The statement of operational requirements -

The statement of operational requirements


The CBC gets a look at the F-35’s statement of operational requirements.

One of the 28 mandatory requirements listed is for the plane’s sensor requirements. The document says the plane must be capable of providing the pilot with 360-degree, out-of-cockpit visual situational awareness in a no-light environment. “According to the U.S. Department of Defence there are so many problems with this feature that they’re actually designing a backup. In other words, the plane can’t do it,” Solomon reported…

The document, referred to as “Version 1.0” of the statement of operational requirements for the “next generation fighter capability” was issued on June 1, 2010. It would normally take one to two years after a statement of operational requirements is issued to hold a competition to find a product and sign a contract with a supplier. But MacKay appeared on Power & Politics less than two months later, on July 16, 2010, to announce that the government was moving forward with the F-35 purchase.

Less than a week ago, Peter MacKay reported to Parliament that the conclusion of studies carried out between 2005 and 2010 was that the F-35 “met all of the mandatory requirements specified in the Canadian Forces’ statement of operational requirements.” He added that “the statement of operational requirements contains sensitive information and, like all such documents, cannot be disclosed publicly without redactions.”

In a report for L’Actualite and Maclean’s earlier this year, Alex Castonguay detailed the curious circumstances of the SOR.

But while officials were recommending Canada buy the F-35, a key part of the analysis that goes into all military purchases hadn’t even been written yet. Known as a statement of operational requirement, such a document is like a detailed order form for what the military needs a piece of hardware to accomplish. Yet the document was not completed until June 2010, just one month before the Conservative government announced its plan to buy the F-35. “Recommending a purchase before even writing a statement of operational requirement goes against the criteria of good management,” says Philippe Lagassé, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in military procurement. “Clearly, the choice had been made long before and the statement was written to match the choice.”

Nor were any of Lockheed’s rivals, such as the U.S. firm Boeing, maker of the F-18 Super Hornet (the modern version of Canada’s CF-18s), or Europe’s Eurofighter consortium, which makes the Typhoon, ever contacted before the recommendation was made to go with the F-35 in 2006. Boeing vice-president Kory Mathews says meetings were held in 2008 and 2009, but he calls those discussions “preliminary” because Canada didn’t ask for any classified information about Boeing’s fighter, such as its radar and stealth capabilities. “So it’s impossible to know what we really have to offer,” says Mathews. “I respectfully suggest to Canada that it ask for all the information if it wants to make an informed decision.” Why didn’t Canada do that? “We didn’t feel the need,” says Col. Dave Burt, in charge of buying the new fighters for the RCAF. “We had all the necessary information, and there was too much of a technology gap between aircraft.”

To critics, such statements are evidence that Canada’s decision-making process around the F-35 is flawed. “It’s a cosmetic analysis,” says Yves Bélanger, director of the research group on the military industry and security at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He says the government should have asked tougher questions of RCAF brass as to whether the F-35 truly offered the best quality for the price. “The government obviously had a bias toward the F-35 because Canada had been part of the program since 1997,” he says. “But that’s no reason to let the soldiers pick their favourite piece of equipment.”


The statement of operational requirements

  1. NatPost ~ March 26:
    Unlike any other bidder, Lockheed Martin held out enticing carrots to Canadian industry, in the form of meetings about: “Support to Industry Canada: An Industrial Participation Plan.”

    PJ O’Rourke ~ When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators

  2. This is obviously one of those situations where the full truth behind this illogical decision and the motives involved won’t be known for years.  The only thing we do know is that Steve and the boys seem determined to stick us with this albatross thus hampering both our economy AND our military.

  3. Two issues seem to arise from this story:
    a) Are there any other available aircraft that meet the sensor requirements for the pilot helmet?  If not, then it seems that this is a non-issue, as the F-35 is as compliant as any other possible alternative could be.
    b) Why is it a problem that the air force is getting the aircraft they want, rather than one picked by civil servants who rank combat capablility and the survivability of aircrew as only one factor among more important ones, like industrial offsets and regional employment?  The CBC’s favourite source for stories on this issue is an ex-deputy minister who was an intergral part of a system that routinely took ten years to process the simplest request for new equipment for the forces and generally wound up supplying them with things like the Iltis.

    • I was wondering why the attack on Williams was taking so long.

      • I don’t think its an “attack”, although he personally seems to ooze disdain for the soldiers, sailors and air personnel for whom he was supposed to be arranging to purchase the equipment necessary for them to survive in their jobs.  I don’t know of anyone who thinks the procurment process in the 90’s and early 2000’s was the epitome of efficiency. Do you?

        • Well, I’m just listening to Chris Alexander defending our involvement in the development of the F 35 which was done during Williams watch.  You can’t have it both ways.  As for the procurement process under the current government, is anyone describing it as the epitome of efficiency.  Certainly not the Auditor-General.

