Harper’s New Flotilla Scuttled

Impolitical may well be onto something with her suspicions of tough financial times ahead dictating the cancellation of two major ship contracts that were announced, heroically as usual, late Friday afternoon. But in the case of one of them at least, there may be another explanation — one that I’m sure will surprise nobody familiar with the arcane mysteries and Byzantine complexities of military procurement.

But first a little background is in order.

The almost $3 billion “Joint Support Ship” (JSS) Project was first announced with great fanfare by the Harper government (then Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor, and Public Works Minister Michael Fortier together with Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier) just before Canada Day 2006 as part of its sweeping program to modernize the Canadian military. The original goal was to obtain three multi-role vessels with substantially more capability than the fleet’s aging Protecteur Class oiler and resupply ships. In addition to being able to provide at-sea support (re-fueling and re-supply) to deployed naval task groups, the new JSS ships were envisioned as being capable of providing sealift operations and support to forces landed ashore.

Four industry teams were pre-qualified to compete for the contract: Irving Shipbuilding; BAE Systems (Project) Limited (BAE Systems Naval Ships); ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AG; and SNC-Lavalin Profac Inc. Eventually, this was pared down to two groups that were awarded contracts for the “project definition phase” and would then be in competition for the final Implementation contract.

Fast-forward just a little over two years and $25 million later and the government determined that the proposals from the two Canadian consortiums were “noncompliant.” It seems that the JSS budget was insufficient to build the three vessels envisioned and attempts to obtain additional funding for the project were unsuccessful. With its plans in disarray, the government frantically explored the possibility of contracting the work to Dutch shipbuilders — makers of the highly-regarded Rotterdam Class “Landing Ship Dock” (LSDs) — but quickly ran into furious political opposition from the Canadian shipbuilding industry. And so, with Friday’s announcement that the JSS contract has been cancelled, things are back to square one.

Now why, you might naturally ask, were the two bids from the “project definition phase” deemed to be “noncompliant”? We can’t say for sure, but an opinion piece from Defense Industry Daily dated the week after the project was first announced provides the most likely answer:

Candidly, the record for small to mid-size powers attempting to develop new military technologies is not all that good. Engineering is a challenging art at the best of times, and military projects are more demanding than most because of the myriad of parts to integrate and the advanced (and hence often new and unproven) nature of the technologies. Add local unfamiliarity into the mix, and the result is inevitably schedule slips and cost overruns – often significant slips, and major cost overruns.

Given the limited procurement resources of small to medium powers, such projects can easily threaten to swallow entire service procurement budgets. Cancellation means millions or even billions of scarce dollars has been flushed down the toilet and wasted. On the other hand, continuing the program may break one’s military as other areas are starved to pay for it – all with no guarantee of success.

Canada’s Joint Support Ships …conform to no known ship type in their breadth of required functions, and are based on no pre-existing class. The firms competing for the design are not world leaders in similar ship classes like amphibious assault ships or LPDs. Nor does the depth of Canadian design and build experience in related efforts give cause for optimism; quite the reverse. Indeed, the JSS’ breadth of functions alone suggests a difficult project for any entity or country to undertake, and little hope of much beyond mediocrity in all functions due to the required trade-offs.

The editorial goes on note that critics of the project had suggested that JSS was “set up to become a budget-eating failure” and that rather than the “unwieldy JSS idea” the navy would have been better served with a different combination of available technologies that “would leverage successful R&D efforts, and spend more money on cutting steel and floating boats, as opposed to pursuing paper visions that risk sucking up vast resources and producing inferior products – or no products as all.”

Rather prophetic, wouldn’t you say?

Update: In addition to some highly insightful remarks in the comments here, Dave has much more to say about this over at The Galloping Beaver in addition to some well-informed speculation about the Destroyer Replacement project, which it’s felt “is also going to find itself swirling around the drain” before too long. As Dave suggests, the sinking of the JSS project puts the concept behind Harper’s highly ambitious “Canada First” plan at serious risk of being scrapped.

Our Liberal Media: With Sprinkles!

There’s a lot of chatter this morning about the so-called “analysis” of Barack Obama’s pick for vice-president by the AP’s Ron Fournier, who claims that the move “shows a lack of confidence” in the face of pressure coming from Dems worried about losing the election. No big surprise considering the dreadful source, nevertheless, hot airheads like Malkin are more than happy to uncritically lap it up. Steve Clemons at the Huffington Post has a good response explaining why Biden is, as he puts it, “vital and the right choice.”

Meanwhile, John Cole, bless his heart, zeroes in on it as being yet another fine example of the so-called liberal media’s double-standard when it comes to the treatment of Democrats and Republicans by highlighting the way George Bush’s pick of Dick Cheney in 2000 was generally received by the press. CNN’s Jeff Greenfield, for example, praised him for picking for “running mate somebody who knows the world stage” because it showed “a clear signal this is somebody with some seriousness of purpose.”

Over at PBS, veteran Republican consultant Vin Weber was wheeled out to say that it was “a great testimonial to Governor Bush that he feels secure reaching out to a person of such great stature” and went on at some length extolling what a simply wonderful decision it was, one that “reflected a tremendous stability, a tremendous amount of judgment.” Weber continued: “It reflected putting conventional political considerations like ideological balance or geographic balance behind you and putting ahead of you somebody who has serious experience in the legislative branch of government foreign policy…” &tc.

Cole sums up the predicament archly like this:

Republican names a running mate with lots of experience — a sign of wisdom and good judgment and a sense of being secure.

Democrat names a running mate with lots of experience — a profound lack of confidence.
Go liberal media!

Fournier is just one voice amongst many of course, but keep in mind that he does cover the presidential beat for the Associated Press, and as such, his “analysis” will appear in 1,500 U.S. daily newspapers. By the way, he was also one of the journalists who, at a gathering of the nation’s newspaper editors, extended McCain a box of his favourite doughnuts (“Oh, yes, with sprinkles!” McCain said, clearly delighted).

CRAP* in Guelph a Tory Trick?

David Akin has some intriguing speculation about a rather fishy poll conducted by KLR VU (the outfit behind the anomalous “massive poll” indicating that 56 percent of Canadians opposed Morgentaler’s appointment to the Order of Canada) that was conducted for free apparently by the new Winnipeg-based firm at the end of last month/beginning of this month, showing the Liberals with a comfortable lead in the Guelph by-election.

One conspiracy theory however, suggests that it may be a cunning attempt by the admittedly Conservative pollster to “put the Liberal vote to sleep.” That seems like a bit of a stretch. Ditto for Blogging Horse’s puzzling theory that it may have been done to discredit the NDP (yeah, like they need help with that). What an interesting little race that one is turning out to be.

*Computerized Response Automated Poll (aka an IVR, interactive voice response).

h/t: Jeff at “where’d that bug go”