Military Procurement: Expanding Options and Export Dependence

Tasneem Jamal

Ernie Regehr

The Ploughshares Monitor Autumn 2006 Volume 27 Issue 3

Resolution of the conflicts at the root of modern wars requires accelerated diplomacy and genuine political and economic attention to the grievances that stoke enmity and desperation. It is widely accepted that these conflicts are not amenable to military solutions; that was certainly the near universal judgement regarding the mid-summer war in Israel and Lebanon. Indeed, the destruction of war invariably exacerbates the conditions of human insecurity that led to it in the first place. And yet it is striking how central the buildup of military capacity is to contemporary preparation for peace and security.

Military capacity is not irrelevant. The central element of the UN ceasefire resolution to halt the August war is a strengthened, UN-mandated international military force to patrol southern Lebanon and to intercept military resupply lines. But in a world that spends $1-trillion dollars a year on armed forces while chronically failing to meet even minimum humanitarian, development, and post-conflict reconstruction targets, it is not a lack of military capacity that threatens peace.

This context should inform an assessment of this summer’s spate of defence procurement announcements out of Ottawa. The conventional wisdom in Canada is that we are the exception – that Canadian forces really are underfunded and a lack of capacity is a real problem. It is true that Canadian forces are in a transition process and in need of much of the equipment that has been promised.

The quarrel, therefore, is not so much with the planned purchases as with the persistent failure to commit commensurate increases to the international diplomacy, development, democratization, and disarmament efforts1 that might prevent wars. The facts are that Canada ranks well within the top one-third of the industrialized world in military spending, but is not even halfway to meeting its development spending commitment of .7 percent of GDP.

The recent procurement announcements held few surprises. They essentially confirmed long-expected acquisitions that are largely consistent with the gradual reshaping of Canadian forces along lines initiated by the last Liberal Government – away from European-centric Cold War or high-intensity combat roles and toward expeditionary missions in environments ranging from peacekeeping in the context of conflict ceasefires to active low- and medium-intensity combat in armed conflict zones.

The proposed acquisitions upgrade the transport capacity and mobility of the Canadian forces. New aircraft are to provide transport capacity within Canada and from Canada to regions of operation (strategic lift with large, long-range aircraft) as well as transport from regional staging areas to conflict theatres and within conflict theatres (tactical airlift with smaller and shorter-range aircraft, as well as large helicopters). Supply ships are to provide long-range transport from Canada to regions of operation for heavy equipment and large volumes of cargo, in addition to resupplying ships on patrols.

Several of the purchases are designed to provide operational support to forces on patrol or in combat. For example, the supply ships can serve as offshore medical and equipment repair facilities, as well as command headquarters. Helicopters ferry personnel and supplies in and out of operational zones.

The truck purchases are intended for use in Canada, for training and in support of forces in emergency response operations, but with armor protection they are also suitable for operations in conflict zones.

Equipment obviously doesn’t determine specific operations, but equipment acquired today does in fact determine the kinds of operations and roles that Canadian forces will be prepared for tomorrow. The transport and operational capacity that will come with these procurements will help to make Canadian forces available for a wide range of missions from assistance in emergency humanitarian responses to ongoing combat. It will obviously remain the responsibility of the Government of the day to determine which involvements most clearly reflect Canadian values and best support the national interest and our international obligations.

Perhaps the most controversial decision is the intention to acquire an all-Canadian strategic lift capacity through the acquisition of four large and expensive transport aircraft. At the moment, Canada, like most middle powers, depends on leasing aircraft, as it did when the Disaster Assistance Response Team was deployed after the Asian tsunami, but all powers, including the United States, rely substantially on rented air and sea transport for major deployments. In order to ensure reliable access to leased aircraft, Canada has signed on to a NATO Strategic Airlift Interim Solution by which a group of 17 countries retains two Russian Antonov aircraft on full-time charter, two more on six- days notice, and another two on nine-days notice (all based in Europe). This arrangement is regarded as interim because several European members of NATO expect to take deliveries of new long-range transport aircraft from Airbus after 2010.

The aircraft most often touted for purchase by Canada is the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III long-range cargo jet. The US is offering to sell four C-17s from the current production run to a group of European NATO partners (USINFO.STATE.GOV 2006) and Denmark recently signed up for the C-17 deal (Wall Street Journal 2006). But Boeing has also announced that the production run will soon have to close unless there are more orders (USINFO.STATE.GOV 2006).

Some Canadian critics, like the Canadian American Strategic Review (CASR) at Simon Fraser University (2006), regard the C-17 as too big and costly for Canada, saying that any large transport aircraft for exclusive Canadian military use would likely stand idle 80 percent of their potential operating time. CASR has suggested expanding the NATO leasing arrangement instead, with two aircraft based in Canada, and upgrading the available flying time, with the aircraft available for moving large cargo to the Arctic and other civilian duties when not used by the military (CASR 2006b). The Antonovs, the largest to date of all military and civilian aircraft, are championed by some as the most economical and reliable purchase option, given that a Russia-UK consortium has proposed a new variant with UK- or American-built engines.

