CANADIAN ARMY STRETCHED TO BREAKING POINT

By David Pugliese

Ottawa Citizen

Canada’s army is stretched almost to the breaking point and replacement stocks of equipment for Afghanistan have long been used up, either destroyed by the enemy or in the process of being repaired, warns the head of land force.

 

In a strategic assessment written in January, Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie discloses that the size of the army has actually shrunk by 30 soldiers since 2005 even though the service is supplying 80 per cent of the personnel for the Afghanistan mission.

 

“The Army is now stretched almost to the breaking point and something is going to have to give if we are to be sustainable over the short and mid-term,” the general writes in his 2008 business plan leaked to the Citizen.

 

He predicts the personnel situation will only get worse in the short term.

 

The army is short 250 officers and 1,000 non-commissioned members.

 

Lt.-Gen. Leslie warns the army is also facing a serious problem with equipment. Spare parts are in short supply and the Afghanistan mission is taking its toll on a significant amount of equipment.

 

“Obviously all of it has to be replaced from existing stocks, but the initial pool of stocked equipment has long since been used up, either destroyed by the foe or is off being repaired,” the general writes. “To create a stock of equipment we have to take it from the home based training systems, which has an immediate and negative impact on training. All of our equipment is either deployed, being reset, used in training or broken and waiting either labor or spare parts.”

 

Additional money is needed to buy parts and to hire more people, military or civilian, to fix the equipment which is used for training for Afghanistan, Lt.-Gen. Leslie writes.

 

The army is not alone in dealing with excessive wear and tear on its vehicle fleets and equipment. The U.S. military is going through similar problems because of the Afghan and Iraq wars and has had to go back to government for additional funding for repair and overhaul of vehicles and gear.

 

On the issue of personnel shortages, Lt.-Gen. Leslie cites increasing attrition rates in the army and in the Canadian Forces overall. That is due to an aging workforce approaching retirement and a strong economy which appreciates skills possessed by military veterans.

 

The other reason is that many hundreds of the army’s most experienced field personnel have been taken to fill new positions in recently created headquarters and units, he writes.

 

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier has started a process to transform the military for the future. Part of that has been creating new commands as well as units such as the Canadian Special Operations Regiment.

 

Lt.-Gen. Leslie warns in his business plan the army can’t sustain both the current operational needs and the requirement to provide new units and headquarters with staff.

 

A similar assessment by the navy in December warned there will be a decrease in maritime capabilities as the service sidelines some of its ships in the coming years with no immediate replacements. The air force warned in its assessment in November that it may reduce flying hours for aircraft since it did not have enough money for spare parts and fuel. The navy and air force also said they were facing major issues in recruiting skilled personnel.

 

But Defence Department spokesman Lt.-Col. Jamie Robertson said in an email the army, navy and air force assessments do not reflect the current situation. He noted the government “continues to provide stable, predictable funding with annual increases which will directly result in a stronger, better-equipped, flexible Canadian military.”

 

In his email statement Lt.-Col. Robertson pointed out, for instance, that “the Army will be able to successfully conclude its personnel training and equipping requirements within the funding levels and equipment envelope provided to it by the Government of Canada.”

 

Asked for other examples of where issues raised by the assessments are being dealt with, the department did not provide any.

 

Lt.-Col. Robertson also said the use of the “six-month old Strategic Assessments misleads the Canadian public into believing the CF is being inadequately funded. This is simply not the case.”

 

The army document cited by the Citizen, however, was dated Jan. 10, 2008, a little more than three months old.

 

Privately, officers have said many of the problems identified in the navy and air force assessments and the army’s business plan have not been fixed and won’t be for a long time, if at all. They noted, for instance, that contrary to what is being claimed by the Defence department, there are still ongoing issues with recruiting, retention and equipment.

 

Officers also say there will indeed be a drop in maritime capability since the navy’s destroyers will be removed from the water before there are replacements for them. The air force, which stated in its assessment that it was short more than $500 million in its budget, will receive only $97 million.

 

In an email, army spokesman Doug Drever noted the service is dealing with its personnel shortages. The army is accelerating junior leadership training and will graduate 1,000 junior non-commissioned officers this year to address both routine needs and address the personnel gap, Mr. Drever added.

 

“The Army continues to grow each year, expanding by a total of 3,000 positions in the coming years to bolster existing formations and units,” his email noted.

 

Asked how the army will deal with the overall concerns raised in the assessment, Mr. Drever responded in an email “the foundation for building the Canadian Forces of tomorrow was laid with the $5.3-billion, five-year plan announced in Budget 2006.”

 

But Liberal senator Colin Kenny points out the army, navy and air force documents clearly show the level of funding is not enough. The situation, he added, has not changed in the last five or six months.

 

“You can see how the organization has been eating its stock of seeds and really eliminating its capacity to regenerate simply by getting worn down and not getting the resources to come back,” said Mr. Kenny, chairman of the senate defence committee. “We’re getting to a point where we’re going to see capabilities falling off the table.”

 

Mr. Kenny said whoever is chosen to replace Gen. Hillier as defence chief will have a unique opportunity to speak forthrightly about the funding problems. “A savvy CDS who knows he is untouchable for the first little while can come in and point out to Canadians what the military doesn’t have,” he said.

 

For more Canadian Forces and Defence Department news go to David Pugliese’s Defence Watch at:

 

http://communities.canada.com/ottawacitizen/blogs/defencewatch/

 

 

 

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