Recruitment Reality: New Toys Attract

15 January 2023

New Toys Attracts Boys (and Girls)

Finally, Canada seems to have committed to a new fighter aircraft.  Finally, Canada has announced that we’ll be getting the Lockheed Martin F-35. Is this the best choice? We’ll find out in the years to come.

The government has listed the many benefits of purchasing the new fighter to the Canadian taxpayer, such as: replacement of a half-century-old aircraft; the ongoing and increasing industrial benefits across Canada; a much improved defence of Canada and North America via NORAD (and some might add: “placating” the Americans); contributing to a modernized DND and CAF; committing to a promise made to Canadians to purchase the fighter replacement (within our lifetime); and, importantly, providing a better counter to the threat of Russian ‘over-the-top’ (of Canada) hypersonic and other missiles.

I am rather surprised however that two benefits have been left out – one of which should most definitely be capitalized on by CAF/DND.

Recruitment and Retention – these two words have become probably the biggest challenge facing the Canadian Armed Forces in modern times. In particular, attracting pilots, air crew and aviation technicians is at an all-time low, and retention after the minimum service requirements is also an ongoing problem. But it’s not just the Air Force, the Navy and Army sectors face similar recruitment apathy.

One of the major complaints from both CAF members and recruit prospects has been having to work on near-antique equipment and having to bring said equipment to international operations, competitions and training events. By “antique” I mean 30 to 60+ year old land vehicles, aircraft and maritime vessels. There is pride in new – and effective – equipment but unfortunately these purchases are rare events in Canada.

Both new recruits and hardened veterans are attracted to new pieces of kit, who isn’t? At its most basic, new kit saves lives. It’s usually easier to operate, while also being more efficient, more powerful, and with more options. Army soldiers and leaders were thrilled when the Leopard 2 tank was purchased in 2009 to replace the venerable Leopard C1 after more than 4 decades of hard use.

One can imagine the current excitement in the Royal Canadian Air Force for this latest purchase to finally, finally replace its fleet of 41-year old fighter aircraft. Add to this the planned purchases of the new A330s for the Polaris (used aircraft purchased from Wardair and then militarized 30 years ago), Boeing’s P-A8 (maritime patrol aircraft) for the Lockheed CP-150 Aurora (first built in the 1970s), and the already purchased Airbus Kingfisher Search and Rescue aircraft (albeit still experiencing challenges) to replace the Buffalo (after 55 years) and Hercules aircraft (after more than 60 years), and it seems the Air Force is surging ahead of the other two services in terms of capital acquisitions. 

The same sense of pride will surge when the navy’s new frigates are delivered and when the army purchases new equipment. It has been forever thus. 

The question is, why have we not heard from DND’s recruiters as to the importance of new equipment attracting and retaining air crew? Particularly in light of the CAF being at least ten thousand members short of requirements! 

The RCAF should be jumping all over the purchase of the F-35 as being a major contributor in the retention and recruiting battles of DND.

James (Jim) Parker is a former naval reservist with near 30 years in, serving in the Sudan and Afghanistan. He is currently working on his second book about Africa, ‘A Poacher’s Moon’.  He and his partner, Dr. Heather Cairns live in Victoria, BC and love to travel.