The F-35 may be the most expensive Canadian government program ever mired in a procurement scandal, but it hardly represents the first time that a full-blown boondoggle has emerged from the Department of National Defence.
Based on years of experience watching DND at work, we offer as a public service the following guide to the nine standard stages through which a typical DND procurement boondoggle proceeds:
1. The program is announced
Our brave servicepeople deserve the very best equipment available and that’s just what the program we are announcing today offers. It will provide the best value for money of all the alternatives, all of our closest allies will be using it, and if we don’t get on board now this golden opportunity will be lost and Our Seat at The Table will be taken away from us. Best of all, this contract will create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs!
2. Critics are demonized
Anyone who denies the obvious truths in the above talking points is a fool, an idiot, a traitor, a lover of terrorists, a knee-jerk anti-American, a partisan hack willing to endanger our brave servicepeople for cheap political points, or a combination of all of the above.
3. The “appeal to authority”
Yes, there are lots of ill-informed critics of the program out there grinding the usual axes, but retired generals, DND-funded academics, former journalists who have been appointed to the Senate, and the serious people in government who have access to classified data about the program know the truth about how entirely excellent and necessary this program really is. Trust us!
4. Baffle ’em with bullsh!t
Every new program has teething problems, especially when you’re integrating 8th generation, networked, C4ISR technologies at the bleeding edge of the Revolution in Military Affairs. But how are we going to punch above our weight and win respect and real influence in world capitals without the hard power capability to conduct kinetic operations that this strategic asset will give us? It’s a vital force multiplier for the future three-block wars and other Peace Support Operations of our multipolar world of failed and failing states. And let’s not forget the competitive edge that participating in this program will give our industries in the increasingly globalized marketplace, creating tens of thousands of well-paying jobs!
5. That was then…
Yes, of course there were problems with the program. Everybody knew that all along. But that’s old news. Nobody was at fault, and the government has taken steps to make sure those problems were dealt with. It’s all good from now on. The system works!
6. Follow the sunk costs
It’s too late to change horses now. We’ve already spent $857 million on the program, and if we were to pull out now it would cost a further $553 million in cancellation fees, not to mention tens of thousands of lost jobs. If we’d had a crystal ball, maybe we could have done things differently, but nobody could have anticipated the problems that beset this vital procurement. Cancelling it now would just throw away the money we’ve spent so far and leave us without this crucial strategic capability, weakening our defences and infuriating our closest allies. The best option now is to push on.
7. It’s (almost) ready to go!
Let’s not dwell on the problems of the past. The program is almost completed! Just another few months/years and another $731 million in upgrades/technical fixes and this project will provide an excellent and vital capability that will make a major contribution to Canadian security and collective operations with our allies.
8. Operational capability achieved
The system has entered into service! (…at a mere 2.3 times the originally estimated cost and half the originally estimated capability.)
And all too soon afterwards…
9. The system is out of date and overdue for retirement
The system has served us well but it is now obsolete. It needs 17.8 hours of maintenance for every hour of field operation, replacement parts are no longer available, and the systems are incompatible with the new generation equipment now being introduced into service by our closest allies. We have therefore initiated a Service Life Extension and Operational Capability Upgrade of the system at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion. According to longstanding DND standard operating procedures, the equipment must be retired or sold within 1-5 years of the completion of this program. To prevent a growing commitment-capability gap, we must open the Next-Generation Project Office immediately!
The Victoria/Upholder-class submarine boondoggle is currently in stage 7 of this process. It is not yet clear when or even if all four of the subs will enter full service, but since they are already 20 years old, planning for their Service Life Extension and Operational Capability Upgrades is probably already underway. Expect them to be scrapped, or sold to India, shortly thereafter.
The F-35 boondoggle, on the other hand, is now in stage 5, thanks to the Auditor General. The Parliamentary Spokesman of the Department of National Defence (who officially bears the title of Minister but exercises no control over the department and is not held responsible for its actions) has already begun the process of redeploying the aircraft to stage 6.