Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Airplanes and elections

Tuesday, Defence Minister Bill Graham, flanked by Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier and Public Works Minister Scott Brison, announced an accelerated program to replace the oldest of our C-130 Hercules fleet. It’s about bloody time!

Mr. Graham seemed to express frustration at being forced into this scenario by the threat of an election. Is that what it takes – the threat of losing his job to make him and his colleagues do the right thing? If so, then good on the Opposition parties for making something happen.

The truth is that there was nothing stopping the Government from going ahead, other than political gamesmanship and chronic defence underfunding. They're not sure whether they are afraid of being criticized for foolishly committing money with an election in the air; or whether they want to try to look like belated heroes to a Canadian Forces that they have shamefully neglected for decades.

As an airman who is deeply concerned about the critical degradation of the CF's capabilities over the decades, I am glad that something has been done. Most of the C-130 fleet is on its butt and that is severely restricting the Air Force from fulfilling its operational commitments.

The Air Force needs new aircraft right now. They have expressed their preferred solution for the tactical airlift part of the equation through General Hillier. That is an important step, but we still have to address our continuing shortfall of strategic airlift. Canada has never had strategic airlift capability; that is, the ability to carry a significant amount of personnel and equipment over a significant distance. The Canadair Yukon, Boeing 707 and now the Airbus CC150 did a pretty good job of moving personnel over a long distance, but couldn't carry much in the way of equipment.

Some are questioning the projected high cost of the new aircraft, but that is somewhat misunderstood. I'm basing my comments on being intimately familiar with the New Fighter Aircraft Program (CF-18). Program cost includes life cycle costs; which comprises many things. These may include operations and maintenance, spares, support equipment, test equipment, documentation (in both official languages), training (flying, simulators, technicians, logistics), and infrastructure.

It also includes things like GST and revenue dependency for PWGSC to administer the program. With the CF-18, we had to pay GST on every aircraft that was delivered to Canada and was not re-deployed to Germany. In those days, PWGSC was Supply and Services Canada and, as I recall, we paid them 1.5% of the program cost to administer it. So, if numbers are similar today, take about 8.5% right off the top of program money. Your security and defence is just another source of over-taxation in Government eyes.

The CF-18 program was about CAD 5 billion for 138 aircraft. The contract cost of each individual aircraft was just over USD 16 million in January 1978 dollars. Simply dividing the total program cost by the number of aircraft is misleading. I'm not sure whether we are or are not paying a fair price for the proposed new aircraft, but people should understand all aspects before they criticize.

The other issue is the urgency of signing a contract. The Liberal Government has brought this urgency upon themselves (and, regrettably, upon members of the Air Force and those they serve), by many years of deliberate penny pinching on defence.

The current plan will amount to an essentially sole-source contract. If the answer is obvious and the need is urgent, that is acceptable. Such decisions should be more about defence and security requirements and less about politics. Within the constraints of budgets and due process, the lead should be given to military staffs. The personnel flying and supporting our current C-130s under increasingly difficult circumstances deserve that, and the other military units that they support desperately need that.

We still need a strategic fixed wing airlift capability and a heavy lift rotary wing capability. There are capable aircraft available for both those roles and their manufacturer has been very pro-active in proposing cost effective acquisition programs. MND John McCallum quietly cancelled the strategic airlift program some years back, apparently at the urging of a misguided Chief of Staff.

The realities of Canada's commitments to peace making and peace enforcement (read war fighting), as well as to natural disasters, such as tsunamis and earthquakes, require on-demand strategic airlift. That means that we need to own it. We will never be able to react in less than about two weeks, if we have to line up at the local Budget Rent-an-Antonov every time something happens. A DART without feathers doesn't fly very straight, very far, or very fast.

I've also seen the airplanes and elections movie before with the New Fighter Aircraft Program. In late 1979, when Joe Clark lost count of his fingers and toes and, consequently, his government, we had the CF-18 contract completely ready for final blessing the next day. We had endured many years of false starts, extensive evaluation, delays, difficult negotiations, funding envelope changes, and many other challenges. Program Manager, Brigadier-General Paul Manson (later CDS) and his senior staff stayed up all night trying to convince the falling government to approve the program. They wouldn't and we had to do it all over again for Trudeau's Liberals. It was a black day, but we did eventually buy the CF-18 and it has performed magnificently. In reality, the delay didn't have much impact on the long-term program.

