There are important lessons for Canada in the Danish government’s transparent, public and independently-verified acquisition of F-35 fighter jets, write Christian Leuprecht and Gary Schaub Jr. in the Toronto Star.
By Christian Leuprecht and Gary Schaub Jr., June 8, 2016
Canadian governments of different political stripes have spent more than a decade trying to figure out whether to buy new fighter jets and which one to buy.
The Conservatives developed an aversion to military-procurement commitments, deferring some, bungling others; Liberals, by contrast are in the habit of politicizing military procurement decisions.
First they make an election plank out of scuttling the F-35 sole-source fighter purchase, now we learn that they are looking at sole-sourcing the F-18. Instead of politicking, which jet Canada buys and how many is secondary to having a proper process that generates and legitimates a commitment on which to follow through.
Recently, the Danish government concluded the F-35 is cheaper, more efficient, and more effective than the alternatives and recommended the F-35 over the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon to replace its aging F-16 fleet. Contrary to the approach taken by Conservatives or Liberals in Canada, the Danish options analysis was transparent, public, and its findings were validated independently. There are important lessons for Canada here on both substance and method.
The Danish government considered four criteria: military performance, acquisition and life-cycle costs, industrial benefits, and strategic considerations — primarily the “ability … to support or fulfil Danish defence and security policy objectives, including potential co-operation with other countries.”
They evaluated each category separately and concluded the F-35 trumps the F/A-18 and the Typhoon in all four categories.
Given the F-35’s reputation, the conclusion about costs was most surprising — and key to the budget-conscious Danes. The detailed analysis provided to the parliament and public found that life cycle costs were driven by the number of expected flight hours of each aircraft: 8,000 for the F-35 and 6,000 for the F/A-18 and Typhoon. Since they last longer, the Danes concluded they could meet their defence needs over 30 years with fewer F-35s.
Critics have questioned the data used by the Danish Ministry of Defence. But the information was supplied by the companies themselves as part of the bidding process. Eurofighter explained they were very conservative in their estimate then, but have since calculated the Typhoon could fly for 8,300 hours. Boeing made a similar case: that the actual flight hours for each F/A-18 Super Hornet is 9,500.
The Danes have stood by their process, using data the manufacturers submitted, which they verified and was validated independently by external auditors. It is now up to the Parliament to consider the government’s recommendation.
There are two lessons here for Canada. First, reach a cross-party consensus in principle. In the Danish case, the political parties agreed in 2012, as a matter of principle, that a new combat aircraft purchase will take place, even with a minority government now in power.
Second, Parliament’s external validation can challenge but should not substitute new metrics for those used by the government. In Canada, the Parliamentary Budget Office, the Auditor General, and KPMG all used different metrics, including different life cycle lengths: whether you calculate jet fuel over 20 or 40 years makes quite the difference!
The Danish process included external validation by RAND Europe and Deloitte Consulting — whose joint report is also publicly available — as well as independent, outside experts. Barring illegality or incompetence on the part of the New Fighter Program Office, the Ministry of Defence, RAND Europe, and Deloitte, it is difficult to see how Boeing or Eurofighter can convince the Danish parliament to forego the government’s recommendations.
The Danish process is democratic and transparent, which makes it difficult to assail. It demonstrates democratic representatives can agree if the processes in place have integrity.
But process does not determine outcome: Canada might well conclude an aircraft other than the F-35 best meets its defence needs. That the largest military purchase in Danish history is proceeding so quickly and with little controversy puts Canadian military procurement processes to shame.
If the Canadian government is serious about the Defence Policy Review it has initiated, learning from Danish technocrats how to procure it may be a good place to start.
Gary Schaub, Jr. is senior researcher at the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen. Christian Leuprecht is professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, and a senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute.