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What is ‘the backbone’ of the Canadian Army doing in a junk yard?

Even an expert in armoured fighting vehicles thinks it’s a strange place to find what the Canadian Army calls “the backbone” of its combat vehicle fleet.

For them to be in this breaker’s yard is not where I would expect them to be.– Jon Hawkes

“I’m surprised that vehicles of this importance and significance are being stored in a conventional steel breaker’s yard,” said Jon Hawkes, the Land Management Editor for military information publisher Jane’s Information Group.

“Typically they’d be in a military facility of some kind, even if it’s sort of, you know, popped out in the back out of the way in the contractors own facility.”

“For them to be in this breaker’s yard is not where I would expect them to be.”

“Them,” in this case are the LAV III, the workhorse of the Canadian Army. You’ve likely seen them on television, either helping Canadians stricken by some natural disaster, such as the 2013 floods in Alberta, last year’s floods in Quebec, or, maybe overseas, carrying our troops into hot zones in such places as Afghanistan and more recently Mali.

What are these LAV IIIs doing in a junk yard?

Dozens of Canadian-made light armoured vehicles sit idle, waiting to be disassembled at this scrapyard in London, Ont. (Ed Middleton/CBC News)

So what on Earth are they doing in the back lot of a junk yard?

“I think it’s interesting,” John Hawke said. “You could read that two ways.”

“On one hand, these things are being quasi-dumped in a corner somewhere to be dealt with later and perhaps that’s not caring for them in the best possible way. Although as I say, they’re very hardy vehicles. I wouldn’t necessarily fear for their status.”

I’d imagine it’s not hugely expensive to put them wherever this is.– Jon Hawkes

“Alternatively you could say that someone somewhere is actually being quite smart in finding a very cost-effective solution for storing them for a period of time. I’d imagine it’s not hugely expensive to put them wherever this is.”

Secretive contractors

An aerial shot of the sprawling factory where General Dynamics Land Systems Canada builds its Canadian-made LAVs in London, Ont. (Ed Middleton/CBC News)

Except, no one working with these LAVs is willing to talk. CBC News first attempted to visit the site in person, but was told to leave the property by staff at the scrap yard.

When contacted by phone, Matt Zubick, a member of the family that owns John Zubick’s Limited said “I can’t talk about that” before he hung up.

Steph Bryson, a spokeswoman for General Dynamics Land Systems Canada, declined to comment, referring the question to the Department of National Defence.

So why all the secrecy?

No secret at all

Workers lower a turret into a LAV III vehicle undergoing upgrades as part of the $1.8 billion LAVIIIUP program at the General Dynamics Land Systems Canada assembly plant in London, Ont. (Department of National Defence)

“I find that a bit amusing,” said Daniel Le Bouthillier, the head of media relations for the Department of National Defence. “From our perspective, the work is hardly a secret.”

From our perspective this is hardly a secret.– Daniel Le Bouthillier

It turns out the work inside John Zubick’s Limited has been happening for the better part of a decade.

After Canadian troops deployed in Afghanistan, they quickly realized the army’s fleet of LAV IIIs, which they’ve had since 1997, needed a few tweaks to give soldiers better protection against the Taliban insurgency.

Those tweaks involved better armour, blast absorbing seats and other upgrades. However, the LAV IIIs were never designed to handle the extra weight, according to Le Bouthillier.

“This additional weight meant more wear and tear and affected the vehicles’ what they call ‘full mobility potential.’ So these upgrades that are happening now address all those issues.”

Members of 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry perform training manoeuvres at CFB Shilo, Manitoba on September 26, 2015. (Mcpl Louis Brunet/Canadian Army Public Affairs)

The upgrades are being done by London, Ont.-based military manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems Canada as part of a $1.8 billion refitting and refurbishment program with the Canadian Armed Forces called LAVIIIUP, a deal that was first struck in 2010.

The program will see all 550 Canadian-made LAV IIIs, getting new armour and new hulls in order to extend the life of the vehicles until the year 2035.

These are not drive-in, drive-out full capability vehicles.– Daniel Le Bouthillier

“As part of that process, LAV III hulls, which were not designed to support the weight of upgrades are being sent to a scrap yard, taken apart and melted and this is done because these are considered controlled goods,” Le Bouthillier said.

“So what you’re seeing in that scrap yard are parts that are not being harvested for the upgrades,” he said.

“These are not drive-in, drive-out full capability vehicles. These are just parts of them. They might look like full vehicles because they’re so big. Especially when you look at them from above.”

The first batch of upgraded LAV IIIs were delivered to the military in 2012, with the delivery of the final batch expected next December.

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