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Strapped Forces Face Even More Cuts


the patriot

Tuesday 17 October 2000

Strapped Forces face even more cuts
a journalist
The Ottawa Citizen

After being hit with massive budget and personnel cuts over the past decade, our shell-shocked military is bracing for yet another series of reductions. Critics question if the Forces, already in a state of ‘decline‘, will ever recover.

It‘s crunch time for the Canadian Forces. Again.

The military has been through a decade of almost non-stop reductions. Its employees are shell-shocked from the massive changes. Budgets have been cut by 23 per cent. The number of military personnel has been reduced 20 per cent to 59,000. The ranks of civilian employees have been decimated, chopped by almost 40 per cent.

Now, another bomb is about to drop.

To prepare for the future and to purchase the estimated $11- billion worth of modern weapons it needs, the Canadian military will have to get rid of more people, along with some of its older equipment and property. A $1.7-billion boost in budget announced earlier this year helped, but is simply not enough and not likely to be repeated, Defence Department officials say.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Maurice Baril says drastic measures, such as the long-rumoured cuts of 15,000 troops, are not in the works. What could happen, however, are further reductions of 2,000 to 3,000 personnel, a process he calls "readjustment."

"If we can contract out because we can have (a service) cheaper, the savings may include cashing in the people in uniform," Gen. Baril said in an interview with The Citizen. "If I don‘t need a clerk to do the job, I‘m not going to move him or her somewhere else. I‘m going to cash him in."

Department of National Defence officials declined to get specific, but a number of initiatives -- the result of two years of extensive review -- are being developed at Ottawa headquarters to prepare the Canadian Forces for the future. Among them:

- A major shakeup of the army. Senior leaders are trying to figure out what equipment they should get rid of and whether some units, such as the army‘s parachute groups, should be reassigned. "Some of the aspects could be pretty far-reaching in their applications," says Col. Bill Peters, who has developed various options for the army restructuring. "In many cases, it doesn‘t just involve cutting, but reorganizing and putting people to different purposes."

"There are a lot of these decisions that are emotional and have a lot of impact on all three services and on the civilian employees of the department, so it has to be fairly carefully done," says Gen. Baril.

- More retraining and movement of personnel their jobs are contracted-out to private industry. Over the next two years, about 500 air force personnel, who now provide electronic warfare and other air combat supports services, will be transferred to new positions.

- Up to 10 per cent of the bases and infrastructure will be shut down or sold off. But that, too, has its problems -- an estimated 50 per cent of the Defence Department‘s infrastructure, from base sewer systems to buildings, are so old they will be rendered unusable within the next decade. Repairs are expected to cost about $1 billion. Who would buy buildings and infrastructure requiring such extensive repairs?

- Reductions in the major equipment programs required for a modern military. The number of Aurora surveillance aircraft to be upgraded has been quietly dropped to 16 from 18. The air force is also considering reducing the number of CF-18 fighter aircraft.

- Delays in equipment programs and reductions in the roles the Canadian Forces assumes now. The army has sidelined a plan to replace its aging Cougar armoured vehicles and Leopard tanks, delaying replacement until at least 2010. It will try to figure out how to do the job now being performed by the aging Cougars.

- Further strain will be put on the Canadian Forces budget as it tries to deal with new government initiatives. For instance, the military is required to find $42 million in savings so it can finance the recently announced government decision to expand the army reserves.

Gen. Baril says one of his priorities will be to take care of those employees, both in and out of uniform, who will be affected by the coming changes. "They have to believe and be reassured that whatever we do we‘re going to take care of them and take care of their families," he explains. "If you look at what we‘ve done in the past, any restructuring or reduction, we have taken care of our people, both military and civilian. That‘s what we‘re going to do in the future."

Yet, Defence Department officials continue to claim the Canadian Forces has never been more ready for action. Gen. Baril believes the military is more combat capable than it has been any time in the last decade. Morale is up. Public confidence in the Armed Forces has been rebuilt, says the general. State-of-the art equipment is being delivered.

