OTTAWA — There are smarter ways to spend scarce defence dollars that could save $10 billion over the next 12 years while at the same time boosting Canada’s military capabilities, a report released Monday concludes.
The government should rethink big-ticket purchases like the controversial F-35 fighter jets and reallocate funding both to the military’s immediate priorities and to equipment that makes more sense for its missions, said the report, published by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
For example, the current military engagement in Iraq and Syria is relying on allies to provide close air support and armoured trucks, two elements the Canadian military could provide itself — if it had the money.
“The mission should define the equipment that we choose to acquire, rather than the equipment defining the mission,” said Michael Byers, a professor at UBC who wrote the study.
“But unfortunately we’re in a situation today — because of nine years of incompetence — where the equipment is starting to define the mission.”
The Conservative government has acknowledged the procurement process is problematic.
Earlier this month, they launched an independent panel to review defence projects valued at over $100 million, part of a broader overhaul of the procurement process that began last year to address overruns and delays.
“We’re taking a significant step forward in our government’s commitment to develop and maintain a first-class, modern military that is well-equipped to take on the challenges of the 21st century,” Defence Minister Jason Kenney said at the time.
Kayla Iafelice, a spokeswoman for Public Works Minister Diane Finley, said no final decision has been made on replacing the CF-18s.
“To ensure that our men and women in uniform have the equipment they need to do the job that we ask of them, the CF-18s are being life-extended to maintain their capability through 2025,” Iafelice said.
“Also, to ensure that Canadian industry continues to benefit, our government will continue our full participation and investment in the (F-35) program.”
Byers, who once ran for the New Democrats, said the Conservatives have broken a 2008 commitment to increase defence spending by 2 per cent a year, opting to cut it instead.
“The reduction in military spending to 1 per cent of GDP is not in itself a bad thing,” he writes in the report.
“But the mistakes and misallocations made with respect to that money have badly compromised the ability of the Canadian Armed Forces to fulfil any missions.”
April’s federal budget earmarked $11.8 billion over 10 years for additional defence spending, starting in the 2017-18 fiscal year. But prior to this year’s budget, three rounds of cuts lowered spending at National Defence by $2.46 billion per year.
Last year, $3 billion in planned spending on ships, planes and vehicles scheduled to be spent between 2014 and 2017 was postponed.
Byers said one deal that should be shelved is a $1.5-billion contract announced by the government in 2008 to support Canada’s existing submarine fleet.
Four second-hand subs were purchased from the British in 1998 for $900 million but have been plagued with problems and have spent little time in the water. They should be abandoned, as there’s no evidence Canada actually needs them, Byers said.
The report makes 23 recommendations, most of which look at ways to reallocate the estimated $10.5 billion that could be saved if the F-35 purchase was cancelled and the existing CF-18 jet fleet upgraded instead.
That’s a plan that would give Canada fighter jet capacity it could use now, rather than having to wait for planes that are still being tested, with less-than-admirable results, Byers said.
Money should also be spent on more maritime patrol aircraft and more search and rescue helicopters, the report concludes, while also recommending the military stop pursuing custom-built planes and armoured vehicles, opting instead for tested, off-the-shelf versions.
Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press