Defence Minister Rob Nicholson appears as witness at a committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, May 29, 2014. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press
The Conservative government is proposing more than $100 billion in defence spending on a series of projects that would see the Department of National Defence get new fighter jets, rescue planes, helicopters, drones, ships, satellites, uniforms and even rifles.
The Defence Acquisition Guide is a list of more than 200 separate procurement projects the military hopes to undertake in the next 20 years. The guide is not a rock-solid program, but a road map of sorts for the Canadian defence industrial sector.
The generic nature of the information in the guide has already cause some consternation. Only a few minutes after publication, it had defence watchers wondering whether the government had sneakily pushed through a delay on the plan to buy new fighter jets for the air force, perhaps pushing the decision back until after the 2015 election.
In the section describing the CF-18 replacement fighter program, the guide suggests a contract may not be signed until 2018 or as late as 2020.
That would mean a major delay in a program the government had been trying recently to move ahead quickly.
But sources tell CBC News the defence data is wrong and does not take into account the work being done by the national fighter procurement secretariat, which is run by the public works department.
Another source said the dates in the acquisition guide were notional placeholder numbers.
No decision on CF-18 replacement
"The majority of the projects in this publication do not have formal authority from the government and remain subject to change in terms of scope, cost and schedule, including termination without any further explanation or liability," said Johanna Quinney, press secretary to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson.
The guide identifies a list of projects, assigns them each loose capabilities and an even looser price estimate. For instance, the Arctic/offshore patrol ship program is estimated in the guide at $1.5 billion, but the government has already announced more than $3 billion in funding.
The government promised the guide as part of its new defence procurement strategy. It suggested the guide would be a look-ahead for industry, signalling which equipment and services the government wants to buy for the military.
The government has promised the military will update the guide every three years.
Public Works Minister Diane Finley told MPs in question period Monday that the government would review fighter jet replacement report documents over the coming weeks.
F-35 decision may come Tuesday
At stake are the political ramifications of a decision that is widely expected to result in a $45-billion government plan to sole source the purchase of F-35 joint strike fighters.
The government could put the question of which fighter will replace Canada's aging fleet of CF-18 Hornet jets to a competition.
It could also order the military to make over its statement of requirements, a decision which could amount to a future reset of the whole program.
Industry sources tell CBC News they believe cabinet could decide this week which way to go — perhaps as soon as tomorrow.
That decision was supposed to have been discussed at a cabinet meeting last Tuesday, but defence industry sources say that didn't happen.
The government is said to be reluctant to announce its decision right away. Observers suggest the announcement would likely come later in Parliament's summer break.
Whatever the decision, the timing will be interesting: a decision this week in favour of the F-35 would not necessarily result in a contract this year. It could take until 2018 for an aircraft manufacturer to start making planes for Canada.
That's a time frame Lockheed Martin, the maker of the F-35, suggested earlier this year.
Monday's defence acquisition guide has provided no further clarity on how and when the government intends to replace its CF-18s.
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