But internal documents provide a more sombre assessment. "Collective war fighting skills are eroding and the quality of the force is diminishing," warned a report prepared for a meeting of senior army commanders last September.

"Overall Canadian defence capabilities have been seen to diminish over the latter half of this decade," according to another briefing note prepared last year for Defence deputy minister Jim Judd.

The biggest problem is money. Or, more precisely, the fact that the government expects the military to carry out a wide variety of missions while cutting budgets. Between 1990 and 1998 defence spending fell 20 per cent among U.S. allies, with Canada leading the way, according to Defence documents obtained by The Citizen. Simultaneously, Canadian military personnel have been sent on an increasing number of operations overseas and had to respond to a series of natural disasters in Canada.

Col. Howie Marsh, the army‘s command inspector, notes that in order to sustain the current size of the force, its operations, and acquire modern equipment, the Defence budget needs to increase to about $16 billion a year.

Unless there is a war or a major crisis that isn‘t likely to happen.

"You try and make decisions about whether to spend money on fixing the CF-18s so you don‘t get crapped on by the politicians because we‘re not ready for war or spending money on (military housing) or restructuring the reserves," says Doug Bland, chairman of the defence management program at Queen‘s University. "Then the next day you get pressured to spend money for something else. It‘s never-ending."

According to figures obtained by the Citizen, personnel costs in the Armed Forces are increasing although numbers of people are going down. In 1990, the military spent about 40 per cent of its budget on 88,000 personnel compared to 43 per cent in 1998 for 60,000. By next year, personnel costs for 59,000 members are projected to increase to 49 per cent.

"So the Canadian Armed Forces throughout the mandate of the next government will be in various states of decline before they can recover," Mr. Bland says. "What you see now is what you‘ve got for the next five or six years."

Even decisions made today to improve military capabilities, such as buying new transport aircraft or ships, won‘t be seen for at least five years because it takes so long to acquire such equipment, he says.

Mr. Bland likens the military to a pensioner on a fixed income for whom any unforeseen expense upsets the fragile balance. But in military operations, the unforeseen is typical. Last year, for instance, the unexpected wave of illegal migrants from China in only a few months used up the annual fuel budget for Aurora surveillance aircraft based on the West Coast, according to documents obtained by The Citizen.

In his 1998 report, Auditor General Denis Desautels succinctly spelled out these problems: The Armed Forces doesn‘t have the money for about $4.5 billion worth of required equipment; the size of the force and the roles it is asked to perform can‘t be financed within the current budget. Tough decisions must be made or the military will limp along, weakening as it goes.

Peter Kasurak, who handles the defence file for the Auditor-General‘s office, believes the armed forces must decide over the next few months how it is going to eliminate parts of its organization or continue to deteriorate.

"After that, I think there‘s a price to pay and the price will become steeper after that point," says Mr. Kasurak. "If it stays the same, it will continue to over-consume, which means it will starve parts of its organization and readiness will drop."

The army is seen as being in the most difficult situation of the three services, says Joseph Jockel, an American defence analyst and author of a book, Canada‘s Forces: Hard Choices, Soft Power. "It has to choose what type of army it wants to be in the future," he says.

Does it stick to its traditional mechanized force equipped with infantry, tanks and artillery which can be a jack-of-all trades on the battlefield? asks Mr. Jockel. Or does it go lightweight, get rid of heavy equipment and specialize in niche roles?

The army‘s problems have been building since 1996. The government ordered the addition of 3,000 new soldiers but it did not provide the money needed to train, house or pay those extra personnel. At the same time, the government continued to reduce the army‘s budget while handing it the majority of the overseas missions.

According to the reports prepared last September, the army has an annual debt of $289 million, an amount accumulated despite foregoing the purchase of equipment, repairing buildings and delaying less than essential jobs.

