By John Webber
The Royal Canadian Navy depends on the future of building warships and having state-of-the-art weapon systems to maintain the security of our country.
There are many challenges in procuring the funding and obtaining political approval of the government in office to maintain a strong national armed force in a complex society.
These are my comments on those challenges...
The 1st challenge is having a commitment and funding approved by the political system.
Politicians must recognize that the world today is in continual upheaval. Nations and terrorists are bullying there way into controlling more areas adjacent to their borders and around the world.
The 2nd challenge is designing a warship that does the job.
There are many functions of a warship in the Canadian navy. The RCN is doing a great job with the HALIFAX class multi-function frigates. Future naval combatants (warships) will have to be larger to be able to handle all future technological changes without a major re-design.
The 3rd challenge is building military equipment and ships in Canada.
This is difficult because of patent rights, security. propriety rights. There also a challenge to spread the design and manufacturing across Canada. The existing approval for construction of future naval ships in Canada’s east and west coast is well under way. Hopefully, we will maintain the momentum.
The 4th challenge is having a large enough budget to keep weapon systems up-to-date.
Like it or not, we are in a technological arms race between manufacturers and countries. Russia and China are continually designing and building new weapon systems. While we take 20 years to build 15 warships.
China is building 20 warships a year AND they continually upgrade each warship as they are built. Thus, the 20th warship may be years ahead of the RCN’s frigates before we start construction of our replacement ships.
The 5th challenge is obtaining political commitment from election to election.
Canadian politicians are always trying to “please everybody”. Cutting budgets seems to be an easy way to obtain votes. Most voters don’t realize that most (73%) of Canada’s federal budget goes to the provinces with its continual transfer of payments from the federal taxes collected. The federal government must then, be able to run our country with the remaining (27%) taxes.
Many senior officers retire early because they have been frustrated for years trying to convince politicians to embrace a strong armed force for Canada. This not only decreases the efficiency of our decision making, but also allows the private sector to hire the ex-officers to lobby our politicians without conflict of interest.
The 6th challenge is having less political interference in procuring equipment.
Politicians are always looking for “brownie-points” to show they are actually doing something for their voters. This adds to the cost of operating, maintaining and building equipment. Politicians tend to approve things that directly benefit their constituents such as providing manufacturing plant in their constituency. This policy cost taxpayers 20% more in infrastructure and transportation fees.
The 7th challenge is maintaining a mind-set of newly elected politicians to avoiding cutting military budgets.
Cutting budgets seems to be an easy way to get votes, but, at the expense of a strong strategic military policy. History has proven this is dangerous because it shows our lack of commitment to our strategic security and allows countries that “bully” other countries to dominate.
Democracy allows “amateurs” to run a country. Therefore, bureaucrats and lobbyists become specialists in convincing politicians who have little or no experience to support their cause.
The 8th challenge is maintaining the momentum.
The government and armed forces are continually changing personnel. The many frustrations within each organization leads to low morale and highly qualified personnel leaving to better paying and less frustrating private jobs. The media has reported that some Canadian Armed Forces members have had to purchase their own state-of-the-art personal equipment because Canada’s military does not provide modern equipment.
The 9th challenge is having Canadian workers maintain the weapon systems.
This is difficult because of patent rights, security. proprietory rights. It is always wonderful to keep our tax money in Canada. The best way is to have workers live and pay taxes in Canada.
I think Canada lost this expertise years ago. And, when we do design and sell a good product, some competitor in another country buys the Canadian business.
The 10th challenge is to obtain firm prices on equipment purchased.
This is difficult when purchasing equipment that is a prototype. Manufacturers will not give a firm price when they do not know the final cost. Purchasing equipment in the design stage is asking for trouble when trying to balance budgets. Manufacturers love to have a commitment by a purchaser so they can also balance their budget.
However, some suppliers give low quotes when they actually know it is a “teaser” just to get commitment from a purchaser, knowing it will cost many times more (sometimes three or four times more) than their quoted price.
The 11th challenge is to operate and maintain warships and its systems for over 30 years into the future
I think the design of new warships must be a modular weapon system. That is, we shouldn’t have to build whole new ships to install a state-of-art weapon system. The ship’s design must be able to allow new equipment and systems be quickly and easily installed. Continually building a new warship every year or two should keep Canadians employed and provide the RCN with modern warships. Hopefully, the unions don’t take advantage of this and price ourselves out of the ship building industry.
The 12th challenge is to keep up-to-date.
Like China, I think the design of new warships must be continuous. After each set of five ships is built, the next five should be improved with the latest system. Manufacturers always seem to hold-back new systems until you have purchased the existing system. This is how American capitalism seems to work. However, Russia, China and the U.S.A. are continually updating their military at a very fast pace. Like it or not, we are caught up in a world arms race.