The difference between then and now is that, in 1979, we didn't have units in an active combat environment without the support they should have. Today, we do, and we need to pull out all stops to redress that situation. If we take a quick, hard look at costs, that's okay; but let's not forget what's going on out there in the real world of Afghanistan and other garden spots, where Canadian men and women are risking everything. We owe them the best and we owe it to them yesterday.


Blogger David Simpson said...

I've always wondered if something like the PA-48 would be more suitable for Canada's needs.

5:13 PM  
Blogger Laurie Hawn said...

David, I've had one trip in the PA-48's heritage, the P-51 Mustang. Great experience. I assume you're kidding, but sarcasm can be fun. Cheers.

5:53 PM  
Blogger David Simpson said...

Actually, I wasn't being funny.
Given the fact that modern jet aircraft require a lot of maintenance and that our fighters aren't likely to be used in an air-superiority role anytime in the future, why not an updated WW2 fighter. If you've read the reviews on the PA-48, it would be capable of carrying out any tactical air mission that we would require.
If a Canadian manufacturer started producing a tactical fighter like the PA-48, I could see sales to countries without the infrastructure to support jet fighters.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Laurie Hawn said...

Sorry for not taking your comments seriously, David. The PA-48 would be a lot of fun to fly, but it is short of many capabilities that we require. It has no sovereignty or air-to-air weapons capability, no radar, no advanced communications, no all-weather capability, no air refuelling capability, no long range deployability, no precision guided weapons,low performance, and no compatibility with our allies. It might be effective in a low threat guerilla-type war, but doesn't have much application to our missions. Unfortunately, strong defence isn't cheap. You're absolutely right to be concerned about getting value for our defence dollar, but I don't think the PA-48 is the answer.

5:44 AM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Laurie: Great post.

The actual unit price of the C-130J out of the factory is around C$ 80 million.

So of the $4.6 billion cost for 16 aircraft, the aircraft themselves would cost $1.28 billion.

I am convinced Canadian governments (Conservatives too) use these very large life-cycle costs for purchases to exaggerate to the media and public how expensive military equipment is (God knows it's expensive enough these days)--and thus reduce pressure actually to buy equipment.

The really dirty stuff will occur with the fixed-wing search and rescue/light tactical transport aircraft contract. The best plane is the Italian Alenia C-27J (lots of commonality with the new Herc), but the Spanish CASA C-295 would do. But Bombardier is pitching for a (non-existent) version of its Q Series (ex-Dash 8) turboprop--which will not do as a military transport since it has no rear ramp and its fuselage is too narrow.
And the Bombardier has wing-mounted landing gear, not suitable for a military tactical transport.


6:57 AM  
Blogger David Simpson said...

I was using the PA-48 as an example. Why not upgrade that prototype with modern avionics, etc.
Might be hard to setup in-flight refueling with a single prop plane, maybe a 2-engine fighter like the p-38 or Beaufighter could be upgraded?
How frequently are cannon used in air-to-air combat? Why not add a couple of rail launched missiles?

My thought is that, having some fighters is better than having no fighters at all. A two-seater fighter would allow the second person to launch and guide precision weapons.

I would expect using modern materials and components a pimped-up clone of a WW2 fighter could be competitive weapon against most opponents. And if the other guys have MIGS, well that gives the Yanks something to shoot at.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Very disappointing announcement Dec. 13 by Harper on defence. Strategic lift (C-17 only suitable plane) would be nice but not at the expense of other, more critically-needed aircraft.

The Liberals already are moving to replace the Hercs, and have planned for some time to buy new fixed-wing SAR aircraft, just not yet. In fact SAR aircraft were part of the $12.2 billion (long-terms costs) fast acquisition program, including the Herc replacement, that National Defence Minister Graham had shot down by Cabinet. Cabinet then approved the Herc replacement alone. The $12.2 billion plan also included heavy-lift helicopters; Harper made no mention of these badly-needed aircraft.

Doubling DART is just a sop to the warm and fuzzies. Its mission is not military but civilian. Harper should have said DART's capital costs will be shared between CIDA and Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, with operational costs abroad paid for by CIDA and those within Canada by PSEPC.

The Liberals "Defence Policy Statement" this spring promised to increase the Forces by 5,000 (not enough), so the extra 650 troops Harper mentions for a new Airborne battalion would easily be included in existing planning. Reviving the Airborne is the sop to sharp enders.

Basing the Airborne at Trenton would be nonsense since there is no room for infantry training there (the Airborne, despite the name, are essentially infantry). They should be based at Petawawa as the old regiment was. That is close enough to Trenton for rapid access to the aircraft.