This year, to save money, the army will convert to a mostly wheeled vehicle fleet. More expensive tracked armoured personnel carriers will be used only in support roles.

Already several of the solutions to save money laid out in the military‘s Defence Planning Guidance 2000 report have been abandoned as impractical. For example, one cost-cutting plan would have saved $100 million by reducing the size of Ottawa headquarters and transferring personnel to the field. But department number crunchers realized that headquarters had been cut already by 35 per cent.

The department‘s alternative service delivery plan has already fallen short of its objectives, according to the Auditor General‘s Office. The scheme turns over non-combat services -- everything from running the military supply system to maintaining helicopters -- to civilian companies on the assumption they can perform them more cheaply.

By now, the plan was supposed to be saving $200 million a year, according to Defence Department projections. Instead, it has saved only $68 million annually.

The program has also hurt morale and has sown uncertainty among employees. Even Gen. Baril acknowledges that having private industry take over military jobs is not without potential problems.

"Deciding that we are going to have contractors run many of our services in Bosnia is something that kind of makes you shake a little bit at night because it has never been done that way," says the general. "We‘re totally safe and risk-free when we have our people doing it. But our business is risk-taking also, and in order to be able to invest in other fields we have to take a little bit of risk and give it to an organization; that will make it not necessarily less expensive, but will allow me to use my specialists somewhere else or give them a break back home."

Another wild card is politics. Throughout the 1990s, both the Conservative and Liberal governments have undertaken operations overseas at a pace unprecedented in the previous 40 years, draining financial resources and straining personnel. As Prime Minister Jean Chretien noted last September when he committed Canadian soldiers to East Timor: "We‘re always there, like boy scouts, somewhat," he said. "We‘re happy and Canadians love it. They think it‘s a nice way for Canadians to be present around the world."

Politics may also come into play in other areas. For instance, will members of Parliament who have sprawling military bases that pump millions of tax dollars into their ridings sit still when the buildings begin to be closed or the land sold? Or will they vigorously lobby to maintain the status quo?

Purchasing equipment has also become heavily politicized. Some of the most simple and straightforward projects, such as the proposed purchase of light-utility wheeled vehicles for the army, have run into problems. That particular program was delayed in 1998 after Defence Minister Art Eggleton intervened to ensure that truck manufacturer Western Star of British Columbia was considered, even though there were questions about whether the company‘s vehicle met Defence Department requirements. Those requirements were changed so Western Star can now compete.

There are roadblocks within the Armed Forces itself as the various regiments lobby and fight to protect their units from change. The armoured corps, for example, has succeeded in convincing the army to retain the Leopard tank, even though defence analysts say the Canadian Forces has no readily available means to transport the lumbering vehicles overseas.

It also appears that the air defence corps may have been successful in overturning a push to mothball the army‘s Air Defence Anti-tank System. That missile system, designed to protect against attacking aircraft as well as tanks, cost almost $1 billion when it was delivered in the early 1990s, but it has never been used in an overseas operation. Some military planners had wanted to get rid of that system, which would save $250 million over the next 10 years.

Changes in demographics and societal attitudes are also expected to further pressure the Canadian Forces. By 2010, a large percentage of the population will be reaching retirement and their expectations for government spending will focus almost entirely on health care and improvements to their quality of life, according to several reports produced by the Defence Department during the last two years. Spending on the military, at that point, will start declining.

At the same time, Canadians‘ attitudes toward the Armed Forces are expected to change. The public is already less prone to accept the authority of government and its agencies such as the public service and military, according to a Defence Department report prepared last year. Large numbers of new immigrants will have an increasing effect on domestic and foreign policy. "Many of our immigrants come from societies where the military is oppressive; these people came to Canada to escape militarism," the report obtained by the Citizen under the Access to Information Act states. The bottom line is that these new citizens are unlikely to support spending on the Armed Forces.

