In The Media

Defence procurement problems run deeper than the F-35

by Philippe Lagassé

Ottawa Citizen
December6, 2012

It’s been a rough year for Canadian defence procurement.

This past spring, the Auditor General lambasted the defence department’s lack of due diligence in selecting the F-35 to replace the air force’s aging CF-18 fighters. A few months later, the acquisition of new army trucks was cancelled when it became clear that industry would be unable to meet the military’s specifications within budget.

There are also signs that the widely lauded shipbuilding strategy is facing difficulties, as naval planners struggle to design vessels that do not exceed cost estimates. The 2012 federal budget, meanwhile, announced that the defence budget would grow at a slower pace than previously promised and that billions of procurement dollars would go unspent until 2015.

Defence procurement officials deny that there is anything worrisome going on. They insist that these are minor hiccups. A good deal of new military equipment has been bought in recent years without difficulty, and it is not unusual for complex military acquisitions to encounter setbacks.

Though things are not as disconcerting as they seem, it is time to accept that the recapitalization of the CF has not gone as well hoped, and the factors that have slowed the replacement of several major equipment fleets will continue to derail important acquisitions if left unaddressed.

A first obstacle was the situation inherited by Paul Martin’s Liberals and the current government. The defence department initiated relatively few large-scale procurements between 1994 and 2004. When the new Conservative government announced that all of the CF’s major fleets would be replaced, the news was therefore greeted with relief and enthusiasm.

But there was a problem: a defence bureaucracy that was staffed to manage a relatively small number of projects was now being asked to undertake a wholesale rejuvenation of the military’s equipment.

However well-intentioned, the accelerated recapitalization of the military overburdened a small procurement organization, which likely led to corner-cutting, mistakes, and poorer project management. To address this issue, the government will need to examine how the defence department can be better resourced to effectively manage the recapitalization of the CF.

A lack of resources, however, does not explain the more troubling procurement practices that have been allowed to fester in recent years. If these tendencies are not reined in, we can expect still more military procurement foibles.

Several acquisitions have been undermined or delayed because of inflated requirements and overly optimistic cost-estimates. While it is understandable that the military wants the best equipment possible, the trade-off between cost and capability must be tackled with greater caution, especially at a time when defence expenditures will be increasing at a slower pace.

Attempts to rig contract competitions in favour of one manufacturer or piece of equipment have not only been unethical, but counterproductive, too. A contract for new search and rescue planes, for instance, has been delayed for more than six years owing to the air force’s preference for a particular plane. With each additional postponement, the military’s ability to effectively perform search and rescue in the future has been further compromised.

Certain sole-sourced procurements have created a good deal of controversy as well. Declaring that the F-35 was the only aircraft that can replace the CF-18s has produced the exact opposite of the effect sought by the Joint Strike Fighter’s advocates; it led to a wave criticism which led the government to re-examine Canada’s fighter aircraft options. If the F-35 was clearly the best aircraft, it would have prevailed in a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of various alternatives. Despite Thursday’s confusing news about the F-35, the government’s insistence that all options are being examined suggests that such a comparative assessment may eventually take place.

Finally, the defence department must accept an uncomfortable reality: the plan to recapitalize the military was never properly costed and is no longer affordable under the existing defence budget. Unless there is a significant reinvestment in defence procurements after the deficit is eliminated, this means that the military must reconsider what the CF’s future equipment will look like, both in terms of quantity and quality.

A prudent government will ensure that the defence establishment comes to grip with this fact; otherwise, Canada’s defence procurement woes will continue for years to come.

Philippe Lagassé is an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. His paper, Recapitalizing the Canadian Forces’ Major Fleets: Assessing Lingering Controversies and Challenges, is being published by the Canadian International Council and Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

No events are scheduled at this time.


Global Times: BRICS summit displays the potential of a new future

by Editorial Staff (feat. Swaran Singh), WSFA 12, June 24, 2022

Oil's Dive Won't Bring Any Immediate Relief on Inflation

by Alex Longley, Elizabeth low, and Barbara Powell (feat. Amrita Sen), BNNBloomberg, June 24, 2022

China To Tout Its Governance Model At BRICS Summit

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), The Asean Post, June 23, 2022

Soutien aux victimes d’inconduites sexuelles dans l’armée

by Rude Dejardins (feat. Charlotte Duval-Lantoine), ICI Radio Canada, June 23, 2022

Defence: $4.9 billion for radars against Russian bombs

by Editorial Staff (feat. Rob Huebert), Archynews, June 23, 2022

The Hans Island “Peace” Agreement between Canada, Denmark, and Greenland

by Elin Hofverberg (feat. Natalie Loukavecha), Library of Congress, June 22, 2022

What the future holds for western Canadian oil producers

by Gabriel Friedman (feat. Kevin Birn), Beaumont News, June 22, 2022

At BRICS summit, China sets stage to tout its governance model

by Liam Gibson (feat. Stephen Nagy), Aljazeera, June 22, 2022

Crude oil price: there are no changes to the fundamentals

by Faith Maina (feat. Amrita Sen), Invezz, June 22, 2022

Few details as Liberals promise billions to upgrade North American defences

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Andrea Charron), National Newswatch, June 20, 2022

Defence Minister Anita Anand to make announcement on continental defence

by Steven Chase (feat. Rob Huebert), The Globe and Mail, June 19, 2022

Table pancanadienne des politiques

by Alain Gravel (feat. Jean-Christophe Boucher), ICI Radio Canada, June 18, 2022

Russia Ukraine conflict

by Gloria Macarenko (feat. Colin Robertson), CBC Radio One, June 17, 2022

New privacy Bill to introduce rules for personal data, AI use

by Shaye Ganam (feat. Tom Keenan), 680 CHED, June 17, 2022


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Suite 1800, 150–9th Avenue SW
Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 3H9


Canadian Global Affairs Institute
8 York Street, 2nd Floor
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 5S6


Phone: (613) 288-2529
Email: [email protected]


Making sense of our complex world.
Déchiffrer la complexité de notre monde.


© 2002-2022 Canadian Global Affairs Institute
Charitable Registration No. 87982 7913 RR0001


Sign in with Facebook | Sign in with Twitter | Sign in with Email