Thursday, 6 February 2014


The government has recently announced yet another reorganization of its defence procurement apparatus. The government believes that requirements set by the military "were too complex, and too often they appear to be set to achieve pre-determined outcomes."

The new strategy will introduce an independent challenge function within National Defence that will question the need for each major capability.

Greater consultation with defence industry contractors before projects go out the door will be encouraged. To this end National Defence will begin posting an annual list of its equipment needs, beginning in June and the government will also become more involved in steering Canadian defence contractors toward individual procurements

The new system hopes to see increased co-operation among Defence, Public Works and Industry officials under an umbrella secretariat at Public Works.

The government has rejected the idea of creating an independent military procurement board, as other countries have done, and instead builds on existing structures and practices.

There is reason to believe that no amount of tinkering with the mechanisms with which we buy military equipment can lower the cost of buying that equipment. Reasons that may be beyond the control of any government or organization it appoints.

One of the reasons is the ever-increasing gulf between civilian and military technology, a gulf that demands extra specialization on the part of engineers, equipment, and the workforce building the hardware in question.

Another reason is that military equipment, of all kinds, is designed to fight similar weapons systems which encourages escalatory cycles. There is a rough form of evolution going on here that sometimes means that only the expensive survive.

Another reason is that modern military equipment is generally expected to fulfill multiple roles and packing mission capabilities into a single package is another cause for increasing costs.

It is also important to remember that governments sometimes only pretend to care about the cost of military purchases. Money spent on cost overruns for equipment doesn’t just disappear; it gives defense contractors money and generates jobs across the country. Military spending can also be used to favor specific communities and interest groups.

It is also true that countries don’t simply buy advanced weapons systems “off the shelf,” as they often come with long term deals for training, maintenance, and spare parts. Sometimes what you are really buying is a political relationship and that can add to the cost.

Social factors can also affect the costs of military purchases. It is not uncommon to find that the purchase of advanced military equipment is less about national defence than national identity. Both civilian and military leaders tend to resent the idea that others might own and operate more capable, advanced, and expensive equipment. Alternatively those same leaders just want to have the best and newest, and in some cases these feelings are an accurate reflection of the opinion of the populace.

In this case it is reported that “The Canadian military was defeated Wednesday in the final battle of its years-long war with civilian bureaucrats over how best to reform and control military procurement.” This is an example of Ottawa’s fixation with winners and losers and it is unlikely that this “re-org” will have a great deal of effect on the amount of input the military has historically had on major purchases.

In the final analysis it is hard to believe that adding yet another layer to the bureaucracy of military purchase will add any value to the process. It seems more likely to slow down an already glacial process which in turn can only add to costs.

Military procurement changes to bring more scrutiny, trade focus

Military defeated in war over procurement reform
Control over military procurement seized by Public Works' contract officials