BY David Pugliese
CANSEC 2016 saw thousands of visitors viewing state-of-the art military technology while the machinations of defence procurement played out in the background.
The military and security trade show, held in Ottawa May 25–26, had 700 booths, 11,000 participants and the usual roster of generals and ministers providing varying degrees of information.
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance stuck closely to his talking points, taking his cue from Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan by noting that the Canadian Armed Forces must be more involved in preventing conflicts and taking part in peacekeeping operations.
Sajjan delivered a standard speech, but in a scrum with journalists he unveiled what would later be seen as part of the Liberal government’s proposal to purchase Super Hornet fighter jets as an interim replacement for the CF-18s.
Sajjan claimed that Canada was now facing a fighter jet “gap” and the CF-18s had to be replaced as soon as possible to ensure the country’s security. This is in stark contrast to what RCAF commander, LGen. Michael Hood, said in April; addressing a parliamentary committee on National Defence, Hood stated the jets could keep flying until 2025 and there was no rush on a replacement.
Sajjan’s comments at CANSEC were the first inkling that the Liberals were considering moving quickly forward on a fighter replacement.
Judy Foote, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, also used CANSEC 2016 to provide what potentially could be welcome news for the industry.
Foote said the Liberal government would bring in additional staff and advisors on the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) as well as more realistically track costs for shipbuilding. She noted that, under the previous Conservative government, the NSPS costs were set and publicized but they were never updated to take into account inflation and increases in the cost of steel and other materiel.
“Work is underway to determine a new costing approach,” explained Foote.
Foote also pointed out that the Canadian government had hired Steve Brunton as an “expert adviser” to assist on its shipbuilding strategy. Brunton is a retired rear admiral from the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy with experience in overseeing shipbuilding programs and naval acquisitions.
Jean-François Létourneau, a spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, said there is currently 98 full-time staff working on the shipbuilding strategy. “This number is expected to increase by up to 200 additional employees by 2019,” he said. Létourneau noted there were employees in other federal departments also working on the strategy.
Foote explained in her CANSEC speech that Canadians deserved to know about the strategy and more about how the government was spending their dollars on the massive shipbuilding program. “We are determined to be straightforward with Canadians,” said Foote.
But shortly after — and apparently not seeing the irony in the situation — Foote pointed out that the public was going to be kept in the dark about the main aspect of the Royal Canadian Navy’s future Canadian Surface Combatant fleet: its cost. “We will not be announcing a new cost estimate for the Canadian Surface Combatant until we have signed a build contract,” Foote stated. “Given the number of variables that can change and the very long planning periods involved, we have seen how these estimates cause confusion.”
A number of firms also used CANSEC 2016 to highlight their major achievements.
Textron Systems rolled out its new Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (TAPV) for the show’s attendees. The TAPV is a 4×4 wheeled armoured vehicle specifically engineered and designed to provide survivability, mobility and versatility over the full spectrum of operations.
The first TAPV deliveries are scheduled to begin during the summer. The fleet of 500 vehicles is expected to be distributed to seven Canadian Forces bases across the country. The Canadian Army plans to declare full operational capability of TAPV by mid-2020.
TAPV has faced various problems, including issues with the vehicle’s suspension. But Textron Systems officials said at the rollout of the vehicle that those were not major problems and have already been dealt with.
“The Army has closely followed the testing of this vehicle and they [Canadian Armed Forces personnel] are relaying very positive feedback,” Brigadier-General S.M. Cadden, Chief of Staff Army Strategy, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to fielding the TAPV to units.”
A number of firms used CANSEC 2016 to highlight their interest in the upcoming Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project.
Atlas Elektronik and Magellan Aerospace announced they had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, a move forward on their intent to collaborate on the development of the rocket motor and warhead sections of the SeaSpider anti-torpedo torpedo. The SeaSpider will combine Atlas Elektronik’s expertise in naval systems like the SeaHake mod4 heavyweight torpedo and the rocket technology of Magellan Aerospace, company officials pointed out.
Atlas Elektronik Canada, based in Victoria, BC, will build up capability in project management, research and development, and work with Magellan Aerospace out of their facilities in Winnipeg and Rockwood, MB. Atlas Elektronik Naval Weapons Division in Wedel, Germany, will provide ongoing support.
“We are proud to be part of this effort that will offer the RCN, in time for the construction of the Canadian Surface Combatant, the leading integrated UWW [underwater warfare] solution to protect ships and sailors,” said Rick Gerbrecht, president and CEO of Atlas Elektronik Canada.
Rheinmetall announced at CANSEC 2016 that it had successfully completed delivery of 12 armoured recovery vehicles to the Canadian Forces. The tracked vehicles, officially dubbed the Leopard 2 Armoured Recovery Vehicle Canada, or ARV CAN, are based on the chassis of the battle-tested main battle tank. Besides recovering tanks, the Leopard 2 ARV CAN can conduct a wide array of maintenance tasks and, thanks to its winch and bulldozer blade, provide robust combat engineer support in the area of operations, the company noted.
