Sunday, December 04, 2011

No trucks, no mobility, no army

In 1982 the first of over 2,700 Bombardier-built Medium Logistics Vehicle Wheeled, (otherwise known as MLVWs), were delivered to the Canadian Army. Replacing the worn out "deuce and a half" fleet of the 1950s, the MLVW fleet was expected to provide 15 years service before being replaced by something just as capable. In fact, the MLVW, which looks like a US M35 truck but is markedly different, is now well over 25 years old and the army has no choice but to get rid of them. Now, before they start killing soldiers.

The MLVW fleet is now suffering from uncontrollable corrosion (rust out), a problem which plagued them from shortly after delivery, a dangerous braking system (air over hydraulic with no secondary system which was arguably poorly designed from the start), and just plain age. They were, after all, purchased by the Trudeau government and should have had a replacement scheduled to appear during the Mulroney era.

That didn't happen. And it didn't happen during the subsequent Chretien government.

With severe austerity measures finally withdrawn Paul Martin promised a new Chief of Defence Staff that the armed forces would see new equipment - medium logistics vehicles included. Then minority government flipped into Harper's hands. By 2006 a project to replace the existing fleet of MLVWs was announced.

That's virtually all that happened. The only deliveries from that 2006 announcement are a number of off-the-shelf militarized transport trucks (MilCOTS) made by Navistar. They do not meet a stringent military specification and are not a particularly field ready vehicle. Furthermore, Navistar produced them in Texas while closing the Chatham, Ontario truck plant and laying off 500 Canadian workers. 

With the army looking at having to support domestic operations with the less capable Navistar MilCOTS (none of which have armoured protection) and the notoriously awful Light Support Vehicle Wheeled*, the logistics equipment so necessary for almost any operation, from combat to domestic disaster relief, is in jeopardy.

The original 2006 announcement by then Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor included the promise that new Standard Military Pattern Trucks to replace the MLVWs would start delivery in 2008. That's come and gone. And now, the Harper government has stopped the project cold with an announcement that the eight pre-qualified original contenders (from six different companies) would be disqualified and the bidding process will be restarted.

There are several rumours drifting about. One is that the money to pay for a MilSpec vehicle simply isn't there and that the requirement to purchase equipment for the ground mission in Afghanistan left the army's envelope empty. Another is that there is some serious squabbling going on between uniformed army officers and the political animals as to what constitutes a combat logistics vehicle. The army naturally wants something that can do any job it is called upon to do; the politicos want something to put on display. Still another rumour is buzzing about which suggests that the government would be happy with more MilCOTS which are little more than upgraded dump trucks and highway transport vehicles but a lot cheaper than a hard military 6x6 that will last for more than 5 years.

The problem could be that trucks just aren't that sexy. Unlike getting your photo taken in the cockpit of a mock-up F-35 or being hoisted from an exclusive fishing lodge into a SAR helicopter in front of your rich friends, there isn't a whole lot of flash attached to an ugly truck.

Speaking of helicopters ... Peter (Airshow) MacKay promised that Sikorsky would deliver an interim CH-148 Cyclone operational flight training helicopter to the navy by the summer of 2011. (Several years behind schedule). To date no Canadian military air worthiness certificate has been granted to any CH-148 and no operational flight training on the Cyclone has been carried out.

So much for Harper and his hillbillies streamlining the defence procurement process.

* The LSVW is a procurement of the Mulroney government, specifically then defence minister Kim Campbell. When the prototype was tested by army personnel they were happy with the vehicle. The delivered product however, was something different. Built by Western Star in Kelowna, it was a cheaped out fix to a large need and has been roundly criticized for a plethora of deficiencies.


Boris said...

My spine has acute memories of the back of a Loud Squeaky Vehicle Wheeled and it would surprise me at all to learn of a back-injury medical discharge from that thing.

Maybe they think they'll taxi everyone around in a C17. "It can land on highways" they'll say.

Anonymous said...

You could do a lot worse than the DROPS vehicle use in the British Army for large loads and of course there is the Bedford new model.
The MOD are selling off the old ones cheap and Land rovers are trusted the world over.
But you are right, although these vehicles are more necessary than the flying white elephant that is the F35, MacKay won't be able to pose with a strangled ball-bag a la GW as effectively

Edstock said...

"which are little more than upgraded dump trucks"

Um, sad tale. Of course, "dump truck" is a somewhat flexible term: there's a budget Navistar and there's an AWD Autocar, for example. Both are "dump trucks", one costs 4 x more than the other. The point is, the specs on Class 7 & 8 chassis allows a myriad of components and possibilities. A budget Navistar diesel, or a CAT turbo V-12? Allison transmission, or Fuller Road Ranger? The market has changed and grown over the last 20 years, and a bespoke military ladder frame may not be really necessary.

I have a bad feeling about this; with Stevie and Airshow directing things a cluster-fuck is assured.

Steve said...

Will there be money left over for the stealth snow mobiles? The Russkies surely have them and we face a huge stealth snow mobile gap.

Rev.Paperboy said...

How much cargo can an F-35 handle?