RCAF Priorities Outlined to Montreal Industry

In an address to Montreal aerospace industry representatives on Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Yvan Blondin, Commander of the RCAF, outlined the future procurement priorities of the Air Force, which go well beyond fighter replacement. The general touched on a variety of subjects, ranging from the effects of the delays in procuring CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to the force’s expanded presence in the Arctic. His message for Canadian industry was clear: find ways for the Air Force to save money.

One avenue for saving money prominent in the talk was the improvement and expanded use of flight simulators. This accords with some of Blondin’s previous comments that reducing maintenance costs and prolonging the service life of the current fighter fleet might involve less flying time.

Future capital acquisitions mentioned included an unspecified number of drones- from the context, it was clear that these were to be more than the reconnaissance drones Canada already uses- search and rescue transport aircraft (a role separate from the CH-149 recently acquired), and a number of disposable stores acquisitions, including new sonobuoys and torpedoes. The search and rescue and anti-submarine equipment particularly fill definite gaps. Canada is notorious for its poor search and rescue coverage given its territory, and transport and rescue squadrons field some fairly old airframes. Likewise, Canada still uses the Cold War-vintage Mk.46 torpedo.

It was difficult to get a sense of Gen. Blondin’s direction for the force from the talk. While he did indicate that a major reassessment of Air Force doctrine was underway internally, little that was really new seemed to enter into the priorities he presented. Gen. Blondin has been a supporter of the F-35 program, albeit hedging his bets a little more than his predecessor.

What was most interesting about the evening was the attitude among the industry representatives. They seem to recognise that this government’s procurement plans are likely to face re-evaluation, particularly the F-35 purchase. Several of these companies manufacture components for the F-35, but they seem fairly well aware of that program’s cost problems, and are unfazed by the prospect of having to reorient. One company which manufactures F-35 components, for example, also has contracts for the Super Hornet, the C-130 and a number of Sikorsky helicopters, as well as a civil aviation business line. The Canadian aerospace industry tends to specialise in discrete components, such as landing gear and avionics, and so generally have a wide pool of programs and clients in both military and civil aviation to balance out problems with any particular program.


CBC News on Modern Espionage

A fairly decent video report from CBC News on the modern espionage boom and its effects on Canada. There are two important takeaways that, while not surprising to anyone who has studied the current state of the intelligence world in any depth, would probably surprise many people who have not.

Although awareness of the fact of economic espionage from China is spreading, people do not realise the far-reaching economic and geopolitical effects that come with it. This is not just about stealing the Blackberry. This is about stealing billions of dollars worth of investment, research and development that underpins major high-tech industry in North America and Europe and shifting that knowledge to China for nothing. Beside that huge espionage-based economic shift, the theft of military technology seems almost trivial.


“Seems” because the other major takeaway from this video is the spread and ease of military and military-industrial espionage. The GRU, Russian military intelligence (ironically most famous in the West for plagiarising the Batman logo), has always been the quieter and more competent of Russia’s two major covert intelligence agencies, and it never closed shop. It appears that the Delisle espionage case is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the access they have. Russian intelligence in particular was always a little secret-happy, and it appears there’s a push on to extract as many secrets from the West as possible. China, of course, has not only vast cyber-espionage resources, but it has been publicly acknowledged that the Chinese have stolen plans for everything from nuclear weapons (see video) to the F-35. Combined with the fact that China makes a great deal of the electronics for the US military, it is a very uncomfortable situation.

Although the report focuses on Russia and China, other countries (this is where people in the intel world might cover their mouths and whisper “France!”) do exactly the same thing on a smaller scale. The point is that in a high-tech world, covert intelligence seems to have gained a palpable edge over counterintelligence.

A Buyer’s Guide to the Frigate Market

Militaries have a very poor record as comparison shoppers, so as Canada joins the ranks of countries looking for a new surface combatant design, it makes sense to give an overview of surface combatant offerings in our bracket, the capabilities militaries around the world are looking for and the implications for Canada. Given Canada’s limited design capabilities, the most likely course is to build an existing design, likely one of the European offerings detailed below.

What Are We Looking for in a Surface Combatant?

