It's Boeing - No Surprise!

Major military procurements
Richard Purser
July 05, 2007
By Richard Purser
As was noted briefly in this space in the Summer issue of HELICOPTERS, Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor in late June announced a number of major military procurements, including $4.7 billion for the purchase and 20-year support of 16 new medium- to heavy-lift helicopters.

Now for the details. The contractor selected to supply the helicopters would have to meet the following minimum mandatory capabilities for Canadian Forces acceptance:

Internal Lift – Cabin space to accommodate an infantry platoon (30 soldiers) with full combat equipment including weapons, body armour, rucksacks, rations and communications (4,763 kg).

External Lift – Lift multiple loads, including a lightweight field howitzer and associated equipment (minimum 5,443 kg).

Range – Flying endurance to ensure a relevant radius of operation (mimimum 100 km) with either the above internal or external load.

Temperature and Altitude – Power and endurance to accomplish the above lift and range found in the most likely CF theatre of operations (1,220 m ASL and 35 degrees C).

This helicopter capability, the DND explains, “will allow the Canadian Forces to reach remote locations in a wider range of geographic areas and challenging environments inaccessible by groundbased transport or fixed-wing aircraft. With the Canadian Forces’ increasing focus on joint operations and expeditionary forces, this capability will serve as a paramount asset in responding to disaster situations and terrorist attacks, both at home and around the world.”

Canadian Forces does not have a military helicopter to meet this role. It has to date relied on allied or coalition forces for this type of helicopter transport while deployed, limiting its ability to conduct independent operations. When this transport is unavailable, troops must opt for ground transportation, increasing their vulnerability to ambushes, land mines and improvised explosive devices. Total project cost for the aircraft acquisition is estimated at $2 billion. Cost of the 20-year in-service support contract is estimated at $2.7 billion. This separate contract will be put to competition by the prime helicopter manufacturer through an RFP.

As for selecting the prime helicopter manufacturer, the government said it would use the ACAN, or Advance Contract Award Notice, process. This permits it to identify an intended contract award recipient based on the mandatory capabilities and detailed market research conducted by the DND.

Here’s how the department explained what was to happen next: “Industry is then given the opportunity to respond, should they feel they have an aircraft that meets this (sic) criteria. If no supplier submits a statement of capabilities that meets the requirements set out in the ACAN during its posting period of 30 calendar days, then the competitive requirements of the government’s contracting policy have been met.”

The DND went on to say that “this method of procurement fosters industry competition, ensures fairness and transparency, and increases the efficiency of procurement timelines.”

But a more obvious conclusion might be that the DND already knew damn well which helicopter it wanted, and intended to get it. And sure enough, it took exactly one week after O’Connor’s initial announcement for Public Works and Government Services Canada to state that “preliminary industry research indicates that the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter is likely the only known aircraft currently capable of delivering ... in a timely manner.” Of course, the government issued an ACAN to other “interested suppliers,” but to all intents and purposes the decision was taken, and was taken before O’Connor first opened his mouth.

This writer has no problem with that. The Canadian Forces has people who really know helicopters, and it would be strange if they didn’t know which model was best for them.

Politics is a cynical business, and of course cynicism immediately raised its head. Opposition defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh weighed in, noting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was about to meet with President George Bush: “It’s an irresponsible way for the government to move forward and they’re simply doing it to please Mr. Bush. It’s going to be a very expensive handshake that Mr. Harper will have with Mr. Bush.”

The inanity of this is so instantly obvious that one shudders to recall that Dosanjh once rose so high as to be the premier of a major province. I won’t embarrass that province by naming it.

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