During the past 10 years, Canada has embarked on a series of ambitious modernisation programmes for its military aircraft fleet. But Ottawa's track record on executing such programmes has been mixed. While some procurement efforts have proven quite successful, others have hit severe turbulence.
Among the successes are Canada's recently procured Boeing C-17 strategic airlifters and Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules tactical transports. But other programmes - such as its efforts to buy 28 Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters - have proven problematic.
While the Cyclone programme has been troublesome, it pales in comparison to the woes of Canada's largest and most prominent defence procurement programme, the Next Generation Fighter Capability (NGFC). Intended as an effort to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force's ageing fleet of 78 Boeing CF-18 Hornets, the programme remains embroiled in controversy.
During the past two years, recriminations have been flying over the Canadian government's selection of the Lockheed F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the NGFC programme. Everything about the procurement process, from the aircraft's selection criteria, cost and abilities, to even the very need for a Canadian fixed-wing combat aircraft capability has been questioned. The challenges faced by the programme are serious enough that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government has publicly committed to examining alternatives to the stealthy fifth-generation fighter.
Meanwhile, other priority programmes remain stalled. One example is Canada's effort to buy a new Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) aircraft, where little progress has been made after multiple consultations with industry. "The FWSAR Secretariat is continuing its engagement with industry on elements of the request for proposal [RFP]," says Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), the agency that manages military contracts. "We will be in a better position to validate the project timelines following the release of the draft RFP and receipt of subsequent feedback from the industry." There are no indications as to when that might happen, observers say, but there is a chance the draft RFP might be released in 2013.