Friday, August 5, 2016

Former Bureaucrat: Canada’s new fighter jet should be chosen by open competition

By: Bruce  Champion-Smith, The Toronto Star 

OTTAWA—If the federal government is serious about finding a new fighter jet for Canada’s air force, it should launch an open competition immediately rather than continue the “nonsensical” process now underway, a former senior bureaucrat says.

Ottawa had set a Friday deadline for aerospace manufacturers to respond to a questionnaire seeking details about the costs and capabilities of their fighters that might serve as a potential replacement for the aging CF-18s.

But Alan Williams, who once oversaw defence procurement, dismissed that as a waste of time that belies the Liberals’ own claim that the air force needs new fighters fast.

“If you really think that there is some kind of urgency and there is a capability gap, the fastest way to solve it is to run a competition,” said Williams, who previously served as assistant deputy minister in charge of materiel for the defence department.

“If a competition was started tomorrow, within a year you’d have a winner picked,” he said Tuesday in an interview.

One of the possible contenders — the Lockheed Martin F-35A — got a boost Tuesday when the U.S. air force declared the new jet was combat ready. Gen. Hawk Carlisle, commander of air combat command, said the jet had met criteria for initial operational capability. That includes the capability to conduct basic close air support, interdiction and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defences with a squadron of between 12 and 24 aircraft, the air force said in a news release.

It’s an important milestone for an aircraft that has been dogged by technical challenges during its development.

Lockheed Martin was one of five aerospace manufacturers that responded to Ottawa’s call for more information about their fighter jets. The others were the Boeing Company, Dassault Aviation, Eurofighter and Saab Group.

The federal government says it will use the responses “to make an informed decision on the path forward to a future fighter fleet.”

But Williams is sharply critical of that exercise, saying the government is doing little more than treading water by seeking information that he said is largely already in the public domain.

“It really is totally, totally a waste of time,” he said. “Why they’re going through all this crap is really mind-boggling.”

He said the true capabilities of each aircraft would only be disclosed to government during a formal bidding process, when the manufacturers can be assured such details won’t be made public.

“All the secretive stuff on performance they will only convey in a competition where it’s all protected,” Williams said.

He said the Liberals should fulfil their election pledge for an “open and transparent” competition to replace CF-18s, especially since the government claims that the aging state of the existing fighters will leave the air force with an “unacceptable” gap in meeting operational demands.

“If we really do something, stop screwing around, go out and tell the world what you need, put out your statement of requirements in the public domain . . . and let people bid,” Williams said.

He said both Conservative and Liberals have bobbled the file. He said the Conservatives erred by committing to the F-35 at a time when the jet’s cost and capabilities were unknown. Indeed, that decision was later reversed after the federal auditor raised concerns about the swelling price tag for the sophisticated fighter.

Yet Williams said the Liberals have made missteps as well, notably when Trudeau pledged during the election that his government would never buy the F-35, a commitment that has them “all tied up in knots now,” Williams said.

“This jet may turn out to be the right jet for us. But the process is what’s critical here,” Williams said.

A defence department spokesperson said Tuesday that the responses to the questionnaire would not be released.

“Responses received through the consultation process are subject to commercial confidentiality and form advice to Ministers, and as such will not be publicly disclosed,” Daniel Le Bouthillier told the Star in an email.

Minister Sajjan to Visit Congo on Fact Finding Mission

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will visit the Democratic Republic of Congo next week as part of a trip to Africa to collect information for a potential future Canadian peacekeeping mission on the continent.

Officials have warned against jumping to any conclusions that Canada is preparing to send hundreds of troops to the DRC, where the United Nations has a major peacekeeping operation.

"This is an opportunity for him to go into a country that does have an ongoing peacekeeping mission and see what that looks like," said Sajjan's spokeswoman, Jordan Owens. "It's to see what an ongoing mission looks like."

But Walter Dorn, a peacekeeping expert at the Canadian Forces College, says despite its challenges, the DRC would be a "great mission" for Canada.

"There is the possibility of a major role there," he said. "And we could be looking at a force-commander position."

Former UN high commissioner for human rights Louise Arbour and retired general Romeo Dallaire, who commanded a peacekeeping mission during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, will accompany Sajjan as he visits the DRC as well as Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda during the week-long, fact-finding mission.

The Liberals promised during last year's election campaign to return Canada to peacekeeping and Sajjan and defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance both said last month that could involve a mission to Africa.

Owens said the defence minister undertook a similar fact-finding trip to Iraq before the Liberal government revamped Canada's military mission against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in February.

