Defense Minister Rob Nicholson (Mandel Ngan / AFP)
OTTAWA, CANADA — The Canadian military announced Friday the cancellation of plans to purchase $2.1 billion (Canadian dollars) worth of combat vehicles, citing budget constraints.
"We recommended that the government of Canada not proceed with the procurement process for the Close Combat Vehicle," said a statement.
Defense Minister Rob Nicholson agreed.
The program to purchase 108 of the vehicles was conceived at the height of Canada's decade-long military involvement in Afghanistan.
They were to be larger and more heavily-armored than the LAV III vehicles in use at the time, and which provided too little protection against insurgents' roadside bomb attacks.
Four years later, Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan is over and the government is reviewing its defense needs.
Canada's longest-running combat mission officially ended in July 2011 — after joining NATO's coalition in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban a decade earlier — with the handover of security duties in Kandahar province to US and Afghan troops.
Canadian forces have since been training Afghan army and police in and near Kabul. The last military trainers are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan in March.
Defense contractors Nexter, BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems bid on the armored vehicle project, but a decision on a supplier had yet to be announced.
General Tom Lawson, the chief of the defense staff, told a press conference that upgrades to its fleet of LAV III have "addressed the protection concerns" of the military.
"The capabilities of the Upgraded Light Armored Vehicle III are far superior to what was originally envisioned" in 2009, he explained.
Additionally, increased surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, advances in countering improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and improvements in the army's tactics "have all resulted in significant mitigation of tactical risk to our soldiers in deployed combat operations," he said.
The fate of other planned major purchases of fighter jets, frigates, Arctic patrol ships and an assortment of armored vehicles, meanwhile, remains in doubt as the government continues cutting spending in order to return to a balanced budget by 2015.