• C4ISR2020 Vanguard

Modernizing the C2ISR systems of the Canadian Army

Under the heading Investments in the Canadian Army in Strong Secure Engaged (SSE), Initiative 42 states that the Government of Canada will “Modernize land-based command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems” for the Canadian Army.

On January 30, 2019, Lieutenant Colonel Ian Graham, currently the Directorate Land Requirements section head responsible for projects focusing on Command and Control (C2), Electronic Warfare and Simulation in support of training systems (DLR 4), participated in a panel discussion at Vanguard’s C4ISR and Beyond event. The panel discussed future land C4ISR with a view of how industry can deliver on requirements for the Canadian Army.

At the conference, LCol Graham focused his presentation around Initiative 42 and showed how it could be achieved through a capability development model. It is about putting a process in place to identify capabilities and then move to implementation in two to three years, but it all boils down to costing.

Vanguard recently had the opportunity to interview LCol Graham to continue his discussion from where he left off at C4ISR and Beyond.

LCol Graham joined the Canadian Armed forces in 1990, graduating from the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario in 1995 with a degree in Computer Engineering.  Since that time has served in Petawawa, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kingston, Iraq and Ottawa.  He has held a wide variety of staff positions including managing C2 system security accreditation, multiple postings as a project manager and project director focusing on delivering tactical land C2 systems to the Canadian Army and various operational communications planning positions.  His operational deployments include a 6-month tour in Bosnia in 2003 as the Task Force G6 Operations, deployment to Afghanistan in 2006 as the Canadian Battle Group Signals officer and finally to Kuwait as the Operation IMPACT J6 in 2013. As a Major, he commanded 1Squadron, Canadian Forces Joint Signal Regiment and has attended the United States Marine Corps Staff Program in Quantico, Virginia.

Within DLR, LCol Graham is currently focused on advancing the Canadian Army Land C4ISR capital projects and specifically looking to enable more agile approaches for high tech capability development. 

LCol Graham, thanks for speaking with Vanguard. A number of SSE programs, such as GBAD, Joint Fires Mod, TacC2IS Mod, will require a robust high-capacity network to support their data distribution needs. TacComms Mod should provide this network, but it will be the last of the SSE Initiative’s 42 projects to be launched. How will the Canadian Army manage this apparent disconnect in the program?

At this point, there is no simple answer to this, but I would also say that this is not a simple situation of “GBAD/JFM/TacC2IS Mod delivering before TacComms Mod, so we have a problem.” All of these projects are in the Options Analysis phase, and it is during this phase that the first detailed review of project options is conducted and costed. Once this review is completed, we will then have a much better appreciation as to what are the actual project networking requirements, what are the major project cost drivers, and what are the potential delivery schedules.

The Canadian Army does currently have tactical networking capabilities and radios which may well be able to support initial operational capabilities. In this case, some capabilities can be delivered before TCM starts delivering. Alternatively, maybe some of the projects could fund a limited early procurement of some tactical networking capabilities to support this IOC. At a cost of $1-5 billion, TCM is a large project that will take a number of years to deliver. Potentially, some of that funding could be pulled forward, so that instead of the other projects funding early radio deliveries, TCM might fund this.

At this point, really what we are taking about is the funding profiles of the projects. If there is good reason, likely there can be some limited changes to these funding profiles. And taking this a step further, what is being talked about is agile and iterative delivery for some of the SSE 42 projects. This means that inherently some capabilities will be delivered before other capabilities, and capabilities will always be continuously upgraded. So there never will be ‘the network’ that supports all capabilities. There will only be the ‘Network of Today’ that provides a certain level of support and then then the ‘network of tomorrow’ that provides more capabilities.

SSE Initiative 42, Modernize Land C4ISR Core Capital Projects. Image: LCol Graham

By taking a wider program approach, we can identify the minimal level of networking support required to enable IOCs for GBAD, JFM and TacC2IS Mod, ensure that we can provide that level of support as these projects start to deliver, and then continually increase this capability as all of these projects move to final operational capabilities. The key underlying fact is that there is only so much capital funding available each year. Within the Army, TCM competes against many other vehicle and weapons projects – all of which are important – by taking a program approach, a viable way forward within the available capital envelopes. 

