Good afternoon, colleagues.
This is meeting number 122 of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts for Monday, December 3, 2018. We're here today in consideration of report 3, “Canada's Fighter Force—National Defence”, of the 2018 fall reports of the Auditor General of Canada.
I would just remind the committee, and those in our audience today, that we are televised, so I would encourage all of you to put your phones on silent or vibrate, so there are fewer distractions.
We're honoured to have with us, from the Office of the Auditor General, Mr. Jerome Berthelette, assistant auditor general of Canada and Ms. Casey Thomas, principal. From the Department of National Defence, we're pleased to have the deputy minister, Ms. Jody Thomas, as well as Patrick Finn, assistant deputy minister, materiel, and Lieutenant-General A. D. Meinzinger, commander, Royal Canadian Air Force.
We thank you for your attendance here today. We look forward to your testimony. We will now turn the time over to Mr. Berthelette.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to present the results of our report on Canada's fighter force. Joining me at the table is Ms. Casey Thomas, the principal responsible for the audit.
Our audit focused on whether National Defence managed risks to Canada's 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. Even before the new operational requirement, the fighter force did not have enough experienced technicians and pilots.
According to National Defence, as of April 2018, 22% of technician positions in CF-18 squadrons were vacant or were filled by technicians who were not yet fully qualified to do maintenance. Furthermore, National Defence identified that it had only 64% of the trained CF-18 pilots it needed to meet the government's new requirement.
While there was a plan to increase the number of technicians, we found that there was no plan to increase the number of CF-18 pilots. Pilots have been leaving the fighter force faster than new ones could be trained. As a result, given the shortage of pilots and the limits of its training system, National Defence will not be able to meet the new operational requirement for many years.
Even though National Defence's analysis showed that it needed additional technicians and pilots, the government focused on increasing the number of aircraft as the solution to meet the new requirement. It first planned to buy 18 new Super Hornets. However, because of a trade dispute, the government decided not to pursue this purchase.
The government is now planning to buy used fighter jets from Australia as an interim solution to bridge the gap to 2032, which is the current target date for completing transition to a replacement fleet. However, even if National Defence can address its personnel shortage, the Australian jets are the same age and have the same operational limitations as Canada's current fleet of CF-18s.
Furthermore, we found that the combat capability of the CF-18 has not been kept up to date. This is in part due to the advancing technology of modern fighter aircraft and a lack of investment to upgrade the CF-18's combat systems. Without these improvements, the CF-18 will be increasingly less effective while deployed on NORAD and NATO operations. In our opinion, flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability, will result in less important roles for the fighter force. It will also pose a risk to Canada's ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations.
National Defence expects to spend almost $3 billion to extend the life of its current fleet and to buy, operate and maintain the interim aircraft. However, without a plan to deal with its biggest obstacles—a shortage of experienced pilots and the CF-18s declining combat capability—these spending decisions will not be enough to meet Canada's commitments. Until National Defence knows how and when it will solve pilot shortages and get better combat capability, more aircraft won't solve its problems.
National Defence has agreed with our two recommendations and has developed an action plan.
This concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.
Good afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee.
I am pleased to be here before you today to discuss the Auditor General's findings on Canada's fighter force.
The Canadian Armed Forces' fighter capability is critical to defending Canadian sovereignty, enabling continental security and contributing to international peace and stability.
We take these obligations very seriously.
I want to thank Mr. Ferguson and his team for their insights and their recommendations.
And I thank you for the time you are dedicating to this matter.
I will keep my remarks to the point so that we can answer as many of your questions as possible.
The Auditor General has articulated important concerns about the combat capability of the CF-18s and the availability of experienced personnel to fly and maintain them.
Before I speak to how we are addressing these challenges, I would like to clarify one point. The 2032 timeline is being reported quite extensively, but to be clear, the Royal Canadian Air Force will receive the new jets between 2025 and 2032. The first advanced fighter will arrive in 2025 and the number of mission-ready aircraft will increase quickly to address our NORAD and NATO commitments. In fact, we expect to achieve initial operating capability by 2026 with nine advanced fighters ready to fulfill the NORAD mission.
We are committed to keeping the procurement process for the advanced fighter fleet on time and on budget. By 2032, we will have the right quantity and quality of aircraft needed for the Royal Canadian Air Force to meet our NORAD and NATO obligations for years to come.
This also means that while we will continue to fly the CF-18s until 2032, we will not be flying all of the CF-18s until 2032. We will only fly as many as we need to support the transition to the advanced fighter fleet. We recognize that there will be challenges as we prepare for this transition. We are working very hard to implement the Auditor General's recommendations, which will help us mitigate these challenges.
