Hudson on the Hill

Senate Committee Report – recapitalization & modernization
HUDSON ON THE HILL  |  May 12, 2017

A bold call for recapitalization & modernization

Canada can stop militarily “freeloading on our southern neighbour” if the federal government agrees to an ambitious capital equipment shopping list crafted by the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. However, in releasing its third and final report on how the Canadian Armed Forces should evolve to fulfill all of its domestic, continental and overseas taskings, the committee didn’t put a price tag on any of its recommendations.

Its Chairman, Yukon Conservative Daniel Lang – who used the “freeloading” comment at the onset of his opening remarks – explained at a May 8 news conference that no dollar figures are attached to the recommendations simply because the committee lacks the resources to do those kinds of calculations. 

There’s no doubt the committee’s core recommendation – that military spending be increased to the much-discussed NATO target of 2% of gross domestic product from the current 0.88% – could easily triple the annual outlay once inflation and time frames are taken into account over the next decade or two. But Lang repeatedly stressed the economic benefit of having so many new programs in play.

Royal Canadian Air Force capabilities would be increased through improvements on several fixed-wing components, topped by the committee’s call for the acquisition of 120 new fighters. It urged the government to immediately begin its promised competition for a replacement of the aging Boeing CF-188 Hornets with a view to choosing a new aircraft by mid-2018. Part of the package would include cancellation of the planned purchase of 18 Super Hornets as an interim measure. 

Other fixed-wing recommendations include a call to: prioritize new air-to-air refueling platforms to replace the current Airbus CC-150 Polaris fleet; to expedite the replacement of the deHavilland CC-138 Twin Otters currently based in Yellowknife for search and rescue work in the North; and to replace the Lockheed Martin CP-140 Aurora long-range platforms – all by 2030. 

On the rotary-wing side, the committee recommends the acquisition of 55 new medium- to heavy-lift helicopters as a partial replacement for 95 Bell CH-146 Griffons, as well as 24 attack helicopters for ground support. It also calls on the government to increase to 36 (from 15) the relatively new fleet of Boeing CH-147F Chinooks, and to upgrade and put into operation the VH-71 Kestrel variants of the Leonardo (AgustaWestland) CH-149 Cormorant SAR platforms, purchased from the U.S. government as a spares source several years ago, in order to augment the current Cormorant fleet through a proposed mid-life upgrade.

Modernization of the Royal Canadian Navy would centre around the acquisition of 12 new air-independent submarines (a concept rejected by the federal government a couple of decades ago). Pointing out that other circumpolar nations are expanding their underwater capabilities, the committee agreed with the RCN’s assessment that subs are “likely to remain the dominant naval platform for the foreseeable future.”

These would be augmented by a second Resolve-class support ship to fill the urgent need; increasing the new surface combatant fleet to 18; and expediting replacement of the current fleet of coastal defence vessels with minesweepers and destroyers.

The committee also recommends that the government commission “a fully independent and impartial review” of the $3.5-billion Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) project because of their relatively low speed, inadequate armaments, and inability to operate in more than a metre of ice. Fleet defences would be enhanced through the acquisition of an Lockheed Martin Aegis radar-based combat system or a “similar-styled” platform.

The committee said the nearly universal opinion of witnesses saw the RCN as “a naval force in decline, mostly due to lack of funding and slow progress made with the recapitalization of its aging fleet.” It also said that capability gaps in the wider CAF are “unacceptable for a G8 nation which aspires to play a greater role in the world as well as meet its commitments to the defence of North America and NATO.”

Also in the maritime operational domain, the committee recommends the creation of an armed Constabulary Coast Guard to enforce environmental, transportation and fishing regulations, as well as Criminal Code offences.

While the helicopters would continue to be an RCAF asset, they tend mainly to be used to support land operations. The main Canadian Army-specific element of the report is the recommended purchase of 60 upgraded LAV III light-armoured vehicles from General Dynamics Land Systems.

Another key hardware element, which would have application across most CAF operations, is the recommendation that the DND proceed with its long-delayed Joint Unmanned Surveillance and Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS). This likely would involve four basic platforms and the committee, noting their value for SAR work as well as tactical operations, says there is no questioning the need for such systems.

Underpinning everything, the committee urges increased cooperation within NORAD, including improved protection against ballistic missiles and cyber attacks, and renewal of the North Warning System.

Personnel requirements were also addressed, such as elimination of barriers within the CAF to “appropriate representation of women, indigenous populations and visible minorities”. Added resources for training, compensation for Reservists’ medical assessments, increasing the Canadian Rangers cohort in the North to 7,000, and establishing a Yukon-based Reserve Regiment were all identified for action.

In an earlier report, the military procurement machinery was singled out for criticism. In an exclusive interview, Lang agreed that it remains a key concern that the current process seems incapable of managing even the relatively few procurements in the hopper.

The Committee is convinced that “the responsibility for procurement should be in Defence, not elsewhere,” the Chairman told FrontLine. “We also recommended that any project over $1 billion should have an interlocutor to manage it and to be responsible for it, so that when decisions are taken […] they do what they can to put these projects into play.”

Elaborating on the concept that responsibility for procurement should be DND-centric, he says the department would determine what equipment it needs rather than having ministers or officials from other departments having the final say. He points out that the Cabinet Committee on Defence Procurement is chaired by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr, whose department “has nothing to do with defence.”

Apart from Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the rest of the committee is comprised of Scott Brison (Treasury), Navdeep Bains (Innovation, Science and Economic Development), Kirsty Duncan (Science), Judy Foote (Public Services and Procurement) and Marc Garneau (Transport).

“It seems to me that what you need is to make sure that when the final decision comes down […] we can’t forget what’s in the best interests of the Department of National Defence.” Lang was not suggesting that Foote’s department, historically fundamental to procurement, should be excluded. “What we’re saying is that the actual decision-making should be going back into the Department of National Defence.”

Lang suggests that a review of the bureaucracy – where, he says, decisions are made by committees – could be beneficial. “We could go a long ways to ensuring that our procurement, once a decision is made, is done in a reasonable manner […] within a time frame that is acceptable.”

Lang adds that his perception from several years as committee chairman is troubling. “I don’t know if this is fair, but this is my evaluation: I see a system that’s almost in paralysis; nobody makes a decision, and no decision is a good decision because nobody’s responsible for it. We’ve got to change that culture.”

Will giving DND more money be practicable, given that it often has to carry forward unspent appropriations? Lang says that situation flows from a seemingly entrenched inability to make decisions. “Why would you spend the money if you don’t know what to buy?” 

Hudson on the Hill
The role of Hudson is being filled by contributing editor Ken Pole.