The 13th challenge is to have a strong economy.
Canada is losing its manufacturing industry to countries with lower worker costs. With the current low oil prices, Canada must be able to maintain a strong economy. Canadian workers are known worldwide for their hard work and high quality. Our current weak dollar does give of some advantage for exporting our products. However, the world is changing quickly. Too quickly!
The 14th challenge is to maintain a secure country.
Canada has over 200,000 kilometres of coastline to protect. With less than 30 warships! It is next to impossible. 40 ships would be a great improvement, but, at best, it is 20 years away.
The 15th challenge is to maintain a strong budget.
73% of Canada’s annual federal budget (blue/green) cannot be changed. As you see in the above 2012 budget, National Defence (red) was only 8% of the budget. 1.5% of that was moved to the general operations budget (yellow) in 2015.
The Defence budget seems to be the ONLY place politicians can find extra money for other operations without a lot of outcry from voters. Also, the members of Canada’s armed forces are less likely to voice a strong opinion to the public against budget cuts. Thus Canadian politicians continually, hack away at the Defence budget to use for other programs.
The 16th challenge is the delaying of purchasing new equipment.
Every time government delays or cancels the purchase of new equipment it cost taxpayers more next time. Most suppliers have cancellation fees. They try to hold-off until after the next election. Billions of dollars in extra costs and fees have been wasted.
The ONLY advantage of delaying a purchase would be the possibility of purchasing more up-to-date and improved equipment. Suppliers on doing continuous research improving the design of weapons, electronics and computer systems.
The 17th challenge is to maintain strong political support.
The biggest problem in a democratic parliamentary system is the OPPOSITION PARTY. Their duty seems to be set on opposing everything the government in power acts upon. They always try to leave a negative opinion on voters.
By always opposing things, the government in power spends much of its time setting up committees and studies to please the opposition party and voters. Thus it not only takes longer to spend money, but also it is open to making sudden cuts in budgets to please public opinion. Politicians find the general public is less likely to complain when defence programs are cut.
The 18th challenge is having reliable equipment.
Many time I hear of armed forces building and designing new “state-of-the-art equipment, only to have them break down during the early part of their life causing a major reduction of commitment.
Or, purchasing equipment that an enemy can easily defeat.
There is a major problem if we are placing prototype engines in ships. An engine break down limits reliability and speed in a time of need and increases the costs.
The 19th challenge is to maintain a high standard of living.
Quality of living is not the same as the standard of living.
Our armed forces and police maintain our quality of living. Without them we would have a dramatic increase in crime, violence, corruption and terrorism. Reducing budgets of our defence and security system threatens our quality of living.
SAFETY and DEFENCE are the foundation of a free society.
The presentation by Vice-Admiral (ret’d) Bruce Donaldson at the Naval Association luncheon was a great awakening to why the RCN has difficulty planning the purchase of new ships and equipment.
I drew the above pyramid chart to see the implications of the Canadian federal budget and to clearly see why the politicians always hack away at the purchasing part (DND EQUIP. PURCH.) of the defence budget, which is 3% of the federal budget and 16% of the defence budget.
When politicians are short of funds, it seems to bet the only part of the federal budget they can hack without a lot of voters complaining.
I placed the defence and safety part at the bottom of the pyramid because it is the foundation of the security of our country. The politicians are using our national security as their piggy bank. Scary.
The 20th challenge is making a decision.
It takes more energy to convince a system you are right. If a person had all the answers to all of the world’s problems, it would take them 1,000 years to convince half of the world that they’re right.
Politics, ego, experience, and lack money always add to the delay and cost of doing something. Some politicians think, since they were elected by the voters, they must be right. The majority of voters have lower intelligence than the 20% that may have the experience to vote correctly. Young voters are more easily convinced by the promises of the politicians than older voters who have seen many “promises” not fulfilled over many years.
Unfortunately, the Canadian Armed Forces have a great reputation of operating equipment 30 to 60 years because politicians are not properly approving the purchase of up-to-date equipment when it is needed.
Our politicians maintain our standard of living. The standard of living is based on a middle class citizen having a sufficient amount of spending power. High taxation and fees take away the spending power of Canadians creating a slower economy and lowers our standard of living.
Trying to recognize everyone as equal and at the same time trying maintain high standards is extremely difficult. Many institutions have had to lower their standards to ensure equal opportunity for all.
If Canada’s National Defence cannot keep up to other nations in quantity, it must keep up or exceed in quality of personnel and equipment.