We are managing the life of the CF-18s with the purchase of 18 interim fighters from Australia to meet our retirement date of 2032. We are furthering recruitment, training and retention initiatives to make sure the RCAF has the right people with the right experience to fly and maintain the aircraft. Each of these activities is vital. It should be noted that they are happening concurrently.
We have to simultaneously support the interim fleet now, and prepare for the advanced fleet of the future. We have plans in place to upgrade the CF-18s to continue to meet regulatory requirements, so that the Canadian Armed Forces can continue to operate seamlessly with our allies, both at home and abroad.
We expect to start implementing these upgrades into the CF-18 fleet as early as 2020. As per the Auditor General's recommendation, the Royal Canadian Air Force is assessing additional options that will allow us to quickly enhance the combat capability of the CF-18s that will fly until 2032.
We expect this analysis to be done by spring 2019.
The purchase of 18 interim fighters, and spare parts, will spread the number of flying hours across more aircraft to extend their lifespan and increase operational flexibility.
To provide an effective fighter capability, we must have enough experienced pilots and maintenance technicians to fly and maintain the fleet.
The Canadian Armed Forces is always working to improve and refine its recruiting strategies. We are exploring a variety of innovative new methods to allow the Canadian Armed Forces to attract new personnel with the skills and aptitudes we need. We continue to recruit maintenance technicians and pilots. We are making sure that the training and experience they receive will prepare them to fly and maintain the advanced fighters in 2025.
We must also retain our experienced personnel to fly and maintain the the CF-18 fleet between now and then. This has been a significant challenge in select areas in recent years. We're putting significant effort into improving our retention strategies.
In addition to CAF initiatives such as “Seamless Canada” and the CAF retention strategy, the Royal Canadian Air Force has introduced several initiatives to improve retention and more are in development.
At their core, these retention initiatives are about improving life for air force personnel and their families at the squadron and unit levels. They are intended to address some of the main reasons why pilots and technicians are leaving the air force. As an example, the family sponsor program is helping families settle into new postings more easily. Sponsor families become an immediate support network for new arrivals to the squadron and help them connect to the larger community both on and off the base.
Lieutenant Meinzinger would be happy to expand on this initiative and the others his team are developing.
These initiatives reflect our commitment to our people, and part of that commitment is making sure they have the tools and training to do the job we ask of them.
To close, I want to state one thing quite clearly. The only enduring solution that will allow us to simultaneously meet all of our commitments involves both the procurement of 88 advanced fighters, and having enough pilots and technicians to get them mission-ready.
This process is under way and progressing well, but it will take time. The next major milestone will be the release of a finalized request for proposals to qualified suppliers in the spring of 2019. While we continue to develop the future fighter fleet, we are acting on the Auditor General's recommendations to upgrade the CF-18s, and increase the number of skilled and experienced technicians and pilots in the federal force.
I look forward to discussing this more in depth with you, and I welcome any questions you have at this time.
If I may, just to reinforce the comment with respect to the macroeconomic reality, before I get to some of our initiatives, the most recent labour force report out of Canada, in March, indicated the demand for additional pilots at 7,300, just in Canada alone. If we look at the global estimates, we see commercial travel doubling over the next two years. There's a fairly significant macroeconomic pressure at play, and we acknowledge that, and it puts more urgency behind some of the work we wish to do.
There are many angles. To answer your question, we are tackling this in multiple ways. I look at the great work that's under way under General Chuck Lamarre, the chief of military personnel. As the deputy minister has indicated, there's a whole host of personnel issues under “Strong, Secure, Engaged”. Seamless Canada is a bespoke initiative under way currently, which really gets at supporting our families. As we move families from province to province, often they have to be exposed to atypical and dissimilar transitions, where they may have to get their vehicles reinspected even though they had their vehicle inspected six months previously, or spousal occupations are not accredited in provinces. There's a huge effort to try to normalize the expectations and the transition requirements from province to province, so I have a lot of hope in that.
As we look at the reasons why people leave the Canadian Armed Forces, it very much drives our thinking as to what we need to do. Certainly the feedback from those who are releasing is that it's a question of family, challenges for their family. There's a dimension of ops tempo, work-life balance, predictability of geographical location, and then typically fifth or sixth are comments about financial remuneration.
What are we doing about it? There's a number of prongs of attack. Certainly we're looking at the reserve force. Fighter pilots who have left, and who undoubtedly will continue to leave, are given a customized reserve service offer, meaning we will offer them the ability to continue to work with us on a window of two to five to 10 days per month, to encourage them to stay and continue to contribute to our mission. We will support that through temporary duty travel and the like.
I look at our family sponsorship program that the deputy mentioned, which we've just rolled out officially this year. Essentially what that means, for example, is that for a family moving from New Brunswick to Cold Lake, say, if that particular family has a child that might have a particular ailment, through the MFRCs, we're linking that family with perhaps a family in situ that might be helpful, might have a similar challenge, and can connect and support that family as they transition.
Additionally, we have a strong focus on the fighter force in terms of force generation—that is, the training we provide to our pilots on a yearly basis. Through 1 Canadian Air Division headquarters in Winnipeg, we've put a premium on force generation being priority one. What that means is that any given day, the fighter force flying around this country is making maximum benefit of every single hour they're flying. We're doing perhaps fewer air shows, fewer CF-18 demos, but we're really focused on that knowledge transfer that has to happen in that cockpit or between the two pilots, perhaps, who are in that formation.
Thank you all for being here again. Once more around the mulberry bush, eh, Deputy?
I want to open my remarks by going in a little different direction from what I normally do, to the extent that usually.... I would say that 95% of what we do deals with exactly what we deal with at every meeting, which is the administration of the policies the government sets. The politics of the issue get dealt with in the House of Commons, and we hold you, Deputy, and your staff accountable for the dollars you've been given to implement the policies that the political folks have said will be the priority policies.
I've been around here a long time. I was around before we had the legal basis for an accounting officer. We brought that in for a very good reason. It was to separate the responsibilities between the minister and the deputy, because it can sometimes be a blurry line. I'm prefacing all this, Deputy, by asking you to be very clear, if you would, in your answers, at least to me, in terms of what your responsibilities were, what your decisions were and where that line is.
In the past, it was expected that if you wanted to be a deputy, and stay a deputy, your first priority was to protect the minister. We now have legislation that says your first priority is to be accountable. If your responsibility of accountability ends, and it's a political one at that point, then you have to leave that there and not be defending the politics of the day. I'll be watching very closely on that, Deputy. Trust me, it's in your interest. If we start sliding into just blind loyalty and defending, I'm going to be very upset—really.
I have to say that for the first time in this Parliament—not some others, but only for a total of maybe three or four times that I can think of, in 15 years and five Parliaments—where we need to go speaks to the politics of the issue and the politics of the policies that were given, as opposed to what the department did and didn't do.
I say that this way. I've looked at this thing. I read this very carefully. I was the defence critic for a number of years. I understand this a little bit. I don't pretend that I'm any kind of expert. It's pretty clear that no matter how many edicts from on high the government may make, if there are not enough pilots and technicians, we're not going to keep the planes in the air that we need to meet the commitment. Pretty much, that's what this report is.
I want to point out, Chair, with your indulgence, that the audit objective.... You all know that often I like to start right at the beginning of what this is about.
The objective of this audit was to determine whether National Defence managed risks related to Canada’s fighter fleet to meet government commitments to NORAD and NATO until an operational replacement fleet is in place. The conclusion was “that National Defence has not done enough to manage risks related to Canada’s fighter aircraft fleet so that it can meet commitments”. Also, in paragraph 3.52, “National Defence has not done enough, in part because of factors outside its control.”
I have so much sympathy for that when I read this.
I get the politics. As I understand it, there was a shift from NORAD being the priority, to making sure that a high alert at NORAD and all of our NATO commitments could be made. I get the politics of that. With the President of the United States going on and on about NATO, and the responsibility of the minister to make sure Canada is seen to be a team player—I get all of that. That's to be dealt with in the House of Commons. To turn around then and buy these planes, leave the impression that this is going to solve our problem and pretty much hang out the department to dry, as I see it, is not acceptable.
There is a part of this in my second round where I'm going to hold the department to account on a bit of their estimates and some planning they did, where I have some questions. Overall, I have to say this is very serious.
I've been around. I know there are procurement problems. We've gone around that many times, Deputy. I've done that with other deputies, too. That's not the issue here. I look at this, and I am saying to myself that the politicians of the day—and I was a provincial minister, so again, I do understand that relationship—made a proclamation that we will now be able to do this with NATO, we'll do this with NORAD, we're going to buy these planes and, there you go, we've solved our national defence problem.
No. Because of the reason they've outlined in this audit. We don't have enough technicians and there are not enough pilots. If you don't answer those questions, it doesn't matter how many aircraft you have, we're still not going to be able to meet our commitment.
I look at this and I ask, how much of this can I put at the feet of the deputy and the department? I have a lot of sympathy for the fact that you were put in an impossible situation. To that degree, I don't really have a lot of questions for you. To me, a lot of this stuff is back in the House of Commons. Why is the minister announcing things that, when we look at it, aren't real, i.e., our ability to meet a NORAD high alert and all our commitments to NATO. The minister has left the impression that purchasing these planes is going to solve that. The fact is that it has not. I scoured this, trying to find where I can hold you to account on this, Deputy, but from what I can see you're working really hard and going against headwinds. I accept what you say, General. There is a problem out there.
Would more money solve the problem? It usually would, so there may be some solutions. However, the department doesn't decide, how much money they get. The government and then Parliament does.
