Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Charlie Foxtrot: the evergreen defence procurement post

I should just cite Kim Nossal and then run, but I can't help myself: I am not a fan of the Canadian Fighter Replacement Adventure.  Today, the Canadian government announced a decision on how to replace the aging F-18s: buy more old ones as an interim measure and then hold a competition.  Oh, but this new competition has two key features: 2022 as the target for a decision AND the Screw Boeing clause.  Let me explain my take.

First, the Liberals are here because the Conservatives also dithered and played politics with this decision.  Oh, and the NDP had fun with it as well.

Second, yes, Canada has been through this before, but whatever was gleaned from past competitions (in Canada, by the Danes, by the Aussies, whoever) apparently was not "fair" enough for the various companies to agree to use as a basis for a new competition.  Me?  I am lazy, so I would figure that if I had done a bunch of homework and then had to go back to the same project, I would not do so much new research.  I would build on prior work.  Apparently, this is not acceptable to the competitors.  Indeed, Sweden's  Saab was not in past competitions  because they thought they would lose (oh, and guess what, they will lose this time too--interoperability with US/NATO is a fundamental requirement and Sweden is not a NATO country so its planes tend not to be as interoperable [I think]).  Still, the fact that they can't build on the previous work means five years of effort to get a contract?!

Third, yeah, five years.  Wow.  A good reason for this might be that the folks who would do the work on this are working on the interim plane.  Oh, that.  This is a key part of the puzzle--the need to buy 18 F-18s from Australia (at a bargain since they don't want them anymore*) to fill in a capability gap.  This capability gap is the idea that Canada does not have enough planes to do a full NORAD emergency and a full NATO emergency at the same time.  My experiences with military folks says that the government could say that they would be willing to take on some risk by having fewer planes as it is unlikely that Canada would experience both emergencies simultaneously.  Risk is always present--the question is how much and how mitigated.  Anyhow, the other part of the interim thing is this--when the new planes are bought, the old ones must go.  That is the rules of interim purchasing I learned when this stuff came up the first time.
*  People are worried that this will be as bad as buying used subs from the UK, but that is very different.  A) The subs were out of commission and rusting, the planes not so much; B) the subs apparently were partly involved in UK's nuke weapon program, so much of the info about how to run/maintain the subs were not available to the Canadians; C) Canada has heaps and heaps of experience with F-18s.

I get that it took time for this government to figure out what it needed--88 planes!  And more time via the Defence Policy Review that would make it clear that this government would be willing to spend the money.  So, I could have said that they dithered for two years, but I think a fair assessment is that this decision could have been announced six months ago, maybe, but not any earlier than that.  Still, why take until 2022?  Maybe it takes that long, but I am skeptical.  I think a big problem is that the Review did not really address is exactly how will Canada do procurement better/faster.  This decision does not fill me with confidence that they have figured out how to do stuff better.

Which gets me to the fun part--the Screw Boeing clause.  The government has decided that it does not want to buy big, expensive stuff from companies that hurt Canadian businesses--which is Boeing which has pushed the US government to penalize Bombardier (the most favored Canadian company) for dumping planes into the American market.  Sure, they can say it is aimed to incentivize any company to treat Canadian firms well, but this has Boeing written all over it.  The smart play, one they seem prepared to do, is to have this policy apply to all major purchases from now on.  Still, how does this get operationalized in a non-lawsuit attracting kind of way?  No idea.

I still hate the idea of an interim purchase, and I don't really buy the need to fill the gap with temporary planes which pushes the calendar for buying the permanent planes.  But all this stuff is part of a pattern well named Charlie Foxtrot (military for clusterfuck).  Situation Normal All Fucked Up (SNAFU) works as well.

I am glad a decision has been made.... but I am wondering if it will get re-made again and again.

1 comment:

Mark, Ottawa said...

FUBAR rather than SNAFU.

Mark Collins