          • I don’t have any objection to the F-35 purchase being subject to intelligent scrutiny.  What bothers me about Mr. Williams is both his disdain for the notion of men and women in uniform having a say in what equipment they will have to use in combat – and his apparent belief that such concerns are secondary to the expertise of civil servants in managing procurement.  The second problem with that approach is, of course, that the civil service has an awful track record in defence procurement – so the fact the CBC and others report his opinions without any critical thought is itself wrong.  Of course, defence procurement is a challenge. No country has developed and bought any significant new militar equipment without the project going over budget and being late.  The F-35 is not unique in that respect. 
            I’m not suprised Mr. Williams was involved at some point in his career-  the government of Canada has been planning this purchase for a decade.

    • See, your first question is the whole problem. We don’t know because *we never asked*.

      That’s an issue whether there are other planes with the requirement or not.

      As for your second question, are we allowing the military to set the military aspirations of this country now? No? Then we need people who are responsible to the public to not only set the military goals, but to ask questions of the military as to how their wishlist plane meets these specific goals, not the goals they’ve dreamed up for themselves.

      • Are we allowing the military to set their own aspirations?  I don’t think so.  Clearly the government still sets the goals – in this case the need for a relatively small combat capable air force that can do a multitude of tasks, from ensuring sovereignty of our air space to engaging in offensive operations as part of mutli-lateral missions such as in Libya.  Given budget constraints it has been recognized for thirty years that the air force will have to pick only one combat jet at a time to fulfill those roles.  It hardly seems outrageous to listen to those who will have to fly them in making the choice as to which one is most appropriate for our needs.  Past experience, in which the civil service took those requirements and delivered things like the CF-5 are a pretty good argument against returning to the old days of procurment.

        • Read what I wrote, not what you think I wrote.

          And incidentally, I notice you completely ignore the first point. Do you cede that issue then?

          • I’m not rure what point you were making.  Do you concede that it is hardly a scandal if the helmet planned for the F-35 currently can’t do somehting that no other helmet and airframe combination can do either?

          • No, I don’t. Because there are two points you’re conveniently ignoring here. First: The government announced it met all requirements when it clearly didn’t. That’s a lie, and that’s bad enough.

            Now, if it turns out that no plane did, then it tempers it a little bit, true.

            However, the second part of the problem is that not only does the current plane *not* meet the requirements, we didn’t even *ask* the other guys if they could. How is that *not* scandalous? Especially when you consider that it could needlessly jeopardize our forces. Is rah-rahing the military brass and this government so important to you that you’re comfortable with perhaps needlessly jeopardizing our troops?

            As to the point, I wasn’t saying the civil service should be procuring the equipment, but they should be asking tough questions of the military as to their decisions: Why this plane and not that one? How do you know that one doesn’t meet the requirements? This piece of equipment has a little less functionality but costs much less, what would be the impact of the missing functionality and can we fulfill that impact with something else?

            I’m not even saying the civil service should have the power to deny the military’s choice, but the military brass better damn well be able to answer all those sorts of questions in ways that will satisfy the public.

      •  Sounds like somebody hates the troops.

    • Considering that the F-18 Super Hornet – which is a modern redesign of the original Hornet and not the same plane – uses the avionics package designed for the X-32 that was entered in the program, and has seen considerable upgrades since, it’s entirely possible that it can or could. But, as pointed out, we haven’t asked for the information or a quote.

      Why is it a problem that the air force is getting the aircraft they want, rather than one picked by civil servants
      I hate to break this to you, but the Air Force, and particularly the people making this decision and drawing up the guidelines, are Civil Servants. You also seem to have missed the fact that a key talking point here from the Conservatives has been jobs and industrial benefits to Canada implying that this is a driving factor in the deal as well.

      • It doesn’t really matter if the SuperHornet can match the electronic suite of the F-35 (although it is a capable aircraft I don’t know of anyone who has suggested it can).  It may be there is someone out there who has a pilot helmet interfaced with the avionics of a particular aircraft that can fulfill the funcitons the air force want in the F-35. That would be an indication it is simply a software and integration matter that the F-35 will be able to meet by service entry anyway.  I don’t know if we have asked for the information about the F-18E/F. It may be we have. the point is the F-35 procurement has followed a different path than normal procurement – but that doesn’t mean it is flawed or wrong.  Given the ten-year involvment of Canada in this projec the current approach seems sensible.  It may be that costs will rise to the point the plane simply isn’t affordable, and the government is prudently considering options if that happens.  But as the recent committments of Australia and Norway indicate, the price appears to have stabilized.

        No, the air force are no civil servants.  Although some of them behave as if they are.  There is a clear distinction between the civil service and the armed forces. They have quite separate although complementary roles.  There are civil servants within National Defence, of course.  Mr. William’s disdain has not been directed at them, but at serving members of the armed forces who have the temerity to think they understand their profession better than he does.

  4. Lots more, including much background, at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s “3Ds Blog” (do look at the comment too, from a respected US defence site):

    “And Now for Something Completely Familiar: Canada and the F-35”