This is one of those times, colleagues, when I really feel the actual crux of the issue is not so much that our senior bureaucrats and decision-makers have let us down. That's often the case when we're here. It's our job to hold them to account. I have to tell you in this case I don't see it. I read the analysts version of things. I've read this. I've talked to our critic. To me, it all boils down to the fact that we haven't had the replacements. The department's been jerked around by both parties who've been in government saying, “We're going buy all these planes, that's going to take care of everything.” Then you get the rug pulled out from under you, and then all of a sudden out of nowhere there's an edict from on high about all this defence we're going to do in the air with all our planes because we're buying somebody else's used problems, which is a different issue and we can talk about that.
Anyway, I don't have a direct question on this. I do later. I'm coming around on the second round—I'll give you warning, Deputy—but that's the way I see this. I'll just give you an opportunity, Deputy. I'd to hear your thoughts. Maybe in the second round the deputy could give us her thoughts on.... Maybe I'm wrong and it is her fault and she wants to confess and say so. I'll accept that, Chair.
It's nice to see everyone. I'm usually not sitting on this side, but it's nice to be here.
I wanted to pick up on something that was mentioned earlier. Just before I do that, when I read that Auditor General's report, I thought it was a good report and I thought that it stated the obvious. We have a capability gap. We've had it for years. It really started to manifest itself when previous governments decided to only modernize 79 airplanes. We lose an airplane every two years. We're at 76, and that's kind of where we're at.
The report did say that the jet set that was being purchased would help manage the fleet. I accept that. I totally understand it. We'd all rather have new aircraft, but we are where we are, and that's the best way forward, given where we're at. It did identify that the limiting factor, however, was pilots and maintainers, and I understand that you have to work on all three at the same time.
With regard to pilot retention, not recruitment, I've done some reading. I appreciate your remarks at the beginning, but I have to say—and I have tabled M-177 at the House—that I'm very aware of the numbers with regard to the global pilot shortage and Canadian pilot shortage. If I look at what our allies are doing on the retention side, the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Navy are offering up to $210,000 U.S. for up to six years of obligatory service, depending on how many years you have in and what aircraft you're flying.
The Canadian Forces in the mid-1990s offered a bonus to pilots as well, so we have a precedent for doing it, and our allies are doing it. FedEx is offering between $40,000 and $110,000 to keep their operations flying. Delta is giving everybody a 30% pay raise. I understand that is a unique challenge when you have to do something like that, but I would suggest, if that's not already being considered in the other things you haven't identified, that you seriously consider it, because this pilot shortage is not going to get any easier. It's going to get harder. We need to stop the bleeding, and that's one way to do it, in addition to some of the other things that you mentioned. We have a precedent for doing it in the past.
Some of the other things are on the generation side, and I had a longer conversation with the chief of the air staff at a function recently, and I want to bring some of these up as a recommendation that you guys could look into if you're not already looking into it.
We have CFTS and NFTC, which are two contracts that are generating pilot production in Canada. To the best of my knowledge, we have retired military pilots working there, teaching in simulators and teaching ground school. There's no reason why those gentlemen or women couldn't fly an airplane to just give us better force generation capability. I understand they do it in helicopters right now in Portage, and if we're not using them to their maximum capacity, that's going to hurt us. You could free up military people and post them to the OTU to generate and crank up your OTU at the same time to generate better capacity there.
I would also recommend that we ask our allies for help. In the mid-1990s we seconded, I believe, four F-18 fighter pilot instructors to Australia. If we haven't made a phone call to the U.S. Marine Corps or the Australian air force, I suggest that we might want to consider doing that. We've helped them. They are our pals, and they'll help us out if we ask them, I'm sure.
Finally, on the 419 squadron, when we ship to fighter pilot production, like has been mentioned, that is a sub-component of pilot production in general, which is a problem. The 419 for the most part, I understand, generates much of its adversary training in-house. We have a contract with Discovery Air right now that generates pilot adversary training. You could shift a lot more. You might have to beef up the contracted hours, but having the 419 generate its own radar training is just taking another CF aircraft and a CF pilot out there as a training aid for a student when we have resources that could do that.
Either one or more of those things or a combination of all of them, I think, would help overnight with pilot production and help get this machine cranked up in addition to recruitment.
I want to shift quickly to combat capability. I don't know if you can share this, but as we know, the F-18 hasn't had a lot of combat capability upgrades since about 2008. I think they got air-to-ground capability upgraded in Libya with a new air-to-ground weapon, but we haven't had much. I was wondering if you could comment on what you're considering for that, because that's going to be an important part of keeping our aircraft relevant moving forward.
Thank you for the comment.
