Post Afghanistan – what now?
Jan 15, 2011

view pdf

With perhaps the exception of the UN-directed “Police Action” in Korea, the end of every military conflict has witnessed a dramatic reduction in the Canadian government’s funding for the military. Military facilities, equipment procurement, supply stocks and the number of personnel have been always substantially reduced. Many Canadians expect that a ­similar reduction will occur now that we are withdrawing from the combat role and transitioning to a presumably much less dangerous role – training and mentoring of the Afghan National Army.

While some think we should now reduce military spending in order to fund social and aide programs, reducing and cancelling military programs and recruitment would, without a doubt have a disastrous long term effect. There is a clear realization among the general public that, at the outset of the Afghan conflict, the Canadian Forces, although well-trained, were significantly under-resourced – when comedians are taking pot-shots, you know it’s widespread. The years of reductions of personnel and funding and capital spending had left the forces woefully under-equipped, and devoid of the necessary capabilities and wherewithal to survive in the complex, mostly urban, battlefields.

The fact that the Canadian Armed Forces had achieved their reputation as a competent military force was predicated upon their training and traditions.

As a military force we have always “punched above our weight” because of the professionalism of our soldiers and their personal standards of skill, cohesion and inventiveness. In this theatre, effectiveness was quickly enhanced by the timely arrival of the badly-needed equipment that gave the Canadian Forces the tools they needed. However, this ‘need for speed’ took its toll on the government, which was obliged to explain to Canadians, time and time again, why funds were suddenly being diverted back to the critical ‘life and death’ needs of the men and women we had sent into harm’s way. The fact that it took the realism of modern conflict to shake the “toys for boys” mentality that had permeated much of the discussion concerning the Canadian military for the past three decades, speaks volumes. Canadians are slowly coming to the realization that no other nations, governments or agencies were going to provide for our needs. We were a sovereign nation and it is our responsibility to keep our military well equipped and prepared for any eventuality. In today’s volatile world, few continue to cling to the utopic concept of a conflict-free world. I suspect that the aftermath of the Afghanistan war will be far different than that of the post-Cold War period.
Humanitarian Aid: October 2010 – Canadian Forces (CF) joint response led by Canada Command and conducted through Joint Task Force Atlantic (JTFA) to the devastation caused by Hurricane Igor to southern and eastern Newfoundland on 21 September 2010. More than 1,000 members from the Air, Land and Maritime components of the CF, in coordination with the Federal and Provincial Governments, engaged in multiple tasks, including: delivering critical supplies such as food, water, and fuel; providing medical supplies and evacuation; assisting in moving power crews and materials to repair power grids; delivering generators and re-supplying fuel to main communications nodes; assisting with bridge and road repair; and transporting engineering analysis teams. The domestic humanitarian relief mission incorporated Canadian Forces assets to deliver assistance to isolated Newfoundland communities that were cut off by severe road damage.

The cost of supporting our forces deployed abroad demonstrated just how myopic the false economies of defence cuts were. The requirements for tanks, new artillery and new vehicles, aircraft and personnel suddenly became crystal clear as the existing equipment broke down; stocks of spares evaporated; recruitment was hastily ramped up; and CF personnel were required to fill multiple rotations. Even with the ‘Urgent Operational Requirement’ shortcuts to procurement, there were, and still are, a number of gaps that will necessitate future capital procurement programs.

But many of us are asking if we will fill these needs. Will we spend the necessary funds to properly equip the Canadian Forces? For what it’s worth, I believe the answer is yes. I think that we are too far down the pike to ever go back to the “decade of darkness” of the Chretien era. Let me explain.

There are five basic factors at play here, and all point to the need for continued spending on modernization and the acquisition of new defence capabilities:

  1. The current inventory of Army equipment is worn out. The main fighting ­vehicles (such as the LAVs, M113 tracked armoured personnel carriers, and logistics vehicles), crew-served weapons, and all the other items that make up a field force have been worked over during the many operations undertaken by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. There are plans for contractors to overhaul and upgrade this equipment. In addition, certain fighting and ­support vehicles will still be needed during the reconstitution phase.
  2. The experience in Afghanistan demonstrated that the Canadian Forces requires specialist systems like UAVs, improved intelligence gathering capabilities, and the new “intelligent” munitions and weapon systems. The immediacy of the modern battlefield, either counter-insurgency or conventional, demands the new systems that provide a commander on the ground with the information necessary to make informed decisions quickly and to issue appropriate orders.
  3. We cannot afford not to keep pace with new developments fielded by our Allies. Interoperability is critical in multi-national endeavours, and difficult when systems become too outdated. We can not allow ourselves to become the “orphans” on the battlefield who are dependent upon other armies to provide intelligence and information. This will involve more cooperative programs, stronger liaisons with our Allies, and a change in the attitude of procurement that provides the Canadian Forces with a lesser capable weapons or support system because it seems to be “good enough.”
  4. Although one can always find skeptics regarding any defence procurement, the recent announcement of a National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy that envisions a significant building program over an extended period of time, has received widespread public approval. The program will have a hugely positive effect for employment throughout that sector. Given the expenses and significant investments to be made by the marine industry, it is unthinkable that any government would cancel the program to meet other political objectives.
  5. And finally, The Canadian public is quite aware of the modern world’s threats and the potential for foreign and domestic conflict perpetrated by a relatively small ideologically-driven terrorist agency. Existing police and security forces, while capable of breaking up and arresting small groups of terrorists, the Canadian military would be depended upon to form ‘the shield and the sword’ that the government would employ during any major attack.

Security: June 2010 – The 2010 Muskoka G8 and Toronto G20 Summits provided world leaders with opportunities to discuss issues such as international co-operation. The RCMP-led Integrated Security Unit (ISU) was responsible for ensuring the security of participants and nearby residents during the 2010 Muskoka G8 and Toronto G20 Summits. The ISU was comprised of members from the RCMP, the Canadian Forces, Ontario Provincial Police, Toronto Police Service and Peel Regional Police.

So what does the future hold for defence funding and procurement? From my vantage point, it will be a period of brisk activity with periods of growth that will be commensurate with the growth of threats internationally and domestically. Anyone who believes that they can turn back the clock thirty years is simply avoiding the situation in front of him and sticking his head in the sand to the reality of the modern world.

Major (ret) Rob Day is a military analyst and regular FrontLine contributor.
© Frontline Defence 2011