CAF needs significant new funding

KEN POLE  –  May 4, 2017

The ability of the Canadian Armed Forces to carry out core roles have been undermined by successive government, a critical situation which Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said May 3 will require “significant” new funding.

3 May 2017 – Minister Harjit Sajjan speaks Conference of Defence Associations Institute audience (Photo: Ken Pole)

“The state of affairs is, in some ways, worse than realized by most observers,” he told a Conference of Defence Associations Institute audience before going on to list air force, navy and army budgeting shortfalls. They included new fighters, upgrades to tactical utility and search and rescue (SAR) helicopters, surface combatant and support vessels, ground-based air and munitions defence systems, an array of army vehicles, personnel recruitment resources, and support for veterans and their families.

“We cannot build the Canadian Armed Forces this nation needs through a series of short-term decisions,” Sajjan said. “A military is not strengthened by cobbling together pieces from one budget to the next […] by hoping that 20 years down the line, all of the disjointed ups and downs will somehow result in the military we need.”

The minister also highlighted the alleged Royal Canadian Air Force “capability gap” which the government has said will not allow Canada to fulfill NATO and NORAD obligations simultaneously with a diminished fleet of Boeing CF-18 Hornet fighters.

The former Conservative government had opted to sole-source the purchase of 65 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters but the Liberals scrapped that proposal in favour of a competition between prospective suppliers.

“If we want to fully meet our commitments […] and we do, then 65 jets would not be a full fleet,” Sajjan said. “Furthermore, the $9 billion in funding that was earmarked […] by the previous government is nowhere near enough.”

As for other air assets, there was “a critical need” to upgrade the Leonardo (AgustaWestland) CH-149 Cormorant SAR helicopters and the multi-role Bell CH-146 Griffon helicopters. The RCAF has surplus CH-149s acquired from the U.S. several years ago but these are essentially warehoused as spares. The CH-146s also required life-extension work.

With Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) capabilities at what Sajjan described as “a 40-year low” with a fleet reduced by five in the last two years alone, the Conservatives’ proposed budget for up to 15 new surface combatant vessels “was dramatically insufficient and unrealistic.” This had left Canada dependent on the United States and other NATO allies for area air defence, a situation mirrored in the removal of supply ships from the RCN fleet mix.

Meanwhile, the Army needed equipment for domestic and overseas missions, including new heavy support equipment such as bulldozers and forklifts as well as replacements for “significantly degraded” logistics support vehicles such as trailers and medium-size trucks.
The minister had been expected to give some additional insight into the government’s Defence Policy Review. However, apart from regurgitating that the DPR would unveiled “soon”, he said only that it would be “a plan to get out of the hole we are starting in” and would “allocate realistic funding those those bread-and-butter projects that will keep our military running efficiently and effective.”

His explanation of how that would be accomplished was mixed in that in his speech, he said that the DPR “must first get us out of the hole that we’re starting in” before any new capabilities can be funded. Responding to requests for clarification, he said only that it would require “significant investment.”

There’s also the likelihood that even if it gets the kind of funding it hopes for, the Department of National Defence has historically been unable to spend its annual budget due to a combination of inadequate procurement expertise at DND and other departments involved in the process. This was reflected in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s recent budget which included an $8.4-billion delay in planned purchases over the next 20 years.

Ken Pole