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.”