Dwindling NORAD: Why Canadian Don’t Think Defense Procurement Like Ice Hokey?

The objective of hockey is simple: score more goals than the opposing team. Players are not allowed to kick the puck into the net or purposely direct it in with any part of their body. During regulation time, each team uses five skaters—three forwards and two defencemen—plus a goaltender. The game commonly known as ice hockey is recognized and declared as the national winter sport of Canada

Sounds very simple, not so simple for defense procurement!

Established in 2014, the Defense Procurement Strategy is a government-wide initiative to improve defense procurement involving four core federal departments. Each department is responsible for a distinct aspect of the procurement process.

Bureaucratic Red Tapes and Politics

The Canadian government created a Defence Procurement Strategy Secretariat within PSPC to coordinate and implement a new approach to defence procurement across multiple departments, including DND, CCG, ISED and GAC. The Secretariat provides advice to governance committees.

The Liberal government’s 2017 defence policy does not envision replacing the subs until 2040, but a written statement recently put before the House of Commons indicates the navy wants to keep the boats “operationally effective until the mid-2030s.”

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said the acquisition of new submarines is not something Canada can put off for 20 years — and the Department of National Defence and the Liberal government should begin seriously looking for replacements.

Future Fighter Capability Program

Canadian Auditor general Michael Ferguson, whose previous report on fighter jets in 2012 helped blow up the Harper government’s plan to buy a fleet of F-35 jets without a competition, backed up his most recent assessment with some stark numbers.

Ferguson said military commanders first alerted the government to the personnel shortage in 2016, when the Liberals were planning to spend billions of dollars on 18 new Super Hornet jets to supplement Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet.

For example, in the last fiscal year, 28 per cent of fighter pilots flew fewer than the minimum number of hours needed to keep their skills and 22 per cent of technician positions in CF-18 squadrons were empty or filled by inexperienced staff, reported Canadian Global News.

And between April 2016 and March 2018, the air force lost 40 trained fighter pilots and produced only 30 new ones. Since then, another 17 have left or said that they planned to leave.

CF-18 Hornet

The government is expected to formally launch a $19-billion competition for 88 new fighter jets next spring, but a winner won’t be picked until 2021 or 2022. The first new fighter jet won’t arrive until 2025.

The Royal Canadian Air Force fighter competition was delayed until 31 July, one month later than originally planned, due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Three companies are offering aircraft for the programme: Saab is offering the Gripen E; Lockheed Martin is offering the F-35; and Boeing is offering the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Canadian Submarine Modernization Program

Over the year, HMCS Victoria, HMCS Windsor, HMCS Chicoutimi and HMCS Corner Brook were in various stages of repair and maintenance. They also went into drydock for long-term upgrades meant to ensure the submarines remain operational until the end of the next decade.

All four of Canada’s submarines were tied up last year for repairs and maintenance — news that has the opposition Conservatives questioning whether the Liberal government can keep the second-hand fleet afloat for another two decades.

HMCS Windsor, one of Canada’s Victoria-class long range patrol submarines, returns to port in Halifax on June 20, 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

A perfect case in point is the allegation that the Victoria class were poorly constructed vessels. Byers and Webb cite a British parliamentary review of the programme5 during its development, focusing in particular on torpedo tube problems in then HMS Unseen (now HMCS Victoria), which had to be “welded” shut lest it flood the vessel.

Having been mothballed by the Brits for years and allowed to rust, the boats were absolute nightmares to bring into service. But they were, eventually, turned into effective warships. Just as important, our experiences with them have given our naval personnel the chance to retain, and even build on, the very specific technical skillsets required to maintain and operate modern submarines.

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24 Most problems identified by Byers and Webb are a product of processes external to the vessels themselves, rather than attributable to their inherent design. Lengthy refit and few days at sea are partly explained by the “orphan” status of the subs.

Having made these investments in both money and human capital, and having finally gotten good warships with good crews that are doing important work for Canada, it would have been outrageously stupid to then retire these subs in the coming years, as they begin to reach the upper limit of their service lives.

Because here’s the thing with mid-life extensions of military hardware: you need to have some clue what you’re extending it until and what you’re extending it for. Warships are complicated. They take years to design and build. Submarines are especially complicated. There is a long, long lead time for these kinds of warships.

China Declared Near Arctic State

China maintains research stations in Iceland and Norway and operates one Ukrainian-built icebreaking research vessel, the Xuelong (Snow Dragon), which in 2017 completed its eighth Arctic expedition and became the first Chinese official vessel to traverse Canada’s Northwest Passage, the report notes.

That has prompted concerns from Arctic states over Beijing’s long-term strategic objectives, including possible military deployments.

The Pentagon report noted that Denmark has expressed concern about China’s interest in Greenland, which has included proposals to establish a research station and a satellite ground station, renovate airports and expand mining.

“In an international crisis knowing the difference, of course, will be critical,” Huebert said. “And so for Canada, all of a sudden the security enforcement of its maritime approaches just becomes that much more difficult as we move into an era that Chinese submarines do start appearing [in the Arctic].”

The Pentagon report said China had built six Jin-class submarines, with four operational and two under construction at Huludao Shipyard.

Clock Is Ticking For Canada

That clock is already ticking for Canada. The amount of useful life left in the Victoria-class is also probably about as long as it will take us to replace them. If we get moving soon on a next-generation class of submarine, they’ll be ready by the time the life-extended Victoria-class submarines begin to age out.

Canadian policy makers and defense should know that Peoples Liberation Army Navy’s Jin-class submarine would could reach Arctic.

The Liberal government has just started the process of replacing the country’s patrol frigates — the backbone of the navy — through an estimated $60 billion program that will roll out over the next two decades. Following the release of the federal government’s new defence policy in June 2017, a senior government official, speaking on background, cited the cost and complexity of rebuilding the surface fleet as justification for postponing the purchase of new submarines.

“Flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability will result in less important roles for the fighter force and will pose a risk to Canada’s ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations.”

NORAD would have to develop the means of, not only detecting the Chinese submarines, but also distinguishing them from the Russian submarines, he said.

As I said at the beginning of this article, the objective of hockey is simple: score more goals than the opposing team. Can Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) score victory over Russian and Chinese Submarines or replace CF-18 to deter Tupolev and Sukhoi jets?

But I’m not holding my breath. You shouldn’t either.

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