MacKay looks to Australia for defence advice, inspiration

OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay is looking to Australia as a possible model for untangling Canada's cumbersome system for buying military hardware.

OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay is looking to Australia as a possible model for untangling Canada's cumbersome system for buying military hardware.

He leaves Friday for an official visit with his counterpart Down Under.

MacKay said he'll examine Australia's recently completed defence white paper and look for ideas within that country's procurement system that could be transplanted to Ottawa.

"There are certainly lessons we can learn, but we're going to come up with a Canadian strategy," he said earlier this week.

Coming to office in 2006 the Conservatives pledged a wholesale re-arming of the Canadian Forces, a frustrating process that has been fraught with postponements.

With the exception of heavy-lift C-17 transport planes for the air force and new Leopard A6M tanks for the army, most major programs have been mired in the defence and Public Works bureaucracy.

It took National Defence three years to sign a sole-service contract to buy CH-47 Chinook medium-heavy-lift helicopters with Boeing. Long-promised fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft are still on the drawing board and a replacement supply ship program for the navy had to be scrubbed because bids came in higher than the government expected.

Replacement helicopters for the outdated Sea Kings are years behind schedule.

Defence experts, such as Aaron Plamondon at the University of Calgary, have complained that Ottawa lacks both a long-term procurement strategy and the trained staff to shepherd programs.

"Most often, ad hoc project offices are created and once the project is over, the members of the team scatter to other posts. There is, quite simply, a lack of expertise in an area that is vitally important to the CF," Plamondon wrote in a 47-page report last November for the university's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

Australia, which has $100 billion worth of military purchases in the planning stages, overhauled its procurement system in 2003 and made further changes last year.

A 2008 report recommended that the country's Defence Materiel Organization, which oversees purchases, become "more business-like" and impose "commercial discipline."

Specifically, the Defence Procurement and Sustainment Review encouraged Australia to seek out more public-private partnerships to obtain and sustain equipment and bases.

Australia currently spends $25 billion each year on defence, $6 billion more than Canada.

Like the Conservatives in Ottawa, the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has committed to annual, long-term increases in defence spending.

But Australia is more generous, guaranteeing annual three per cent increases in spending, as well as 2.5 per cent to cover inflation.

The Harper government is offering the military 1.5 per cent growth until 2011 and two per cent for years afterward.

 
 
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