Logically, there are two main ways to approach this question, depending on which set of assumptions you start with.

Global Navy
The first approach is to assume that the RCN can expect to be a major player in future conflicts and should arm itself accordingly, in line with the capabilities that other global navies possess.

Canada’s Navy
The second approach is to ask why Canada needs to do any of that. There is virtually no possibility of a direct naval threat to Canada. The most likely spot for a naval spat these days is in East Asian waters, where Canada could hardly be more than a bit player. In that light, if all the tactical bells and whistles exist only to win international brownie points, we might as well not buy them and put the money somewhere else. See Mark’s expansion on these issues here.

The RCN has never consistently laid down doctrine either way, and likes to mix and match. However, the Canadian Surface Combatant Program thus far looks more like the former than the latter, so we will proceed on the assumption that we are going to buy a ship equipped for classic blue-water missions.


De Zeven Provinciën- Netherlands

Estimated Unit Cost: $816 million US

Power Plant: Combined Diesel and Gas
Speed: 30 knots
Crew: 30 officers, 202 ratings

Thales Nederland APAR (Search, Tracking and Guidance)
Thales Nederland Smart-L (Air and Surface Surveillance)
Thales Nederland Scout (Surface Search, Navigation)

Atlas Elektronik DSQS-24C Hull-Mounted Sonar

Other Sensors:
Thales Nederland Mirador (Optical Tracking)
Thales Nederland SIRIUS IRST (Infrared Search and Track)

Combat System:
Thales Nederland SEWACO XI

8 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles
Mk 41 Vertical Launch System with 40 cells, carrying
32 SM-2 Block IIIA Surface-to-Air Missiles and
32 Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) Surface-to-Air Missiles (quad packed)
2 twin launchers for Mk. 46 Mod. 5 Anti-Submarine torpedoes
1 Oto Melera 127mm/54 Gun
1-2 Goalkeeper 30mm Close In Weapons Systems
Combination of Browning M2 and FN MAG 12.7 and 7.62mm machine guns

Thales Sabre ECM Suite
BAE Systems SRBOC Chaff/ Infrared Decoy Dispenser
AN/SLQ-25 Nixie Torpedo Decoy

1 NH-90 ASW Helicopter


The De Zeven Provinciën class epitomises the northern European frigate. The Active Phased Array Radar (APAR)/ Smart-L mix with small numbers of SM-2 and ESSM missiles confers a lower mid-tier area air defence capability, which nevertheless improves upon that of the preceding generation of frigates. Harpoon, the ubiquitous and dated Western subsonic anti-ship missile, anti-submarine helicopter and torpedoes round out a three-dimensional capability. This pattern is replicated with minor variations in the Danish and German offerings.

And it is the pattern Canada is most likely to select. It would allow Canada to leverage its participation in the development of the Active Phased Array Radar (APAR) system. Use of weapons systems already in service in Canada such as the Standard missile family and the Harpoon anti-ship missile would help to make the ships economical. Canada is known for developing a great deal of the software for its own ships, which would likely be easier with a European combat system than with the American Aegis system.

The De Zeven Provinciën’s drawbacks are cost and a relatively heavy crew requirement.

Iver Huitfeldt- Denmark

Estimated Unit Cost: $333 million CD

Power Plant: Diesel
Speed: 28 knots
Crew: 18 officers, 83 crew, berths for 165 provided

Thales Nederland APAR (Search, Tracking and Guidance)
Thales Nederland Smart-L (Air and Surface Surveillance)
Furuno Navigation Radar
Saab CEROS 200 Fire Control Radars

Atlas ASO-94 Hull-Mounted Sonar

Other Sensors:
Seastar Seafire III Forward-Looking Infrared

Combat System:
Terma C-flex

8-16 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles
Mk 41 Vertical Launch System with 32 cells, carrying
32 SM-2 Block IIIA Surface-to-Air Missiles
Mk 56 Vertical Launch Systems with
24-48 Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) Surface-to-Air Missiles
2 twin launchers for MU90 Anti-Submarine Torpedoes
1-2 Otobreda 76mm Super-Rapid
1 Oerlikon Millennium 35mm Close In Weapons Systems (to be installed)

EDO 3701 electronic warning system
4×12 Terma DL-12T 130mm decoy launchers

1 SH-90R Seahawk ASW Helicopter


Though very close in sensor and weapons fits, the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class is in some ways a more attractive proposition than their Dutch counterparts. The Danish Navy has invested considerable time and thought in economic shipbuilding practices, as reflected in the unit cost, and in ensuring flexible combat capabilities. The Standard Flex system containerises systems and armament so that they can be easily swapped out at dockside within a few hours- notice the variations in possible armament indicated in the specifications.

