Canada could have a thing or two to learn from the Australians when it comes to buying warships, a new report claims.
Ian Mack, a retired rear admiral and director-general in the Department of National Defence, released a paper via the Canadian Global Affairs Institute on Friday shedding light on what he believes are some key mistakes in the way Ottawa has handled the $60-billion procurement of a new fleet of frigates.
Mack has a unique perspective. He served in his DND role from 2007 to 2017 and was responsible for the conception, shaping and support of the launch and implementation of the National Shipbuilding Strategy, including the initial stages of the Canadian surface combatant competition. In 2017 Mack was selected by the Australian government to join an international expert advisory panel for their Future Frigate Program as it moved into its competitive evaluation process.
In the paper, Mack points out the similarities between the two countries: they embarked on the procurement process at about the same time, they both sought to break the boom-and-bust cycle of shipbuilding, and ultimately they would both end up selecting BAE’s Type 26 global combat ship as their preferred design.
But the differences, Mack says, are what have encumbered Canada’s process, and why the Canadian government took three years longer to go from government approval to design selection than the Australians,
In the paper, Mack points to excessive red tape, inexperience among officials working on the project, and a general lack of drive to change the process to make it more efficient and cost-effective.
For example, the Australian government made the decision up front to restrict the competition to three shipbuilders and their warship designs, whereas Canada only required shipbuilders to qualify to compete, which over 10 of them did.
The initial request for proposals for the Canadian surface combatant also included hundreds of mandatory technical requirements characterized in great detail which proved problematic and led to an eventual overhaul of the process. In comparison, for Australia’s future frigate, there were only a few mandatory requirements of any kind with further guidance provided to bidders via a question and response process.
Mack also pointed out that in Canada, the project management office was about the same size as in Australia but entirely drawn from the public service and the Canadian Armed Forces, with a significant number of team members having little or no applicable industry experience or knowledge, whereas in Australia, the office was populated by knowledgeable contractors.
The Canadian government, Mack concludes, has traditionally worn blinders when it comes to executing complex procurement projects.
“It takes a serious investment of effort to study what others are doing,” he writes.
“One useful place to start is by comprehensively exploring other nations’ approaches to identify gems we might adopt and trial before we need to buy warships again.”
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