Monday, November 26, 2007

MacKay is doing a dance around the truth (Updated)

Minister of National Defence Peter (Support the troops, but cover my ass first) MacKay seems to have something to hide.
National Defence has postponed a decision on whether to continue with major upgrades to its fleet of Maritime patrol planes until after Parliament rises for the Christmas holidays.

Critics say the deferral is an unabashed attempt to bury what is expected to be a bad news announcement for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

A substantial portion of the work has been carried out in his home province of Nova Scotia.

Defence sources say the long-anticipated announcement was put off earlier this week until Dec. 18, almost one month past the government's self-imposed deadline and at least four days past Parliament's scheduled Christmas break.

The bad news? All the work that was going to happen in MacKay's riding is about to be flushed away. Why?

Well, according to the report, there are other plans.

The air force had originally intended to keep its 18 CP-140 Auroras in the air until 2025, but a multi-year upgrade contract was put on hold in September and there have been suggestions the military has been shopping for a replacement aircraft.
Huh?! There's nothing on the project list at ADM Mat. This is new. Very new.

Why are they delaying an announcement? Well, there's a very simple answer to that. After spending $900 million to date on the CP-140 Auroras, the opposition would have a field day ripping MacKay to shreds for even thinking of retiring them. Not to mention all the contractors, many in MacKay's riding who have probably financed themselves to the hilt in preparation for phase two and three of the project only to discover that there will be no work at all.

The life extension has cost taxpayers $900 million thus far and is about to complete its second phase.

To date, the Auroras have received an upgraded navigation system, global positioning systems and better radar, among other things.

The next two phases, which are now on hold, would have given the aircraft better data management system, sensors - such as imaging radar - and finally protection against air-to-surface missiles.

Companies, including IMP Aerospace in Halifax, were preparing for the next round when the project was put in limbo.

Defence sources said officials from IMP met with MacKay earlier this month.

The minister offered no hint about what the final decision might be "other than to suggest they might not be happy with the result," said an official who asked not to be named.

So, why the secrecy and why the delay in announcing it?

Industry officials told MacKay it would be cheaper to continue with the upgrade and keep the planes flying until 2025, rather than spend several billion dollars to purchase new ones.

But the air force has countered that the slow pace of the refurbishment means it could have new aircraft by the time the old ones are back in service, said a defence insider.

Bailing out on the rest of contract would result in a "managable" penalty, the source admitted.

The air force is said to be looking at two aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon and the ASTOR.

The U.S. Navy replaced its Auroas with Boeing manufactured P-8s, which are essentially 737s modified for survelliance.
So, just to get this clear, the air force was told to retain the CP-140 Aurora in an upgraded model. But they're already looking at the P-8 Poseidon. Why would they be doing that unless they were told they could make initial inquiries?

The news report is a little problematic. The US Navy never had Auroras. They were the same airframe, but the US Navy variant was the P-3 Orion. The Canadian Aurora had a much more advanced electronics and avionics suite than the Orion of the day. If there was a fault it was that Canada had too few of them built. But it's strange that suddenly the US P-8 Poseidon has shown up as a possible contender for an air mission which is already filled.

Well, not so strange when you look at who's running the show and the fact that Canada has virtually integrated it coastal maritime patrol activities with the Americans under the NORAD umbrella. (Not NORTHCOM. NORAD. If the distinction is somehow lost in the fog of changing hats, don't let that disturb you. You're not alone.)

In any case, this gets very curious and despite what MacKay and his spokespeople are saying, he's playing politics and trying to drown this announcement in Christmas egg nog.

Let's thicken things up a little: Boris pointed this out from the Canadian Naval Review. (Scroll down to The Aurora Incremental Modernization Project (AIMP): The Future of the CP-140s). That post provides some interesting information, including the facts that Canada declined participation in the USN P-8 Poseidon project because of the Aurora upgrade. Further, the air force assertion that they would have a new aircraft in service before the Auroras are completed upgrading is probably closer to fantasy than fact. Boeing isn't even starting production until 2013, so how the Canadian air force (and DND) can presume to be close enough to the head of the line to put a fleet of new multi-mission patrol aircraft in service by 2016 is a stretch of quantum proportions.
However, on 1 Oct, the Ottawa citizen reported that DND was considering replacing the Aurora in the 2016 timeframe with either a derivative of the Bombardier Global Express (modelled on the UK Astor program) or the Multi Mission Aircraft project being developed by Boeing for the USN (the P8 Poseidon, based on a Boeing 737). Additionally, within DND, a third alternative has been mooted - replace/augment the unmodified Auroras with Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs), perhaps in combination with the Global Express.

While the P8 satisfies the MMA requirement, the Global Express solution falls well short of the mark.


... it is highly unlikely that DND will be able to actually acquire a suitable replacement for the CP-140 by 2016 resulting in an extended capability gap.


Even if it were decided to procure the P8, the aircraft is still under development with a planned production decision in 2013. Given that virtually every similar development program has taken much longer than planned it would be highly optimistic to expect that Boeing could actually deliver to Canada useful numbers of aircraft by 2016. (As a current example, the Maritime Helicopter Project (MHP) is widely believed to be two years behind schedule) In any event, we would be in the queue behind the USN who plans to order in excess of 100 aircraft and Australia who have already committed to the P8.
Any announcement by MacKay should be interesting to say the least. The thing to watch for is if the completion of the Aurora modernization program is halted, incurring a financial penalty (which will no doubt be ignored in any announcement), and then followed by an overly optimistic statement that a new aircraft will be in service by 2016.

This is going to be messy and has the potential for being the source of outright lies from MacKay.

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