That means not only that armament can be bolstered according to the mission, and that the armament can evolve fairly easily without major refit, but that whatever systems Canada chooses to purchase for the frigates are completely transferable to other hulls equipped to receive StanFlex modules. The Iver Huitfeldts, like most Danish naval vessels, are true plug-and-play ships in a sense that no other navy has achieved. For relatively small navies like the RCN, this could be a tremendously attractive proposition. The Iver Huitfeldts also feature a very small crew complement, reducing operating costs.

Their weaknesses are the diesel engines, which allow for a slower speed but make up for it in range, and in some aspects of their electronics and countermeasures fit (which can be easily addressed).

Sachsen- Germany

Estimated Unit Cost: $1.12 billion CD

Power Plant: Combined Diesel and Gas
Speed: 29 knots
Crew: 243

Thales Nederland APAR (Search, Tracking and Guidance)
Thales Nederland Smart-L (Air and Surface Surveillance)
2 STN Atlas 9600-M multi-function I/J band ARPA radars

STN Atlas DSQS-24B bow sonar

Other Sensors:
STN Atlas MSP 500 electro-optical fire control system
Thales Nederland SIRIUS IRST (Infrared Search and Track- fitted for but not with)

Combat System:
Thales Nederland Sewaco FD

8 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles
Mk 41 Vertical Launch System with 32 cells, carrying
24 SM-2 Block IIIA Surface-to-Air Missiles and
32 Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) Surface-to-Air Missiles (quad packed)
2 triple launchers for MU90 Anti-Submarine Torpedoes
1 Oto Melera 76mm Gun
2 Rolling Airframe Missile Close In Weapons Systems
2 Mauser MLG-27 27mm Cannon

EADS Systems and Defence Electronics FL1800 SII ECM suite
6 BAE Systems SRBOC launcher

2 NH-90 or Sea Lynx ASW Helicopter


Looking at the cost of the Sachsen class next to its very similar Dutch and Danish counterparts, one is tempted to say that the Germans didn’t give themselves a very good deal. The sensors and armament are all but identical. Save for the extra helicopter, there is no good reason to spend the extra money for this design.

Still, the Sachsens are not the final word in Germany’s frigate potential, as the MEKO line of ship designs allows for tailoring the ships to the needs of foreign customers.

F100- Spain

Specifications for Spanish version

Estimated Unit Cost: $600 million US (see comments)

Power Plant: Combined Diesel and Gas
Speed: 28.5 knots
Crew: 48 officers, 202 enlisted

Lockheed AN/SPY-1D Multifunction Radar
Raytheon SPS-67(V)4 surface search radar
Raytheon SPG-62 Mk 99 radar illuminator

Raytheon DE1160 LF Hull-Mounted Sonar

Other Sensors:
DORNA Infrared and Visual Tracking Suite

Combat System:

8 Harpoon Anti-Ship Missiles
Mk 41 Vertical Launch System with 48 cells, carrying
32 SM-2 Block IIIA Surface-to-Air Missiles and
64 Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) Surface-to-Air Missiles (quad packed)
4 dual launchers for Mk 46 Anti-Submarine Torpedoes
1 Mk 45 5 inch Gun
1 FABA Meroka 2B Close-In Weapons System (not installed)
2 20mm Cannon

Aldebaran Electronic Support Measures / Electronic Countermeasures System
Lockheed Martin SRBOC chaff and infrared decoy launcher
AN/SLQ-25A Nixie

1 SH-60B Seahawk ASW Helicopter


Variants of the Spanish F100 design serve the Spanish and Norwegian navies, and the Royal Australian Navy has selected it as the basis for their forthcoming Hobart class. The Spanish original is by far the most American of the European frigates, using American AN/SPY-1D phased array radars and the Aegis combat system, a lighter version of the system used on the American Ticonderoga and Arleigh Burke classes. Whether Aegis retains significant advantages over its European equivalents, especially in this truncated form, is an open question; however, it is known that foreign versions of the system are generally a few steps behind the current American version. Additionally, the Aegis system will have no Active Phased Array Radar associated with it for several years.

