Sub, helicopter debacles bode ill for jet fighter deal

We often launch our kayaks on the Songhees reserve a few hundred metres from the shed where one of Canada�s hopeless submarines is being repaired.
Our kayaks, rentals bought at the end of a summer, were bargains.
The four used British submarines, in contrast, have been disasters.
The Defence Department confirmed just before Christmas that HMCS Victoria will stay in its custom-built shed in Esquimalt until sometime next year as repairs and refits drag on and on, and the bills mount.
The sorry history of the secondhand submarines should be a loud warning about the government�s $16-billion plan to buy new jet fighters.
The Defence Department and the government of the day celebrated the $891-million purchase of the submarines in 1998. Great boats, almost ready to go, strategically essential and a bargain for taxpayers, they said.
Victoria was delivered in 2000. The Defence Department said that after six months of maintenance in Halifax, it would be at sea keeping us safe from whatever submarines are supposed to keep us safe from.
The six months stretched into three years. Then Victoria sailed for CFB Esquimalt and, after a ceremonial welcome, was docked for 10 months to deal with new problems.
It sailed for a few months in 2004. Then a fire on Chicoutimi, another one of the subs, killed a crewman on its delivery voyage from England. Victoria was pulled from service for another seven months.
By May 2005, it was supposedly ready to sail again. But a few months later, Victoria was back into dry dock for what was supposed to be a two-year repair program.
More than five years later, it�s still sitting on land. The Defence Department has announced � and missed � a series of launch dates.
In the decade since Canada has had the ship, it has spent 115 days in service and 117 months undergoing repairs and refits, with the bills steadily mounting.
It�s like buying a used car and being able to drive it for three weeks in the first two years, with the rest of the time spent in the repair shop. And having the dealer keep telling you what a great purchase you made.
Only one of the other three submarines is in regular service. Chicoutimi has been in dry dock since the 2004 fire and is not expected to be ready until 2012.
You could argue the Defence Department just had bad luck with the submarines.
Except that it is part of a pattern of problem-plagued military purchases.
In November, auditor general Sheila Fraser slammed cost overruns and mismanagement in the purchase of two sets of helicopters.
Costs more than doubled, to $11 billion. The project to replace aging Sea King helicopters with CH-148 Cyclones is seven years behind schedule; the CH-147 Chinook program is five years behind schedule.
And, Fraser said, the contract award process for the Chinooks �was not fair, open and transparent� and the Defence Department deliberately downplayed the risks of overruns and delays.
Three big purchases, three big failures. Which, again, raises great concerns about the $16-billion plan to buy 65 F-35 jet fighters.
The costs have soared already, and no contract has yet been signed. The government and the Defence Department have struggled to justify committing to buy the jets from Lockheed Martin without a competitive bidding process. There are no guarantees of economic benefits for Canadian firms, usually part of such deals.
Fraser has warned of significant risks.
And critics suggest Canada doesn�t need the fighters to fulfill its military obligations.
The government has launched a big sales campaign to persuade Canadians that the jets are needed and the project will be properly managed. Trust us, the military and the Harper government ministers say.
But given the track record on military purchases, only a fool would trust a process that has stuck Canadians with inflated bills and left the forces without equipment for years as projects are delayed and delayed again.
Footnote: The other question I ponder, as I paddle past the submarine repair shed into Esquimalt Harbour, is how the government can claim the boats were urgently needed when we have managed perfectly well over the past decade without them.

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