"It's a good way for him to see exactly when the African Union says it has this support, what does that actually look like?" Owens said. "When the UN says 'We're doing this,' what does that mean? So we're gathering information."

There had been speculation that the Liberal government was eyeing a role in the west African country of Mali, where a UN peacekeeping mission has been in place since April 2013. Hundreds of German and Dutch troops are among the roughly 13,000 blue helmets in the country.

But that mission, which is intended to assist a ceasefire between the government in the south and armed groups in the north, has been fraught with risk. Eighty-six peacekeepers have been killed as insurgents, some linked to terrorist groups, have launched ambushes and attacks.

While Owens insisted no decision on a new Canadian peacekeeping mission has been made, the fact Sajjan is heading to East and Central Africa suggests the government is considering a deployment to that part of the continent and not Mali.

Canada has contributed a handful of peacekeepers to the UN mission in the DRC for several years. However, the Conservative government rejected a request in 2010 for Canada to have then-lieutenant-general Andrew Leslie command the force. Leslie is now a Liberal MP and chief government whip.

Dorn says for that reason, there would be some important symbolism if the Liberal government agreed to dramatically increase its involvement in the DRC mission. Canada also has a national interest in the country, he said, with large investments in mining.

The UN mission in the DRC has been sharply criticized for not doing enough to protect civilians from the country's various armed groups. The political situation is also uncertain due to upcoming elections. But Dorn said Canada could make a significant contribution to peace and stability in that part of the world.

Another possibility is the UN mission in South Sudan.

Owens said one of Sajjan's objectives is to determine where a Canadian contribution would be most effective. "He's focused on the meaningful impact part," she said. "If we were to deploy a peacekeeping mission to Africa, is it one that's meaningful?"

Arthur Boutellis, director of the New York-based Center for Peace Operations, said that describes the mission in South Sudan, where peacekeepers have been tasked with protecting civilians from opposing forces loyal to the president and vice-president.

"Really there's a need there," he said. "And if you want to make a difference and prevent mass atrocities, they definitely need qualified troops."

Canada not Required to provide a minimum number of jets to NATO: Report

OTTAWA — A Defence Department report says Canada is not required to provide a certain number of fighter jets to NATO, raising fresh questions about the Liberal government's rush to buy a new warplane.

The government has repeatedly stated the military does not have enough CF-18 fighter jets to both defend North America and fulfil its obligations to NATO, which is why a new airplane is needed sooner rather than later.

But a report published by National Defence's research arm in June 2014 says there is actually no minimum requirement for NATO, meaning any aircraft Canada does commit are completely optional.

A National Defence spokesman says while it's true NATO does not have a set minimum requirement for fighter jets, Canada nonetheless regularly commits aircraft to the alliance to ensure it remains strong and is able to meet any threat.

Defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute says the report highlights the many questions that continue to swirl over the Liberal government's plan to buy a new fighter.

Critics have accused the Liberals of making up stories of a fighter-jet shortage to justify buying a new plane other than the F-35 stealth fighter without a competition.

The Canadian Press

Ivison: Liberals’ African peacekeeping plan unlikely to offer easy wins

By: John Ivision, The National Post 

OTTAWA — Harjit Sajjan is heading to West Africa this month on a fact-finding mission impossible.

The defence minister will search for an elusive United Nations peacekeeping mission that will maximize Canada’s chances of winning a seat on the UN Security Council but minimize the potential cost in Canadian lives and resources.

“That’s hard to find in Africa,” warned a senior military source.

Justin Trudeau’s belief in the United Nations as an effective institution runs from the top of his perfectly coiffed head to the tips of his stripey socks, and he is apparently prepared to send Canadian Forces into action to test it.

At a time when people like former UN assistant secretary general Anthony Banbury are lamenting an organization he called a “black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again,” the Liberals are exploring a role in an African trouble-spot like Mali or the Central African Republic.

Trudeau and his team feel obliged to do something in the world. There was the small deployment to Latvia, as part of NATO’s mini-surge in eastern Europe, but these Liberals have a Chrétien-like aversion to being aligned too closely with U.S. foreign policy and they see the UN as much more sound ideologically than NATO.

A mission in Africa would bring about the happy coincidence of winning acclaim from the developing nations who will decide which country gets the “Western Europe and Others” seat on the UN Security Council in 2020 (Canada is in the running against Ireland and Norway).

Winning this prize would be all the sweeter given the Conservative government’s abject failure to do so in 2010.

“The UN thing looms much larger (for Trudeau’s team) than people credit,” said one senior source.

