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Canadian Military Procurement  –  New Canadian Rangers Rifle  –  July 2015

New Canadian Ranger Rifle (NCRR) Project — Replacing Lee-Enfields

As is know well-known, the rural component of Canada's Reserves, the Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups, are armed with 70-year-old  bolt-action rifles. Despite their age, the Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk.I* rifle is extremely popular with the Canadian Rangers. The Lee-Enfield [1] was issued  to the Canadian Rangers because this rifle was numerous in the post-War years,  its bolt-action  was simple to teach, and the actual rifles were all  but  indestructable. But  nothing lasts forever and DND faced a challenge procuring parts.

The parts problem is common to any older (or increasingly rare) system. DND is accustomed to using 'approved suppliers' for procurement. That means a reliance upon suppliers who are familiar with the process of  government procurement of  military goods and the bureaucratic tangle that can result.  Suppliers of  rare (or eagerly sought-after) parts have simpler options.

When surveyed about potential replacement, Canadian Rangers said  they would  be happy with new-production Lee-Enfields. But Toronto's Long Branch Arsenal, which produced the rifles for the Canadian Army, is long gone. So too are most Canadian civilian rifle-makers. [2] Then there is the ammunition question. The Lee-Enfield fire obsolete rimmed .303" cartridges which, in itself, is not a problem. The ammunition is manufactured by General Dynamics under contract to DND but the old  British .303" is used only by Rangers and DND wants to shift  to 7.62 mm NATO. [3]

In Aug 2010, DRDC - Toronto (together with Humansystems Inc. of  Guelph, ON) published Canadian Ranger Rifle: Human Factors Requirements Validation which said that the Lee- Enfield was "generally considered a durable, reliable, and accurate weapon but is faulted for its weight, age and availability of  parts, and  magazine". The most desirable features for any replacement Canadian Ranger Rifle were arrived at through surveys of serving Rangers. The results showed that a bolt-action .308" Winchester/7.62 mm rifle "that is shorter and  weighs less than the current  Lee Enfield" was most desirable. Workshops also covered the ancillary equipment. The paper ends with a draft Statement of  Operational Requirement for new rifles.

New Canadian Ranger Rifles – Statement of Operational Requirement and then Confusion

So, the .303" was on the way out and a replacement on the horizon in 2010 ... prompting a flurry of speculation and  discussions of  favoured candidates. [4]  The next summer saw a 'Price & Availability' request  issued but then cancelled just before its Oct 2011 closing date. Canadian procurement had struck again!

The Harper Government's Canada First Defence Policy states  its  preference for "sourcing from Canadian suppliers, such  as already occurs through  the Munitions Supply Program". In the case of  the New Canadian Ranger Rifle, that means that any rifle design selected will be made by  "Canada's Small Arms Strategic Source and Centre of  Excellence", Colt Canada.

That sounds good. Why not 'Leveraging Defence Procurement' as one Public Works report put it?  The answer, it turned out, was that most  purveyors of high-quality bolt-action rifles were not keen on being required to turn over  proprietary details  to a  potential competitor  like Colt Canada. The reward for a  'winner' of  this contest  was to receive a small, per unit royalty  in exchange for design rights. Colt Canada would glean any profits from  NCRR  production. Small wonder then, that  the 2011 NCRR P&A saw no takers – though bewildered potential ancillary kit suppliers were trying to figure out how to bid when vital details remained unfixed.[5]

Nice deal  for Kitchener-based Colt Canada, though. The original rifle's maker absorbs all the design costs and then the Government of  Canada signs the contracts. With no risk to itself, Colt just cranks our the NCRRs and then cashes the cheques. Not bad for government work.

The NCRR P&A requested a Commercial-off-the-Shelf (COTS) solution – implying that commercially-available hunting rifles can be easily adapted to meet  this requirement with minimal changes. But some proved  tricky. Based on the 2010 surveys and workshops, preferences were for 26-inch barrels – something of a rarity on modern commercial hunting rifles. And there was a slightly less universal perference for stable, low-maintenance composite stocks  for the new rifles. Stocks,  regardless of  their material, were to have a uniform (but unspecified), camouflage colour and display the distinct crest of the Canadian Rangers prominently on the buttstock.

The Best of  Plans vs. Reality: A Brief Timeline of the New Canadian Ranger Rifle Project

Since the New Canadian Ranger Rifle Project experienced a series a delays, a timeline may be useful.  DRDC published  its report, Canadian Ranger Rifle:  Human Factors Requirements Validation, [2] in Aug 2010. A planned New Canadian Ranger Rifle Project timeline followed. Below, that original Timeline is shown in grey,  the actual NCRR Project Timeline is in black.