With six core projects in SSE Initiative 42, plus many other related projects, how will the Canadian Army ensure a coherent C4ISR system is delivered?

The buzzword answer for this is by taking a “program approach.” But what does this mean? Certainly, this is not a magical process that easily resolves the complex interdependencies between projects. I see that there are three things that program approach will require: (1) putting in the hard work to identify the interdependencies and accurately scope all the projects, (2) constantly monitoring and adjusting projects as they advance, and (3) asking for a more flexible costing model for the rapidly changing high technology components of the projects.

As the projects move through the Options Analysis phase, the Army and Director General Land Equipment Program Management (DGLEPM) is putting in the effort to map out the overall C4ISR requirements space and clearly identify which projects own which parts of this space and where the interdependencies and potential conflict spots are. What has to be avoided is developing the individual projects in isolation. But to enable success, project managers need defined project scopes. Once these project scopes and interdependencies have been determined, project progress needs to be tracked and cross-compared.  Inevitably, some projects will have schedule and scope slippage, and maybe some projects will deliver early. This is where the hard work will need to be done to readjust the program.

The key enabler for this may well be some more flexible costing methods for the high-tech options. First, it must be said that this is not asking for fewer or less rigorous costings to be done. Nor is it an effort to get more funding. Instead, for the rapidly changing high tech components, this is seen more as an effort to spread the capital investment over the full life cycle of the capability. This will allow continual course corrections as technology advances, and also as expected technology advancements take longer than expected to mature. But this is not a panacea; the key trade-off is that equipment is procured over the life cycle of the capability. For software and system configurations, this is more easily managed – likely all in-service systems can be updated. But for hardware – for things like radios – this will mean that only a smaller capability will be bought up front, and then, as new more capable radios are procured, that Army will have a mixed fleet.

Again, for each project, as they move through the Options Analysis phase, the investment and procurement method will need to be determined for each sub-capability so as to enable the program to retain coherence. This is hard work with lots of risks. There is no easy solution.

The benefits of agile procurement appear obvious. What other options is the Army considering in case the procurement rules/policies are NOT changed to facilitate agile procurement?

This follows on from the previous answers. First, I would not necessarily use the words “agile procurement” as I do not think that is the really the key issue being addressed. In my experience with actual procurement, which I will admit is limited, I think that ADM(Mat) is able to relatively quickly and flexibly execute procurements. Certainly, there are challenges, as we are talking about large amounts of taxpayers’ dollars that must be well managed.

The real challenge I see, and area where I have the most experience in, is the project approval processes. Procurement can only progress once a project has been approved and the funding approved. And that procurement typically needs to spend the approved funds in the approved spending profile. The key trick I see here is that during the Options Analysis phase for the SSE 42 projects, the Army, working very closely with DGLEPM, needs to determine the project spending profiles that best meet the Army’s operational requirements. For some parts of the SSE 42 program, this may be the standard ‘big bang’ approach of fully buying the capability up front. For others, it may be a more iterative approach. The next big trick, and maybe this is the magical trick, is that costing models need to be developed to allow these iterative approaches to be evaluated and approved. So, I do not see this as being a binary choice of iterative or conventional acquisition. The compelling case needs to be built to show how project funds can be best spent to achieve the required operational outputs.

Current Process SSE 42 Land C4ISR Mod Project Schedules. Image: LCol Graham

It is clear that defence procurement is not an easy task – trying to acquire the right kit, at the right time, within a defined budget, in an open and fair competition. With multiple stakeholders trying to satisfy their respective agendas, usually broken down to industry by technical, price and ITB, it is the user that is hoping the best solution gets delivered to satisfy their operational capability. So, appreciating that this is a C4ISR question, why does Canada continue to procure technology with the same procurement model it buys vehicles, planes, ships, and buildings, when we can all appreciate that the technology evolves and grows exponentially in 18-month cycles. So, at best, Canada gets technology in its mature to declining stage, putting our soldiers at a technology disadvantage. What is Canada doing to address this issue?

