(from today's National Post):
Bad tires force 2,700 military trucks off road
Rusted vehicles three years past 15-year service life
(photo) Vehicles such as this medium logistic truck, the backbone of the Canadian army's logistical support, have been parked.
The crumbling state of Canada's military hardware reared its head again yesterday, as rusting, corroding wheels compelled the Canadian Forces to park all 2,700 of the trucks that fulfill its most basic transport needs.
The Department of National Defence announced the shutdown after discovering widespread corrosion and structural damage in the wheels of its medium light trucks and trailers, which perform the lion's share of troop, equipment and weapon transportation.
"These trucks are the backbone of the military," said Dennis Umrysh, director of support vehicles program management for the department. "We're going to replace the wheels on all of them.
"This fleet is entering its 18th year of service and its intended life was 15 years. The age is starting to show."
The decaying rims and locking rings are not yet believed to have caused any accidents.
But the decision to pull the trucks off the road is based primarily on safety concerns, Mr. Umrysh said; a broken wheel could result in a fatal crash, and some of the assemblies were so corroded that the locking rings would pop off during tire maintenance.
Military officials insisted yesterday the replacement program will not interrupt peacekeeping and military operations and that the effects on domestic activities will be "manageable."
Trucks and trailers being used by Canadian troops in the former Yugoslavia, for example, have been inspected and repaired, the department said yesterday in a statement.
DND has also launched an inspection program aimed at certifying as many of the wheels as it can, and will rent vehicles and trailers to try to make up the difference. But the impact on day-to-day operations here in Canada promises to be significant.
Until further notice, trucks on bases across the country may not be used for troop transport, exercises or the movement of supplies on public highways, which means activities on military sites could be limited or cancelled over the next few weeks due to lack of transportation.
The trucks -- with 2.5-tonne carrying capacity and often characterized by high, caravan-style canopies over their beds -- have been in service since 1982.
They were assembled by Bombardier Inc., but the Montreal-based giant no longer provides the parts necessary to keep them running. In Bombardier's stead, DND has contracted the manufacture of new wheels to Western Star Truck Ltd. of Kelowna, B.C.
All told the replacement program is expected to cost $12-million and could take months to complete, because the new wheel assemblies are not expected to be available until next summer.
The corrosion was first detected during inspections last October, and a wider sampling revealed that almost all were stricken with some degree of decay.
"It's the same old story," said Jim Hanson, associate executive director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies. "There's a real problem in the Canadian Forces today because of ageing equipment, and the lack of resources with which to replace it."
Mr. Hanson, whose 30-year military career included stints in charge of land equipment maintenance, found little comfort in the repairs to the small fleet of trucks now in Yugoslavia.
The country will be poorly equipped, he says, should it ever send a larger contingent overseas.
"Unless we send them with better vehicle fleets than the ones we have," he said, "we're going to be sending them as footborne infantry. And footborne infantry are the easiest targets, aren't they?"