OTTAWA – The Harper government may be hoping that the third time is a charm as it announced Thursday the tendering of long-awaited military logistics trucks — a political and fiscal football that’s been tossed around for almost a decade.
An American company has won two competitive contracts totalling $843 million to supply 1,500 trucks, 300 trailers and armoured protection kits, Defence Minister Jason Kenney and Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney jointly announced in Sainte-Claire, Que., on behalf of Public Works Minister Diane Finley.
“I’m pleased we’re moving forward with yet another procurement of key equipment for the brave men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces,” Kenney said in a press release. “These modern trucks do the heavy lifting for the military.”
The assembly of the vehicles will be done in Quebec. Finley says the contracts awarded to Mack Defense, LLC, of Allentown, Pa., will mean the creation of 700 jobs in Canada.
The contract also calls for the U.S. firm to provide five years of in-service support, with an option to extend up to 15 years.
Ryan Werling, president and CEO of Mack Defense, said in a statement, that the company has supplied the Canadian military with trucks since the Second World War and it’s honored to continue that tradition.
Once delivered in 2017-18, the trucks will replace 1980s-vintage vehicles, which are used by all three branches of the military to haul supplies, weapons, equipment and troops. The army started mothballing some of its vehicles in the fall of 2013 due to budget restraints as well as safety and maintenance issues.
The Conservatives first identified trucks — often known as the B fleet — as a priority in 2006, but have failed twice to deliver, including one program which was cancelled in 2012 just as bidders were about to submit proposals.
Internal documents revealed the decision to halt the program was the direct result of budget cuts at National Defence.
Former deputy minister Rob Fonberg, in an unusually blunt note, warned the government three years ago that delaying replacement would drive up the program’s cost.
“The potential impact of schedule delays … is that for every year of delay, it is estimated that (censored) fewer vehicles can be procured,” said a briefing note dated Nov. 27, 2012, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information legislation.
The note warned that the delay would add as much as $48 million to the cost of the $800-million program.
Thursday’s $843-million announcement shows the additional cost was evidently swallowed. It comes just three months before a federal election in which the Conservatives will be defending their record.
A fiery internal debate followed the project cancellation in 2012, according to a separate set of internal briefing notes obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws.
The word went out to the military — the army in particular — that they were to rein in their expectations. Two scenarios were developed, with the government willing to fund a maximum 1,500 trucks, although defence planners were skeptical.
“There have been and will continue to be some compromises required as we cannot afford all the capability we think we need,” said a March 3, 2014 memo to the commander of the army. “Significant heavy lift capability improvements are affordable but there remains a considerable appetite for heavy logistics capability in the Army that is unaffordable.”
The fiscal fate of the trucks program was closely tied to the failed $2 billion bid to buy close combat armoured vehicles for the army.
The proposals were part of an extensive re-equipping of the military intended to take place following the Afghan war.
Although the requirement for trucks survived, the program to buy close combat vehicles — a troop carrier that’s half way between a tank and the army’s existing LAV IIIs — was cancelled in December 2013.
“The fiscal realities of the government of Canada and a focus on debt reduction combined with the most likely employment of the Canadian Armed in the future security environment were the primary factors considered in making this recommendation,” the country’s top military commander, Gen. Tom Lawson, said in a letter to former defence minister Rob Nicholson.
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