Note no mention of the Navy or the Liberals' plan for three large, helicopter-capable, joint support ships. I'll bet Harper will say in Halifax, St. John or Quebec City that he supports this acquisition and that the ships will be built in Canada--meaning they will cost too much and take too long to build. Ships of this type are readily available from several countries and should be bought from them. But then no jobs or votes in Canada.


12:55 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

To simplify the above comment: Harper is saying he will buy C-17s--which the Liberals will not--and saying nothing about heavy-lift choppers--which the Liberals are likely to buy. Both say they will go ahead with Herc and fixed-wing SAR replacement aircraft.

Not a very big deal.

We also need many more army personnel and more equipment (66 Mobile Gun Systems is a joke), no submarines, and no "blue water" destroyers/frigates (there are, besides the US and the Royal Navy, several NATO countries with plenty of these ships to augment the US/UK). We do need more capable coastal naval vessels than the Kingston Class.


6:49 PM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Conservative defence statement--the view from Trenton:
'Printed from web site Friday, December 16, 2005 - © 2005 Belleville Intelligencer

Tory’s defence plan offers nothing new


Thursday, December 15, 2005 - 10:00

Editorial - Stephen Harper is the first federal leader to swing through Quinte, sprinkling promises of government spending as he goes.

On this visit the first of what our newsroom pundits predict will be three, in total Harper said he’d increase spending by 1.8 billion on the air force and specifically at CFB Trenton.

The policy will see, if Conservatives form a government, CFB Trenton become a central hub for Canadian deployments abroad.

We have a bit of news for Harper and his advisors CFB Trenton has long been the central hub for Canadian deployments abroad.

It’s just that personnel at 8 Wing have been operating as that central hub using aging equipment, but utilizing crafty innovation and their skills to keep deployments effective and operating around the world.

Placing a heavy emphasis on sovereignty throughout his campaign speech, Harper said it is imperative to see the country fulfill its national responsibilities including the delivery of effective emergency response and to protect Canada’s vast territory. The Conservatives’ policy on the military would see this happen through increased funding, re-establishment of an airborne regiment based at 8 Wing and increasing the fleet of aircraft stationed at CFB Trenton.

The Tory platform also calls for replacements for the military’s aging fleet of C-130 Hercules tactical transport planes and new search-and-rescue aircraft purchases the Liberals have already endorsed.

The party’s defence critic, Gordon O’Connor, a retired army brigadier-general, said he’s developed an all-encompassing, costed, revitalization plan for the Armed Forces and made suggestions on where new equipment and personnel should be placed.

You’re only getting one piece of the package here; there are many, many more pieces, he said.

But O’Connor denied that politics would trump military necessity when it came to locating new assets.

We assume, then, the Conservatives’ urgent need for inroads in Ontario wouldn’t influence such a spectacular injection of defence spending at CFB Trenton.

While we applaud the Conservatives’ recognition that our military needs more might and better gear, reinventing the airborne regiment and reminding us that we need newer aircraft is, well, nothing new.
ID- 137410'

9:17 AM  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

I should add that what's most missing in the Harper statement (and unrealistic in the government's "Defence Policy Statement") is a realistic policy concerning the Canadian Forces as a whole. The country simply will not pay the money to maintain three fully combat-capable services with modern equipment.

In fact the only service--though I loathe saying it--that is much use in serving foreign policy goals, asserting "Canadian values" (whatever those are) abroad, and assisting the civil power in Canada is the Army.

The CF should be redesigned as a mini-Marine Corps with the Navy and Air Force configured to support Army operations.

That would mean getting rid of the subs and eventually the blue-water destroyers and frigates; other NATO countries have lots of these vessels to support the USN. Canada needs quite a few vessels more capable than the KINGSTON class coastal defence vessels to patrol the Atlantic and Pacific high seas off Canada.

Plus a couple of ships like the "hybrid aircraft carrier" the Conservatives proposed at the last election--similar to vessels Italy, the Netherlands, UK and US already have--to support Army operations inland:

The CF-18s are most unlikely ever again to be used in a significant combat role abroad. Some should be kept, and eventually replaced, to patrol Canadian airspace--unless we want the US to do it.

The Air Force should concentrate on transport to support the Army (maybe also attack helicopters) and on maritime patrol. If the Air Force and the Navy were re-jigged in the fashion proposed then strategic lift might be affordable--along with a larger and more capable Army.


2:15 PM  

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