Major problems in retaining and recruiting military personnel could also soon materialize. According to figures supplied by the Defence Department, the majority of its officers and non-commissioned officers will reach 20 years of service in about five years and can retire at about 40 per cent of their pension. The military already has difficulty retaining pilots, computer specialists and doctors.

Better work environment and conditions would help, but here, the Armed Forces haven‘t excelled during the past decade. According to a government survey released last fall, the Defence department and the Canadian Forces have the highest rate of harassment anywhere in the federal government. But 31 per cent of those surveyed stated they had faced some form of harassment -- sexual, racial or abuse of authority -- compared to the overall public service average of 20 per cent.

Although morale has improved from the low following the Somalia debacle, the Defence Department and the Canadian Forces tend not to be perceived as an employer of choice by their own workers. Almost half of those surveyed said they would not recommend taking a job with the organization.

It is also hard to convince employees that they are important when the organization is intent on transferring, at least some of their jobs, to civilian companies under the alternative service delivery program. As well, there have been lapses in leadership, which raise questions as to how much defence officials really care about their people. Troops have been injected with contaminated anthrax vaccine and given unlicensed anti-malarial medicine. It was recently revealed that officers were too busy with other matters to properly investigate concerns that toxic soil in Croatia could be linked to health problems, potentially affecting hundreds of soldiers. Yet there seems to be no shortage of time or personnel at headquarters to try to build the world‘s first combat bra.

Also crucial to improving the military‘s future lies in its ability to explain its role to the public it serves -- if the public doesn‘t know what the military does, then there‘s hardly likely to be an outcry over cuts.

But according to defence analysts and some of the military‘s own studies, the Armed Forces faces a widening gap between it and the public. "What is happening is that new groups are rising into power and influence and their knowledge of the Canadian Forces is less and less," says Donna Winslow, an anthropologist who has conducted studies on military culture for both the U.S. army and the Canadian Forces. "The gap, particularly between the military and young people, is widening."

The disconnect is not news to some members of the Canadian Forces. Two years ago, the Commons defence committee examining living conditions in the Forces, heard complaints by military personnel that the public didn‘t have a clue about their profession or the job they performed for the country. In one presentation, Capt. Brian Farkes said that while in uniform he had been mistaken for a bus driver, a service station attendant, a purser on a British Columbia ferry and an American soldier.

Several months ago, Canadian Forces ombudsman Andre Marin admonished the media for negative news stories about the military and said the public has to start to appreciate and respect those in uniform.

Some defence analysts worry the odds are stacked against the Canadian Forces. The country is not at war nor facing any threats so Canadians are relaxed and not worrying about such things as equipping the Armed Forces. The generation that experienced war is dying off and with them dies the knowledge of the need for a military.

At the same time, there is little regular contact between the Armed Forces and the public. Gen. Baril is fond of saying his best ambassadors are his men and women in uniform, but many of these ambassadors are serving overseas or at bases far away from large urban centres.

The public has also embraced the image of the military as "peacekeepers," helped in part by the Canadian Forces‘ own promotion of that role. During a debate on the Kosovo war televised last year on CBC television, the audience continually referred to military personnel as "peacekeepers" even as Canadian fighter aircraft were dropping bombs and Canadian troops were being prepped for a possible ground war. The drawback with the peacekeeping image, defence analysts say, is that "peacekeepers" are generally seen as needing only a rifle and a United Nations baseball cap -- hardly an image that promotes support for extensive defence spending.

In speeches, both Mr. Eggleton and Gen. Baril have pointed to an opinion poll the Defence Department commissioned last year as proof the public is firmly behind the Canadian Forces. The numbers are impressive: 88 per cent of those surveyed had a favourable impression of military personnel; 85 per cent agreed they were doing a good job; and 70 per cent responded that they supported spending for modern equipment.

