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Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada

Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada

Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada

Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada


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Defence expert Kim Richard Nossal presents a damning indictment of defence procurement in Canada, and shows how to fix it.

Defence procurement in Canada is a mess. New equipment is desperately needed for the Canadian Armed Forces, but most projects are behind schedule, over budget, or both. Not only has mismanagement cost Canadian taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, it has also deprived Canada and the CAF of much-needed military capacity.

Successive governments — both Liberal and Conservative — have managed the complexities of defence procurement so poorly that it will take years before the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, and the Canadian Army regain the capabilities they need. While new prime ministers invariably come to power promising to fix problems inherited from their predecessors, getting it right has remained frustratingly elusive.

Charlie Foxtrot offers a fresh take on this important policy issue. It shows why governments have found it so difficult to equip the CAF efficiently, and offers a set of political prescriptions for fixing defence procurement in Canada.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781459736771
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Publication date: 12/10/2016
Series: Point of View , #5
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 200
File size: 775 KB

About the Author

Kim Richard Nossal is a professor of political studies at Queen’s University. He is a former editor of International Journal, a former president of the Canadian Political Science Association, and author of a number of works on Canada's foreign and defence policy. From 2006 to 2012, he chaired the academic selection committee of the Security and Defence Forum of the Department of National Defence.

Kim Richard Nossal is a professor of political studies at Queen’s University. He is a former editor of International Journal, a former president of the Canadian Political Science Association, and author of a number of works on Canada’s foreign and defence policy. From 2006 to 2012, he was the chair of the academic selection committee of the Security and Defence Forum of the Department of National Defence.

Ferry de Kerckhove is a Fellow of the Canadian Defence&Foreign Affairs Institute, Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa, Adjunct Professor, Department of Political Science, Cape Breton University, and the former High Commissioner of Canada to Pakistan and Ambassador to Indonesia and Egypt.

