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Canada Matt Gurney: Just build the damn ships. And buy the damn planes. The huge cost overruns are the price to pay for our incompetence

14:40  25 february  2021
14:40  25 february  2021 Source:   nationalpost.com

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The Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report on the navy’s next-generation warship program on Wednesday … and you’ve all stopped reading already, haven’t you? Hello?

a large ship in a body of water: An artist's rendering of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Lockheed Martin's proposed design for Canada's fleet of new warships. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is predicting the cost of the new 15-ship fleet is going to hit $77 billion. © Provided by National Post An artist's rendering of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Lockheed Martin's proposed design for Canada's fleet of new warships. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is predicting the cost of the new 15-ship fleet is going to hit $77 billion.

No one would blame you if you had. Because you’ve read how many stories like this before? Under how many governments, going back how many years? Do you even need the details? You know how this goes. What are the ships going to cost? More. When are we going to get them? Later. Will the ships we currently have last that long? Maybe. Is the entire program now in doubt and possibly facing cancellation so we can reboot and try again? No one has said as much, but it’s a very real possibility.

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At this point, does it even matter how much the 15 new warships are actually expected to cost? (It’s $77 billion.) Does it even matter how much more that figure is than the last update? (Not really, but it’s $17 billion, if you’re wondering.)

I’ve spent years writing about this stuff. I’ve written more about this stuff than anything else in my career. And I have to confess that I’m nearly out of fresh wisdom to offer.

Canada. Cannot. Procure. That’s it. That’s the column. It’s an inexplicable national failing that we seem unable or unwilling to in any way address.

And what more can be said? I could write about what this means politically, but it doesn’t mean anything politically, because the Liberal ineptitude on this file is matched only by the Conservative ineptitude on this file, and should Erin O’Toole win the next election, we’ll still be terrible at this, and if Justin Trudeau is re-elected, we’ll still be terrible at this. The failure is bigger, broader and deeper than anything that can be addressed by shuffling guys with red ties out of the nice room and replacing them with guys in blue ties. (Or gender-appropriate equivalents, of course — because it’s 2021.)

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The PBO laid out some proposals in the report for how Canada can maybe save some money on the program — options include purchasing less-capable vessels, purchasing a mix of less-capable and high-end ships, or swapping out the currently selected ships for another comparable but apparently somewhat cheaper option. That’s all fine as far as it goes, but who are we kidding? The moment that whatever new plan we adopt leaps off the PBO’s page and into the real world of Canadian procurement, it’ll derail, too. And then we’ll need another PBO report 10 years from now, and I’ll find myself writing some even more exasperated version of this very same column all over again, just like I’ve done every year or so since the Bush (II) presidency.

So let’s boil this right down to first principles here. The challenge before us is this: our existing fleet of ships are very fine and capable vessels, but they’re getting old. They have a decade or two of useful life left in them, but it’ll take us a decade or two to replace them, because of all the dysfunction noted above. Time is not on our side. We need these ships, indeed, if recent history has taught us anything, it’s that a less stable world will require us to be better armed and prepared than we’ve had to be since the end of the Cold War. So in order to have the new ships by the time current ones rust out, we need to order them now. Like, right now. Today, if possible.

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It’s that simple. The world is evolving in dangerous ways that our abysmal military procurement system simply can’t keep up with.

So what do we do? As tempting as it is to indulge in the fantasy that we can do better if we just follow the budget officer’s advice and go with one of the alternate plans, or just try harder or whatever, we don’t have the luxury of kidding ourselves into believing we’ll do better next time. We won’t. We need ships. The ships are going to cost us an arm and a leg because we are terrible at this and insist on treating the military as a jobs-creation program for regional industries, rather than an instrument of national security. But there’s no way to solve that problem before the current ships rust out, so, screw it. Build the ships. Whatever the cost. Gonna cost an extra $47 billion? Sure, sounds good. Build the ships.

This might sound like a flippant, even irresponsible, approach to valuable public dollars. But in a weird way, it isn’t. We are so chronically bad at this that we have to accept that we aren’t going to do better, and once you accept that, the best option is, by brutal attrition, rapidly winnowed down to “Just get the damn ships as fast as we can and avert your gaze when the bill comes due.” Yes, of course, it would be possible to do better in theory . But is there anyone left among our nearly 40 million souls who really thinks we ever will?

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It’s going to take us 20 years to replace the fleet. We have, at best, roughly 20 years to work with. No one would be happier than me if we found a way to solve our procurement woes, but there is absolutely zero reason to hope that we can do that within that 20-year timeframe imposed on the pending rust-out of the current frigates. And, though I hate to bring it up, guess what? Our patrol ships and our submarines are also going to need replacing soon, not to mention our CF-18s. These are all going to be multi-decade procurements, but that’s still faster than we’d need to fix whatever horrible rot has afflicted our ability, as a nation, to build and buy things.

So just build the damn ships. Buy the damn planes. Steal the submarines, if we need to — the Germans build good boats, perhaps we can “visit” one of their shipyards and abscond with a half-dozen while they aren’t looking. The military’s needs are real and pressing, and our men and women in uniform just don’t have the time to wait for the rest of us to solve this national embarrassment. So build and buy. The enormous cost overruns are the price we’ll pay for having let ourselves become so incompetent and feeble.

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Matt Gurney: COVID shows why Canada can't depend on its friends when the chips are down .
Write anything about Canadian military policy and you’ll inevitably get a reply from someone — polite and sincere, or very much neither — who wants to know why on earth Canada would spend a nickel on its Armed Forces. Don’t you know the Americans will protect us? That’s one soothing thought that has gone unchallenged for far too long, and one that COVID-19, hopefully, will take some of the shine off of. Here’s the thing: the Americans would defend Canadian territory from a foreign attack, or push hostile ships, subs or aircraft away from our coasts (maybe not all of the coasts, but the parts that are populated, and close to the United States border).

usr: 6
This is interesting!