The Department of National Defence announced on July 26 that they would purchase 1148 new C6A1 FLEX General Purpose Machine Guns (GPMG) from Colt Canada. The announcement made note of the fact that the contract with Colt Canada would result in approximately 13 new jobs and that it would contribute to maintaining approximately 100 jobs at the company. The press release indicated that first deliveries of the new C6 were anticipated for September 2018 with final deliveries anticipated for June 2019 and that the value of the contract is $32.1 million (taxes included).
Brent Davis, writing in the Waterloo Region Record provides more details on the specifics of the contract.
The initial contract is to replace aging C6 machine guns in the military's arsenal that are showing wear and tear or have been taken out of service. With about 3,500 C6s in active service a second contract with Colt Canada, yet to be formally approved, would replace the remaining 30-year-old C6s that have reached the end of their effective service life according to a Department of National Defence spokesperson. Although the second contract hasn't received formal, approval to proceed it is considered a high priority and according to the same spokesperson “it's in the plans."
The article points out that the $32.1-million contract for 1,148 guns implied a cost of nearly $28,000 per weapon. However Department of National Defence spokesperson Ashley Lemire said that about one-quarter of the contract cost goes toward setting up a production line at the Colt Canada plant, including engineering validation and certifications. It was noted that although the company has supplied parts and components for the older C6s, it has never built a complete C6 from scratch.
It is also reported that each new gun will be supplied with a second barrel, as well as ancillary items including cleaning and repair kits, spare parts and carrying slings. Those components are included in the total contract cost, which also includes taxes.
However National Defence isn't disclosing the exact cost per unit.
On the face of it this is a good news story. The C6, a 7.62-mm is a fully-automatic, air-cooled, gas- and spring-operated medium machine gun that is well liked by the troops of the many western nations which use some version of this weapon. Based on the Fabrique Nationale (FN) MAG it has been used by more than 80 countries, and is made under licence in several countries, most notably the USA where it is known as the M240. It is many ways the standard machine gun, used by all our allies.
A closer look suggests that this announcement reveals everything that is wrong with Canadian defence procurement.
For our $32.1 million we get 1148 new C6A1 machine guns (with cleaning and repair kits, spare parts and carrying slings), 13 jobs which it seems reasonable to assume are for the length of the contract, i.e. two years, and a production line including engineering validation and certifications. Or perhaps more accurately, Colt Canada gets a production line at the Colt Canada plant.
Even if we accept that the implied a cost of nearly $28,000 per weapon should be informed by the fact that about one-quarter of the contract cost goes toward setting up a production line it still means that each weapon is costing almost $21,000 each.
The price of the equivalent US weapon, the M240, is somewhere between $6,600 US and $9,200 US depending on which model is being purchased. This means that, at current exchange rates, if we were to purchase the weapons from FN’s U.S.plant they would cost us about $10,000 each, in Canadian dollars. This in turn suggests that we would save at least $12, 628,000. If you assume that in this case we don’t have to buy Colt Canada a new production line it works out to a savings of almost $20 million dollars.
This is the real cost of those 13 jobs for 2 years, over $750,000 for each job per year.
One would think that jobs that cost taxpayers $750,000 per year would raise questions.
Questions like; do we need to make our own machine guns, especially when we consider that they are almost universally available from a number of our allies and that we have the proven ability to maintain them ourselves?
If Colt Canada wants to move the production line for machine guns that we purchased for them to one of their operations in another country is there anything we can do to stop them?
Is there any way we could use $20 million to create more than 26 person years of work?
Did anyone ever consider using the money to hire 50 soldiers to operate machine guns for eight years might be a more consistent with the governments stated goals of properly equipping the Armed Forces and providing “good middle class jobs”?
Let us be clear, C6 machine guns are not Ross Rifles, they are not dangerously inferior weapons, on the contrary they are excellent pieces of equipment that our army needs. Where they mirror the Ross rifle, and so many other examples of Canadian military procurement, is in the political calculations that went into this announcement.
Who will ask the questions? Who would want to question defence dollars being spent in Canada and jobs being created? What political party would want to miss the opportunity for press releases and photo ops and a little grass roots patronage?
This then is the real tragedy of Canadian military procurement. For most of those involved the purpose of the defence budget is not to secure the military defence of Canada, it is to secure political advantage, no questions asked.
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FN America, LLC, U.S. subsidiary of FN Herstal, S.A.