5 of Canada's biggest military deals

A look at some of the biggest Canadian military purchases of the past decade.

HMCS Windsor returns

11 years ago
Duration 2:12
Submarine ready to begin sea trials after 5 years, Department of National Defence says

The submarine HMCS Windsor re-enters the water today after a five-year, $45 million retrofit. The deal is just one of a number of recent big-ticket military investments by the Canadian government. Here's a look at some of the biggest Canadian Defence purchases of the past decade.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (US Navy/AP)

The federal government has wanted to replace the 1980s vintage CF-18 jets since the late 90s.

Canada signed the first phase of the Joint Strike Fighter Program in 1997 and doled out $171 million in 2001 to start the second phase.

The Conservative government has maintained until recently that the total purchase and maintenance costs will be between $14 billion and $16 billion. This would make the F-35 the largest defence purchase in Canadian history.

Even so, the budget officer and critics have challenged the government's figures, delivering estimates of up to $29.5 billion.

Auditor General Michael Ferguson reported to parliament last week that the government had misled parliament with the cost of the jets, and the project has since been taken away from Department of National Defence (DND) and given to a new secretariat in the Department of Public Works.

CH 148 Cyclone helicopter

Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

Liberal Defence Minister Bill Graham signed a $3.2 billion deal in 2004 for the purchase of 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters from Sikorsky International in Connecticut, to replace the aging CH-124 Sea King helicopters.

The first helicopter was to be delivered in November 2008, but there have been numerous delays and cost overruns. Former Auditor General Sheila Fraser said the cost of the program had grown to about $5.7 billion, up from an initial estimates of $5.1 billion.

In 2003, Paul Martin pegged the program at $2.8 billion, which did not include long-term maintenance. But maintaining the old Sea Kings in order to keep them flying longer than originally planned has cost the Canadian government $500 million, bringing the total of the project to $6.2 billion.

Victoria Class submarines

HMCS Windsor (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

In 1998 the Canadian government purchased four submarines from the Royal Navy for $750 million. The UK decommissioned the subs in October 1994 and they sat mothballed in salt water for four years before Canada bought them. The submarines have had a number of problems, including a fire on HMCS Chicoutimi's maiden voyage, which killed one sailor and injured others. It has not returned to service since.

There have been serious electrical problems on all three submarines, as well as rust and general deterioration.

Only one of the submarines purchased is currently fully operational, HMCS Victoria, which successfully fired torpedoes last month. The Windsor started a series of sea trials on April 11, with plans to put it into service within a year.

The bill for retrofits and repairs to the old subs has reached more than $1 billion.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay has said it will likely be another couple of years before all four submarines are fully operational.

Shipbuilding contracts

Workers listen from the bow of a ship as Prime Minister Stephen Harper announces warship contracts at the Halifax Shipyard on Jan. 12, 2012. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)

In 2010 the government put forward a plan for new military, non-combat and scientific vessels, which includes an expected outlay of $35 billion over the next 20 to 30 years.

In October 2011 Halifax's Irving Shipbuilding won a multibillion-dollar contract from the federal government to build 21 to 23 ships. Some reports have pegged the value of the contract at $25 billion, but neither Irving or Public Works have confirmed that number. Irving is also the recipient of a $304 million loan from the Nova Scotia government to help prepare for construction. The provincial government package includes a forgivable loan to Irving worth up to $260 million and a repayable loan of $44 million.

Vancouver's Seaspan Marine was awarded a contract for eight non-combat vessels. Reports have valued the contract at $8-billion, but neither Seaspan nor Public Works have confirmed the amount.

Another $2 billion in contracts is still pending. 

Canada's shipbuilding plan includes:

  • 15 Canadian surface combatants
  • Six to eight Arctic offshore patrol ships
  • Two joint support ships
  • Three offshore fisheries science vessels
  • Four offshore oceangraphic science vessel
  • One polar icebreaker

The first ships are scheduled to be delivered in 2013.

Leopard 2A6 tanks

Leopard 2A6 tank (Tobi Cohen/CP)

Citing safety concerns as the war in Afghanistan intensified, Canada borrowed 20 Leopard 2A6 tanks and two Armoured Recovery Vehicles from Germany in March 2007.

In addition, Canada purchased 20 slightly used Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks and 80 Leopard 2 A4 main battle tanks in December 2007 to replace its aging fleet of Leopard 1 tanks, built in the 1970s.

Combined with upgrade and repair and overhaul contracts, as well as spare parts and integrated logistic support contracts, the bill will come to $1.3 billion, which was double the Conservative government's estimate.

While waiting for the new Leopard 2A6 tanks to arrive from the Netherlands, the Canadian government borrowed 20 of the same tanks from Germany.

Auditor General Sheila Fraser reported in 2009 that the military failed to order adequate spare parts for the borrowed vehicles, which forced the Canadian military to take parts from some tanks in order to keep others running.

The Leopard 2A6 was also unable to accommodate mine-clearing equipment and bulldozer blades needed for some missions in Afghanistan, forcing the military to keep some Leopard 1s in service.

Fraser said at the time that the military broke its own purchasing rules, but added that it was acceptable given the urgent nature of the military's requirements.