The F100 series is a very clean, capable and flexible design. One of its useful features is the mounting of machinery on anti-vibration mounts to make the ships less detectable to submarines. Unit prices range from $640 million (US) for the Norwegian vessels to $600 million for the first four Spanish vessels, to $1.1 billion for the final Spanish vessel. It should be noted that the Australian contract, for ships that will be assembled in Australia, allocated 8 billion Australian dollars ($7.12 US) for only three ships. This scaling makes a useful and frightening benchmark for Canada’s own build-it-yourself projects.

FREMM- France/Italy

Specifications for French version

Estimated Unit Cost: $726 million US

Power Plant: Gas Turbine/ Electric
Speed: 27 knots
Crew: 145

Héraklès multi-purpose radar
Terma Scanter 2001 radar

Thales UMS 4410 CL hull sonar
Thales UMS 4249 CAPTAS4 towed sonar

Other Sensors:
STN Atlas MSP 500 electro-optical fire control system
Thales Artemis IRST (Infrared Search and Track)

Combat System:

8 MM-40 Exocet Block III Anti-Ship Missiles
SYLVER A43 Vertical Launch System with
16 Aster 15 Surface to Air Missiles
SYLVER A70 Vertical Launch System with
16 SCALP Naval Land Attack Cruise Missiles
MU90 Anti-Submarine Torpedoes
1 Otobreda 76 mm
3 Nexter Narwhal 20mm Remote Weapons Stations

Thales Electronic Warfare Suite
Sagem NGDS Decoy System

1 NH-90 ASW Helicopter

Future air defence variant may include new or upgraded radar, Aster 30 long-range surface to air missile and tactical unmanned aerial vehicle.

FREMM is the child of two projects. The cancellation of further units of the expensive Horizon class air defence frigate left France and Italy with a gap that needed to be filled by a cheaper vessel, which should nevertheless carry the Aster surface to air missile system. French experience fitting this system to their smaller La Fayette class design (to produce the Formidable class for Singapore) was proof of the idea that a smaller air defence ship could be financially viable and effective. The French and Italian versions differ significantly, the Italians having a stronger surface to air fit, retaining the EMPAR radar and Aster 30 missile from the Horizon class. The Italian version also uses the new Otobreda 127mm/64 gun with Vulcano guided ammunition, yielding a range of up to 120km.

FREMM’s “air defence light” approach may be the way of the future, as the perceived threat of massed anti-ship missile attack diminishes (though of course, the number and capability of such missiles is only increasing). The proliferation of ultra-quiet conventional submarines worldwide should make anti-submarine specialised vessels attractive, and FREMM is one of the few new ships in Europe to have an associated towed array sonar. FREMM is an excellent design, and the wide range of systems which are already integrated thanks to the different French and Italian configurations gives the buyer considerable choice.

Unfortunately, none of the major sensors or weapons systems already integrated are in use with the RCN or are on Canada’s “likely to buy” list. Attempting to Canadianize the design will therefore come at a premium as new systems are integrated. Aside from that, FREMM represents a reasonable level of ambition for Canada- more capable than both of our existing surface combatant designs combined, but not a true area air defence ship.

Finally, of course, the FREMM does not achieve its major program objective: economy. It is cheaper than the Horizon class, but by much less than was envisaged, and its cost is slightly toward the high end of the European average.

MEKO Derivatives- Germany

The German MEKO series has a long history of leveraging domestic production experience to provide customised designs for foreign buyers. The most recent export in Canada’s bracket is the South African Valour class, which is not only much cheaper than the Sachsen class at $327 million US, but incorporates numerous life-cycle cost reduction measures. The MEKO option is something to think about if Canada intends to do any significant customisation of whatever design we purchase, especially given that Canada’s own design capacity was effectively dissolved in the 2000s.

