(OTTAWA) The top procurement official at the Department of Defense wants military-industrial companies to focus more on delivering what they promised and less on trying to land the next contract.

In an exclusive interview with La Presse Canadienne, the Assistant Deputy Minister of the “Materials Group”, Troy Crosby, understands that companies want to make money.

But he also believes that these companies must honor their commitments to the federal government, the military and the public.

Canadians have been inundated with reports of cost overruns and delays in the purchase and delivery of new military equipment for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Questions and concerns have been raised about Ottawa’s role in all of these delays. Dozens of former politicians and senior civil servants signed a letter, published this week, calling for more government investment in national defence.

This includes investments to ensure that the Ministry of Defense has a sufficient number of procurement experts. The Canadian Press cited an internal report last week that found 30% of those positions were vacant.

“It is essential that the government invest in improving the ability of the Department of National Defense to spend its budget in a timely and expeditious manner,” reads the letter initiated by the Institute of the Conference of Defense Associations. defense.

The letter also asks the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau to commit to meeting the NATO goal of devoting 2% of Canada’s gross domestic product to defence. Canada spent 1.29% of its GDP on the military last year.

Mr. Crosby readily recognizes that industry is not responsible for all the problems facing the military procurement system: Federal officials and the Armed Forces are also responsible for some of these problems, while others are beyond the control of everyone and everyone.

However, he added, “if I could write Santa Claus and ask for some improvements […] from the industry side, I would probably like to see less delay between development and delivery – or at least a change in this balance. »

Defense companies like Airbus and Sikorsky Helicopters have come under scrutiny as they have struggled to deliver on promises to deliver search and rescue planes and maritime patrol helicopters.

The government announced it was buying 16 Kingfisher planes from Airbus for 2.75 billion in 2016, when the European aerospace giant said the plane would be ready to carry out search and rescue missions now until 2020.

But that didn’t happen because officials are still testing the Kingfisher, which is based on a specially modified version of the Airbus C-295 military transport plane used by nearly 15 countries across the world. world.

Some of these changes were necessary to meet mandatory Royal Canadian Air Force requirements, while others were optional — and added by Airbus in an apparent effort to improve its offering.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky has still not delivered on its promise to deliver a fully operational fleet of Cyclone helicopters, after two decades of development glitches and delays, software glitches and tail cracks.

The U.S.-based company, which is owned by Lockheed Martin, first won the helicopter contract in 2004. When defense and procurement officials weigh bids submitted by companies for multi-billion dollar contracts dollars, Crosby said, companies “get extra points if they offer more than what we had rated.”

The Ministry of Defense has adopted new means of determining whether companies can actually meet their commitments, one of which was used for the first time in the search and rescue aircraft tender won by Airbus with its Kingfisher.

“And we learned from that because it could have been done better,” says Crosby. We are now applying the same philosophy to other competitive procurements. »

Deputy says companies don’t get paid until new equipment is delivered, which is part of why the Department of Defense gave up or didn’t spend $2.5 billion in the last exercise.

Whether this provides sufficient motivation is debatable, as delays and other issues have often caused taxpayers to pay more for the same equipment.

For example, the Kingfisher contract is currently valued at $2.9 billion. Meanwhile, the Air Force has been forced to move and reassign planes to continue performing search and rescue operations, after its old Buffalo planes were retired last year.

Defense officials have been discussing with allies ways to establish better military procurement timelines, Crosby said, amid a growing trend to purchase more standard equipment without specific modifications for Canada.

But while emphasizing the need for government and industry to work together to find solutions, the procurement chief would like companies to be more direct when it comes to what they can actually deliver – and when.

“We need to have real conversations about what’s realistic,” he said. We need to ensure, through our consultations with the industry, that we establish a good planning basis on the deadlines. »