Certainly, if I could just reflect a lot of the ideas that you've presented, I would start by one point. I attend the NATO air chiefs conference twice a year. Since my first time at that table, I would tell you that the lion's share of those NATO air chiefs are dealing with the same challenges we are. We regularly consider option space ideas, and we try to share our thinking in that regard. I've taken note of your comments. I certainly have reached out to my counterparts across the globe looking at opportunity space. There are other nations that are transitioning to other aircraft, meaning they may have some pilots who need to be employed to be seed corn perhaps. I've had those discussions as well, and we would be very open to one-way exchanges.
I think at the core the issue is about experience and how we ensure that we can maintain a level of experience in the key core within the schoolhouse.
I'd end on just answering your question. Consequential to the OAG's report, we certainly accept both recommendations, and we are embarking upon conducting an analysis of those combat capabilities that we might consider moving ahead. I guess, just to be general in this forum, that will include looking at sensors, weapons, self-protection, capabilities and also a bucket we call mission support capabilities. That's the area we're going to explore in the context of that work we're going to complete by the spring of 2019.
If I could just speak specifically to the maintainers, what we're doing.... You talked earlier about the exponential rate of maintenance. It's not quite exponential that we're seeing. A lot of it's at the third line. A lot of this is how we're now using industry. Specific to this fleet and this aircraft, we've already taken a big step. We've generated almost 200 first-line maintainers by looking at how we do industry, how we use it at the second line, like we do in the navy, and to some extent in the army. We're looking at that in new fleets. We've looked at it across fleets: the C-17, how we maintain it, how we're doing the Cyclone, how we're bringing things in.
You're right. There are trends and there's a complexity around a military maintainer and everything they need to do. It's causing us to look through something we've called the sustainment initiative: how we're sustaining all the fleets, what really needs to be uniformed maintainers and what really could be a civilian experienced maintainer, who actually are more efficient as far as time on aircraft goes. That's what we see. That is really actually helping us on the maintainer side to change the trend, to actually be able to build the right first-level deployable maintainers, as you would be aware, while we have the rest of the enterprise at the appropriate place, be it industry or otherwise.
Essentially, this will be a bespoke team within the military personnel command. It will be very much focused on targeting not only pilots, which of course is a priority for me, but all of the stressed occupations that we have.
In the context of the map that you're reading, it is specific to pilots. It may mean how we engage in communities. It may mean engaging in some of the institutions that you've cited, where we can purposely make ourselves known and encourage individuals to join our team.
Additionally, the way military personnel command is configured, it's very important that they have the ability to fast-track people into the institutions. In areas where we are stressed and lacking a capacity, a focused effort, the targeting mechanism you described, is going to be of net benefit to us.
We will continue to recruit broadly.
Generally speaking, it's not difficult to attract individuals who want to become a pilot in the Canadian Armed Forces. Really, the selection to become a fighter pilot happens once they're in the training enterprise. We select, in training, those who are going to stream off to 419 and 410 squadrons, based on the skills and the competencies that they display during their flight training. They're not actually recruited specifically to become fighter pilots. They're recruited to become pilots, and then through the context of their training, we determine.... Certainly there is a matching of preference, but at the end of the day, an outcome is derived from that. That is how our process works.
As far as anything we can do to improve the success rates in that enterprise, I would point to the air crew selection tool that we use now in Trenton, Ontario, which is essentially the filter. Young Canadians who come in are run through a battery of tests, and then we determine whether they have the right skill sets and aptitudes to move into the pilot training system.
We've found, after introducing this new model—we collaborated with the RAF—that the success rates and the outcomes are higher than the traditional approach we use. We're quite excited about that. At the end of the day, that is going to mean more outcomes at the end of the production and that more individuals can go into the fighter force.
My questions are in the same vein as Mr. Arya's, but I've reached a little different conclusion.
When I look at page 8 of the report:
3.48 In 2017, National Defence estimated that the total cost of extending the flying life of the 76 CF-18s until 2032 will be $1.2 billion. This amount includes the cost for spare parts and upgrades to the structure and avionics and electrical systems, but not any combat capability upgrades.
3.49 Without combat upgrades, the CF-18 will be less effective against adversaries in domestic and international operations. In our opinion, flying the CF-18 until 2032 without a plan to upgrade combat capability will result in less important roles for the fighter force and will pose a risk to Canada’s ability to contribute to NORAD and NATO operations.
I looked at that and I thought one of two things. One touches on where Mr. Arya went and it looked like incompetence. I'm addressing my questions to the general because it is your people who do this work. To leave out the fighting capabilities of fighter aircraft is hard to understand from a layperson's point of view. It sounds like incompetence.
If it's not, and if it's as Mr. Arya believes, that it was under way but not finalized, then my second thought is that the $1.2 billion is a ruse. That's not the real number. Either you knew you had to do combat capabilities but somebody forgot to put it in the analysis, or you knew you were going to have to do it and there was a cost to it, but it was going to make the $1.2 billion look unacceptably high.