Type 26- United Kingdom

The British built excellent frigates in the 80s and 90s, and the current Type 23 is among the best of its generation. Unfortunately, the Type 26 looks less promising, as the Royal Navy has decided not to include an area air defence system of any kind.

The Type 26 will instead feature the British-designed Sea Ceptor surface-to-air missile, a short-range replacement for the famous Sea Wolf. Sea Ceptor, like Enhanced Sea Sparrow (ESSM), is designed for close-range anti-air and anti-missile defence, and can be packed four to a vertical launch tube. However, Sea Ceptor has only about half the range of ESSM. Unfortunately, this makes the design unsuitable for countries which want area air defence capability and can’t afford a separate platform to carry it.

In other respects, the Type 26 may be alright- we could count on a sound ASW suite, there is the possibility of a land-attack capability, and if the Perseus missile program goes forward, these frigates might carry the first Western supersonic anti-ship missile. This would finally give a Western ship a naval strike capability on par with Indian, Russian and Chinese equivalents (see below).


There are certain parts of the world the Canadian military just doesn’t buy from, but it is nevertheless instructive to watch the trends in Russia and Asia, both to understand what they are buying and to see how it compares with Western equivalents. The failure to take a global view of such things often results in procurement requirements living in an intellectual vacuum.

The three designs that seem most appropriate to evaluate are the Indo-Russian Talwar/Shivalik/Admiral Grigorovitch classes, the Russian Admiral Gorshkov class and the Chinese Type 054. Not only are they in the right weight class and equipment set, but these designs are set for mass production and are likely to be exported (the Type 054 has already been offered to Thailand).

A highly capable design initially built by Russia for India. Although based on the old Krivak class hull, the Talwar is a generational leap forward, incorporating the capabilities of the old Soviet Sovremenny and Udaloy class destroyers combined, enhanced with new systems and electronics. The success of this class has caused the Indians to build their own equivalent, the Shivalik class, and Russia is reported to be purchasing six Talwars as the Admiral Grigorovich class.

The Admiral Gorshkov class is the great white hope of the Russian Navy, with 20 units planned to replace existing destroyers and frigates. The Gorshkov is Russia’s all-out attempt to optimise the Talwar design, including new electronics and the formidable S-400 surface to air missile system. Although only about a thousand tons heavier than the old Krivak class frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov will be individually more capable in every respect than any two destroyers of the old Soviet Navy.

Type 054:
China has apparently decided to conduct fleet air defence in two brackets, with the long-range HQ-9 system aboard destroyers and the medium-range HQ-16 shifted over to frigates. The Type 054A is a typically well-rounded Chinese design with a balance of anti-surface and anti-submarine capability rounding out the mix.


Electronics have historically been the weakness of Russian naval technology (on which all these designs are based), but there are signs that this is changing. The Talwar and Shivalik classes are known to incorporate fully integrated combat systems, the lack of which was the main weakness of legacy Soviet designs.

While the Talwar, Shivalik and Type 054 all use updated versions of legacy Russian radars, the Admiral Gorshkov introduces a new generation of radars, the details of which are not known. The Chinese are also known to be working on active electronically scanned radars which will probably be fitted to future Type 054 variants.

Anti-Ship Capability

All of these designs feature enhanced anti-ship capability compared with Western equivalents. The Chinese YJ-82 and YJ-83 missiles bring a number of useful features. The subsonic YJ-82 can attack both land and sea targets, and uses imaging infrared or tv seekers in addition to radar to find stealthy targets. The missile’s datalink also allows (but does not require) the operator to see those images and direct the missile’s terminal guidance, much like the US Air Force’s Maverick. The YJ-83 retains the dual radar-infrared seeker and adds a supersonic terminal phase to cut the defending systems’ reaction time.

The Russian and Indian ships each carry anti-ship missiles capable of sustaining Mach 2.8, Oniks and BrahMos respectively. The Admiral Gorshkov class will be able to carry up to 16 Oniks missiles, the heaviest anti-surface armament in the Russian Navy since the Kirov class battlecruiser. BrahMos-2, currently in development, is intended to be the world’s first hypersonic anti-ship missile.

