September 28, 2014

Foreigners in the RCAF – nothing to see here, business as usual, move along

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:21

Strategy Page looks at a recent mini-scandal when it was noted by Canadian media types that the Royal Canadian Air Force was — shock! horror! — actually recruiting foreign pilots:

Canada has a long history of allowing foreigners to join its armed forces. This happened on a large scale with Americans in the years before the United States entered World War I and World War II. But Australians and British recruits continue to be welcomed, as well as those from other parts of the old British Empire.

The big advantage of recruiting foreign pilots in the last five years was the need to obtain experienced personnel with lots of flying time in aircraft (like transports) Canada was operating all over the world. Canada has lost a lot of their experienced pilots for these aircraft to retirement or more attractive offers from commercial airlines. The incentive for British military pilots was keeping some of the high rank and credit for time already served in the British military. The British recruits will also be able to become Canadian citizens quickly, which is what many British citizens have been doing regularly since Canada became independent in 1867.

The RCAF also reminded the media that it has long used foreign pilots, often as instructors, on a “loan” program. The foreign country continued to pay the salary of their pilot but the RCAF picked up all other expenses while the foreign (often American) pilot was working in Canada. The loaner pilots are most frequently used when Canada is buying a new type of aircraft and needs pilots experienced with the new aircraft in order to speed the training of Canadian pilots.

September 21, 2014

New uniforms for the Royal Canadian Air Force

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:37

Oddly, the announcement posted to Facebook doesn’t include any pictures yet…

The Honourable Rob Nicholson, PC, QC, MP for Niagara Falls and Minister of National Defence and Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), unveiled the new RCAF uniform today at the Battle of Britain ceremony in Ottawa.

Main aspects of the new uniform, are drawn from pre-unification rank insignia while the design also maintains the modern elements and terminology familiar to serving members and militaries around the world. The insignia for most ranks will be recognizable as the symbols that air force personnel have worn for nearly half a century.

In recognition of the 90th anniversary of the founding of the RCAF, rank insignia and national shoulder titles for both officers and non-commissioned members will return to a distinctive pearl-grey stitching, the original colour worn by RCAF non-commissioned members until 1968. Dress tunic buttons will not change in design but their colour will switch from gold to silver. General officers headdress piping (embroidery) will also change from gold-coloured to pearl-grey.

The rumoured rank insignia and name changes have not been decided upon yet, except that the new rank “Aviator” will replace the current “Private”, “Airman”, and “Airwoman”. The rank insignia is a single stitched propeller.


September 15, 2014

RCAF “raids” air force museum for spare parts

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:27

We often joke about the “museum pieces” that the Canadian Armed Forces have to operate, due to very long procurement processes and budget shortfalls, but this is the first time I’ve heard of scavenging spare parts from actual museum displays:

The Ottawa Citizen has learned that in July 2012 air force technicians raided an old Hercules airplane that is on display at the National Air Force Museum of Canada because they needed navigational equipment for a similar aircraft still in use.

The revelation highlights the difficulties military personnel have increasingly faced in keeping Canada’s ancient search-and-rescue planes flying after more than a decade of government promises to buy replacements.

The air force museum is at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont., and boasts a large collection of military aircraft that have been retired and subsequently placed on display.


“They sort of called (Colton) up and said ‘Hey, we have these two INUs that we can’t use. Do you have any on yours?’ ” Windsor said. “Some of the parts are interchangeable. They just kind of got lucky on that.”

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson’s office defended the air force’s decision to ask a museum for parts to keep its search-and-rescue planes flying.

“The RCAF took the initiative to remove these functional, perfectly good parts and use them effectively,” spokeswoman Johanna Quinney said in an email.

But former head of military procurement Dan Ross said it’s “embarrassing” that the air force has to “cannibalize old stuff that’s in museums” to keep its planes flying.

Update, 16 September: The story triggered a question to the minister in parliament.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris: “Mr. Speaker, the government’s failed plans to replace Canada’s aging search and rescue aircraft hit a new low with the news that the RCAF had to source parts from a 50-year-old plane on display at the National Air Force Museum. It would be funny if it were not for the fact that Canadians rely on the Hercules and Buffalo aircraft to respond to thousands of emergencies every year. Though started by the Liberals in 2002, there will not be replacement planes in operation until 2019, at the earliest.

Does the minister simply expect the RCAF to raid other museums in the meantime?

