RCN CSC factsheet Nov20

CSC: The Canadian Public and Politicians Don’t Know – Period!

Procrustes, 4 February 2021

All of a sudden, the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) is back in the news and there is chatter about the mounting costs of the proposed warship and what trade-offs might be made to deal with these costs.

Why all the fuss now? The long-awaited cost update by Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) is due this month (it was delayed when the Trudeau government prorogued Parliament in the fall of 2020, ostensibly to deal with the Covid-19 crisis).

People in the know, like retired Rear-Admiral Ian Mack who was long associated with bringing the CSC project to fruition, and former Vice-Admiral Mark Norman who was the first to announce years ago that the costs of the CSC were higher than hitherto revealed by Ottawa, are acknowledging that the forthcoming PBO report will cause serious ‘sticker shock,’ and are suggesting that the country should prepare for a long overdue debate about the possible quantity versus quality options available to rein these costs in.

Both Mack and Norman suggest that Ottawa’s reluctance to provide timely updates about costs and delivery schedules is partly to blame for the expected adverse reaction that will likely greet the PBO’s cost projections. A quick foray through both the Navy’s and Public Services and Procurement Canada’s websites shows no signs of the latest CSC development, the delay of the scheduled delivery of the first CSC warship until the early 2030s (the websites are still indicating delivery in the mid-2020s), nor have there been any official statements about the expected costs of the warships other than the re-affirmation that the overall project will remain within the $60 billion budget set several years ago. However, this latter claim does not indicate how many of the 15 planned warships will ultimately be approved.

Mark Norman clearly prefers quality over quantity, and argues that any less-capable warship would “not meet Canada’s stringent combat requirements for a multi-mission ship to execute a full range of stressing missions and ensure the safety of the crew in a potential conflict.” [1] This, quite properly, is the perspective of a former serving naval officer and it is to commended as fairly representing the views of those in the service. However, Norman’s comments beg the question: do our elected politicians really know – or care – about the types of missions the navy is planning? My bet is that they have very little appreciation of what our military does, but they do care when more money for the military means less money for their own pet projects. Do they know, for example, how closely the navy plans to be integrated into US-led maritime missions possibly against the People’s Republic of China or Russia? Would they approve the extra warship costs if the CSC is to used for ballistic missile defence, a prospect which our extant defence policy says is a no-go?

Senior navy planners take the answers to questions as a given, partly because this is what they think makes sense from a military standpoint and hence they expect the appropriate equipment to do the job. But at root these are matters of high policy and should be in the forefront of government thinking when it settles down to make a decision to proceed with the CSC. You and I will find little public discussion about such issues, partly because we rely heavily of the very few journalists actually concerned with Canadian defence, and partly because our other recourse to such information – the Access to Information process – is closely guarded by the very same civil servants whose actions led to the current state of woeful public understanding of what is actually going on with the CSC project.

A sad state of affairs in a purported liberal democracy, but the chickens are coming home to roost!

Notes

[1] Lee Berthiaume, “Navy needs to prepare for tough talks over warship delays, cost increases: Norman”, CTV News (3 February 2021). Found at: https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/navy-needs-to-prepare-for-tough-talks-over-warship-delays-cost-increases-norman-1.5293499.

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