Monday, September 20, 2010

Government's rationales for F-35 sole-sourcing collapsing

The Harper government's latest talking points on the need to sole-source their $16 billion fighter jet contract have been undercut by news last night that National Defence was actually making plans for a competitive bid process.

Here was Peter MacKay last week, offering us the spin that military morale was being hurt by those pressing to review the deal:
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's call for review of the government's $16 billion plan to buy 65 F-35 fighter jets demoralizes the Armed Forces and undermines confidence in Canada among military allies, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said Wednesday.
Yet here was the news from last night on Defence department internal documents showing that the military wasn't so demoralized at all and were going about their business planning for a review process:
Air force officers working on the purchase of Canada’s new fighter planes expected there would a competition this year for the multibillion-dollar deal, according to Defence Department documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.

The plan written by officers for the Next Generation Fighter Capability project called for a “competitive process” for both the aircraft and the long-term maintenance contract, according to a project outline developed in the summer of 2009.

That schedule planned for the competition to be run in 2010, with a contract to be awarded by 2012, according to the project documents.

Instead, the Conservative government decided to proceed without a competition and select the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter built by U.S. aerospace firm Lockheed Martin.
But we kind of knew that old morale chestnut wouldn't hold up in any event. Still, nice to see this bit of confirmation, that a competition was expected, being planned for...and was then apparently thrown into the trash can by the Harper government.

Another argument the government is offering up for the sole-sourcing, that there's not enough time for a competitive process, is also being exposed as questionable by this reporting:
According to MacKay, the government had to move on the F-35 purchase to avoid any gap between the arrival of a new planes and the phasing out of the current fleet of CF-18 fighter jets.

But the fighter-replacement timeline, obtained by the Ottawa Citizen through access-to-information law, suggested there would be no issues with a gap.

According to that timeline, running a competitive process this year would allow for a contract to be signed in 2012, with aircraft delivered in 2015-16. Those planes would become operational between 2018 and 2023, according to the document.
The CF-18 fighters can continue flying until 2018-20, according to the air force.
A third rationale is the talking point that was offered up by Rona Ambrose repeatedly at last week's Defence committee hearings, that when you know what product you want, it's unproductive and a waste of money to have a competitive bidding process. But, again, that competitive process is exactly what National Defence anticipated going through despite the air force supposedly knowing so well what it wants, the F-35.

Also of interest in the Pugliese report, if you have not taken note in the various discussions yet of what might be our other options, other aircraft manufacturers are mentioned. Saab with its Gripen, Boeing with its F-18 Super Hornet and BAE with its Typhoon, all of whom could have participated in a competitive bid process to get Canadian business.

The case to have a competitive process and to review this deal seems to have gotten stronger with this news.