Saturday CBC had an article about retired Lieutenant General Andrew Leslie, former Chief of Army Staff, breaking his silence on the wrong direction of defence spending. His concern about the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces spending more on contractors than training should be shared by all Canadians. Some reports have suggested combat units have not received training since 2006 when the Harper Conservatives took power. The most important aspect of defence are the people in uniform, they are the primary weapon system, the hardware is accessory. As the old saying goes; ‘It is a poor workman who blames his tools.’ An example of training’s importance is fighter pilots require 30-40 training sorties a month to be combat ready. More training will result in more accidents, far more acceptable then guaranteeing dead service personel who had no training. The recently botched rescue of hostages in Algeria is another example of poor training leading to disaster.
A strategic review will set the training focus and priorities. Yet under the Harper government no such review has been done, or at least has not been shared with Parliament as is required. By having unelected, unaccountable people in the Prime Minister’s office decide policy and direction Canada is at risk of a high cost, combat ineffective defence. Already to save money for the shiny toys Canada has withdrawn its support for veterans, active service people, NATO Airborne Warning and Control systems. We have also lost our only surface to air missiles, they were medium range and of questionable worth but now we have nothing. We are placing greater burdens on our allies by giving up air to air refuelling capability. In reality the Conservatives are hiding behind a facade of defence purchases and photo-ops to hide the incompetence and lack of plan.
Once a strategic review is finished then the force structure of the Canadian Forces will evolve to meet the current realities of restricted budgets shifting geopolitics. Mali is an example of how quickly a stable democracy can become a failed state. Reports of rogue army units in Eritrea attacking government ministries are another example of global vulnerabilities. Climate change could spark even more volatility as floods and droughts destroy countries’ ability to feed themselves. Growing fresh water shortages make Canada a target for countries who misuse their own and envy Canada’s abundance. Factor in the above with growing arms race in Asia and Canada looks ver vulnerable.
After transformation is complete is the time to buy equipment not instead of transformation. Equipment should be; robust, cheap, plentiful, easy to maintain, effectively tested or proven in combat and manufactured with Canada’s available resources. Meeting Canada’s full economic potential improves the capacity for Canada to defend itself. Canada is letting $160 billion a year in potential GDP slip by because First Nations are not receiving the their part of treaty agreements. If Canada is getting dragged into a cold war with China development of Canadian sources of rare earth metals and other strategic resources will be essential. Giving Canadian resources away without adding value or at below market value is dangerous for Canadian security. Environmental protection both provides economic and security benefits to Canada and the ability to defend Canadians. Research money should be put into the graphene as it will lighten and strengthen armour and a host of other applications for defence and civilian use.
Canada is worth defending as are Canadians, it should not be left to a makeshift, unfocused policy nor a set of high cost purchases. The best security for Canada is engagement at home and world wide. Diplomacy must become a Canadian priority as should keeping our government and corporations from bullying people.
A few specific suggestions:
The Canadian Army should focus on light forces for rapid deployment and effective reconnaissance. Replacing bureaucratic Land Forces Areas with formation headquarters capable of operational deployment will provide more battle ready options to policy makers. Eliminating the number two dress uniform will save a bit of money and hopefully the office mindset.
The Royal Canadian Navy should have plenty of small lethal corvettes, combat patrol boats and small diesel electric submarines. Canada has the longest coastline yet the Navy lacks the ships required to patrol it. Instead of purchasing a compromised joint support ship design Canada should get a second hand container ship, a Ro-ro ship and a couple of oil tankers to be refurbished and given point defences. The fleet support role should go to a pair of dedicated ships both based in the Pacific.
The Royal Canadian Airforce needs to make defending Canadian skies the priority mission. The secondary missions should be ground support, maritime support and search and rescue. Logistics and surveillance should be integrated into the combat formations and everything should be deployed where it is needed not where the extra votes are wanted. It should not take eighteen hours to respond to a submarine contact in the high arctic or eight hours to dispatch a rescue helicopter.