Within DLR I can tell you what we are doing, and this really is just a restatement of the last few answers. As we move projects through the Options Analysis phase, we will look to show what are the optimal spending profiles to best meet Army operational requirements. At this time, what has occurred is that the anticipated spending profiles for the SSE 42 projects have been established in the standard “big bang” approach.

Why did this occur? I am not a financial expert, but likely this is because this is what has occurred in the past and what has worked in the past. And certainly, for significant portions of the SSE 42 projects, this is the correct spending profile. But for the rapidly changing, high technology portions of these projects, it likely makes sense that other spending profiles will provide better bang for the buck. I think it is up to the Army and DGELPM project staffs, as they work through the Options Analysis phase, to show that this is correct.

Conceptual Agile Land C4ISR Program Project Schedule. Image: LCol Graham

With regards to ITBs, open and fair competition, and other similar elements of the procurement process, I think it needs to be recognized that these aspects are there for a reason – many of which directly benefit the Army. Fair and open competition ensures that all companies can participate in the process, ensuring that the best options are available. Competition ensures that each vendor makes the most cost-effective bid. ITBs and Defence Procurement Strategy will help to ensure that there is a vibrant Canadian industry available to meet the Army’s material needs. I certainly think that the more agile project approval and funding mechanisms will also support meeting these aims.

Thank you for presenting at C4ISR and Beyond 2019. Based on your presentation, you identified three key challenges to on-time delivery of technology (rate of change, ability of the Army to absorb new capabilities, ability to govern/fund capability development). What do you see as the next steps in influencing/shaping the standard DND project spending profile to a cyclical/annual capital project spending profile? Who needs to be influenced, and by whom?

For myself and the Project Directors in DLR 4, I see that the key task is to educate ourselves on the key financial policies. Then working with the DGLEPM Project Managers, I see that we will develop potential funding models. As part of the Options Analysis phase as industry is engaged for costing, what will certainly help is if cost models and estimates can be provided that show how industry does this. I think this can then help the costers to assess the validity, risks and benefits of the proposed approaches. I think that if we are able to show that we have done our homework and demonstrate that for high tech capabilities, adopting an agile approach helps to reduce the risk of large project failure and will better meet the operational requirements of the Canadian Army provide better benefits to industry, I think the required influencing will be done.

Is the cyclical/annual capital project spending profile/framework being modeled in any other country to serve as an example for what you are trying to initiate? Or do most industrialized countries, who want/need to demonstrate fair and open competition, model the current procurement process Canada follows?

I have just come to understand the complex Government of Canada and Department of National Defence project approval process, and now you want me to understand the same for other nations? I think you would need 48-hour days to do that!

I am aware that the UK is looking to adopt what appears to be a similar approach through the British Army MORPHEUS and “Evolve to Open” approach, but I do not know the details of their approval and financing processes. Working with the U.S. Army, I also understand that in the last 24 months they have made major changes to their C4ISR modernization programs, including the standing up of a new U.S. Army Future Command. Again, from the outside, this appears to be implementing an agile approach, but I do not know the details.

As we ramp up the Options Analysis for the SSE 42 projects, almost certainly we will do a more detailed survey of what is happening in the industry and what other nations are doing. So maybe ask this question again in 12 months and you may get a more solid answer. But if other nations are implementing agile approaches, you likely are going to have to ask this question every 12 months as the approaches will be continually changing.

Author: Marcello Sukhdeo

Marcello is the managing editor of Vanguard, IT in Canada and Canadian Government Executive and the host of Vanguard Radio and WRLWND Radio podcasts. He is an avid technology and security enthusiast, who has worked on content leadership strategies for a number of industries including the public sector, life science, technology and defence.

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