Op Mobile: Breaking new ground
If deploying an air wing to Kandahar was a significant step for the Royal Canadian Air Force, Operation Mobile over Libya tested its “readiness and capabilities as never before,” according to LGen André Deschamps, commander of the RCAF.
Less than 24 hours after the UN passed resolution 1973, CF-18s were en route to Italy, followed in short order by Polaris air-to-air refuellers and Globemasters carrying personnel and equipment. The air force also employed Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, Hercules refuellers and transport aircraft, as well as a Sea King helicopter from a navy frigate in the Mediterranean. In addition, CF personnel flew on NATO and U.S. AWACS aircraft. And, of course, LGen Charlie Bouchard commanded the entire NATO mission.
In a presentation to the annual Air Force Outlook, Deschamps noted several operational “firsts,” including the use of new Joint Direct Attack Munitions systems by CF-18s in a successful attack on a ammunition storage facility (until then, the Hornets had been armed with laser-guided bombs); and Auroras carrying out ground surveillance as well as targeting support.
“They provided critical information to coalition forces and clearly demonstrated the exceptional capabilities of the aircraft’s new Overland Equipment Mission Suite,” Deschamps said.
“Our operations in Libya also illustrated clearly that the requirement for precision in combat missions continues to grow,” he emphasized. “With the right weapons, intelligence and tactics we are seeking to carry out targeting with pinpoint accuracy, engaging threats while avoiding harming civilians or damaging important civilian infrastructure.”
According to Postmedia, Canada dropped 695 bombs during the campaign at a cost of roughly $25 million. Each bomb cost between $34,000 and $43,000, according to DND. Almost all were Paveway II laser-guided smart bombs; 495 were 500-pound bombs while 188 were the larger 2000-pound version.
Re-thinking the Joint Strike Fighter?
The release of the Auditor General’s 2012 spring report has increased the number of people lining up to oppose the acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. In April, a former CF-18 fleet manager, Col (Ret’d) Paul Maillet, told a press conference that “Canada should suspend its participation or withdraw from the F-35 consortium until the decision is made on how to proceed.”
“When I see the term ‘development’ used in the F-35 procurement, I know the government is facing significant performance risks, headaches and much higher costs than anticipated,” he said.
The Auditor General raised a number of red flags about the F-35 program, including his belief that there were “significant weaknesses in the decision-making process used by National Defence in acquiring the F-35.” Both Public Works and DND disagree with the AG’s conclusions.
In response, however, the government took some dramatic steps, freezing the funding envelope and establishing a new secretariat within PWGSC, first called the F-35 Secretariat and later amended to a fighter replacement secretariat, with a lead coordinating role. Taking a page from the shipbuilding strategy, a committee of deputy ministers was created to provide oversight.
The government also ordered DND to provide more frequent updates on the cost and performance schedule of the Joint Strike Fighter program, which seem to be changing by the week. It also said Treasury Board Secretariat would commission “an independent review of DND’s acquisition and sustainment project assumptions and potential costs for the F-35” before the project receives approval.
Although ministers have since distanced themselves from a firm commitment to the JSF, in the weeks leading up to the AG’s report, Julian Fantino, the Associate Minister of National Defence, told an industry audience the F-35 was “the only aircraft available that meets our requirements.”
CCV hits another road bump
The Close Combat Vehicle program has hit yet another roadblock. In late April, the three companies contending for the program were advised that all bids had been rejected and a new Request for Proposal had been issued.
The three contending firms – General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, Nexter and BAE Systems Hagglunds – were summoned to a meeting with procurement officials on March 30, only to have it cancelled at the last minute amid conflicting reports about the reason why. A DND spokesperson said at the time that “the bidders conference was cancelled in order to allow more time to assess the fairness monitor’s advice in the procurement process.”
As Ian Coutts explains elsewhere in this issue, the CCV is viewed as a key piece of the army’s future family of land combat vehicles. Contract award was scheduled for 2012 – many expected the announcement this spring or summer – with initial delivery in 2014.
All three contending vehicles had completed evaluation in December at the Aberdeen test centre in Maryland. According to media reports, however, the army would like to modify aspects of the statement of requirements.
The $2 billion program originally called for a military off-the-shelf acquisition of 108 CCV in two variants, with an option for up to 30 more, plus a through-life in-service support contract. The CCV project was slowed in late 2009 and ramped up again in mid 2010 when officials reject all bids and had to issue a new solicitation.
Knowledge transfer: Making military skill sets portable
It would seem scaling back on Canadian Forces personnel might be an inevitable consequence of the post-Budget 2012 era. But in its search for “efficiencies,” the government would be wise to ensure it does not repeat the mistakes of the 1990s.
Dr. Doug Bland, a professor at Queen’s University and the retired chair of the Defence Management Studies program, reminded participants at a recent workshop that slowing recruitment and increasing the rate of retirements through buyouts invariably creates a hole that will drift through the system for years.
The workshop was part of a series hosted by the Institute on Governance in partnership with Monster.ca on modernizing the public service. Titled “The Changing Face of the Canadian Forces,” it attempted to initiate a dialogue on some of the CF’s future skill set needs as it adjusts to new missions, and the portability of those skills as service members transition to civilian life.
Much attention has been placed on addressing the needs of wounded veterans, but far less has been done to help healthy veterans transfer a wealth of skill and experience into civilian jobs. Departing a culture of “we” for a culture of “I” can be extremely difficult for some, said Randy Plunkett, a former senior master sergeant with the U.S. Air Force and the director of government partnerships for Military.com. In fact, even the term “vet” can be a barrier, he noted. Although a veteran is defined as anyone who has served honourably in the CF or RCMP, many under the age of 30 are uncomfortable with the label.