But pollsters say such surveys give a false impression since they are conducted out of context. A more accurate measure, says David Crapper, chairman of Decima Research, is to present a range of choices on how the public dollar should be spent. When that happens, the military consistently ranks near the bottom. Health care, education, social programs, the environment, and a host of others consistently outweigh support for spending on the military.

One poll, taken several weeks after the Canadian Forces‘ highly praised performance during the 1998 Ice Storm, found support for buying needed military equipment ranked near the bottom of priorities, slightly ahead of support for increased funding for Canadian film productions.

"The public just doesn‘t see the military as affecting their day-to-day lives, whereas their children‘s schools, their health, their pensions, all that stuff, hits home," says Patrick Beauchamp, head of qualitative research for Ekos Research, a public opinion polling organization. "The fact we don‘t have proper armoured cars for our peacekeeping duties in various parts of the world is just not relevant to the average person."

Ms. Winslow says the disconnect has been aggravated by the financial boondoggles and scandals plaguing the military. With the perceived failure of military leadership to deal with those problems, the public begins to wonder whether the Canadian Forces is worth $11 billion a year of their money.

At the same time, the Canadian Forces has failed in making a connection with society as a whole, explains Ms. Winslow. "There‘s no pro-active approach to put the Canadian Forces in popular culture," she adds. "It‘s a question of priorities. There has to be a will to do it instead of having the military just talking about it."

Ms. Winslow points to the example of the U.S. Marine Corps, which realized after the Second World War that it needed to ensure its organization was front and centre in the minds of Americans. The marines co-operated with various organizations, from Hollywood producers to service clubs, to promote its image and get out its message.

The dwindling size of the Canadian Armed Forces, now at 59,000, doesn‘t help matters. "It‘s hard to be in the public‘s mind when Tim Horton‘s or Canada Post has more employees than we do," says Lt. Col. Grant Smith, a helicopter pilot at Canadian Forces Base Comox on Vancouver Island.

A report prepared for the army last September summarizes the extent of the problem: "The footprint of the army across Canada does not have a significant impact on the average Canadian. At present, most of our military bases are remote from our major population centres, and the militia, our main contact with the Canadian public, is too small to have a significant effect."

According to Mr. Kasurak, the Defence Department has also done a poor job of informing Parliament how it is using the money it spends. In the U.S., lawmakers are given updates on military readiness and units are graded on their capabilities. In Canada, the military produces reports but they often fall far short of providing any real information, adds Mr. Kasurak.

"Parliamentarians are pretty much left to guess on how much and how good the military capability is that they vo-ted $11 billion a year to purchase," he explains.

Some officers continue to cloak in secrecy how the Canadian Forces performs its job and how it spends taxpayers‘ money. Outgoing army commander Lt.-Gen. Bill Leach complained recently that the public and the Canadian news media have ignored the good deeds of his soldiers. Yet it was the military‘s public affairs officials who tried, unsuccessfully, to abort news stories honouring soldiers‘ heroics in the Persian Gulf and at the battle for the Medak Pocket in Croatia.

In a paper presented earlier this year to a gathering of military historians, Capt. Claude Beauregard argued that the Forces has isolated itself from the public. There are few officers who appear before the media or in public to discuss military issues. "It‘s a military culture based on a cult of silence," Capt. Beauregard concluded.
-the patriot-
What‘s the problem. Way too much bureaucracy with no checks and balances. This same autocracy when told to scale back showed on paper that they had already taken a 35% reduction at NDHQ.

I beg to differ, if you use the numbers based upon those moved out of Uplands etc, and those relocated to other commands, or Hull, you can get this figure.

But I defy anyone to tell the truth, the same folks who were in NDHQ several years ago are basically still there, some left, punched their Command ticket and returned.

The pers numbers are there, and DND is still one of the largest federal land lords in the OCR.

The problem is with our senior staff, as I reiterate, if the message they put out is the one being received and taken at merit, then I find it hard, to find it ironic, that we are starting to see the collapse of an institution.