I accept there could be a third reason. I anxiously await your response, General. Which is it, incompetence, trying to dodge the numbers or something I'm not seeing?
It is across all of our fleets, and how we do it is when the costs mature through our force development process. The $1.2 billion is an incremental number. It is the additional funds that we will need to keep the current aircraft maintained. Through “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, we've developed a process in force development that says that as we look at different capabilities—so it's not unique to this—as we look at our Victoria-class submarines or other fleets, it's the same process. We go through the option analysis that has been under way for years.
Again, the RCAF, the air force, has been leading that. As it develops the what, our chief financial officer and others then look at what the cost of it is and how it fits against our envelope, our accrual envelope and what it is that we do. We can report all of the costs, the $1.2 billion. Elsewhere in the audit they talk about the $3 billion incremental for the entire fleet. As we mature what it is that we're doing, there will be some decisions based.... The general talked about having radars or not having radars.
We will develop the costs. We will look at it from an affordability perspective, from a relative perspective. It will go through our governance, and it will be reported and made public.
At this point, what it is that we would upgrade has not landed. Therefore, we have not developed the full cost of it. Therefore, we cannot report it as of yet, but it would be a part of our process, sir, across all of our fleets.
Thank you very much for the questions.
On the first one, it is 18 flyable aircraft. We have said up to seven additional ones, for spares. We will likely not go that far. The Royal Australian Air Force has been very forthcoming. In fact, they've provided us with a broad number of aircraft to look at, as well as a large number of spares.
Rather than bring aircraft to Canada and then disassemble them, we have actually gotten enough major assemblies for them that it will likely only be a couple of additional aircraft. That's what we'll look at. Again, the additional ones would be as required for spare parts, without just burdening ourselves with it.
The $470 million actually includes a number of things, as you indicate. It's the aircraft themselves and their upgrades. We want to do what we would call a repair and overhaul of all the engines. We're going to go through our checkpoint tree for structure. We want to make sure we're covering all of that, to make sure that it happens. The first aircraft will come in the late winter to spring. They will have flyable hours on them already. As you've indicated, some of the immediacy is for configuration management and training, the NVIS lighting and the ejection seat.
There are other aspects of the $470 million. With some things, we're resituating ourselves for future fighters. For example, we're looking at moving the test establishment from Cold Lake to actually having a federal government centre of excellence here in Ottawa. That's included in it.
We're contemplating a number of the upgrades—and we've talked about it—around interoperability and some of the other things. We've included those costs in it, so that we can be very forthcoming and indicate the initial maintenance checks, tests, evaluation and upgrades that we will do, as well as some of the upgrades we envisage, as a result of introducing these aircraft and growing the fleet.
We have worked very closely with Australia in understanding the fatigue. Some of the experts are absolutely here in Canada. That's already been said. I was speaking to some of them late last week. The centre of excellence for F-18 fatigue in the world is here in Canada, at Mirabel. The U.S. Navy actually send aircraft, some of their F-18s, for maintenance in Canada as a result of that expertise.
We have tested aircraft to destruction to make sure we have a full understanding, a full model, and we have a really good understanding of the fatigue life. We cycle them through heavy maintenance at a rate at which we see less fatigue than we're expecting, which is a good thing. It's less cost but it's also safer.
We know that the Australians operate their aircraft in a more corrosive environment with their bases, with salt air and other things. They have a very strong maintenance program. We sent people down to do a very detailed analysis. They also gave us access to all of the data that's held here in Canada for all of their aircraft. The detailed models for structure of all of their airplanes are actually held here in Canada, and we have then been able to access all of that. There are slightly different configurations, but even within our fleet, some of our aircraft arrive at different blocks, as they're called, and therefore, there are changes. But if there is ever a case....
You can compare it with the submarines, which I lived. There were only four of them in the world, and it was “bring them to Canada and bring them into service” versus this fleet, which is quite ubiquitous and which will be used, as I've indicated, in the 2030s by a lot of our allies. There is still a lot of demand on L3 by the U.S., the Spanish and others, not just us. The entire community is asking how they can continue to operate them safety and effectively and what upgrades we can do.
I have a point of order.
We do not accept that we cannot have information at committee and at Parliament. It's in the Constitution. I've been through this many times. However, the exception is always security, so what I would ask, Chair, is that you, or this committee as a whole, take whatever steps necessary to find out what process would be acceptable for us to receive the answer.
I want to thank my colleague. She drilled down excellently and took what I was raising even further. But to hear somebody say, for whatever reason—understand the Constitution—that a parliamentary committee cannot be told, “You can't have information”.
