With defence budgets becoming increasingly scrutinized and private sector technology trajectories soaring, Canada’s defence procurement is sure to attract significant public attention with calls for reform continuing into the new fiscal year.
Whether it’s the Tactical Integrated Command, Control and Communications (TIC3) Air Project (which was the result of bringing three separate projects under one banner), the Enhanced Satellite Communication (ESCP) Project (struggles to fund the initial project), or any of the key Canadian Army modernization projects (entering definition in 2021/2022), we’re seeing the symptoms of Canada’s multi-departmental approach to defence procurement, which is unique to the country.
The current approach
According to a Library of Parliament Background Paper (Auger, 2016), Canada’s multi-departmental defence procurement system was introduced during a time of great organizational changes within the federal government. Originally set up with the intent of maximizing the use of resources, increasing administrative productivity, and achieving significant cost savings, the system has since expanded to more government departments and agencies becoming involved in the process. This has resulted in a multi-departmental defence procurement system that is increasingly complex and unnecessarily bureaucratic.
Such bureaucracy tends to divide operational capabilities into programmatic and technology silos that deliver the interdependent components of operational capabilities in an unsynchronized manner, resulting in lengthy delays from a warfighter perspective. The frequent outcome is that it takes too many years to deliver a much-needed operational capability — eventually solving yesterday’s problem instead of today’s, and creating critical capability gaps that put our warfighters at an unfortunate disadvantage.
Evidence of this is the fact that the typical defence procurement takes many years to reach final delivery – even if everything is done right. These long timelines and the lack of synchronization among mutually dependent capabilities are genuinely alarming. Meanwhile, private sector technology trajectories are advancing at unprecedented rates. The stark contrast between defence development timelines and private sector development timelines means the warfighter is left at a technology disadvantage. The defence acquisition process is simply not keeping up, and, as a result, the warfighter suffers.
As the multi-departmental defence procurement system makes clear, lack of accountability, slow decision making, ever-changing requirements, and a massive, complex regulatory burden means wasted time and wasted money for the Canadian Government and the Canadian Department of National Defence (DND). Such an outcome is unacceptable for leaders of commercial projects—and should be for the military as well.
However, even with several initiatives over the last few years to improve Canada’s procurement processes and despite delays, cost overruns, and other challenges encountered with defence procurement projects, the Canadian government has remained committed to its current multi-departmental model.
Private sector collaboration
With cost containment and schedule slippage continuing to be a struggle, it is imperative that the Canadian Government and DND work together and find a better way to keep pace with technology. To do this, they must look to the private sector to take advantage of the rapid technological advancements that are evolving much faster and being deployed more efficiently than what the Canadian Armed Forces is currently using.
Viasat is one of the companies that is realizing great success by addressing this deficiency of slow acquisition timelines that fail to get current and emergent technologies to the warfighter fast enough. By leveraging a unique culture of innovation and employee empowerment, coupled with entrepreneurial business strategies, agile technology development processes and non-traditional business models, Viasat accelerates the delivery of turnkey operational capabilities to warfighters much faster than traditional defence procurement.
A new approach
Viasat’s collaboration with its defence customers has become a significant growth engine, even in an uneven defence market. While others seem focused on simply responding to Requests for Proposals (RFPs), Viasat’s team proactively engages with customers to discover what new capabilities they really need by actively listening to their concerns — and by asking lots of questions.
“Our success is based on collaborating with our customers to understand what they really need —focusing on solving their most urgent problems,” said Ken Peterman, president, Government Systems at Viasat. “We bring commercial innovation, technology and thinking to the defence market, which allows us to effectively deliver cutting-edge solutions that enable dramatically improved customer outcomes.”
A few examples of Viasat’s ability to rapidly transform innovative ideas and cutting-edge technologies into warfighter solutions include their Next Generation Link 16 products like the AN/PRC-161, the world’s only handheld Link 16 radio, and the KOR-24A Small Tactical Terminal. In the satellite communications (SATCOM) market segment, the Global Mobile Antenna (GMA) 5560-101 KuKarray multi-mode, multi-band antenna and the AN/TSC-241 Multi-Mission Satcom Terminal (MMT) are also good examples of external customer collaboration. In the cybersecurity and information assurance market segment, Viasat used the same agile development to create the world’s first 100 GB encryption products.
In addition to finding better ways to execute critical missions, Viasat also employs innovative business models and unconventional defence procurement processes to develop and deliver these turnkey operational capabilities that address the real-world problems warfighters face on the ground, in the air, and at sea. For instance, with Viasat’s service fee-based approach to bundling traditional SATCOM services with valuable companion capabilities like automated network management, terminal prioritization and active cyber defense, the warfighter is able to acquire an integrated SATCOM capability that assures capacity, performance and quality of service in benign — as well as contested — environments.
The future is available today
Enormous investments are being made by the private sector to develop capabilities that meet the needs of today’s missions while also addressing emerging requirements. The military has an enormous opportunity to leverage this private sector investment without bearing the development cost or risk associated with a large, complex procurement.
It’s clear the Canadian Government has a largely untapped opportunity to make the most of new capabilities being driven by private sector companies that will give warfighters the tactical edge required to succeed across today’s data driven battlespace. Viasat remains committed to working with the Canadian Government to find innovative ways to bring new technologies to the warfighter with unprecedented speed in order to fulfill the mission needs of today while preparing for the future conflicts of tomorrow.
This article was contributed by Viasat, a global communications company that has helped shape how consumers, businesses, governments and militaries around the world communicate.