Defence Minister Rob Nicholson responded: “What the honourable member was referring to was a mistake. When it was discovered, the RCAF took the appropriate measures. That being said, this is the government that has delivered 17 new Hercules transport aircraft, four strategic transports, and 15 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters. How did the NDP vote? The NDP voted against all of these; every dollar for the military is opposed by the NDP.”

Not sure what Nicholson meant by “a mistake.” He didn’t elaborate in the House of Commons.

But it’s different than the earlier response from his office, which acknowledged the scavenging and praised it as taking the “initiative.”

July 18, 2014

Despite reports, Canada is not “donating” surplus CF-18 fighters to Ukraine

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:48

In the Ottawa Citizen, David Pugliese says there’s little chance of any such transaction taking place:

Media in Russia are reporting that Canada will provide for free surplus CF-18 fighter jets to Ukraine’s military. In addition, an offer has been made to provide RCAF personnel to train Ukraine pilots on the aircraft, according to the reports.

Officials with the Department of National Defence officials as well as Defence Minister Rob Nicholson’s spokesperson, however, tell Defence Watch that is not the case.

“This report is false,” said Johanna Quinney, the minister’s spokeswoman.

Unlike the vast inventory of aircraft maintained by the US Air Force, the RCAF does not have thousands of acres of desert littered with functional-but-unused aircraft. Any surplus CF-18 airframes are candidates for cannibalization to keep the rest of the fleet airworthy. This almost certainly means that these aircraft in question are not in a flyable condition, so their immediate military value — to Ukraine or other nations — is close to zero. Add in the required time, labour, and parts to bring them to operational levels and it probably amounts to a negative value.

Update: On Facebook, Chris Taylor points out that there’s a difference between what most militaries might consider surplus and what the Canadian Forces consider surplus:

Canada never retires weapon systems before they become antiques. By Ottawa reckoning, there’s at least 30 years left in the CF-18s. Pay no attention to airframe fatigue or metallurgical studies, these are airy-fairy abstractions that will bend to the will of the PMO.

June 26, 2014

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before – Canadian government puts F-35 decision on hold (again)

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:53

In the Globe and Mail, Steven Chase reports on the on-again, off-again, [on-again, off-again, …] federal government decision on replacing our current RCAF fighters:

The Harper government is pressing pause on a decision to buy new jet fighters, including whether to purchase Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II without holding a competition, because it feels ministers need more information on other options before selecting a course of action.

There will be no decision this month on the next step — whether to hold a competition for a new plane or purchase the F-35 outright — and it is very unlikely anything will be announced even by mid-July, The Globe and Mail has learned.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper removed the item from the agenda of a recent meeting of cabinet’s priorities and planning committee to give ministers more time to deliberate and gather information, people familiar with the matter say. Priorities and planning is the main cabinet committee that provides strategic direction.

Sources say the government feels it’s being rushed and pressured by the Canadian Armed Forces and parts of the civil service to purchase the F-35 without a competition. The government, which took a serious credibility hit in 2012 over its poor management of the procurement process, is now concerned only one fully fleshed-out option has been presented for review and that it resembled a decision to be ratified rather than a well-developed option.

H/T to Paul Wells, who put it rather well:

June 18, 2014

Is the RCN “kicking the tires” of the Mistral?

Filed under: Cancon, France, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:59

The French navy is visiting Canada’s East coast this week, taking part in Exercise LION MISTRAL. David Pugliese reported on the operation a few days ago:

Approximately 200 Canadian Army soldiers from 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group in Valcartier, Quebec will take part in Exercise LION MISTRAL alongside members of the French Navy and Royal Canadian Air Force from June 16-23, 2014, in Gaspé, Quebec, according to a news release from the DND.

  • Canadian Army soldiers, primarily from the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment (1 R22eR), will board The Mistral, the French amphibious assault ship and helicopter carrier in Halifax on June 18; 

  • Canadian Army troops will conduct littoral operations, including running air-land operations and battle procedures, and establishing a helicopter landing site and a beachhead. Ex LION MISTRAL will also feature a humanitarian assistance air evacuation operation that will help train expeditionary forces to respond to humanitarian disasters;

  • Ex LION MISTRAL will culminate in two disembarkation operations on a Gaspé beach on June 20-21 marking the end of the amphibious exercise. In response to a request by the town of Gaspé, the members of the 1 R22eR will also be offering a static display of their vehicles and equipment on June 21;