The military is gung-ho, not least because there are no other major deployments on the horizon — dangerous for morale (there has been a mass exodus of experienced soldiers since Afghanistan) and budgets (the view in National Defence Headquarters is that it would be a good idea to get the army out the door before the completion of the current defence review; “More missions mean more visibility,” said one NDHQ source).

None of this need necessarily be a bad thing. Dr. Walter Dorn, professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada, has long argued that Canada should beef up the number of military personnel on UN deployment from its current level of less than 30.

Canada, he contends, has special capabilities that could be used in French-speaking West Africa, not least of which are language skills, and there is a “new generation” of peacekeeping missions that differ from those Canada experienced in Rwanda and Somalia because the UN has since adopted a “protection of civilians” mandate.

In the government’s defence, it can be argued that a mission to bolster local African forces would be useful in denying haven to Islamist terror groups. But even if the cause is noble, the Canadian public deserves a thorough explanation on where we might be going and what the mission might entail.

Will we have an end-date or a plan to hand off responsibility to another country? Is there even a peace to keep?

Nobody in Sajjan’s office was prepared to answer these questions, presumably on the basis that the minister hasn’t yet found his facts.

Yet Jon Vance, chief of the defence staff, told a change-of-command ceremony on Parliament Hill last month that the army would be deploying to Africa “very soon.”

If we are going, and it seems we are, let’s hope it’s not to Mali (apparently Sajjan’s trip will not take him to Bamako, though this doesn’t necessarily mean Canadians won’t end up there).

Of 27 UN fatalities so far in 2016, 24 of them were inflicted in Mali as part of the country’s nasty civil war. (In 2015, 12 of 34 deaths were in Mali, and 10 were in the Central African Republic, another potential landing place for Canadian troops).

As Banbury, who quit the UN earlier this year, wrote in The New York Times: “Our most grievous blunder was in Mali.… More than 80 per cent of the force’s resources are spent on self-protection.

“The United Nations in Mali is day to day marching into its first quagmire.”

For a Canadian military with recent experience of fighting in hostile terrain, where hard-won tactical gains were rarely sustained, the prospect of spending all its time and resources on “force protection” can scarcely be an attractive one.

Matthew Fisher: Truck attack in France ups the ante for Canada’s peacekeeping mission in Mali
Canadian Army headed to mission in Africa ‘very soon’: top general

“I think they will be extremely leery of putting themselves in an area where significant groups target peacekeepers,” said one senior military source.

With the security situation in Sudan deteriorating, perhaps Central African Republic offers the best prospect for Sajjan to fulfil his impossible mission.

For reasons best known to themselves, UN bureaucrats sent soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Republic of Congo as part of its CAR mission, resulting in serious human rights violations by the soldiers. Banbury noted “a persistent pattern of rape and abuse of the people the UN was sent to protect.”

Protecting civilian populations from rape and abuse; winning the acclaim of emerging nations; avoiding cost in blood and treasure — that would be an ideal trifecta for a government launching its first peacekeeping mission.

It must seem such a no-brainer to the Liberals that they see no need to hold a parliamentary debate, or “consult with Canadians,” normally their favourite pastime.

“It seems anything labelled ‘peacekeeping’ gets a free pass,” said one defence source. “But given the destination, that’s a very bad idea.”

5 Aerospace companies battle to replace Canada's CF-18s

By: Bruce Champion-Smith, The Toronto Star

OTTAWA—Five aerospace companies are offering their fighter jets as potential replacement for Canada’s fleet of aging CF-18s, including Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the very jet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged not to buy.

The federal government had set Friday as the deadline for potential suppliers to respond to a detailed questionnaire outlining the costs and capabilities of their jets, as well as benefits that would flow to Canadian companies.

The defence department said Saturday that five companies responded: Boeing Company, Dassault Aviation, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Saab Group.

“Government officials are now reviewing and analyzing information received to date to inform the way forward over the coming months,” a department spokesperson told the Star in an email.

A Boeing executive said his company is offering its F/A-18 Super Hornet as a “great fit” for Canada, saying the purchase and operating costs for its jet rank as among the lowest of its competitors

“With respect to capability, cost . . . we’ve really put a good offer on the table,” Jim Barnes, a Canadian development executive for Boeing Defense, Space and Security, said Friday.

Despite Lockheed Martin’s sales pitch that its F-35 is a more advanced and newer design, Barnes said the Boeing jet easily meets the needs of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“I would argue that all capability you need is in the Super Hornet,” he said in an interview.

Lockheed Martin confirmed that its F-35 is also in the mix.

The F-35 has been dogged by controversy but company officials said the program has turned a corner, noting that the U.S. Air Force expects this year to declare the jet as “operational,” an important milestone that means the F-35 is ready to undertake missions.

