Whither or Wither the CF
May 15, 2009

History has shown that at the end of every military expedition, whether internal or external, Canada’s government and administrative agencies have sought to quickly return to the pre-conflict status quo. They repeatedly (and wrongly) assume that victory, or the end of the military requirement, allows them to place much less emphasis on defence, not more.

These illogical assumptions are based on the condition of Canada’s military at the end of the conflict, when the government believes it now has the experience to quickly ramp up the military should another conflict develop.

They forget Churchill’s insight into the real cost of letting your forces wither and die. Churchill told Great Britain and its people that nothing but “blood, toil, sweat and tears” would achieve comparability with a well prepared adversary. To verify this, we need only look at the amount of money and effort that it took the Canadian government to fill in the capability gaps of a relatively small force that was deployed to Afghanistan. Think how hard it would have been to provide the personnel and equipment resources if the requirement had been for a Brigade Group.

At the end of World War II, the Korean War and the Cold War, the Canadian government eagerly reduced military spending to spend those funds as a “Peace Dividend.”

There is little doubt in my mind that we are about to embark upon yet another “Peace Dividend” crusade – to obtain the resources that other government departments covet for their own initiatives.

Already, even before the end of the Afghan mission, rumours abound about reductions in funding, organizations and capabilities of the Canadian Forces.

I suspect that another major defence study would likely prove useless and only serve to tell us what we already know. It would only serve to waste precious time. The constant reorganization and programme cuts of the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s have shown that the various managerial theories and technology savings plans have neither developed a cohesive less-administrative bound military nor improved our military impact with more sophisticated weaponry.

What does one do? Some will, no doubt, classify me as a Luddite, a heretic, or worse, for what I am about to say. Notwithstanding, previous studies have shown three significant points of view weaving through their analyses and comments. They are:

  • The Military must always come under civilian control;
  • Combining services saves personnel and funds; and
  • Technology and contractors can deliver services more cheaply.

The military must come under civilian control?
This comment always astounds me. Never, in its long history, has there been an instance of any Canadian Forces’ soldier, sailor or airman attempting a coup. The Canadian military has, instead, a long record of unquestioned loyalty in defending the government from enemies – from within or without.

In examining all of the studies since the end of World War II, what emerges is an ever present state of resentment within the Civil/Public Service over the military’s size, influence and budget. In response, it creates a situation where it controls the Military vice Government and Parliament.
Combining services saves personnel and funds?

The second comment is also interesting. It draws its influence from the popular managerial theories of the sixties and ­seventies which pushed the concept that savings could be secured with using less personnel by giving the workers several additional small tasks in addition to their own primary function. This translated into the famous “double hatting” of Service ­Battalions, Medical units and other CF agencies. This “brilliant” managerial concept was not foisted on other government departments. In the end, “double hatted” units often proved incapable of doing either task within their allocated resource envelope. It did, however, allow the reduction in the personnel manning levels and a ­further reduction in funds.

Technology and contractors can offer cost savings?
The third theme is perhaps the most pernicious one of the bunch. It is the belief that new technology or contracted support can increase the effectiveness and efficiency of military units. As many of our Allies have discovered (and no doubt we will also ­conclude, some day), contractors are useful – within a given set of bounds.

It would be nice if new technology could solve all of your problems, but experience has taught us otherwise. Technology provides more and better capability. Taskings tend to increase as a result, but cost savings are dubious.

A fine example of these “unforeseen” problems was the deployment of the F15s to USAF Bases in Europe in the 1980s. When I arrived in Bitburg I was amazed to see the newly deployed aircraft all parked near the maintenance hangar – the intent to save money didn’t work out as advertised. The Mean Time Between Failure allowances were much shorter than expected, which meant most of the sparing was in transit to the manufacturer or being returned. To remedy the situation, the USAF was forced to build facilities within theatre, with the OEMs only doing repair on long lead items and upgrades. It took two years to fully resolve the problem and it cost the U.S. government dearly to train new AF maintainers and build the required new maintenance facilities in Europe.

To date, I know of no “high technology” projects that have actually resulted in substantial cost savings over their life span.

Technology can increase our capabilities and supposedly reduce the call on personnel resources and equipment. Most of the time it doesn’t work out that way. For example, in one notable week in the 1980s 20 new digital Emergency Locator Beacons were activated by accident in the Vancouver area – the response was costly.

Too often the “savings” at the “sharp end” just get used up by increased demands on the support chain. As a dear departed friend of mine, LCol Bob Tremblay once remarked at a project review: “With all due respect Colonel, if we were to call in all the savings projected by all the approved new technology projects, the Canadian Forces would consist of a CDS and a marching band.” We need more Bob Tremblays.

What are the Real Issues?
These studies fail to address the real issues: a broken down and confused civil-military relationship; an equally flawed defence policy process; and an almost non-existent defence strategy with a firm concomitant resource plan.

If we fail to address these fundamental problems anything else that is done will be yet another attempt to rearrange the deck chairs on a sinking ship.

The action required will demand an extensive overhaul of the current thinking on defence matters in the Ottawa elite. Where do we begin? Well, to a chorus of resounding boos I would suggest starting at the very beginning of the Defence process.

Unclog the System
I would suggest that the Government undertake a major review of all legislation. A new act to unclog the system is badly needed. This action would do wonders, if properly written, to reduce authority overlaps and other administrative problems. It would, as well, allow the Government to install a military structure that would be recognizable to our allies and other governments. This action alone would go a long way in establishing a clear demarcation line to separate military requirements from administrative ones.

Multi-year Reporting
I would also suggest that some multi-year military reporting system be instituted. This would enable the government to make coincident government military policy with military activities and programs. Out of this would come a document the clearly enunciated government policy with its directions to the Canadian military. This would allow the establishment of a firm multi-year budget to cover the costs associated with the Government’s plan. Annual non-discretionary costs, such as personnel and administration would be reported, of course, in the normal fashion.

An annex to the Deputy Minister’s Act is needed to clearly enunciate the differences between the Defence Deputy Minister and his/her contemporaries in other government departments. This annex should also clearly list responsibilities and area of resp­onsibility. This would resolve with certitude the current areas of administrative overlap.

The current procurement difficulties for capital programs also need to be addressed. The involvement of another government department only adds needless expense to the project, creates delays that are often structural and for which there is no easy remedy. It may be that the Government may have to re-establish the Defence Procurement Board to handle defence procurement.

It is critical that we take no immediate actions to change or rearrange anything until the whole defence policy, strategy and implementation process has been evaluated. There may be other approaches to solving current problems, but I suggest that simply throwing more resources at the ­current set of problems would be wasteful given that the problems are more structural than financial. If anyone has a better answer, let’s hear it.

A former Air Force Logistics Officer, Major (ret) Rob Day is a military historian and defence analyst.
© 2009 FrontLine Defence