A June 2006 report of the Senate Defence Committee says that leasing may work for Europe, “but is not a good solution for Canada, even on an interim basis.” The Senators are never shy about calling for still more military spending, and so the Committee recommends that Canada acquire six to eight strategic lift aircraft (double what the Government is planning), explaining that in addition to meeting Canadian needs the aircraft could be made available to other countries (Senate of Canada 2006, Pt IV, 147) – which sounds a lot like the interim NATO arrangement, except that in this case Canada would be stuck with the enormous capital costs of purchasing the aircraft.

While the Government has emphasized that all of the announced acquisitions will bring maximum industrial benefits to Canada, there are important reasons to object to building up a domestic production capacity. In the first place, advocates of a speedier procurement process are critical of a system that mixes military procurement and industrial strategy because it adds both time and cost to an already glacial and complicated procurement process. The Senate Committee urges the Department of National Defence to buy off-the-shelf through the international market, noting that “there are extremely few situations in which the Canadian military requires equipment different from what is required by our allies.” The Senators also reject the use of defence purchases for economic development and regional job creation, for the same reasons of time and cost (Senate of Canada 2006, Pt IV, 108-110).

A domestic production capacity that would not be sustained by Canadian military needs has serious implications for Canadian military export policy and practice. If a limited, short-term domestic demand leads to increased production capacity in Canada, the ongoing viability of the production facility then depends on a military export market. That situation obviously generates pressure to increase military exports and, in turn, to ease restrictions on where such military goods can be sold.

A prime example of creating a production capacity in Canada for Canadian military orders, and then depending on foreign sales to sustain the enterprise, is the Canadian production of light armoured vehicles. Besides supplying Canadian forces, the company (formerly General Motors Diesel Division, and now General Dynamics Land Systems, of London, Ontario) has exported thousands of armoured vehicles. The problem is that the primary non-US customer has been and is Saudi Arabia, known for serious human rights violations and for contributing to the further arming of one of the most heavily armed and conflict-prone regions of the world.

If and when all of the announced purchases are completed, Canada’s capacity to deploy military forces beyond our borders will be significantly enhanced. But the social, economic, and political conflicts that are invariably at the roots of armed conflict are not amenable to military solutions. Armed forces can make an important contribution to facilitating and patrolling ceasefires and to protecting vulnerable people, but they can’t solve basic conflicts. To resolve the underlying problems, nonmilitary resources for diplomacy, development, disarmament, and democracy or good governance promotion are urgently required.

The summer acquisitions are emblematic of the Government’s decision to privilege military responses to endemic conflict over social, political, and economic responses.



  1. See Regehr and Whelan 2004.


Canadian American Strategic Review 2006a, Airlift update.

––––– 2006b, A modest proposal: Extending NATO’s SALIS to North America.

Regehr, Ernie and Whelan, Peter 2004, Reshaping the Security Envelope: Defence Policy in a Human Security Context, Working Paper 04-4, Project Ploughshares.

Senate of Canada 2006, The Government’s No. 1 Job: Securing the Military Options it needs to Protect Canadians, An Interim Report of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, First Session, Thirty-Ninth Parliament, June 2006.

USINFO.STATE.GOV 2006, US suggests NATO allies could pool money to buy C-17 aircraft, July 26.

Wall Street Journal 2006, Denmark signs up for Boeing C-17 in NATO deal, July 19.



New equipment slated for Canadian Forces

16 Medium- to Heavy-Lift Helicopters

  • Cost: $4.7-billion ($2-billion for acquisition, $2.7-billion for 20 years of in-service support)
  • To be acquired under an Advance Contract Award Notice (ACAN). Under this arrangement, the Government identifies a specific contractor but gives other potential suppliers the opportunity to demonstrate that they can meet contract requirements. If another valid statement of capabilities is received a competitive process is run; if no such statement of capabilities is received it is assumed to be a competitive process.

3 Joint Support Ships

  • Cost: $2.9-billion ($2.1-billion acquisition, $0.8-billion in-service support for 20 years)
  • The ships are to be built in Canada with four consortia (Irving Shipbuilding, BAE Systems, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, and SNC-Lavalin ProFac Inc.) bidding on the project definition phase.
    2,300 Logistics Trucks (5-tonne)
  • Cost: $1.2-billion ($1.1-billion acquisition, $0.1-billion in-service support)
  • The trucks are to be purchased through competitive contracting and will include 300 trailers, 1,000 specialty kits (e.g., mobile kitchens, offices, medical stations), and 300 armour protection systems.

17 Tactical Airlift Aircraft

  • Cost: $4.9-billion ($3.2-billion acquisition, $1.7-billion in-service support for 20 years)
    4 Strategic Airlift
  • Cost: $3.4-billion ($1.8-billion acquisition, $1.6-billion in-service support for 20 years)
  • Under an ACAN contracting process , with Boeing C-17 current leading contender
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