  • More than 400 French Navy members of The Mistral and 175 of La Fayette will be participating alongside some 200 Canadian soldiers, including 20 engineers from 5 Combat Engineer Regiment from Valcartier;

On Flickr a couple of photos from yesterday, as equipment was being loaded onto Mistral in Halifax:

Members of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment load light armored vehicles onboard the French Navy amphibious ship Mistral as part of Exercise LION MISTRAL 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 17, 2014. Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS2014-3030-06

Members of the 1st Battalion, Royal 22e Regiment load light armored vehicles onboard the French Navy amphibious ship Mistral as part of Exercise LION MISTRAL 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, June 17, 2014.
Photo: MCpl Patrick Blanchard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera IS2014-3030-06

Halifax, Nova Scotia.  FS Mistral (L-9013) is an Amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and Helicopter facilities. Photo: Halifax Shipping News

Halifax, Nova Scotia.
FS Mistral (L-9013) is an Amphibious assault ship, and lead ship of her class. She was commissioned in 2006. She features a landing craft dock, and Helicopter facilities.
Photo: Halifax Shipping News

Additional photos by M/Cpl Blanchard were posted on the Ottawa Citizen website.

May 4, 2014

The Battle of the Atlantic

Filed under: Cancon, Germany, History, Military, WW2 — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

On the first Sunday in May every year, we remember the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the major contributions to allied victory in World War 2, and the Canadian part in that multi-year battle:

The Battle of the Atlantic campaign was fought at sea from 1939 to 1945 with the strategic outcome being sea-control of the North Atlantic Ocean. It was the longest, largest, and arguably the most complex campaign of the Second World War. Over the course of 2,075 days, Allied naval and air forces fought more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single ship actions against the submarines and warships of the German and Italian navies. Enemy vessels targeted mainly the convoys of merchant ships transporting material and troops vital to safeguarding the freedom of the peoples of North America and Europe.

On any given day, up to 125 merchant vessels were sailing in convoy across the North Atlantic. It was during these treacherous, stormy crossings that Canada’s navy matured and won the mantle of a professional service. Our navy escorted more than 25,000 merchant vessels across the Atlantic. These ships carried some 182,000,000 tonnes of cargo to Europe — the equivalent of eleven lines of freight cars, each stretching from Vancouver to Halifax. Without these supplies, the war effort would have collapsed.

Thousands of Canadian men and women – members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Merchant Navy (MN) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), mostly volunteers from small town Canada – had to face situations so perilous they are difficult for us to imagine. As Canadians, we should be proud of their courage.

Although largely unprepared for war in 1939, Canada’s navy grew at an unparalleled rate eventually providing 47 percent of all convoy escorts. Rear Admiral Leonard Murray, who as Commander-in-Chief Northwest Atlantic from March 1943, would become the only Canadian to hold an Allied theatre command during the war and direct the convoy battles out of his headquarters in Halifax.

During the Second World War the RCN grew from 13 vessels to a strength of nearly 100,000 uniformed men and women and nearly 400 vessels, the fourth largest navy in the world. It had suffered 2,210 fatalities, including six women, and had lost 33 vessels. It had destroyed or shared in the destruction of 33 U-Boats and 42 enemy surface craft. In partnership with Canada’s maritime air forces and merchant navy, it had played a pivotal and successful role in the contest for seaward supremacy.

Merchant ships of Convoy HX188 en route to Britain. Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-115006

Merchant ships of Convoy HX188 en route to Britain.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-115006

October 17, 2013

Yesterday’s throne speech

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:13

The big news from yesterday’s throne speech appears to be that there was no big news. In Maclean’s, John Geddes sounds underwhelmed:

To my ear, the pro-consumer rhetoric is flat. The job-creation talk is slightly better, but still pretty prosaic. I think these Conservatives know what they want to say, and how they want to say it, much better when it comes to Canadian history and the Canadian military.

So the opposition parties should be worried when they hear the revving of the 2017 Anniversary of Confederation engines. That’s a huge political marketing opportunity. Next year’s centennial of the start of World War I isn’t bad either. I was surprised, however, that the Tories risked tarnishing the history-commemoration theme by linking it closely to, of all things, the Senate. “The road to 2017 is a fitting time to strengthen our institutions and democratic processes,” the throne speech said, segueing awkwardly from great moments in Canadian history to the depressing present reality of Parliament’s upper chamber.

On the military, the throne speech hit some effectively brassy notes. For instance, touting their purchase of transport aircraft for the air force, it said: “No longer does Canada have to hitch a ride with out allies. Our serving men and women can now carry out their vital missions.” That’s good, straightforward material. The challenge will be sustaining that tone as the Department of National Defence moves from expanding to cutting.

