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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

CAF Looking for New Weapons Simulator Despite Underused Multi-Million Dollar System

By: David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen

A decision in 2003 to purchase a training system for the Canadian military that is comparable to a sophisticated version of laser tag came with an original price tag of $137 million, but ended up costing $209 million.

The Canadian military spent $209 million on a high-tech weapons simulator but five years passed before the system was used for the role it originally had been purchased for, and even then troops did not take part in all of the training the government paid for.

Despite that, the army is looking to spend up to $249 million on a new, similar system.

In 2003, the army convinced the Liberal government it needed the Weapons Effects Simulation (WES) system to properly train its troops against similarly equipped armies fielding infantry units, tanks and armoured vehicles.

The $137-million contract went to the U.S. firm Cubic Defence, which was supported by SNC Lavalin of Montreal.

The WES system is comparable to a more sophisticated version of laser tag: lasers and radios simulate weapons fire, with hits being recorded by computerized sensors attached to soldiers, tanks or other vehicles, the military explained.

Under the Conservative government, the cost increased to $209 million as amendments were made to the contract.

But by the time the WES system was delivered, the Canadian Forces were heavily involved in fighting insurgents in Afghanistan who didn’t use armoured vehicles or tanks.

The army then switched to using the WES system for some of its Afghan training, but there were problems.

“It was not until 2013 that the land training authority started using the WES system for force-on-force training exercises as initially intended in the contract,” concluded a recently released Department of National Defence audit.

As part of the deal, the military entered into a $73-million service contract, in which company support for exercises was prepaid.

During the first seven years, the Canadian Forces didn’t use up all its training allotment, but the contractors were paid nonetheless.

The auditors estimated the arrangement cost taxpayers between $8 million and $12 million. In other cases, army units were not fully aware such support services — along with the prepaid exercise time — were available.

“These exercises were not fully utilized but were paid for in fixed fees in accordance with the contract,” the auditors said.

The Canadian Forces also put $61 million of WES equipment back into the hands of the contractor so it could provide support to army units, but the Defence Department had trouble tracking where the gear went, the auditors added. The loan was seen as one of the largest in the Canadian Army. “A loan agreement has not been established between DND and the contractor for the WES equipment as per the contract requirement,” auditors warned.

Capt. Graham Kallos, a spokesman for the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre in Wainwright, Alta., said the WES system is now being used for large-scale military training operations involving armoured vehicles and tanks.

But the audit noted there were performance problems with the gear in the first of those large-scale exercises dubbed Maple Resolve. Details about the problems with the equipment, however, were censored from the audit.

Still, the army and the auditors have deemed the WES system an effective training tool.

Last year in the government’s defence acquisition guide, which lists future military procurement programs, a replacement for the WES system was proposed.

The cost of that is estimated to be between $100 million and $249 million. The army hopes to examine what it needs for such a purchase starting next year and hopes to award a contract in 2021.

But it is unclear how such a project would be affected by the Liberal government’s recently launched review of defence priorities.