The Canadian military proved that it could swiftly meet complex mission targets during our country’s tour of duty in Afghanistan.
However, while our soldiers have shown a deft hand at operating military equipment, their bosses at the Department of National Defence are looking more and more clueless when it comes to making military purchases.
On Monday, the Globe and Mail reported that after 25 years of trying to replace the country’s fleet of Sea King maritime helicopters, the Canadian Forces have watched another deadline come and go.
Sikorsky International Operations Inc. was suppose to deliver the first of 28 state-of-the-art CH-148 Cyclones in June, after the Harper government agreed in late 2008 to extend the deadline on the $5.7-billion contract by 43 months.
Those Cyclones were never handed over, as Sikorsky pushed back the deliver date yet again, without offering a new official completion date for the contract.
While Sikorsky signed a contract with the previous Liberal government in 2004 to start delivering the new Cyclones in 2008, the roots of this decades-long saga to replace the aging and increasingly unreliable Sea Kings — now nearly 50 years old — go back to the mid-1980s.
The government of Brian Mulroney had decided to purchase EH-101 helicopters as replacements, but the Liberals promised to scrap the purchase if they took government, which they ultimately did under Jean Chrétien in 1993, with a whopping $478-million cancellation fee.
It took another nine years for the Liberals to name the Sikorsky copters as the replacement for the EH-101. And now, eight years since that 2004 announcement, and Canada is still flying the Sea Kings.
The company has failed on two fronts, actually — Sikorsky was supposed to have delivered interim helicopters that met watered-down requirements. That delivery is two years behind, causing months of delays in the training of technicians and aircrews.
While the company has promised to deliver the interim helicopters later this year, it will likely be at least another year before the final fleet of fully compliant helicopters are delivered.
Back in 2010, Canada’s auditor general said National Defence had underestimated the complexity of developing these particular military helicopters and noted that they were mistakenly identified as an “off-the-shelf” purchase.
News of this extra delay in the procurement process comes barely two months after auditor general Michael Ferguson blasted the F-35 fighter jet purchase as inefficient and badly managed. He also said that Canadians were mislead as to the true costs of the purchasing 65 F-35 jets.
Opposition parties have labelled the procurement process as a national embarrassment, one that only serves to further erode Canadians’ trust in government.
“The whole program has been a disaster,” NDP MP Jack Harris said as he called on the government to slap maximum penalties against the company.
We happen to agree. It should not have taken 25 years to replace some obsolete helicopters.
But the situation within National Defence can’t be solely blamed on bureaucratic incompetence. Successive federal governments have badly mishandled both the helicopter program as well as the jets purchase. This is wasteful government spending at its finest.
While the Globe reports that Ottawa has slapped Sikorsky with $8 million in liquidated damages, along with a threat to impose still more fines, this whole situation just makes the country look foolish.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition July 3, 2012