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The Article

Military’s desperate need for aircraft could send Liberals down in flames

The Jean Chretien/Paul Martin regime that razed CFB Calgary to the ground and scuttled the purchase of state-of-the-art EH-101 helicopters to replace rusted-out, five-decade old Sea King choppers, could be about to make another huge mistake.

This time it involves the way it buys military transport planes for our Armed Forces—and right in the middle of the current exploding federal election campaign.

Our Armed Forces are so short of heavy lift aircraft, they have even had to lease replacements from poverty-stricken Ukraine.

The military desperately needs to replace its 40-year-old Hercules heavy transport aircraft. It must come up with almost $5 billion and open bids for new aircraft.

But there’s a catch-22.

The so-called criteria proposed by Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier and OK’d by Defence Minister Bill Graham is seemingly set up so only one aircraft, the Lockheed Martin C-130J, is in the running.

Coincidentally, the U.S. Air Force has tried to stop buying the C-130J, which was heavily criticized by the U.S defence department’s auditor general in an audit last year because of numerous performance problems.

Under an open competition, the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company’s A400M would be in the running. So far, 192 of these new planes, specifically designed to do both tactical and strategic airlifts, have already been ordered by nine nations—Britain, France, German, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, South Africa and Malaysia.

The A400M flies much further and faster, carrying heavier payloads, including trucks, light armoured vehicles that are ready to roll, medium-sized helicopters, and container trucks.

It costs about 15% more than the C-130J, but can do far more in terms of the tactical airlifts that the existing Hercules and the newer C-130J can do. It can also do longer-range strategic operations—such as deliveries to peacekeeping zones or DART operations. The C-130J, like the Hercules, can only do tactical airlifts.

My many military friends are askance at the apparent decision by the Liberals to limit the option to just one plane, and point out that by any assessment, when you can get twice as much for just 15% more, the mathematics alone might make it more sensible to buy the A400M. Add the superior military capabilities of the A400M over the C-130J and it should be the winner outright.

So why isn’t it?

Now, when I first raised this bomb-laden controversy in “Military wary” (Nov. 29) I noted the huge Ottawa lobbying firm pushing the Lockheed Martin 130J is made up of a large number of former senior military officers and defence and public works bureaucrats.

Sound suspicious?

After “Military wary” appear-ed, I received a frantic phone call from an Ottawa PR firm suggesting I was way off base and lacked knowledge of defence issues. That would make my many military colleagues and readers laugh.

Why would a column in Alberta have people in Ottawa nervously drumming their fingers and beads of perspiration popping out on their foreheads?

So I routed my column to various other newspapers across Canada and waited for the fall-out.

Well, the Globe and Mail has now carried a huge spread on the C-130J and A400M issue, based on hitherto unknown defence department documents.

The gist of the Globe expose was that while Ottawa was claiming the European manufacturers were free to be in the running, they were in reality effectively locked out because they couldn’t start producing deliveries until 2010 when the replacements were needed to come on line starting in 2008.

But that argument was blown apart since the hush-hush documents reveal the C-130J schedule for delivery itself will not start in 2008 but in 2010.

Some four aircraft a year will come on stream in 2010 and until 2013 when all 16 aircraft will be operational.

So if that schedule for the C-130J is satisfactory, why is a similar schedule for the superior A400M not satisfactory.

The Globe also quoted an assessment contained in a Pentagon documents as saying the C-130J is “not operationally effective or suitable” as a replacement for the Hercules.

Actually, the U.S. defence department’s inspector general detailed a long listed of performance problems.

Public Works Minister Scott Brison and his department have promised to make sure all is airworthy about the bidding process. Let’s hope this time they live up to their word.

 

Paul Jackson
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