Sunday, September 11, 2011

Canadian Space Competitiveness Falls Behind India Reports International Study

Advocates for the creation of an updated and comprehensive Federal government strategy relating to space activities have been bolstered recently by several public comments from national and international sources indicating that the lack of appropriate policy is eroding the international competitive capabilities of Canadian space systems firms.

And some of those public comments don't just mention vague future strategies. Several mention specific instances of government contracts being stretched out and postponed to the point where subcontractors have difficulty maintaining expertise in-house.

The 2011 Space Competitiveness Index.
Most recent is the September 10th, 2011 Canadian Press (CP) article "India overtakes Canada in space competitiveness: report" which discusses the 2011 Futron 2011 Space Competitiveness Index, a yearly ranking of the underlying government, human capital and industry drivers of aerospace competitiveness and compares how countries invest in and benefit from the space industry.

The index (now in its fourth year) has dropped its estimate of Canadian competitiveness from sixth to seventh behind growing space powerhouse India, which is slowly moving up the rankings. The index also states that Canada is also losing ground to other big space systems players and is being challenged hard by Brazil, China, Israel, Japan and South Korea.

The United States (a longtime Canadian partner in space exploration) remains at the top of the listing, although the US score has also deteriorated in the face of this new competition.

The CP article, in assessing the Futron report, states that:
... (Canadian) government delays in presenting a long-term space plan are offsetting Canada's competitive advantages.

There are concerns the delays may even put Canada behind in the space robotics sector where it has built a worldwide reputation with its iconic Canadarm.
Com Dev CEO Mike Pley.
But at least the Futron report doesn't talk about delays and hold-ups of existing projects that supposedly have the full and public support of the Federal government.

But others do.

For example, according to the September 2nd, 2011 article "Civil Space Drags on Com Dev’s Otherwise Steady Sales," Canadian satellite component provider Com Dev International has revised downward its revenue forecast for the current fiscal year. The article states:
The one weak point (in the Com Dev financial forecast) is civil government space work, mainly from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). In remarks that echoed (other recent) statements by MDA Corp.of Canada, (Com Dev CEO Michael) Pley said the large Radarsat Constellation Mission, which will succeed the current Radarsat 2 radar Earth observation satellite, is almost certain to go forward. But Canadian authorities have sliced the contract awards into such small pieces that Com Dev has been unable to sustain its current work force.
According to the article "the company dismissed 73 employees in the three months ending July 31, a decision that ultimately will yield about 5 million Canadian dollars in annual savings. Com Dev’s work force totaled 1,264 as of July 31."

Ex-Com Dev CEO John Keating was also let go in an earlier round of layoffs in September 2010 (and replaced by Mr. Pley) after finding it difficult to accurately forecast government satellite contracts, according to the September 1st, 2010 Globe and Mail article "Com Dev replaces CEO."

It's likely that more will follow. It's also worth taking a look at my May 23rd, 2011 post "Nothing to See Here! Move Along Now" which comments on recent slowdowns in the Radarsat Constellation funding from a different perspective and links to recent prime contractor Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) comments on the issue.

James Ferguson.
And a more recent article on page 10 of the September 2011 Canadian issue of Space Quarterly Magazine under the title "Thinking Big: Canada's Radarsat Constellation" attempts to put some context around these recent CSA subcontractor problems.

To begin with, author James Ferguson (the Director for the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba) states that "national leadership is required to generate a comprehensive national strategy" covering space activities.

But Ferguson then suggests that our present government does not possess this capability, nor does it possess the ability to make choices or concentrate enough resources into any single area (such as RADARSAT), in order to insure ongoing development of world class Canadian expertise.

The inevitable result, according to Ferguson, will be a slow deterioration of Canadian capabilities into various second rate "silos" of expertise, each one hamstrung by a lack of funds and unable to compete in the international market.

Only time will tell if this latest series of assessments is an accurate reading.

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