New Canadian Ranger Rifle  Price and Availability (P&A) published:  Summer 2011
  • New Canadian Ranger Rifle P&A (W8476-123195/A):  12 Sept 2011 (closing 14 Oct 2011)
P&A results received:  14 October 2011
  • New Canadian Ranger Rifle P&A (W8476-123195/A):  revised (cancelled) 06 Oct 2011
Options Analysed and Requirements refined:  Fall 2011
  • (New Canadian Ranger Rifle Project  on hold)
RFP issued more than likely preceded by a SOIQ:  Summer 2012
  • (New Canadian Ranger Rifle Project  on hold)
Weapon Selected and Contracted awarded:  Winter/Spring 2013
  • (New Canadian Ranger Rifle Project  on hold)
  • NCRR Statement of Operational Requirements released:  Aug 2013
Start of delivery of new CRR:  Fall 2013/Winter 2014
  • NCRR Statement of Operational Requirements amended:  Nov 2013

  • NCRR Notice of Proposed Procurement (NPP):  May 2014
  • NCRR Equipment & Ancillaries (W8476-145111/A) LOI/RFP:  May 2014
  • NCRR NPP awarded to Colt Canada:  Sept 2014
  • NCRR Equipment & Ancillaries (W8476-145111/A) NPP:  Sept 2014
  • New Canadian Ranger Rifle Request for Proposals:  Sept 2014
  • Revised New Canadian Ranger Rifle RFP closing date:  30 Oct 2014
  • ADM Julian Fantino announces NCRR Contract Award:  23 June 2015

"... We'll order now, what they ordered then, 'Cause everything old is new again" ... or not

After a few false starts, a Finnish rifle design, the Sako Tikka T3 Compact Tactical Rifle was chosen to be the New Canadian Ranger Rifle. Ten trials T3 CTRs (above) were delivered  for testing by Canadian Rangers in Nunavut and, later, British Columbia. Few details are known about these trials rifles yet but straying from the NCRR SOR is already apparent. The stocks, for example, are far from a uniform colour – being of  laminated wood [6] with bold stripes of colour ranging from orange to red (depending upon the individual stock). The barrels appear to be the optional Tikka T3 CTR 24-inch type, albeit with an added-on muzzle cap and sight.

Quibbles aside, the amazing thing is that an NCRR contract was signed at all. Certainly the original P&A was cooly received. So either  Sako saw that adopting some of  the features demanded for the New Canadian Ranger Rifle would  make Tikka T3 CTRs appeal to a broader range of commercial buyers, or Colt Canada and  the Government of  Canada offered a deal to Sako that was too tempting to decline. Either way,  Canada and  the Canadian Rangers have lucked out. It looked like there may be no 'takers' on the NCRR Project. Instead, trials are underway with excellent rifles and, as promised,  the NCRR should be in service by 2016.

[1] Lee-Enfields first entered Canadian service in 1916 as the No1 MkIII  Short Magazine Lee Enfield. In WWII, the SMLE was eclipsed by the Long Branch-built No4 MkI* which served the regular Army from 1943-1955. A reserve force formally established in 1947,  the Canadian Ranger Patrol Groups have been issued with the Lee-Enfield No 4 Mk I* rifle ever since then.

[2] Long Branch Arsenal (or Canadian Small Arms Factory) was itself privatized as Canadian Arsenals Ltd. before closing down for good. Civilian rifle-maker Cooey was another example. Best known for small-bore rifles, Cooey was bought by Olin to become Winchester Canada. Cooey's .308" Model 71 was a copy of  Winchester's Model 70, which might have fit NCRR.

[3] That  7.62 x 51 mm NATO cartridge  is physically interchangeable with the commercially- available .308" Winchester round. This allows the individual  Canadian Ranger to purchase extra ammunition locally for personal use (hunting is encouraged to practice marksmanship).

[4] CASR happily indulged in this sport. See archived page Kick-Starting the NCRR Project.

[5] The main issue was with the rifle length. With barrel lengths (and, thus, overall length of weapons) left  to bidding rifle suppliers, potential supplies of  ancillary equipment could not properly size soft and hard  rifle carrying case designs to produce an accurate price estimate.

[6] Likely, the laminated stock (like the 24-inch barrel) were the compromises on the original, 2010 draft SOR needed  to bring the NCRR  in on budget. A retail price for a laminated wood stock is around $100;  for a basic glass fibre-reinforced composite stock about $250 (custom tactical composite stocks starting around $500). The budgetary benefit of  laminate stocks is obvious. So too is the advantage of accepting COTS 24-inch barrels versus custom 26-inch.

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