Canadian Defence Procurement – December
Auditing the Upgrades to the CF-18 Fighter Aircraft
The Auditor-General reviews the CF-18
Incremental Modernization Project
DND's Project Managemement and Planning Role in the CF-18 IMP
DND's CF-18 Incremental Modernization Project is the culmination of
the Air Forces' identification of operational and maintenance deficiencies of the CF-18 fleet. To establish
whether the CF-18 IMP Phase 1 contracts addressed the key points, the auditors first reiterated the deficiencies
identified by the Air Force.
Supportability. The aircraft industry no longer produces most of the
original CF-18 avionics components. Equipping the CF-18 with modern
avionics will allow [DND] to maintain the aircraft into the future.
Interoperability. Many of Canada's allies are updating their aircraft. To
continue to communicate and operate effectively with allies, the CF-18
requires similar updates.
Operational capability. The CF-18 needs upgrading to continue to
perform as an effective fighter aircraft. Some of the potential threats
to Canadian security are new since the CF-18 was first built.
Survivability. Certain components that increase the survivability rate
of the aircraft and its pilots are now obsolete. The Phase 1 upgrades
will contribute to improved survivability.
Other CF-18 deficiencies were acknowledged but, as they lay outside the CF-18 IMP, were not reviewed in this audit.
The CF-18 Crash-Survivable Flight Data Recorder (which is part of an Air Force-wide project) was cited as
The auditors assumed that DND would have analysis supporting its decision to limit the CF-18 IMP to 80 upgraded
airframes. Such analysis, it was anticipated, would estimate future attrition rates, allow for airframe age, and
accomodate the CF-18 roles defined by National Defence policy. No such DND analysis existed. Instead, DND officials
simply asserted that the number 80 had been arrived at as being "reasonable, financially". The auditors had
doubts about this conclusion.
Air Force analysis indicates that modernizing 80 aircraft does not mean
that 80 ... would be available on a daily basis. The planned allocation of the 80 CF-18s is four operational squadrons
of 12 aircraft each, with the remaining 32 available for training, testing and evaluation, and depot level maintenance.
Of the 48 aircraft in operational squadrons, ... 34 ... are normally mission-ready on a daily basis. With an expected
attrition rate of one aircraft every two years, [DND] has recommended a review of how well the modernized 80-aircraft
fleet will meet Canada's ongoing commitments, particularly in a post-September 11, 2001 environment.
"The Few" – CF-18 Incremental Modernization Project Staffing Limitations
The auditors had reservations about both the quantity and skill levels of military staff working on the CF-18 IMP.
DND's Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) is studying whether a cap of 460 military personnel working on
technically complex projects may be too low. OAG auditors were more concerned that qualified staff are not be available
to fill vacancies, citing the shortage of aerospace engineers available for the CF-18 IMP as an example. Only about
half of the project staff are military personnel, the other half are contract employees hired by DND.
Even with the gaps filled, personnel assigned to the CF-18 IMP Phase 2 had to be loaned to Phase 1 projects
to try to meet deadlines. This will likely snowball, the project staff fully expect the situation to worsen in Phase 2
rather than improve.
Worse still, the auditors "found that about 80 percent of the CF-18 project staff arrived with little or no
project management experience". Internal reports reveal this to be a problem with many DND projects. The auditors
attributed this to the absence of a "long-term training path for developing project manager or director skills"
among military personnel. At present, the majority of staff spend their time learning project management rather
than applying these skills to the project.
One critical effect of the shortage of skilled personnel was that no overall Project Management Plan was produced and
a Master Implementation Plan existed only in draft form until early 2004. These plans are meant to guide the
implementation of the upgrades themselves while also minimalizing disruptions at the squadron level. Without these
plans, "project management software" had to be relied upon for all aspects of individual project scheduling and
monitoring. "[B]aseline dates for project milestones" were not identified, "so deviations from the
schedule can- not be tracked, measured, or reported to senior management".
Fortunately, the news on individual project completion was more positive overall.