Paul Wells considers this the government’s moment to “seize Canada’s moment, and suffocate it”:

In an excellent season for Canadian literature, the Prime Minister will pay personal tribute to Stephen Leacock by riding madly off in all directions.

He will introduce balanced-budget legislation as reliable and airtight as his fixed-election legislation. He will sell off federal assets, if he feels like it. He will encourage foreign investment, if he likes it. He will, by state fiat, find the Franklin Expedition. He’ll release a new science strategy. He’ll “crack down on predatory payday lenders,” something he already did once this year when he fired Nigel Wright. He’ll implement the Leslie Report on moving military resources from National Defence Headquarters to someplace more useful — not because the report’s ideas were self-evidently useful, but because Andrew Leslie is now in the business of giving ideas to Justin Trudeau. He’ll make Malala a Canadian citizen. He will celebrate the hell out of Canada’s 150th birthday.

Somewhere in there, at about the point where Tom Hanks would be starting to feel mighty thirsty if this had been a screening of Captain Phillips, there are a few paragraphs about consumer rights. Far less than there is about the 150th birthday celebrations. And far, far less than there is about continuing to crack down on criminals, people who look like criminals, people who might be criminals, and people who might know where there are some criminals. But the PMO assiduously leaked these table scraps about consumer protections for days before the big read, and everyone played the consumer stuff up big in the pre-throne-speech stories, and the CBC spent two hours talking nonstop about the “consumer agenda” after the speech as though there had actually been one in it. The great thing about leaking news is that you can create news where there is none, durably, long after your ruse should have been noticed. No wonder it’s so addictive.

August 16, 2013

The military dilemmas of a middle power

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Sir Humphrey explains in detail the problems facing the Canadian Forces:

The biggest question arguably facing Canada today is how to address what is a three pronged axis of interest. As an Atlantic and Pacific power, with substantial economic interests in both areas, Canada has an inevitable interest in both regions, which have extremely different challenges. At the same time, the emerging interest in the Arctic, where global warming and climate change is seemingly allowing an opening of trade routes, means a previously neglected region suddenly takes on far more strategic role. Beyond this home position, Canada continues to play a major role overseas, providing troops, aircraft and ships to participate in operations across the globe from the Gulf to Afghanistan.


The problem which looms is that Canada has deferred expenditure for so long on so many fronts that it is rapidly reaching the point where barring a major change of budget; something is going to have to give. As a nation Canada is a superb example of the many mid-tier powers, other examples being the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Australia to name but a few, who have historically been able to afford and operate armed forces capable of working across a wide range of areas, but where future budgets may constrain this over time. All of these nations are typified by having a lot of legacy equipment in service, and a willingness to employ their militaries overseas on operations. These nations all face a similar challenge — the cost of military equipment is so great that all face a problem — what has to be sacrificed in order to keep some form of capability, and what are they no longer willing to do militarily?


Considering the Navy alone, one sees a fleet which has been hard worked for many years, and which has not seen new surface ships enter service for nearly twenty years. The destroyers are so old that it is nearly fifty years since the design was approved, and forty years since they entered service. The decision to continually defer replacements means that no military shipbuilding capability exists in Canada any more. This means any replacement will be built at far greater cost on a shipbuilding industry which will be created from scratch. This issue alone highlights the real challenge for many medium powers — the inability for domestic political reasons to consider purchasing certain from overseas. Despite there being several designs (such as the Royal Navy’s Type 26 / Global Combat Ship) entering service in the time-frame for replacement, the desire by Canada to retain a ‘made in Canada’ label on its surface warships means that the Canadian taxpayer will not get the best value for money. One only has to consider that most warship replacement programmes these days will only replace half to two thirds of the hulls in the preceding class due to cost, and it quickly becomes clear that Canada is going to be forced to establish a military shipbuilding capability for just 8-10 hulls.

Domestically there are many good reasons to build at home — creation of jobs in vulnerable constituencies, a sense of national control over a hugely visible symbol of national prestige, and an ability to support domestic industries (e.g. having far greater sovereignty over the weapons and equipment than may otherwise be the case with a foreign purchase). Additionally even with offsets, it is difficult to justify to taxpayers spending huge sums of money abroad, particularly for a capability traditionally built at home. There are several nations who have traditionally built their large warships at home, and who face a need to build replacement hulls in the next 10-15 years. It becomes increasingly difficult to see how they can afford to do this without making major cuts elsewhere to their procurement plans, or buying overseas.