Air Defence

Each of the in-service designs incorporates a medium-range area air defence system based on the highly capable Shtil (SA-N-12) missile or its Chinese copy the HQ-16. The Admiral Gorshkov will use the new generation S-400 system with 120 km range. It should also be noted that each of these ships serves beside larger vessels with additional air defence capability.

It is still common for Western officers and analysts to scoff at Russian and Chinese designs, but that is a serious mistake. China has been using all means including espionage and reverse engineering to catch up to the West in military technology, and Russia never stopped developing and upgrading its systems, whether or not it could afford to field them. Both countries have paid consistent attention to areas of development in which the West has been complacent, including anti-ship missiles, anti-torpedo defences, surface-to-air missiles and anti-submarine warfare.

Global Trends

Anti-Ship Missile Proliferation:
Anti-ship missiles, launched from ships, aircraft, shore batteries or submarines, are a cheap way to do a great deal of damage, and modern anti-ship missiles are now within the reach of all but the poorest nations. While we may not be facing a Soviet style three-dimensional saturation missile attack, the case for strong air and missile defence remains on solid ground.

Conventional Submarine Proliferation:
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, conventional submarine technology has proliferated far and fast. Rising powers are now building Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) submarines. Western exercises against modern conventional submarines have inflicted a number of sharp lessons which are starting to shake Western navies out of their post-Cold War complacency in this area.

Surface Combatant Armament Shifts:
We seem to be on the brink of major changes in surface combatant armament. Long-range guided ammunition such as Vulcano is reinventing the naval gun, converting it from an archaic secondary weapon into the cheapest, most flexible and potentially most deadly part of a ship’s offensive armament. Ranging anywhere from 30 to 120 km depending on the version, this ammunition makes the medium-calibre gun a serious shore bombardment, anti-ship, anti-air and even anti-missile weapon.

Other changes on the horizon include the advent of the hypersonic missile, which could make most current air defence and close-in weapons systems obsolete, and the potential solution, the directed-energy point defence weapon. Railguns, currently in development, will further reinvent the gun as an offensive and defensive weapon. Unmanned aerial and surface vehicles are in consideration for a number of ships and in a number of roles.

Of more immediate concern, electronic and EMP warfare is now an important part of naval doctrine because of China’s adoption of these strategies, and extra care should be taken to harden new surface combatants against this kind of warfare.

The “Relevant” Ship:
Navies, like political parties, churches and NATO, are trying to be “relevant,” although the quality of the perception to which they are trying to be relevant varies. I’ve written previously about the counterproductive nature of using major combatant vessels for shore support, humanitarian aid, troop transport etc, as opposed to designs better fitted to those duties.

The best of the “relevant” combatant ships is the Danish Absolon class, which combines a modular and respectable frigate armament with the flexibility to take on multiple special roles, from field hospital through special forces support. In the worst cases, requirements for ships like this assume that none of the other trends detailed in this article exist. The American Littoral Combat Ships, which have no significant tactical capability in any respect except as a ferry for troops, and the German Baden-Württemberg class shore support frigate (armed with land attack missiles and water cannons) are prime examples.


Frigates are both more expensive and more capable worldwide than they have ever been. The world’s oceans are at peace, but the world’s material potential for naval war is at its highest since the end of the Cold War. If the navy wants to be out on the sharp end, it had better prepare accordingly. Is there a compelling reason for us to be involved in any future naval conflict? Debatable. In either case, clear policy should be made before we invest another dollar in ships that, in the absence of doctrinal direction, may end up as neither fish nor fowl.

If we are to buy a foreign design and build it here, with all the extra costs that entails, we owe it to ourselves to start with a method of ship design and construction that is cheap, proven and flexible. The Danish approach is that method. If we buy Iver Huitfeldt, we will have a design with virtually all of the systems we would want already integrated, and the modular capability would allow us to modify it however we wanted.

Transparency Inhibits Defence Procurement Stupidity, and other news

The Canadian Department of National Defence has stopped releasing full Statements of Operational Requirements for ongoing procurement programs. These were formerly made available online. To quote Embassy News, “The move seems to be an expansion of an earlier switch in 2011, when DND refused to release the version of the document detailing requirements for new F-35 fighter jets, claiming it was classified—even though DND’s own website at the time hosted many of those same types of documents for public downloading.”

