Evidence of meeting #78 for National Defence in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was things.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Patrick Finn  Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence
Jennifer Hubbard  Director General, International and Industry Programs, Department of National Defence

9:25 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

I'm sorry, sir. I actually don't have those details. I think if it's something you want to get into, the force structure and—

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

From a simplicity level, with regard to Standing Naval Force Atlantic and Standing Naval Force Mediterranean, is there generally a Canadian commitment to both fleets?

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

Again, sir, I can only speak in generalities. For a long time we had a continuous commitment to STANAVFORLANT. As we went into Operation Apollo and different things, we stepped away from that, along with a lot of our NATO allies. I actually am unsure of whether it's continuous.

Generally, though, we work closely with our allies. Often, if we're not there, it's because we're deployed elsewhere with other NATO countries, doing different kinds of policing, such as when we went into the Black Sea and some of those things. Standing Naval Force Mediterranean is something that has been a bit more ad hoc for us, for geographic reasons.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

It was off and on. Yes, that was my experience—

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

To be honest, sir, whether we're continuously engaged in it.... We are continuously engaged with NATO allies. HMCS Charlottetown, for example, as you would have seen in the media, has come back, and other ships are replacing it. I'm just unsure whether it's continuously—

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Let me cut you off. It's fair to say, then, that we have a commitment. It may not be continuous, but our naval assets are deployed regularly with NATO.

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

With NATO, sir, they are, absolutely. I would say almost continuously, but with NATO it may not always be under that body.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

In your opinion, does Canada currently have a blue-water navy?

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

In my opinion as a former naval officer, it does, sir, have a blue-water navy.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

I'll stop you there, because I don't have much time.

Is the capability of replenishment at sea a core deepwater navy capability, in your view?

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

Generally, to operate as a task group, having access to replenishment ships becomes a key part of it. It depends on where you operate as a blue-water navy. For Canada, for geographic reasons of the Atlantic and Pacific, particularly in the Pacific, having a mid-Pacific refueller to draw from is key.

February 1st, 2018 / 9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Absolutely. As a navigator on a Sea King helicopter detachment, I remember the first time I saw the men and women of the Royal Canadian Navy perform a RAS, as we called it. It was a very impressive operation. We certainly don't want to see that skill set atrophy.

When the HMCS Protecteur was decommissioned due to fire around the same time that the Preserver had corrosion issues that prevented it from going to sea, Canada at least temporarily lost that RAS capacity. Is that correct?

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

We lost it domestically and organically. We didn't lose it in the context of NATO and allies, which we always participate with. We did some work, as I think you're aware, with some of our close allies, to have access to their AORs and did some very specific mutual logistic support arrangements to make sure we could continue to provide that support.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

With the surface combatant project and the Arctic patrol ship both delivering in the next decade, the core capacity of replenishment at sea is now looking to be fulfilled by the merchant vessel Asterix. In your view, is maintaining a domestic capability for replenishment at sea a core competency of the Royal Canadian Navy?

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

I'll quote from Admiral Lloyd as the person responsible for this. Quoting from him, it's yes. I think he is the right authority to speak to it.

Notwithstanding what I've described in terms of access to allies and others, they then have a decision. In this case it gives us a domestic—

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

I apologize. I have one minute left.

The shipyards at Irving on the east coast and Seaspan on the west coast both had to ramp up for their contracts under the national shipbuilding policy. Are both projects on time, or are they behind, to your knowledge?

9:30 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

There are various projects within those yards. We have seen some delays in the first ones on each coast. The first AOPS was probably about six months behind, but the ship is almost done. The second and third are under way. We'll have four under way soon. There are some delays in the first offshore fishery science vessel for the Coast Guard. It's now in the water, approaching delivery. We have been building up the capability in the yards' first projects, and a lot of that you'd probably see in any shipyard in the world.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Thank you very much.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Stephen Fuhr

Thank you for the answer.

Go ahead, Mr. Fisher.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to all you folks for being here this morning.

This morning I was reading an article that mentioned major NATO procurement issues with Airbus. Airbus is facing major fines from NATO because of delivery delays and for failing to meet contracted requirements. I expect Airbus will be interested in Canada's future fighter capability project. I think we can agree that any type of procurement comes with its challenges, but has this Airbus delay caused any NATO capability gaps? Can you tell us a little bit about the procurement process and what else is in place to handle missed deadlines like this?

Mr. Finn, you mentioned that a group of senior experts has been put together to ensure adherence to best practices. I'm interested in the capability gap that might have been caused in NATO by the Airbus delay and what we can do to minimize this in future procurements.

9:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

I apologize, but I don't know the specifics and I did not see the article. Yes, Airbus has some interest in future fighters and is providing for us the C-295, the future fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft.

The group of experts was pulled together to deal broadly with the issues of delays and other things like that. For us, a big piece in the recommendation had to do with project and program discipline, not because it's not there in NATO but because at some point we have to make decisions that will let the projects advance. We need to have the 29 nations step back so they can get on with it. There's a bit more of a tendency to come back to the 29 nations than we would advocate. That's key for us.

I apologize for my lack of knowledge on the specific thing you're talking about.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Will Canada's procurement benefit from the expertise in this panel?

9:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

Yes, sir. Ian Mack, the gentleman we sent over, is a retired naval officer. Ian was at National Defence for over 45 years and is very experienced internationally. We hand-picked him for that reason, to go over to try to look at the things we're trying to do—we have our struggles and issues as well—to see where we're making improvements, to look at authorities and what we can do and what we need to delegate.

I would say there are some other NATO practices we could look at. For example, we're trying to bring back to Canada some agility the agencies have that we would like to benefit from, which is why we're talking to Treasury Board Secretariat and others about the authorities and how we procure, to see about expanding the tool box so as to have more tools available to expedite some of our procurement.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

With respect to the difficulty of ensuring interoperability, Mr. Gerretsen touched on the rapidly changing technology in military equipment, as well as the fact that procurement can take a considerable amount of time. What types of improvements are needed to ensure interoperability with NATO and to reduce the time required to procure things? Is the procurement process supple enough to anticipate these changes?

9:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Materiel, Department of National Defence

Patrick Finn

In some cases, yes; in some cases, no, it is not.

I think back to my point that when we talk about procurement, are we talking platforms or other things? I would say, as an engineer myself, that in the civilian sector you see standards and things that occur around communications from organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, IEEE, and you can acquire very quickly, but the problem—and we've experienced it—is that when we've been leading-edge in acquisition, or faster than allies, we lose interoperability because some of our key allies are not keeping up with us. It's almost who goes when, and what happens then.

Interoperability is not just about speed of acquisition, but it's ensuring, in the context of NATO, that we're all actually taking the same step at the same time. We're better off to be behind but able to communicate with each, rather than being rapid and losing that.

The standards I talked about are really important for us. Some are in communications; some are in environmental and naval architecture and things of that nature. For communications, for some systems, because those authorities are further down, we are more agile than in the very large procurements that include offsets and other things.

What we are trying to do in many cases now, when we go to get authorities for surface combatants or other areas, is to establish from the outset that rather than doing big mid-life refits and so on, there will be continuous technical refresh, continuous technical insertion. We will seek authorities from the board and from other places that enable us to establish a contract that says that as the U.S. Air Force upgrades its C-17s with new communications, every time our aircraft goes through the repair and overhaul pipeline, it comes back upgraded. We're trying to change some of those approaches so that we are less requirement-specific in terms of “We need to do this” and more about “How do we keep pace with our allies?”

It really is more about keeping pace than it is about speed of advance.