March 15, 2013

The real cuts to the military budget

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In Maclean’s, John Geddes examines the way budget cutbacks are being implemented in Canada’s military:

Perry’s fine-grained analysis starts by setting aside the major parts of defence spending that are, at least in theory, protected from cuts. Last year’s fiscal plan called for more than $1 billion a year to be cut from the defence department’s overall budget of more than $20 billion by 2014-15. That doesn’t seem so tough. But the Conservatives pledged to do that while keeping up the troop strength of the Canadian Forces, at about 68,000 regular members and 27,000 in the reserves, and also protecting most planned capital spending. According to Perry, that means about $12 billion a year was deemed uncuttable — leaving all the reductions to be found somehow in the remaining $8 billion that is spent on the civilian workforce and on military “operations, maintenance and readiness.”

How hard is it to achieve those savings? The clearest indication so far came from Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, the commander of the army, in surprising testimony he gave late last year before a Senate committee. Devlin said his land force’s operating budget has been shrunk by an eye-popping 22 per cent—a figure that doesn’t show up anywhere in publicly available defence documents. “As you would expect,” Devlin said with classic officer-class understatement, “that has an effect on people, infrastructure and training.” And he took pains to counter any suggestion that the army should be eliminating desk jobs to save field assets, stressing that administrative and head-office functions occupy only four per cent of his workforce.

[. . .]

Harper’s letter echoed the thrust of Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie’s 2011 “transformation” report. Leslie, who has since retired, conducted an extensive study of defence spending and concluded that the department must “ruthlessly focus” on reducing its spending on outside consultants and private contractors, with the aim of redistributing resources to military units. He delivered his report two years ago. Yet the latest figures available show that the defence department’s spending on professional services and consultants continued to climb to $3.25 billion in 2011-12 from $2.77 billion in 2009-10. And that increase came after a period when head-office growth outstripped the expansion of the fighting forces. According to Leslie’s report, headquarters personnel numbers grew 40 per cent from 2004 to 2010, while the regular forces grew by just 11 per cent.

February 21, 2013

RCAF still confident that Sea Kings will last long enough, hopefully

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:27

Sea King unit patchDid you know that the Canadian military is still waiting for the delivery of their new helicopters? This leaves the military brass with little to do but put on a show of confidence and perhaps cross their fingers behind their collective backs:

The head of the Royal Canadian Air Force says he’s confident the military’s 50-year-old Sea King helicopters can stay in the air long enough for their troubled replacements to arrive.

“It’s good for a while,” Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin said of the Sea Kings, in an exclusive interview with Postmedia News Wednesday.

“In the short term, the Sea King can fly. Eventually I’m going to replace some equipment on it if I want to keep it flying longer, but I’ve got flexibility.”

That flexibility will likely be needed amid recent reports that the air force won’t receive the first of its planned Sea King replacements, U.S. aerospace giant Sikorsky’s Cyclone maritime helicopters, until 2015 — seven years later than scheduled.

Here’s the long, twisted history of Canada’s attempt to replace the venerable Sea King helicopters:

  • In 1963, the CH-124 Sea King helicopter (a variant of the US Navy S-61 model) entered service with the Royal Canadian Navy.
  • In 1983, the Trudeau government started a process to replace the Sea Kings. That process never got far enough for a replacement helicopter to be ordered.
  • In 1985, the Mulroney government started a new process to find a replacement for the Sea Kings.
  • In 1992, the Mulroney government placed an order for 50 EH-101 Cormorant helicopters (for both naval and search-and-rescue operations).
  • In 1993, the Campbell government reduced the order from 50 to 43, theoretically saving $1.4B.
  • In 1993, the new Chrétien government cancelled the “Cadillac” helicopters as being far too expensive and started a new process to identify the right helicopters to buy. The government had to pay nearly $500 million in cancellation penalties.
  • In 1998, having split the plan into separate orders for naval and SAR helicopters, the government ended up buying 15 Cormorant SAR helicopters anyway — and the per-unit prices had risen in the intervening time.
  • In 2004, the Martin government placed an order with Sikorsky for 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to be delivered starting in 2008 (after very carefully arranging the specifications to exclude the Cormorant from the competition).
  • Now, in 2012, we may still have another five years to wait for the delivery of the Cyclones.

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.

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