The stated reason according to a spokesperson is “to ensure that planning projections which may change do not influence the formal acquisition process.” In other words, no one but DND should be allowed to logically evaluate a procurement program according to the requirements laid out by the military. In a country plagued by procurement incompetence, trying to build a military shipbuilding industry from scratch, with helicopters falling out the sky with no replacements in sight, with submarines that still don’t work and a hotly debated fighter acquisition program, it is certainly understandable that whoever is responsible for damaging the defence of Canada on this scale doesn’t want their work evaluated by outside experts who may possibly have a passing familiarity with common sense.

In other news, Poland has just acquired a coastal defence battalion of Norwegian-built NSM anti-ship missiles. The missiles are stealthy and designed to function in crowded littoral conditions.

A Panzerhowitzer 2000 has successfully tested Oto Melara’s 155mm Vulcano guided ammunition on a target 33 kilometres away. The Vulcano family significantly boosts the range and accuracy of ammunition and has both naval and land-based applications.

The F-35 draws criticism once again, this time for the poor gun system on the F-35A and the lack of any guns on the B and C models, as well as a flawed helmet-mounted sight.

Advertising and the Fighter Market, and other news

F-35 add on OC Transpo bus

F-35 ad on OC Transpo bus

In what some would call a shameless and ham-handed attempt to rebrand their product in Canada, Lockheed Martin has taken to advertising the F-35 on the sides of Ottawa city buses. The argument presented is essentially the same as one that Sir Humphrey (of the highly-regarded British sitcom Yes Prime Minister) advanced in favour of buying Trident missiles:

Sir Humphrey Appleby: Don’t you believe that Great Britain should have the best?
Jim Hacker: Yes, of course.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Very well, if you walked into a nuclear missile showroom you would buy Trident – it’s lovely, it’s elegant, it’s beautiful. It is quite simply the best. And Britain should have the best. In the world of the nuclear missile it is the Saville Row suit, the Rolls Royce Corniche, the Château Lafitte 1945. It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you. What more can I say?
Jim Hacker: Only that it costs £15 billion and we don’t need it.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, you can say that about anything at Harrods.

In other news, the son of a PLA general faces trial on charges of gang rape, continuing a series of crackdowns on official corruption which have already seen a high official executed for child molestation and others jailed for misconduct.

China’s recent order for Russian Su-35 fighter aircraft has been raised to 100 aircraft from 24. This is the latest operational model of the Flanker series, and, depending on the avionics fit, should give China a substantial technological boost, both in the air and in the production of its own Flanker variants. China has also ordered 4 Lada class submarines, suggesting that they see a need to improve their own line of air-independent conventional submarines, the Yuan class.

Lada-class submarine

Lada-class submarine

The US Naval War College Review’s Summer 2013 edition contains an interesting analysis of the problematic procurement history of the Royal Navy’s new Type 45 Destroyers, providing a window into issues that many services currently face in their procurement programs.

No Joy in Chopperville

CH-148 Cyclone

CH-148 Cyclone

The world bristles with ASW helicopters, from the AW-101 Merlin to the NH-90 to the Seahawk, all of them capable, proven designs. Of course, the Canadian DND has never felt any obligation to go with the cost-effective, proven solution- that’s why Canada chose none of the above and instead opted for the CH-148 Cyclone, a variant of the Sikorsky S-92, which has never been used in the role before.

This saga goes back to the waning days of the Cold War, when the Mulroney government ordered the then- EH-101 to replace Canada’s ageing Sea Kings. With the fall of the Soviet Union, such “unnecessary” spending became an election issue, and the order was promptly cancelled by the incoming Liberal government. After ten years and not a few Sea King crashes, it was realised that we actually did need a new helicopter.

Now, not for the first time, it seems clear that not only is developing a Canada-specific ASW helicopter an enormous and unnecessary waste of money, but Sikorsky can’t deliver the goods. Delivery was to have begun in 2008, and so far, all that’s been delivered are four helicopters that can’t perform their mission functions. The Ministry of Public Works has initiated an independent review of the program.

