Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss our fall 2018 report on Canada's fighter force and our report on the national shipbuilding strategy, which was tabled in the House of Commons in February 2021.
I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Joining me today is Nicholas Swales, the principal who is responsible for the audit of the national shipbuilding strategy.
I would like to start with our fall 2018 audit of Canada's fighter force. This audit examined whether National Defence managed risks to the fighter force so that it could meet Canada's commitments to NORAD and NATO until a replacement fleet is operational.
In 2016, the Government of Canada directed National Defence to have enough fighter aircraft available every day to meet the highest NORAD alert level and Canada's NATO commitment at the same time. This meant that National Defence had to increase the number of fighter aircraft available for operations by 23%. This new requirement came at a time when the Royal Canadian Air Force faced a growing shortage of trained and experienced pilots and technicians.
To meet the new requirement, the government purchased used fighter jets from Australia as an interim solution to bridge the gap until it could roll out a replacement fleet. The Australian jets are about 30 years old and have the same operational limitations as Canada's current fleet of CF-18 aircraft.
National Defence expected to spend almost $3 billion to extend the life of its fleet and to buy and operate the Australian jets. However, since the department did not have a plan to deal with its biggest obstacles—a shortage of experienced pilots and the CF-18s' declining combat capability—these spending decisions would not have been enough to ensure that the air force had available on a daily basis the number of aircraft needed to meet the highest NORAD alert level and Canada's NATO commitment at the same time.
We noted that more aircraft would not solve National Defence's problems unless the department knew how and by when it could solve the pilot shortages and improve combat capability.
We made two recommendations in our report, and National Defence agreed with both.
Let's turn now to our audit of the national shipbuilding strategy. This audit provided an opportunity to examine a complex program in its early stages, once the procurement process was completed.
The Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Coast Guard operate fleets of large vessels to support Canada's participation in security operations around the world, to support Marine science, and to ensure that Canada's waterways are safe and accessible. This audit examined whether these vessels were being renewed in a timely manner.
Timely renewal is important because of the need to replace aging fleets and introduce new capabilities. In 2010, the government launched the national shipbuilding strategy with the goals of renewing these fleets in a timely and affordable manner, of creating and supporting a sustainable marine sector in Canada, and of generating economic benefits for Canada. The strategy also calls for the building of at least 50 large science and defence vessels over about 30 years.
Overall, we found that during our audit period, the national shipbuilding strategy was slow to deliver the combat and non-combat ships that Canada needs to meet its domestic and international obligations for science and defence. The delivery of many ships had been significantly delayed. Further delays could result in several ships being retired before their replacements are operational.
National Defence, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada, and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada reacted to these delays. However, we are still concerned that the strategy has been slow to deliver. Considering the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on work in departments and shipyards, and with the bulk of new ships yet to be built, departments need to look for opportunities to improve how they manage risks and contingencies.
Public Services and Procurement Canada, National Defence, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada agreed with the three recommendations we made in this report. Both of these audits underscore the importance of renewing fleets in a timely manner to avoid capability gaps that could jeopardize the ability of Canada to deliver on its national and international defence and science commitments.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.