The questionnaire demanded extensive details from the manufacturers. For example, it asked them to detail the cost of new weapons if the current stockpile of ammunition, missiles and bombs for the CF-18s is incompatible with their aircraft.

It also asked the jet makers to outline potential missions, notably in Canada’s north, flying from places such as Inuvik and Iqaluit.

The companies were also required to outline how they should share economic benefits with Canadian businesses.

Defence analyst Dave Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said the aerospace firms were given a very narrow window to respond to a complex request, suggesting the government is in a hurry to find a fix for the aging fighters.

“It was a crazy request in a crazy time frame . . . It’s a lot of stuff to ask for pretty quickly,” he said in an interview.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said that the air force is in a race against the clock. In June, he said that Canada faces a “capability gap”: as the aging jets reach the end of their lifespan, the air force may not have enough fighters to meet demands.

That was underscored in the note to the aerospace firms accompanying the questionnaire that said new jets are needed “as soon as possible so Canada can remain a credible and dependable ally.”

The previous Conservative government had originally announced its intention to buy F-35s in 2010, but then put that decision on hold in late 2012 after the auditor general flagged concerns about the potential price tag.

On the election trail last year, Trudeau vowed that a Liberal government would not buy the F-35 and would instead choose a less costly option to free up “tens of billions of dollars” that would be invested in the navy.

Since taking office, the Liberals have softened that hardline stance and suggested that the F-35 would be considered, even though Trudeau recently denounced the high-tech aircraft as unworkable.

The letter to the manufacturers said that no decision has been made and that “all procurement options are being considered.” It also stresses that the questionnaire is not a formal tender or request for proposals.

The CF-18s have been in service since the early 1980s, when the government had plans to only fly them for 20 years.

Modernization work has extended the life of 77 CF-18s and further work could keep them in the air until 2025 though the document warns that the fighters are “old and are running out of life.

“The reality is our fighters should have been replaced years ago,” the note reads. “As the existing fleet gets older, and aircraft are retired, the capability gap only gets worse.”

But picking a replacement jet proved contentious for the former Conservative government and it’s been troublesome for the Liberals, too.

There’s been speculation that the Liberals, keen to live up to their campaign pledge, may buy a batch of Super Hornets as a stopgap measure to ease pressure on the fleet but also buy the government some time.

Perry is hopeful that the selection process isn’t unfairly skewed toward Boeing.

“I hope they haven’t ruled out anyone — and before doing this, aren’t heavily favouring anyone — and just pick whatever provides the best return for the dollar,” he said.

DND concludes public consultations for defence review

DND Press Release 

Defence Minister Harjit S. Sajjan today announced the conclusion of public consultations on the future of Canada’s defence policy, the largest such effort in more than 20 years.

“I want to thank Canadians, Parliamentarians, experts, academics, key international Allies and partners who contributed to this important discussion about the future of Canada’s defence policy," said Minister Sajjan. "I am confident that the information gathered over the last four months will help inform a new defence policy that balance priorities, responds to emerging challenges, and invests in the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The Department of National Defence (DND) launched these public consultations on April 6, 2016 to seek feedback from interested Canadians, international allies, and key stakeholders on the type of military Canada needs in order to represent Canada’s interests at home and abroad. Discussions focused on:

  • the main challenges to Canada’s security
  • the role of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in addressing current threats and challenges
  • the resources and capabilities needed to carry out the CAF mandate
DND has received approximately 20,200 submissions to the Defence Policy Review online consultation portal and over 4,700 participants have contributed comments and votes using the online discussion forum.

Moving forward, important choices will be made to ensure that DND and the CAF have what they need to confront new threats and challenges in the years ahead. Over the coming months, DND will be compiling and reviewing the information received from online submissions, stakeholder roundtables and discussions with Parliamentarians and key international Allies and partners. This will help inform the development of Canada’s new defence policy to be launched in early 2017.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

CAF studies extending life of Snowbird aircraft 20 years past retirement

By: Kathleen Haris, CBC News

The military's aging fleet of Tutor jets flown by the Snowbirds demonstration team could remain in flight until 2030 — two decades past the scheduled retirement date.

The Royal Canadian Air Force show team, the Snowbirds, perform the diamond formation pass over the Peace Tower during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill on July 1, 2016.

Documents obtained by CBC News under an Access to Information request show the Department of National Defence is studying the feasibility of keeping the Canadian-built CT-114 Tutors in operation until 2025 and 2030, despite some "significant concerns" about the aircraft.