It is likely Canadian taxpayers will still be feeding the maw of this tragicomic beast of a procurement program for decades to come. But as the Sea King approaches its fiftieth birthday, it’s time to explore other options, for the sake of the crews if nothing else.

F-35 vs. Typhoon: Which Costs More?

When the Aeronautica Militare placed its initial order for three F-35As, it was able to approach the Italian Parliament with a surprisingly low unit cost: 80 million dollars. This is significantly lower than what European countries are paying for their Eurofighters. But what exactly is unit cost? How is it determined? Is it the cost of manufacturing the airframe? The cost of airframe plus engines? Airframe plus engines plus flight avionics? What about weapons systems integration? What about development costs? Up-front investment? Cost of ownership? What about differences caused by different service requirements? What gets averaged into the unit price can mean a difference of hundreds of millions of dollars. One thing is certain: whether or not it’s included in the sticker price, it will be in a contract somewhere, and will get paid somehow.


Eurofighter (Centre) with Su-30MKI and Tornado

Eurofighter (Centre) with Su-30MKI and Tornado

With so many possibilities for juggling the figures, it is no surprise that fighter manufacturers have become expert in doing so, and incidentally created a confusopoly (to borrow a word from Scott Adams) by filling the market with incomparable prices. Defense Aerospace.com’s 2006 paper Sticker Shock: Estimating the Real Cost of Modern Fighter Aircraft is one of the braver attempts to create comparable baselines for the major contenders in the Western fighter market. Some of its findings are unsurprising- the Swedish JAS-39 Gripen is both the cheapest to buy and the cheapest to own, with the French Rafale a close second. The Super Hornet is not nearly as cheap as advertised. But most shockingly, the F-35 is at least several million dollars less expensive per unit than the Typhoon.

That the Typhoon is expensive is something everyone has been painfully aware of. Its tortuous pan-European procurement model and the vascillation and wrangling over different national requirements have contrived to make it one of the great cautionary tales in procurement lore. But that the F-35 is cheaper- well, we’ll see about that.

It should be noted that Defense Aerospace’s estimate of F-35 unit price, $115 million, is significantly higher than the price quoted by the Italian Air Force- and this was in 2006, before the full cost footprint of the F-35 was understood. Winslow Wheeler, the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the U.S. Center for Defense Information, estimates the unit cost at $155 million. As far as a country like Canada is concerned, that could go up as far as $167 million. But that is nothing compared with Canada’s share in the total program cost, now estimated to be in the neighbourhood of $46 billion over 42 years- an eye-bugging $707.7 million per plane.

So, are we just comparing apples and oranges? Should we concede that the whole mess is beyond our meagre imaginations and give up trying to make sense of it? No. Because in the end, whatever the sticker price, a certain amount of money has been directed in total to procuring a certain number of new airframes. That global number may be difficult to dig out, but the taxpayer deserves to know how much public money is being spent per aircraft. More than that, it is part of due diligence for a government to properly study all the ways in which these programs might bleed money in order to improve the cost-effectiveness of their purchase. Unfortunately, if they believe a program is in their interest for other reasons, they may deliberately turn a blind eye.

It also matters who’s buying. If you’re paying for the development of an aircraft and the initial orders, your costs will be higher than those of a foreign buyer five years later. If you consider the Rafale’s total program cost of around 39.6 billion euros, then the 115 aircraft built for France thus far average to 344 million euros, which will decrease to around 152 million euros if all planned aircraft are delivered. The flyaway cost for a new customer, however, may actually be in the neighbourhood of the avertised $62.1 million, which of course does not include cost of ownership and may not include certain systems.

In short, it is usually better to buy someone else’s aircraft with a limited defence budget, and, for Canada at least, even a $114-118 million Typhoon (assuming that unit prices have not been reduced) would still be far better than a $167 million F-35. But it is not the sticker price, but rather the total program cost, from the beginning of the program through systems integration through cost of maintenance and upgrades that needs to be considered- and laid out for public scrutiny. If they are not, then no unit cost quoted in any competition can be trusted to reflect the true cost of the program.