Now, since we're dealing with security and defence, this could possibly and may likely be one of those exceptions. In that case, we've put together procedures that both respect the security and the right of this committee, but a unilateral declaration by a deputy or anybody that a parliamentary committee cannot have information is unacceptable. There needs to be one more step to pursue this so that the question, which is entirely legitimate in my opinion, can be answered in a way that respects the security and defence issues but also upholds the right of Parliament to demand any information they so choose.
I wanted to talk briefly about the procurement cycle that we're in right now and the time limit that we touched on earlier.
When I got to the air division in 2003, the highest priority acquisition for the military at the time was the replacement for the Buffalo. That was in 2003, and we obviously have an answer for that in 2016. I appreciate that not all of the work was done properly on the first go when the previous government tried to sole-source this. I was working in the air division, so I know what was done and what was not done.
We're not starting from scratch as if there's a lot of work to do. We're somewhere in between nothing being done and something being done, but it certainly wasn't all done. The defence critic has said a number of times that we could do this in just a year, yet the previous government couldn't do anything in a year.
I have a hard time, seeing that it's 2018 and that anything we get, as was mentioned earlier in this meeting, would take three years to deliver once we made a decision on something.... That still gives us a number of years. What is going to be the holdup here in getting this done? It's certainly not the manufacturers. This is what they do. They're ready to go.
I understand that there's a process. I was in civilian life for a while and managed RFPs and RFIs and all that kind of stuff, but I still can't account for the timeline here given the urgency of getting a new airplane for our military.
Thank you very much for the question, sir.
Of course, bringing an aircraft into service is not just about the aircraft itself, and particularly in the Canadian context of the policies that we have and use effectively, such as our industrial technological benefits and other things, there are some security aspects.... There are a number of things that the governments and the suppliers need to contend with, and we're actually running a request for proposals that could result in a number of scenarios at the outcome.
Depending on the successful bidder, we could have a direct commercial sales contract, a foreign military sales application or an acquisition under a memorandum of understanding. In each case, we would expect the winning bidder, likely combined with their country, to be very forthcoming in a draft RFP. We've said 100% offsets against the industrial technological benefits.
There are security aspects to what they need to transfer to us. I would say that in the context of an assembly line on the plant floor, it may be three years from the time we award you a contract, but my experience has been that negotiating those contracts and getting agreements just on things like intellectual property is an area of complexity in this day and age where original equipment manufacturers guard this like the Crown jewels. We want to make sure that we have access to what we need for decades to come to upgrade and maintain these aircraft.
As we look at our allies, we may hear about rapid cycles, but we talk to them about the work that happens beforehand and happens after, and about how they may have a process that's not open to legal challenge quite as it is in Canada. That allows them to quickly select, but it could be multiple years before they sign a contract.
We are fairly aligned. We've talked about defence procurement, as a few people here have mentioned, whether it's schedule or budget, and we know and have learned that we have been historically overly optimistic about things, so we're very, very careful. There's a lot of risk at play here. We would rather be judicious about the schedule and timelines that we establish. If they can be accelerated, all the better, but to say that we're going to pull off a miracle is just dangerous in what we achieve and where we—
I don't have the historical data in front of me. We could certainly provide that to you.
In looking forward, regarding some of the things we've done to optimize the production of technicians within the Canadian Armed Forces, specific to the fighter force I would draw your attention to the maintenance initiative. We have 49 trainers now, through the maintenance contract I cited earlier. These individuals are helping to deliver a curriculum in 10 FTTS, which is the schoolhouse for our fighter force technicians. What we're seeing is that we're able to produce more technicians now through that training mill.
Further, if you go back into the enterprise, into the school in Borden, we were able to outsource some of our ACS, or aircraft structures technician training, to École nationale d'aérotechnique in St-Hubert. We've been able to run courses of a dozen, three times a year.
Consequently, we had a significant backlog of technicians two years ago. Through a couple of initiatives we've been able to push more of these technicians through the training mill, which means we'll have more on the flight line. At the end of the day, though, we still need to ensure that they get trained and experienced. As the Auditor General pointed out in the report, a portion of the technicians we currently have in 3 Wing and 4 Wing are obviously not experienced. They're going to have to get that in the years ahead.
What we find when we interview those who choose to leave is that, at the decision point for that particular individual, it's often a family issue. We often say in the air force, “We recruit the individual, but we must retain the family.”
We find that, unless there's a degree of predictability and positive career management for that individual, we often find individuals who are vexed. They come to a point where they may not have anticipated they were going to move, or we're asking them to move their family to a location where perhaps their spouse cannot find employment.
We need to treat individuals individually at the margin to ensure that individuals have a clear understanding of expectation and what is coming in a couple of years. On our part, we need to be clearer about expectations, telling pilots, “You're going to fly for eight years”, as opposed to six years, and their not knowing if they're going to be posted to a staff job.
