What change will competition for limited dollars provoke?

Brian Stewart, Senior Fellow with the Monk Centre at the University of Toronto, has raised the spectre of an internal struggle within DND over how to allocate the capital portion of the defence budget.  In his article entitled “$30B fighter jets just the start of defence-spending boom” (CBC News, 06 April 2011), Stewart estimates that the public, while not willing to return to the “demoralizing poverty” imposed on the CF in the 1990s, is not inclined to support such expensive acquisition programs “without a lot more persuading.”

Stewart maintains, “it is a mistake to keep talking about the F-35 in isolation. The greatest risk here may be to Canada's aged navy, which is desperately in need of rebuilding. Any slowdown in ship replacement – quite likely if the F-35 goes well over budget—threatens to cripple this country's single most important strategic asset.” He is critical of the navy’s ‘Silent Service’ image and makes several important points about naval utility in the current security environment.

Several writers in this chain have noted that reductions in estimated program numbers have resulted from past problems with cost estimation and program management.  The low budgets of the 1990s now confront the country with near-simultaneous replacement programs and we all wonder how the money will be stretched to go around?  Without an open and informed debate, it all has the appearance of ‘smoke-and-mirrors.’

The monies allocated under the NSPS will not fund a one-for-one, type-for-type replacement program for the navy.  What are the options?  I, for one, do not considered continued diminution in numbers while perpetuating the status quo for type to be a viable option.  The navy remains silent on this issue.

My earlier post in this thread commented that the NSPS intimates a commitment to developing and sustaining a high-end combat shipbuilding capability.  This is a key strategic commitment that, if it does not persist from government to government and through economic downturns, will be another expensive flop as once experienced in the aircraft building industry.

At the current rate of technological advancement, generational times for warships will be measured in less than decades.  The past practice has been to batch-build in large numbers in order to satisfy Treasure Board requirements to derive the best unit price for the country and the citizens.  This is a good strategy if conflict is looming, but a bad one if obsolescence is evident before the last ship of the batch is launched.

If the funding envelop for shipbuilding is reduced further by the cost of the F-35 program, the navy will have difficult choices to make about the composition of its fleet.  For me, an outside observer, the choice has already been made by the limited funding currently in the plans: a high-low split in the combat dimension; an increased focus on constabulary requirements; and increased volumetric capacity for the logistical demands in all three naval roles – military, constabulary and diplomatic.