Leadership Spotlight: ADM (Materiel) gets safe, effective equipment to the troops

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We recently sat down with Patrick Finn, Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel), to discuss his role supplying and maintaining the equipment the Canadian Armed Forces requires to be operationally ready.

Q: Can you please explain to us a little bit about your role as ADM(Mat)?

A: I’m Patrick Finn. I’m the Assistant Deputy Minister for Material here at NDHQ. I’ve spent almost 37 years at National Defence. A little bit more than three-and-a- half decades in uniform, where I did all kinds of work in acquiring and supporting equipment, years at sea in ships and submarines. Now, I find myself responsible for the acquisition, maintenance and support of all of the equipment that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) use. That’s from clothing, to combat boots, to rations, to small arms, through to armoured vehicles, ships, aircraft, we do it all. We make sure that the CAF are technically ready to go out and do their missions.

Q: How did your experience as a member of the Navy prepare you for the management of materiel readiness for operations?

A: Spending almost 36 years with the Navy, it helped me immensely. I was an engineer in the Navy, sailed in ships, submarines, so about a third of my career at sea. A number of years, and a whole bunch of major capital projects to replace equipment, the Halifax class, introducing the new submarines, and working at a number of projects and upgrades. This gave me a really good sense of both what life in uniform is and what it’s like to be deployed and having to use equipment, but also understanding how equipment is acquired, how Ottawa works, how procurement works within the Government of Canada and the importance of it.

Q: What is new and upcoming for ADM(Mat)?

A: ADM(Mat) is a very large program, we move about six billion dollars a year, over ten thousand contracts. There’s a lot of complexity to what we do. CAF equipment and what the Forces do, is really exceptional. You know you hear the cliché of firefighters, when everybody is running away from a fire, the firefighters are running forward. For the Canadian military it’s the same thing, what we ask the men and women of the military to do is really exceptional day in, day out. And so, for us making sure that we get the right equipment in a timely fashion, such that the military is effective, is extremely important. We do so in providing equipment that is safe and secure, that can actually do the role that it’s meant to do.

So, what lies ahead is more procurement, some very large ones, and a pretty substantial amount of shipbuilding now underway. We started under aegis of this very large ship strategy, we now have ships being built on the East Coast and the West Coast. Continuing to recapitalize the Air Force and the Army, so a number of airlift projects underway. New helicopters, new maritime helicopters, light armoured vehicles being delivered for the Army. So, there will continue to be a lot of work to do in those new acquisitions, but also in then making sure that we’re well set up to maintain all of that in service as well.

Q: What have been some of the key challenges?

A: The challenges of Defence procurement, and this is probably true in any country and we talk to our allies with the same issues, is it’s highly complex, dealing with very complicated equipment. It would be hard to describe a piece of equipment more complicated than a combat warship or a fighter aircraft, in the amounts of things that it needs to do. And you’re buying them in relatively small numbers and you’re buying them to go into harm’s way. You’re buying them so they sustain damage for whatever reason and they need to continue to operate. It’s a lot of taxpayers’ money, so making sure that we’re getting value for money is extremely important, and it’s not well understood.

It’s always a challenge for National Defence and for Defence procurement in going forward and making sure people understand just how hard people are working in the materiel group. We have four thousand really incredible professionals who work tirelessly day in, day out to make sure that the CAF does get that equipment that it needs to be actually operationally ready.

Q: What have been some of the key successes?

A: Many successes. You know since the Canada First Defence Strategy, for example, was announced in 2008, much of the equipment has actually been delivered. I mentioned a few, the new Hercules aircraft, new C-17 strategic airlift, tanks, we’ve actually modernized Halifax class frigates, and we’re delivering light armoured vehicles; a very broad spectrum of things that have been delivered.

We are also, what I tend to call, the Department of Transport for all of the Canadian Forces equipment. So, whereas the Department of Transport would certify ships and aircraft for use in Canada, we do that for all the military equipment. And we do it for submarines, we do it for diving equipment, for aircraft, we do it for ammunition and explosives. And so, a real success in that we have a program that continues to evolve and improve, but nevertheless works very hard to make sure CAF members are safe.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the suit acquired for Operation SIRONA.

A: Everybody thinks about the procurement of ships and the aircraft, and of course those are the things you read about in the front page that are very, very complex; have a long duration as far as execution, have issues, but we do a lot of procurement week in, week out.

Recently, in support of Op SIRONA – the mission to deal with the Ebola virus in Africa – we had to rapidly procure some equipment in support of the people deploying there. You see it on TV, looks simple, looks like they’re in a white disposable suits and masks, but really their lives are on the line. And the equipment that we procure, making sure it’s the right equipment that can actually protect them, it’s a life and death situation for the people deploying there. That’s something that the CAF, the people that serve in our military, they see and they experience all the time. Our job to make sure that we get that right, something as simple as what would appear to be a white paper suit, to make sure we get it right, it is a life and death decision.

Q: How will this benefit the Defence Team? What role can members play in supporting this?

A: At the end of the day, National Defence is about the defence of Canada; it’s values at home and abroad. We have a strategy that says Canada First. It’s where our principal focus is, but it’s really also abroad in Canadian values. Being able to supply and maintain all that equipment is really what allows the CAF to do what it needs to do. I mean you would not have a Navy without ships, an Air Force without planes, and in the modern battlefield you would not have an Army without armoured vehicles and tanks and communications equipment. So, we enable all of that, we do it in a very judicious fashion to make sure that we are respectful of Canadian taxpayers and making sure we get value for money. And the whole Defence Team contributes to that.

As much as I talked about the 4 000 people in ADM(Mat), Defence procurement is much broader than that in Defence. It is the Army, Navy, Air Force, Special Forces, how they specify what we’re going to acquire. It is our Chief of Program and the work that they do, and of course it’s our colleagues around town. So, it really is ultimately providing that equipment, the language we use is to provide the technical readiness such that the CAF can then provide the people and the training to pull it all together to make sure we have an operationally ready military.

To view the video portion of the interview, visit the Defence Team site at intranet.mil.ca.

Q: Could you explain the relation of this room to ADM(Mat)?

A: We have what we call ‘Engineering Test Establishments’ that will bring equipment in to service or if there’s a problem that occurs, that we have really specialized expertise that we can bring into play. This morning, we’re currently in one of our organizations called the ‘Quality Engineering Test Establishment’. They do all kinds of really incredible work in dealing with issues that arise, but also detailed testing. I’m sitting this morning in an anechoic chamber, which when all sealed up, actually keeps all of the radio frequency signals outside. So, from cell phones, to you name it, a real kind of radio frequency soup that exists all over the place. It makes it very hard to actually isolate and test equipment without using a chamber of this nature. If there’s something that’s not working, or we want to actually improve upon it, we can use this room for that purpose.

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