Military plans to refurbish 'unsupportable' radar systems

A $55-million deal to replace radar systems used by Canada's CF-18 jetfighters is officially dead, after Stephen Harper's Conservative government signed a termination deal in July. Public Works and the military have never said why the five-year contract with Thales Canada collapsed, but the air force now plans to refurbish the old ones.

Air force to fix aging mobile units, after claiming in 2008 it needed 'urgent' replacements

A CF-18 engages in nighttime air-to-air refuelling during Canada's combat mission against ISIS on Dec. 7. A contract for a new mobile radar system used by the CF-18s has been cancelled, and the military will upgrade its 'unsupportable' systems instead. (Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

The Canadian military will refurbish rather than retire two ground-based radar systems that were recently declared "unsupportable" and "urgently" in need of replacement.

The decision to extend the life of the aging systems, which support Canada's CF-18 fighter jets, follows the collapse of a five-year-old procurement deal that was supposed to deliver high-tech replacements by this year.

Stephen Harper's Conservative government officially terminated the $55-million deal with Thales Canada Ltd. in July, after paying the company $2.6 million in development costs, ending a contract signed in 2010 with no equipment delivered.

Canadian Forces members install a TPS-70 mobile radar system during a NORAD exercise in Resolute Bay, Nunavut in May. (Cpl. Patrick Drouin/Canadian Forces Combat Camera)
The military has never said why the deal fell through. And an internal Public Works document from June says: "It will be a condition of the termination agreement with Thales that, except as required by law, this matter will remain confidential."

Public Works had said the termination agreement was required before the military could "re-initiate" the procurement process for new tactical-control radar systems.

Deal expected in 2016

But any replacement contract is not imminent, and the military will sign a deal early in the new year to overhaul and repair the radar systems that are based in Bagotville, Que., and Cold Lake, Alta., home to the CF-18 squadrons.

"The Canadian Armed Forces has decided to continue to employ the TPS-70 mobile radar systems until such time as a new capability can be delivered," said Jessica Kingsbury, a spokeswoman for Public Works.

"In order to maintain the existing TPS-70 radars, [Canada] expects to award a competitive repair and overhaul contract by early 2016."

Public Works issued a notice to the defence industry in early 2008, saying the existing TPS-70 radars were "past their life expectancy [and] are no longer supportable."

A replacement radar [is] urgently required.- July 9 briefing note for then-defence minister Jason Kenney

Documents obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act indicate that assessment had not changed when the Thales deal was ended. "A replacement radar [is] urgently required by the Royal Canadian Air Force," says a July 9 briefing note for Jason Kenney, then the Conservative defence minister.

Canada's two mobile radar systems, bought in 1991, help direct CF-18s to intercept potential air threats, and are frequently used in NORAD training. In May this year, one of the systems was deployed to Resolute Bay, Nunavut, for the high-Arctic NORAD exercise "Amalgam Dart."

The mobile radars were also used for G8 and G20 summit security in Toronto and Huntsville, Ont., in 2010, and for security at the Vancouver Winter Olympics earlier the same year.

Talks considered sensitive

The France-based parent of Thales Canada, Thales Group, says its modern Ground Master 400 systems have been sold to Germany, Finland and Malaysia, among others. The Thales replacement radars were to have supported 40 jobs in Canada, with first deliveries to the Canadian military slated for 2013.

A protester reacts to the riot police while marching along the streets of downtown Toronto during the G20 Summit in 2010. The military's aging mobile-radar system was sent to Toronto to monitor air threats. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)
Negotiations on contract termination with Thales began in October 2014, and a heavily censored Public Works document suggests the talks were especially sensitive because of "a long-standing relationship with the contractor on other contracts … which needs to be taken into consideration."

The Harper government oversaw a series of troubled procurements, including the F-35 Stealth Fighter project and the Cyclone helicopter purchase to replace the aging Sea Kings. During the recent election campaign, the Liberals vowed to scrap any F-35 purchase, and plow the savings into the navy.

But the military also points to success stories, including the acquisition of five C-17 heavy-lift transport aircraft; 17 Hercules C-130-J tactical transport aircraft; and 15 new Chinook helicopters.

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