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Eye On Defence: September/October

This past July the Department of National Defence issued its long awaited Defence Acquisition Guide 2014 (DAG 14) which it says will be updated annually and refreshed every year “in alignment with the Canadian Armed Forces investment planning cycle.” It’s a long document—170 pages when printed from the Internet—which lays out “future potential Canadian Armed Forces requirements and associated procurement projects.” 

Navy personnel conduct a security patrol aboard a rigid-hulled inflatable boat during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. [PHOTO: SGT. PAZ QUILLÉ, CANADIAN FORCES COMBAT CAMERA]

Navy personnel conduct a security patrol aboard a rigid-hulled inflatable boat during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Divided into five main sections covering “services” (18 pages), “joint systems and other” (47 pages), “naval systems” (21 pages), “land systems” (50 pages) and “aerospace” (34 pages), it is intended to list everything the CAF is likely to need for at least five years, and possibly longer than that. Its aim is to inform the defence industry what items are on the CAF’s wish list so as to give notice to industry what items and services the CAF might buy, at least over the next half decade.

DAG 14 is not, however, a shopping list. For one thing, the guide is based on the capabilities the government decided that the military needed when it issued its Canada First Defence Strategy in 2008. That “strategy” was not a strategic document laying out the government’s view of the world as it was then and specifically stating what missions the Canadian military might plan in protecting Canada and its people and defending Canadian interests alone or in conjunction with our allies. Instead, the 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy described six capabilities that the Canadian military ought to have been able to perform at the direction of the government. The capabilities laid out then were not very different from those the Canadian military had been preparing for since the end of the Cold War and were very specific to that time. For example, the list included “supporting a major international event in Canada” which, in 2008, meant the Vancouver Winter Olympics of 2010 in which the military deployed large assets on land, sea and air to provide a first line of security.

Obviously, we live in a different world today than the world of 2008. Russia annexed Crimea in March of this year and is demonstrating its newly revived military muscles not only in its “near abroad” but even in Iraq, in the international skies on the approaches to the Baltic states, North America and the United Kingdom and in the Black Sea. Jihadists are swarming over Syria and Iraq and threatening Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Canada is no longer at war in Afghanistan, but has deployed air and naval forces to central Europe.

We have been promised a new Canada First Defence Strategy for later this year, but if it is simply a list of required capabilities as the last one was, it will still give little guidance about the government’s long-term strategic thinking. The possible impact of a new Canada First Defence Strategy on the new Defence Acquisition Guide is impossible to foresee, but could lead to the first short-term revisions of what is supposed to be a long-term procurement planning document.

What is even more telling about DAG 14 is the warnings it comes with that state very clearly that the long list of projects have “not yet been brought forward for Government of Canada approval” and are “moreover…subject to change” as the world situation evolves, new technologies emerge and “priorities continue to be refined and evolve to reflect Canadian Armed Forces needs.” And in addition, as Minister of National Defence Rob Nicholson points out, “the cost estimates [in the document] are of a Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) and…there is potential for large variability between the cost estimates [indicated in the guide] and the actual costs.”

What this all boils down to in plain English is that the Defence Acquisition Guide 2014 is based on an obsolete capabilities list, is not a shopping list but a wish list, will probably change in the near future, does not reflect government intentions (as opposed to those of the military) and could vary widely between projected costs of the items and services it lists and the actual costs of those items and services if indeed they are acquired.

How helpful this guide will be to industry in planning to meet the requirements of the Canadian Armed Forces can only be guessed at. But picture a large box-store operator circulating a list of items and services it may need over the next five years to potential suppliers with the caveat “this list has not been approved by the Chief Operating Officer or the Chief Financial Officer, it may or may not represent the actual list of items and services we will require and the estimated amounts we say we will be willing to pay may or may not be the actual prices we will be prepared to pay when we actually make any purchases.”


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