Read an Excerpt


The Ross rifle was standard equipment for Canadian troops who were sent to France after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914.2 It had its origins in Canada’s participation in the Boer War (or, as it is officially known in Canada, the South African War) fought between 1899 and 1902. At the time, Canada had no indigenous industrial capacity in arms manufacture, and thus the government in Ottawa was entirely dependent on supplies from the Imperial government in London, which allocated weapons that were surplus to British needs to other parts of the Empire, sometimes as gifts, sometimes as purchases.
In 1900, after the Liberal government of Sir Wilfrid Laurier committed troops to the war, it needed rifles for those troops. The minister of militia, Frederick Borden, tried to place an order in Britain for ten thousand Lee-Enfield .303-inch calibre bolt-action repeating rifles, the standard rifle issued to Imperial troops, but the War Office could spare only two thousand rifles, since there were not enough Lee-Enfields in production to supply British troops. So Borden went to two British manufacturers, seeking to have the Lee-Enfield produced in Canada under licence, but neither was interested. As a result, the Laurier government began to consider manufacturing a Canadian rifle.
Borden’s son Harold was killed in action at Witpoort in July 1900, adding grief to his frustrations with the British. He was thus very receptive when, in early 1901, Sir Charles Ross, a Scottish entrepreneur, approached him with a proposal to manufacture a rifle that he had invented. Ross’s rifle had a “straight-pull” bolt action rather than the rotating bolt action of the Lee-Enfield, allowing faster rates of fire. Borden was sufficiently impressed that he agreed to create a committee to consider the Ross rifle and test it against the Lee-Enfield. The testing, such as it was, was not rigorous: one of Ross’s friends was on the committee, and Ross himself was allowed to be present for the tests and was even observed oiling one of the test Lee-Enfields, presumably in an effort to ensure that it jammed.3 Borden decided to ignore the one member who expressed concerns about the number of times that the Ross misfired and jammed during endurance trials, and he awarded Ross a contract that enabled him to start the Ross Rifle Company, which promised to create one thousand jobs in Laurier’s riding of Québec East.
In 1902, Ross was given a nineteen-acre factory site on land owned by the Department of Militia and Defence in the Cove Fields area of the Plains of Abraham for $1 a year. Ross was also given a lucrative contract that set the price at $25 per rifle, well above the $15 to $18 it would have cost had the Canadian government purchased Lee-Enfields from Britain. The encouragement of an infant industry that would provide Canada with an autonomous and indigenous supply of rifles, it might be noted, was very much in keeping with the other “lessons” that Borden took from his experience in 1900, including his attempts to encourage a citizen army of sharpshooters, his subsidization of rifle clubs, and his support for military training in schools.4
Ironically, faced with this open challenge to its monopoly on small arms, the Imperial government tried to dissuade the Canadians. Joseph Chamberlain, the colonial secretary, stressed to Ottawa “the very great importance of adhering to absolute uniformity of pattern in the weapons” used by the Empire, expressing the hope that whatever arms Canada manufactured would be “identical” to Imperial weapons, and offering to produce weapons for Canada. Borden refused; the most that he would promise London was that the Canadian rifle would use .303-inch ammunition, the same calibre as the Lee-Enfield.
In the years that followed, one of the most ardent champions of the Ross was Sam Hughes, a Conservative member of parliament and a friend of Sir Charles Ross. In 1907, Sir Frederick, as the minister of militia had become in 1902, had taken the unusual step of appointing Hughes, an opposition MP, as chair of a special Standing Small Arms Committee in the Department of Militia, in a stroke neutralizing criticism of the Ross rifle that was emerging among the Conservative opposition. In this role, Hughes became increasingly involved in the development of the Ross. A staunch and aggressive Canadian nationalist, he was deeply committed to the self-sufficiency in small arms that the Ross represented, believing that what he routinely called the “best rifle in the world” could place Canada as a leader in small-arms manufacturing.
In 1911, Hughes was appointed minister of militia and defence in the Conservative government of Sir Robert Borden (a cousin of Sir Frederick), and the Ross rifle was formally adopted as the “national arm” for the Canadian forces. As minister, Hughes played an important role in marketing the Ross, not only to Canadians, but also to other countries in the British Empire, in the hopes that the rifle would be adopted by their armed forces. Hughes was an expert marksman and a former president of the Dominion Rifle Association, and he routinely inserted himself in the production process to propose design changes to ensure that the rifle competed well in the prestigious shooting competitions organized by the National Rifle Association at Bisley, widely regarded as a testing ground for military weapons. Much to the chagrin of the Canadians, the National Rifle Association went to considerable lengths to keep the Ross rifle out of the competition between 1906 and 1908. When it was finally allowed to compete in 1909, Canadian shooters won numerous prizes.
The Ross rifle performed very well in peacetime. Its long and heavy barrel gave it exceptional accuracy and distance. At Hugh’s insistence, its chamber was purposely designed around the ammunition it used — high-quality cartridges produced by Dominion Arsenal Company, the Canadian government-owned ammunition manufacturing facility in Québec City — and the tight fit produced higher muzzle velocity. The civilian version of the rifle proved popular with hunters, and the match target version continued to do well on the competition circuit.
But, as Ronald Haycock has noted, “it never occurred to Sam Hughes that fine accuracy was not the sole requirement of a rifle in war.”5 When the troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force arrived in France in February 1915 with their Ross rifles, many of them discovered that their weapon did not work well in battlefield conditions. The Ross was eight inches longer than the Lee-Enfield, making it more difficult to use in the trenches. The bayonet had a tendency to fall off when the rifle was fired. If the weapon was not kept scrupulously clean — almost impossible in the mud of the trenches and no-man’s land — the bolt would often jam, particularly when it was fired repeatedly. And while the “straight pull” bolt mechanism could be easily disassembled for cleaning, it was easy to reassemble the bolt without the locking lugs engaged, which would damage the bolt (and sometimes injure the shooter) the next time the weapon was fired.6
Most importantly, the Ross proved sensitive to the quality of the ammunition being used. When it was fed the well-crafted, exact-dimension cartridges produced by the Dominion Arsenal Company, it was fine. However, Dominion Arsenal could not supply the Canadian troops with sufficient cartridges, so they had to use British-made .303 ammunition that was being mass-produced for Imperial troops on the Western Front. The British ammunition was of poorer quality: the soft brass used tended to expand in the tight Ross chamber; it was also “dirtier,” with more lead and powder fouling, exacerbating the jamming problem.
In the first combat test faced by the Ross, the second battle of Ypres in April 1915, a third of the Canadian troops simply threw their rifles away. Indeed, it was after Ypres that the story that Canadian soldiers went about picking up the much sturdier Lee-Enfields from dead British soldiers began to circulate. Needless to say, the troops in the field were not happy with a weapon that was quickly nicknamed the “Canadian club.” Complaints about the performance of the Ross immediately made their way up the chain of command. As one unidentified Canadian officer wrote shortly after the second battle of Ypres, “It is nothing short of murder to send out men against the enemy with such a weapon.”7 The British commander of the first Canadian contingent, Maj.-Gen. Edwin Alderson, recommended to the Imperial commander-in-chief, Sir John French, that the Ross be withdrawn from service and that Canadians be issued with Lee-Enfield rifles.
But the reaction in Ottawa to the problems being faced by Canadian troops in the field was deeply political. Since he was so personally committed to the Ross rifle, Hughes’s immediate reaction was to defend it. He appointed a committee to look into the faults but thought nothing of including Sir Charles Ross as one of its members. Hughes insisted that the root of the problems lay in low-quality British ammunition and refused to abandon the Ross. Finally, in February 1916, after months of resistance by Hughes, Alderson sent all the evidence of the Ross’s failure on the battlefield to Maj.-Gen. Sir Willoughby Gwatkin, the British officer who served as Canadian Chief of the General Staff. Hughes immediately launched a personal attack against Alderson, claiming to the House of Commons that the British general “did not know the butt from the muzzle” of the rifle about which he was complaining.8
Sir Robert Borden took Hughes’s side, prompting the British Imperial high command to remove Alderson from his Canadian command in May 1916 rather than challenge a dominion prime minister. However, when Alderson’s evidence was leaked to the Ottawa Citizen and published in May, Hughes’s position became increasingly untenable. Borden agreed to withdraw the Ross and have Canadian troops armed with Lee-Enfields. Hughes was further sidelined when the prime minister created a new cabinet position to coordinate and administer the Canadian Expeditionary Force and appointed Sir George Perley, the Canadian high commissioner in London, as minister of overseas forces in October 1916. This prompted an extraordinary exchange of letters between Hughes and the prime minister in which Hughes accused Borden of lying, prompting the prime minister to demand Hughes’s resignation.9
With its principal defender gone, “that damned Ross rifle,” as so many Canadians and British were wont to describe it,10 was done as Canada’s “national arm.” The Ross Rifle Company was expropriated by the government in 1917, production of the rifles was brought to an end, and the factory’s buildings in Cove Fields put to other uses before being demolished in 1931 to make way for an underground reservoir to supply Québec City with water.

Table of Contents


1 Getting It Wrong: A Century of Defence Procurement Messes
2 Getting It All Wrong: The Sea King and F-35 Fiascos
3 Explaining the Mess
4 Reforming the System?
5 Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada
Conclusion Getting It Right
Abbreviations and Acronyms

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