of National Defence comes off well in this politico-techno-bureaucratic mess:

The acquisition process to replace our aging CF-18 fighter jets can now officially be proclaimed as the F-35 boondoggle.

In a damning report Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Ferguson said the whole process in which the Harper Conservatives decided to allocate at least $25 billion over the next 20 years to buy 65 F-35 Lightning II “fifth generation” fighter jets was gummed up by Department of National Defence bureaucrats — and possibly air force officers — who flat out lied to their political masters and to Parliament about the costs and risks associated with the program.

The only good news is we have not yet spent that $25 billion or signed any contracts.

Canada has generally been well served by the civil service (I grit my teeth to say that, as I’m not at all fond of big government), if only in comparison to other countries. One of the better inheritances from Britain is the (relatively) non-political, impartial bureaucracy. In this case, however, the bureaucracy has failed, and failed spectacularly:

But the politicians, like any prime minister or cabinet minister before them, has to be able to rely on the bureaucracy to give them the straight goods.

That did not happen.

Here’s Ferguson in his report: “National Defence told parliamentarians (last year) that cost data provided by U.S. authorities had been validated by U.S. experts and partner countries which was not accurate at the time. At the time of its response, National Defence knew the costs were likely to increase but did not so inform parliamentarians.”

In other words, DND bureaucrats lied. Full stop. Period.

Here’s another paragraph from Ferguson: “Briefing materials did not inform senior decision-makers, central agencies, and the Minister [of National Defence] of the problems and associated risks of relying on the F-35 to replace the CF-18.”

And another: “We found that the ministers of National Defence and Industry Canada and those ministers on the Treasury Board were not fully informed (in 2006) about the procurement implications.”

I’ve been less-than-fully-supportive of the F-35 acquisition, as a quick perusal of F-35 related posts will show, but this is now much more important than the question of what aircraft (if any) the RCAF will be purchasing. It’s now a case of finding out how deep the rot is in the DND and whether the RCAF actively aided the deception. If so, heads must roll.

Update: MILNEWS.ca has a round-up of reporting on the Auditor General’s report, focusing on the F-35 program.

March 29, 2012

F-35 and the “bubbling skin” problem

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:25

Michael Byers and Stewart Webb report on the latest technical glitch to be reported in the F-35 development:

The ability of F-35s to avoid radar detection depends on a “fibre mat,” which is cured into the composite surfaces of the aircraft.

In December 2011, a test version of the F-35 for the first time achieved the design speed of Mach 1.6. According to Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week, the flight caused “peeling and bubbling” of the stealth coating on the horizontal tails and damage to the engine’s thermal panels, and the entire test fleet was subsequently limited to Mach 1.0.

Repairing and replacing stealth materials is a time- and technology-intensive process that reduces the “mission capable rate” of aircraft. Indeed, it has been reported by the U.S. Congressional Research Service that after five years of service the F-35’s sister plane, the F-22, has a mission capable rate of just 60%.

And then they touch on the issue that has been lurking below the surface for a while, regarding the small number of aircraft the RCAF will be able to afford (assuming the government goes through with the F-35 purchase):

If the F-35 has a similar mission capable rate, Canada will, at any given time, only be able to deploy approximately 44 of its planned 65 planes. When attrition through accidents is factored in — and Canada has lost 18 of its CF-18s since 1982 — we could soon have an available fleet of just 30-35 planes, or roughly half of what the Department of National Defence says we need.

That might be the crucial point on which the F-35 acquisition fails: no matter how good the aircraft are (and I believe they will eventually work through and fix all the major issues), we can’t afford enough of them. Even without taking on new missions, we need a certain minimum number of aircraft, and I thought 65 was low-balling that number. The alternatives are to buy some F-35’s and a larger number of less expensive planes like the Super Hornet, or skip the F-35 altogether and just buy a different aircraft. The problem with splitting the order is that what we’d save on reduced F-35 acquisition costs, we’d more than lose because the RCAF would have to maintain duplicate maintenance and training programs. Unlike the RAF or the USAF, the RCAF isn’t big enough to fly multiple models on an ongoing basis (and you know that the government can’t and won’t fund a larger air force budget).

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