The aerobatic show team thrills spectators by swirling the skies in precise formations, demonstrating the superior skills of pilots commanding the planes. But there have also been serious safety incidents in the past, ranging from seatbelt malfunctions to fiery fatal crashes.

The 1960s-era jets were set to retire in 2010, but that date was extended 10 years, despite an internal 2003 report that warned of escalating technical, safety and financial risks and urged the fleet be replaced "immediately."
Little progress in replacement

More than 13 years later, there has been little progress in procuring new planes.

A report from the fall of 2014 cleared the fleet as "technically airworthy," but noted "significant" concerns, including some caused by financial restraints.

"Repairs have been reduced to bare bones (one year support) necessitating to put main items in repairable reserves and depleting our stock levels to nothing," it reads, adding this has the effect of creating "more robbing actions and additional maintenance costs."

It also noted a "lag in data analysis/reporting" was causing the Snowbirds 431 Squadron to continue flying aircraft "with an unknown condition."

A briefing note for the air force, also released under Access to Information, said the department is carrying out a robust life-expectancy extension study to "validate" the option of using the Tutors beyond 2020 to ensure an "uninterrupted" capacity.

"Maintaining a military air demonstration team is considered to be a government-mandated requirement," said the memo, written when the Conservatives were in office.

Pushing the retirement planes to 2030 would make some of them roughly 67 years old at that point.

The life-extension study is expected to be complete by the end of 2016, but the most recent Defence Acquisition Guide, a public listing of anticipated procurements, suggests the contract award and replacement delivery could be between 2026 and 2036.
Tutor 'extremely reliable'

Retired lieutenant-colonel Dan Dempsey, a former Snowbird pilot who has written a book about Canada's military air show history, said the Tutors have proven extremely reliable over the years. The planes, used as training aircraft until 2000, are tested by technical experts who leave "no stones unturned" to ensure structural integrity, he said.

While Dempsey would have liked to see earlier steps to replace the fleet — and have it in place for Canada's 150th birthday next year — he suggested 2025 is a "reasonable limit" as budget cuts pushed the procurement behind other operational priorities.

"I'm not surprised this has happened. It's a little disappointing, but I think the main thing is that everybody recognizes the importance of the Snowbirds to the country, to the Canadian Forces, to the RCAF," he said. "And therefore the desire is to keep these flying as long as necessary until a new aircraft can be purchased, and I think that's a very positive thing."

Kim Nossal, a professor with the Queen's University Centre for International and Defence Policy, sees no problem with extending the lifespan, since most accidents involving Tutors have resulted from risky manoeuvres or pilot error, not aging parts.

"As long as the aircraft has updates and refits, you can extend the life of an airframe however long you like," he said. "The real risk for the demonstration team is what they end up doing — the kind of performances they put on."

Retired colonel Paul Maillet, a former RCAF planner, says the concern is less about safety than value for money.

He doesn't believe the demonstration team adds to the operational capacity of the military other than to entertain and help recruit — functions other military planes could fulfil, he said.
Scrap Snowbirds?

At a time of tight budgets, he questions if the Snowbirds should remain a funding priority.

"You start to cut non-essential things to fund essential things," he said. "Basically, it's recruiting, it's public relations stuff.… and does the taxpayer want to pay for that?"

According to figures provided by National Defence, hourly operational costs are $14,350 and the total annual cost to run the squadron is $4.3 million.

Retired lieutenant-general Lloyd Campbell, former chief of the air staff, said the fleet is relatively economical and he believes Canadians would be disappointed if the Snowbirds were grounded.

"They're a tremendously unifying national organization that Canadians find appealing," he said. "They're a great recruiting tool, but the whole question of should we keep them, can we afford them … that is really less military in nature and more political and national in scope. Is this something Canadians want? If so, how do we make it affordable, how do we make it safe?"

A spokeswoman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Liberal government remains committed to the Snowbirds, noting the life-expectancy study will help guide the decision-making process for a replacement fleet.

"We have full confidence in the RCAF's ability to ensure aircraft reliability going forward, while our government will continue to build Canada's defence capabilities to ensure our men and women in uniform have safe, reliable equipment," said Renée Filiatrault.
'Safe and effective' aircraft

A RCAF spokesman said the number of aircraft grounded due to safety or maintenance concerns varies from day to day and is managed by maintenance crews to meet airworthiness standards.

"The CT-114 is a safe and effective aircraft," Maj. Scott Spurr said in an email. "DND is dedicated to ensuring that the fleet will remain effective until the fleet is retired. The Snowbirds, and the entire RCAF, maintains a robust flight safety and airworthiness program to ensure the safety of the public, as well as our personnel and aircraft."