An appetite suppressant for procurement? (III)

The initial post raises two general questions:

1) How does Canada plan its equipment purchases?

2) How is Canadian equipment transported overseas once purchased?

On point one, the recent decision to purchase Leopard tanks has caused much consternation from both those favourable to their purchase, and those opposed. The latter, have argued that the purchase demonstrates an escalation of Canada's operations in Afghanistan, while the former argue that it instead reflects the long proven need for a heavily armoured direct fire platform. In some cases, such as this one, those in favour of the tank purchase combine these arguments. After saying

"the government's decision to modernize the army's tank fleet has brought criticism that Canada is ramping up the conflict. But in fact, the only escalation is in the rhetoric of the critics in politics and the media,"

The author later states:

"There are places in rural Afghanistan that wheeled vehicles simply cannot go. Irrigation ditches and low walls made of sun-hardened mud are effective obstacles to wheeled vehicles. Leopard tanks can negotiate these and withstand the small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire that covers these positions."

So, who's right? Are the tanks being purchased specifically for Afghanistan? Are they instead a vital piece of kit, that the military should never have decided to scrap in favour of the Mobile Gun System in the first place? If the latter is the case, why cite Afghan-specific terrain when justifying the purchase?

Furthermore, what happened to the Mobile Gun System (MGS) that was supposed to replace the tanks? As recently as the current Report on Plans and Priorities, submitted in March, the MGS file noted only

"In the spring of 2006, the Army recommended the termination of the Mobile Gun System project. A Government decision on this recommendation is forthcoming."

So the timeline is: Fall 2003, government announces it will replace aging Canadian tanks with the Mobile Gun System (MGS); Spring 2006, Army recommends not buying MGS; Fall 2006 Canada deploys tanks to Afghanistan; Spring 2007 government announces the purchase of 100 tanks to replace our old tanks, and a loan of 20 others that will arrive in Afghanistan by Summer 2007. Government and military planners may well have carefully studied the available options, and are making this purchase based on a desire to obtain the best available equipment for any conceivable operations the CF will face in the future. If this is the case, it would be nice to see the supporting evidence to scrap a 3 1/2 year old procurement program.

Interestingly, this article, and a post at the Torch ties this neatly together with point 2. According to this theory, now that the CF is acquiring C-17's, the army will now be able to transport the tanks that it originally wanted to keep, but previously decided to scrap because the military had no way of transporting them. Thus, now that we are buying four C-17s, the CF has gained the advantage of being able to keep, and deploy, tanks. A slight problem with this theory, however, is that the tank advantage didn't seem to come up when the C-17 contract was announced. In fact, a quick look at the DND Backgrounder on "Canada First" Defence Procurement - Contract Awarding for Strategic Airlift, dated Feb. 2, 2007 notes the following [my emphasis added]

Aircraft capabilities

The contractor selected for the strategic airlift project was awarded a contract to deliver four strategic aircraft that meet all the mandatory capabilities of the Canadian Forces listed below:

    • Cargo compartment - Adequate cargo compartment size to transport wheeled and NATO standard palletized equipment (2.235 metres by 2.743 metres), wheeled equipment in a combat ready configuration and Canadian Forces helicopter assets. The aircraft must have the ability to load and unload palletised cargo at austere operating locations without the use of specialized loading equipment.

Now, a quick look at the C-17 and new tank's specs indicate that they will indeed be transportable by our new strategic lifters. However, when the CF bought the new planes, no one thought to mention tank portability as an asset.

As Eric Lerhe points out above, this is probably because it will take considerable time [not to mention significant cost ...] to transport these overseas by air. As he mentioned, it is far more likely that they will go by sea. However, as has been discussed previously in these quarters, a contract for the new JSS, [a project launched in 1999-2000] has not yet been announced, and on its current schedule initial operating capacity won't occur until 2013. Given that the government took great pains in its announcement to ensure all that these new-to-Canada tanks "have been well maintained and stored in climate-controlled facilities" [perhaps in contrast to the CF's previous second hand major capital purchase...] one would think they will be ready to deploy well before 2013.

As it stands now, if the CF has to deploy a new squadron of tanks, in a cost effective manner, within the next six years, it will have to do so by chartering commercial sea lift, because a 7+ year old requirement for military sea lift continues to go unfulfilled.

So, to link back to the original question of how we plan equipment purchases, and why we're buying new tanks...

We are acquiring a new capability, without public discussion or evaluation, and in reversal of a previous procurement plan and Transformation initiative. Unfortunately, the military will have a limited ability to deploy it overseas because of naval deficiency that has been studied to death.

The government might not actually being making long term procurement decisions based on short-term operational needs, but in the absence of a proper explanation, it's awfully easy for critics to speculate.