VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian military's newest armored vehicle faces significant technical problems, with US company Textron being given a final chance to show its system can meet the promised levels of protection and mobility.
Textron's tactical armored patrol vehicle (TAPV) failed a series of tests in 2014, forcing the company to make design changes to the wheeled system it is offering Canada. A number of redesigned preproduction vehicles will be tested over the next several months and into the summer, a company official said.
But an internal Canadian Department of National Defence briefing paper pointed out that because of ongoing problems this will be Textron's last chance to produce a preproduction vehicle for the CAN $1.2 billion (US $1 billion) project.
Canada awarded the TAPV contract to Textron in June 2012. The company is to produce 500 armored vehicles, with an option to build another 100.
The deal would be worth up to $600 million for Textron. The firm also has been awarded a $105 million contract for in-service support for a five-year period.
The rest of the project funding would go toward new military infrastructure for the TAPVs and other support costs.
In 2014, Public Works and Government Services Canada, the federal department handling procurements, warned Textron that it had one more chance to sort out the technical problems, which mainly concern the vehicle's cross-country mobility.
Public Works spokeswoman Annie Trepanier said the department continues to work closely with Textron to resolve the technical issues and expects vehicle deliveries to begin in early 2016.
"We won't speculate," she stated, when asked what would happen if Textron could not meet its contractual obligations.
Defense analyst Martin Shadwick said the government could be facing the prospect of either canceling the contract or reducing the requirements so the TAPV could pass testing.
"The doomsday scenario would be to scrap it and start over again," said Shadwick, who teaches strategic studies at York University in Toronto. "But that would be a last resort."
A new competition would create additional costs and also create more delays in acquiring a new armored vehicle for the Army, he added.
Tom Williams, a spokesman for Textron Systems Marine & Land Systems, noted in an email that during reliability, availability, maintainability and durability (RAMD) testing "opportunities to improve vehicle subsystems before entering full rate production" were identified for the TAPV. The improvements have been made and a TAPV was recently delivered to the Nevada Automotive Test Center where it will undergo rigorous testing, he added. A second vehicle will be sent to the test center in May.
"Additional RAMD testing will take place this summer," Williams said. "Full rate production will begin in 2015 with first vehicle deliveries planned for 2016."
The problems with the TAPV are outlined in an Aug. 22, 2014, briefing for then-Canadian Defence Minister Rob Nicholson. That two-page report, obtained under the Access to Information law, pointed out that in 2014 the preproduction TAPVs experienced a number of significant technical issues, which particularly affected mobility. Those problems include issues with suspension and steering.
Textron implemented a number of design changes and modifications to address "systemic failures," Nicholson was told.
In July 2014, a test vehicle experienced another failure, which led to design changes and modifications. Another failure occurred that same month and a third in August 2014.
"These accumulating incidents, which relate to the vehicle's ability to travel distances on medium cross country terrain, led the project office to conclude that the existing test could no longer continue," stated the briefing, titled "Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle Way Forward."
"The cascading systemic failures indicate that the platform design is not stabilizing as intended, rendering the contracted reliability as unattainable."
In late August 2014, Textron informed the Canadian government that it was looking to make more vehicle design changes.
The Canadian Army was acquiring the TAPV because it needed a well-protected vehicle capable of negotiating tough terrain and providing troops with a cross-country capability.
The TAPV will replace the Army's wheeled Coyote light armored vehicle and the RG-31 patrol vehicle.
Joyce Murray, defense critic for the opposition Liberal Party, said the issue with the TAPVs points to a greater problem of an ineffective military procurement system.
She noted that the TAPV was one of several new armored vehicle projects announced by the Conservative Party government in 2009. Another of the projects, the planned acquisition of a close-combat vehicle, also ran into problems, with the competition having to be restarted a number of times. The procurement was canceled in December 2013 before a vehicle could be selected.
"The problems with buying armored vehicles for the Canadian military can be blamed on poor government management on the procurement file," Murray said. "They can't seem to get it right."
A Department of National Defence spokesperson confirmed that it and the Canadian Army are working with Textron to test the new TAPV designs.