Two vehicles were designed and built in Germany and underwent testing by the Canadian Forces which finished at the end of 2013.
Rheinmetall Group then provided its subsidiary, Rheinmetall Canada in Quebec, with two production and assembly lines for producing the remaining 10 armoured recovery vehicles. Rheinmetall won the order in 2011; along with the delivery of 12 Leopard 2 ARV CAN armoured recovery vehicles, the contract includes logistical and training support.
Polaris Defense, a division of Polaris Industries Inc., rolled out at CANSEC 2016 a high-performance MRZR turbo diesel vehicle, which is aimed at the special forces market, including a program currently being developed by Canadian special forces. The vehicle debuted at the 2016 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa, Florida, on May 24 and a day later at CANSEC.
The quest to replace the CF-18 was also front and centre, with all eyes on two of the main competitors: Lockheed Martin and Boeing. The firms engaged in a battle of simulators, as each company brought a flight simulator for the CANSEC crowd to experience. Lockheed Martin’s F-35 simulator appeared to have the most traffic, but it’s unclear whether that was because it was situated inside the main hall, in contrast to Boeing’s Super Hornet simulator being in a trailer outside.
Irving Shipbuilding shook up CANSEC 2016 by announcing it was pitching the Liberal government a plan to construct a ship specifically designed to aid in a humanitarian crisis.
The Halifax shipyard would take a commercial roll-on/roll-off vessel and convert it to carry a hospital, medical supplies and emergency equipment to respond to a variety of missions, ranging from earthquake relief to providing aid to refugees. Irving submitted the proposal to the officials coordinating the government’s defence review. The firm is hoping to take advantage of the Liberal government’s interest in having the Canadian Forces play more of a role in humanitarian operations.
Irving president Kevin McCoy said it would take about one year to convert a commercial vessel into what the company is calling a maritime support ship.
“This is not an unsolicited proposal,” he explained. “It’s in response to several of the key questions raised by the government’s Defence Review.” The vessel would be offered on a five-year lease. The cost, under $300 million, would include the leasing of the ship, conversion for its humanitarian role, a 30-member civilian crew and maintenance for the lease period.
McCoy said the proposal would not undercut the government’s current shipbuilding strategy, which calls for the building of two Joint Support Ships (JSS). Construction of the first JSS is expected to proceed in 2018 at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver.
McCoy said Irving’s maritime support ship would be complimentary to the missions to be performed by the Seaspan-built vessels. “We think the nation needs two or three of these maritime support ships,” he explained. “They’re moderately priced.”
The Royal Canadian Navy could also have a small contingent on board, he noted. McCoy said Irving could do the conversion in Halifax, along with nearby subcontractors. He estimated that such a project would create around 250 jobs.
McCoy also suggested that such a ship would be more effective and easier to convert than the interim supply ship project being undertaken by Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec. That vessel will be used on an interim basis to handle at-sea refuelling for the RCN’s warships. Davie has also promoted the vessel’s ability to be of use during a humanitarian crisis.
Much to the chagrin of Irving and Seaspan, Davie — which didn’t win any work under the shipbuilding strategy — was eventually awarded a $700-million contact to provide the Royal Canadian Navy with the interim refuelling and replenishment ship. Davie has said that their ship will be ready in the fall of 2017.
But McCoy said the Irving ship would be more capable, able to refuel warships at sea; its design would also allow it to carry landing craft and vehicles.
What was equally interesting was the reaction from Davie. In response to Irving’s proposal, it released a statement at CANSEC 2016 which essentially embraced a “more the merrier” approach.
Davie commended Irving Shipbuilding on “taking a positive and innovative approach to solving some of the major capability gaps facing the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Coast Guard with regards to the current federal shipbuilding programs.
“Realizing this, East Coast shipyards in Canada’s key shipbuilding hubs in Nova Scotia and Quebec have pro-actively provided alternative, cost-efficient and innovative ways to convert existing commercial vessels to fill gaps in Canada’s non-combat fleet,” the firm noted.
Speaking at CANSEC, Alex Vicefield, Davie’s chairman, said Irving Shipbuilding’s proposal “is confirming what has been universally recognized over the past months, including by the Government of Canada in the Canada Transportation Act review. That there are several classes of ship which Canada urgently needs and the current shipbuilding program is not capable of delivering. This is a great initiative from Irving Shipbuilding — these kinda of unsolicited proposals where industry takes what it has learnt in how to provide fast-track, cost-efficient solutions to address critical operational gaps, is exactly what is needed right now.”
Vicefield said “these kinds of interim and supplementary programs to ensure that we can close the capability gaps” are needed.