Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The CF Needs New Airlift (Yeah, Like That's News)

People in the Canadian Forces know this. And some people in DND know this. Others in DND know it, but don't want to admit it out loud. Trouble is, these others are the ones the Liberals like to listen to.

What do they know? Simple: The Forces tends to use its equipment beyond their lifespan, and DND has generally been reluctant to replace them. We've seen it with our naval fleet in the 1980s, although that's been somewhat rectified. We've seen it with our Sea King helicopers. And now, we're seeing it with our airlift capability.

To get troops into an area in a hurry, Canada uses a fleet of CC-130 Hercules transport planes. Would you be willing to fly in an aircraft that's over 35 years old? Because that's all we've got.

It's an issue that's addressed in the Fraser Institute's latest study, The Need for Strategic Lift (you can download the full report in PDF format here):

The well-publicized delays surrounding Canada’s response to the South-east Asian tsunami disaster of December 26, 2004, vividly illustrate the Canadian Forces lack of transport capability.

The authors point out that with the bulk of Canada’s CC-130 Hercules transport aircraft fleet being over 35 years old, they must be replaced or Canada will lose a major means of maintaining its place in the international system.

The study rejects the common argument that Canada can rent assets when needed. “It is our position that Crown assets, not rent-a-ship or rent-a plane programs, are needed,” said Cooper. “In our estimation of the long term costs, owning beats renting.”

The authors recommend that the Canadian Forces’ airlift needs can best be met by purchasing a mix of C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules aircraft.

This, unfortunately, is where Defence practicality runs into Liberal procurement mentality. When it comes to purchasing aircraft for DND, political perception has always trumped practical considerations -- it's why the CF is still using Sea Kings.

Defence Minister Bill Graham's sudden development of brass ones may compel him to read this report. Certainly it's going to be valuable ammo when Parliament resumes in September.