The Harper regime is developing a wonderful ability for horrendous timing. A few days ago, corrupt President of the Treasury Board Tony Clement went on a Twitter-fuelled rampage against Canadian aid workers in Cuba because they were “choosing to live in a communist country.” Then, this week, he opened a new national historic site museum (in his own riding) dedicated to Canadian communist doctor Norman Bethune, who chose to live in China and practice his art for the good of the communist revolutionaries. Absurdly, Clement said that the exhibit celebrates Bethune’s “entrepreneurship.” So Canadian aid workers who choose to live in communist countries are evil traitors, but Canadian aid workers who actually are communists and choose to live in communist countries are national heroes!
The military has not been spared this sort of ironic timing. Just a few short days ago, Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who uses the nation’s search and rescue force as his personal taxi service, announced that the overdue and over-cost Sikorsky Cyclone deal — first started by the Liberals — is “the worst procurement” in Canadian history. A comparison to the much more overdue and over-cost F-35 deal instantly leaps to mind, but even more ironically, shortly after MacKay made his announcement, he cancelled outright a billion-dollar truck purchase that was billed as “urgent” six years ago, has been wending its way through the procurement bureaucracy for six years, and has now been sent all the way back to square one again. Just so we’re clear: these trucks are so old that they’re basically the ground logistics equivalent of the Sea King helicopter.
The last time I waded into the morasse of Harper regime military procurement, the kind folks at the Galloping Beaver said I “didn’t know a RCEME from a tank transporter,” which is true enough, and that my incompetent mashup would make modern armour crews’ stomachs “tie up in knots.” But they did say my conclusions were right. So I’m going to charge into the breach again, and if you’re worried about your stomach, you should get some Gravol before you continue reading.
Have You Replaced Your Truck Since the Trudeau Era? The Army Hasn’t
The project that’s in trouble here is the Medium Support Vehicle System project (MSVS). As I write this, the mainstay medium-weight truck of the Canadian Forces is the MLVW — Medium Logistics Vehicle, Wheeled. According to an earlier review of the project by the Galloping Beaver, they were purchased by the Trudeau government and are now about 30 years old. At the time, the government was replacing 1950s-era M135 trucks based on a U.S. Army design with a Bombardier-built variant of the newer (but still American) M35 truck. The Trudeau government upgraded the engines, tires, and some other systems, but the basic design of the truck now in service was being rolled out by the Americans in the 1960s. You know, like the Sea Kings.
In 2006, the Harper regime announced that it would be replacing the MLVWs and making some other changes to the truck inventory of the Canadian Forces under what became the Medium Support Vehicle System project. When it was announced in June 2006, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor, a former defence company lobbyist, said the following about the purchase, which would include 1500 military vehicles (with 300 trailers), 800 civilian vehicles adapted for light military use (referred to as MilCOTS, or Militarized Commercial Off-the-Shelf), and hundreds of kits to outfit the vehicles for particular missions, “such as mobile kitchens, offices, and medical or dental stations,” all at an up-front cost of $1.1 billion:
The requirement for this equipment is urgent. Delivery is expected as soon as possible and will continue until the requirement is fully met.
According to the following year’s Departmental Performance Report, project approval was already granted at the time O’Connor made the announcement. By that time, the schedule had already slipped backwards two years on account of what the report vaguely called “delays” (a fairly redundant “explanation”). DND expected to award a contract for the MilCOTS in 2009 and for the military-grade trucks in 2010, with delivery completed by the end of 2012.
Want 800 Trucks? Why Not Take 1300?
At this point the MSVS project essentially becomes two projects: one to buy the lighter civilian vehicles (the “MilCOTS” ones), and the other to buy the heavier military ones (referred to as “Standard Military Pattern” or SMP vehicles). The MilCOTS contract went ahead fairly smoothly — sort of.
First of all, by the time MacKay announced the contract had been completed in January 2009, the size of the order had nearly doubled, from the originally announced 800 MilCOTS trucks to a new total of 1300 trucks. The original announcement said these would cost $274 million, but the subsequent Performance Report noted a total purchase cost of $352 million.
Then, the contract was awarded to Chicago-based Navistar, which submitted the only bid. Navistar had a plant in Ontario, but rather than produce the trucks there, it laid off all 500 workers there, shut the plant down, and moved production to another plant in Texas. Whoops!
A couple of years earlier, apparently, the U.S. ordered several thousand of these trucks and gave them to the Iraqi and Afghan governments for use by their militaries. I certainly hope we’re either using them for lighter-duty tasks, or have added some upgrades of our own, because it doesn’t really seem like the Canadian Forces should be run on the same basis as the American government’s imperial charity projects.
This was an existing design and so the procurement process was relatively easy. The Navistar trucks were all delivered by 2010.
“Urgent” and “As Soon As Possible” Becomes “Maybe” and “Eventually”
In the meantime, the SMP truck segment of the project was (if you’ll forgive me for saying so) spinning its wheels. A year after the performance report I quoted above, the delivery date for the SMP vehicles slipped back a year, to 2011. The 2011-2012 performance report said the contract would be awarded this year, delivery would start in 2013, and it would be completed in 2015, years behind the initial schedule.
And then the bureaucrats began to work their ugly magic. Last year, pre-bidding processes hashed out some basic requirements for the trucks and identified eight potential trucks whose manufacturers were supposed to submit bids. Then Public Works unexpectedly told them the process had been reset because of “further refinements in the technical specification.” BAE Systems had had enough, and withdrew from the program.
Which brings us to the present. This week, just three minutes before the deadline for bids, like a bunch of delinquent students, the government administrators of the procurement program sent out an email to all the potential bidders letting them know the whole thing had been shut down because of “economic, marketplace and budgetary circumstances.”
What happens next is anyone’s guess. The old trucks are rusting, reportedly have recurring brake system problems, and they will need to be replaced. Like the Sea Kings. But they’re not going to be replaced yet. In the meantime, there’s a problem with the estimated costs. The Treasury Board authorized $352 million for the MilCOTS trucks. It’s authorized $162 million for the truck shelters. The widely reported estimated cost for the SMP trucks is $800 million. That puts us up to $1.3 billion on a “$1.1 billion” contract, and we haven’t yet factored in the cost of the mission-specific kits which will have to be purchased.
It’s not exactly an F-35-grade boondoggle. On the other hand, these aren’t high-tech stealth aircraft: they’re trucks. And so far, we’ve slipped five years behind schedule getting them into place, and we’re going to slip even more behind schedule now that the entire process has been officially cancelled.Tweet