We find a lot of individuals often don't wish to move to headquarters and work in an office versus work in an aircraft. We recognize and respect that, but that dialogue, which must happen at the margin before we force an individual to move, is very important. We're working on that. We're trying to put in measures that will increase the communication, and increase the expectation and understanding with our individuals and their families.
First of all I want to thank the Auditor General's office for putting some heat and light on this issue. Many of us knew that this was coming and it was here. It speaks specifically to a capability gap, yet adds in the other elements that are required to generate combat capability—pilots, technicians and aircraft. All of them are equally important, and we need them all to make things happen.
I want to circle back to what I suggested before, because this is going to require the military to think outside the box in solving this problem and to do things that it may not have been willing to do in the past.
We need to lean on our service providers more than ever—KF Aerospace, CAE and Discovery Air are there. Most of those guys, we knew. We used to fly with those guys. They're all retired, and we know they're capable. We know we have existing contracts. We need to put those people in the best position to help us as soon as possible.
I know you've mentioned that you're mulling around financial retention. It has to be done and it has to go to Treasury Board. That is not a slow process, so I would suggest that we just come to terms with that soon and get on with it because our allies are doing it, and if we don't, we're going to be hurting.
I know, General, you mentioned that you talk to your counterparts or their allies often about asking them for help. I think we need to circle back on that because I don't recall, back in the nineties, that we were in much better shape. We were hurting as well, but we responded to an urgent request from our allies, and I think we should maybe circle back and ask them if they can help us out, the marine corps in Australia being probably the best suited to do that.
Also, engaging with industry, maybe in a way that we haven't before.... The current airplane that we're flying right now, Boeing, has the capacity. We ultimately just need to write a cheque to get them to help us train more technicians more quickly. What we do isn't exactly the same. I appreciate that. I was in the squadron and I understand how that works. They can get our squadron or our squadron techs to the 75% solution, and then we can take over from there.
If we do all those things, we'll be able to ramp up our capacity to generate pilots and technicians a lot more quickly. I appreciate that, simultaneously, we need more airframes at the end of the day, so when both those phones ring we can be responsible partners and generate the combat capability that we said we would.
That's all I have.
No, actually it's a point of privilege, and I thank you for the floor.
I notice we have about five minutes. I'd like to take just 60 seconds of it, if I could.
This has been a pretty intense hearing. I thought maybe I would like to put a small bit of humour into where we are, believe it or not. Let's see if I achieve it.
It's under the category of one of the greatest put-downs that was ever thrown back to me from across the floor from a colleague.
I'm on one of my big rants, Chair, and you've been around long enough with me that you know what they're like. We saw one of them today. I was going on and on, and my theme in it all was 30,000 feet. I kept saying, “If we look at this from 30,000 feet” and then I would go and do my attack, and further I'd say, “You know, never mind all these details, when you look at this from 30,000 feet” and I went on and on and on like this about the 30,000 feet, as loudly as I could, as I do. The room was dead quiet and Laurie Hawn, a former Conservative MP who served here, asked for the floor.
What triggered this memory was either the general or Mr. Finn answering a question about 50,000 feet, or somebody making a reference to 50,000 feet.
After I'd finished doing this whole rant, wrapped around what you really see from 30,000 feet in terms of what's going on, Laurie Hawn takes the floor—dead quiet—and he says, “I'm a former fighter pilot. You know what you see at 30,000 feet? Nothing. Just like the value of the arguments we just heard.”
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. David Christopherson: It was one of the best put-downs I ever heard, and I tell that story whenever I can.
If you're out there, Laurie, I hope you're enjoying your retirement.
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you very much, Mr. Christopherson. We're very aware of your rants here. I just wasn't aware that you were also a stand-up comedian. Thank you for bringing a little bit of levity to our day here.
I want to thank our Auditor General's office as well as our Department of National Defence for being here today. We rely on you. We rely on our air force. All our men and women who serve in our military, we're very thankful for in our country. We want to see it remain strong. We want to see that the questions we have are being answered and that we can have confidence that the concerns brought forward in the Auditor General's report, which are now the concerns of Canadians, are being answered by our department.
There have been a number of questions posed today. My clerk brought up the constitutional ability that our committee has, so we do expect those answers. There are ways. If some of them are deemed security issues, it can be in camera, if it's that. It doesn't sound as if it was that, but if that is part of it, there are still ways to have some of these questions answered.
Thank you for being here. I think today has been.... We've had people on all sides who have been involved in our military and have made it, I think, an excellent meeting. I thank you for being here and helping to aid the committee in that. We appreciate it.
Before you go, I've just been told that our meeting on Wednesday—and I have mentioned this to you earlier—dealing with sexual harassment, or sexual problems within the military, will be cancelled. We're expecting a couple hours of voting, and that's possible, but we'll just cancel it. You can expect to come back sometime after Christmas, and we thank you for your willingness to do that.
We now stand adjourned.