Editor’s Corner article

Platform Procurements? Painful.
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  May 15, 2012

We’ve already established that Canada’s defence procurement process is painful, but why is that so? Part of the problem can be traced to the fact that military procurement operates in a Boom or Bust environment. When a requirement finally receives Treasury Board approval, project leaders make every effort to pump it as full of “mandatory” requirements as possible because “who knows when” they will have an opportunity to upgrade that platform again (40 years?). Unfortunately, these “wish list” mandatories may not be realistic for the budget available, and yet the industry response bids get labelled “non-compliant” when they cannot possibly satisfy the full mandatory list within the specified budget. I’m sure some have secretly wished they could publicly deem certain RFPs as “non-realistic.”

A current trend is to specify large projects as “off-the-shelf” (OTS) requirements. Really? That might work for flashlights, but not for armoured combat vehicles or maritime patrol helicopters or fighter aircraft – any large platform for that matter. After Budget approval of any OTS requirement, the platform invariably gets “Canadianized” which really means “adding stuff” that will effectively “customize” it for Canada. This includes system and communication interoperability – but sometimes it’s also a catch-all category. Today, it’s all about optics isn’t it? It’s also called turning a blind eye.

The procurement process is long and drawn out, and when a platform project finally gets approval, be it for air, sea or land, you can bet it won’t be replaced until many years after the “best before” date. So, what to do? You try to slip every possible new technology (proven or not) into the mandatories. The initial JSS project is a case in point. After a budget was set, all sorts of “wish list” items were added. That, along with the increased steel prices, meant that no company could possibly build the ship within budget. Not surprisingly, every bid was deemed “non-compliant”.

After many years of service, an experienced military program manager would likely understand the requirement well enough to have caught many of these before they became unrealistic RFPs, but it’s so darned difficult to plan for 40 years in the future.

© FrontLine Defence 2012