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Worn-out navy says it‘s taking a ‘pause‘ for a year


Jason Jarvis

What‘s up with this? Must be nice.

Worn-out navy says it‘s taking a ‘pause‘ for a year


OTTAWA, Monday, June 30, 2003 - Tired and broke, the Canadian navy is slowing down for a year, cutting back on major training exercises and delaying a return to NATO‘s Atlantic fleet, senior officers say.

"We‘re just taking a pause here," said Rear-Admiral Glenn Davidson, commander of the navy in the Atlantic.

The navy needs downtime after sending 16 of its 18 ships, and 97 per cent of its 4,100 seagoing sailors, to the Persian Gulf since the start of the war on terrorism in late 2001. With a lack of funding and of rested personnel, officers say they are unable to take on a major international mission in the coming months.

Canada now has only the frigate HMCS Fredericton in the Persian Gulf, down from three warships in the area earlier this year. HMCS Calgary is the last ship scheduled to go there for a six-month tour in the late summer.

In coming months, the emphasis will be placed on maintaining and upgrading electronic equipment on ships that have gone to the Persian Gulf. Navy officials are hoping to keep sailors in nearby waters over the coming year, largely limiting themselves to joint training with the U.S. Navy.

"My push over the next year will be to look at what we can do on a relatively short tether. Not to say we are not going to go abroad, but to try to maximize [our efforts], as much as we can, on this side of the Atlantic is my priority for the next little while," Adm. Davidson said in an interview.

As a result, Canada will not rejoin the North Atlantic Treaty Organization‘s standing naval force until 2004, and will ideally wait for the second half of the year before going back.

Defence Minister John McCallum agrees with the navy‘s decision to slow down its tempo, a spokesman for the minister said yesterday.

The Department of National Defence received an $800-million boost to its budget earlier this year, but the navy got only $7-million of that money in extra funding.

"Not much went to us," Adm. Davidson said. "I would say we‘re always a bit tight down here. We get along from year to year, we manage with the allocation that we have."

He added that in current circumstances, the navy would be stretched in facing another international crisis. Sailors are given a year in Canada after they spend six months abroad on a foreign mission.

"If we are required to deploy off for another international operation or emergency somewhere, which would really skew things, that would be really difficult," the admiral said.

Canada is one of five permanent members of the NATO standing squadron, generally assigning one warship on a near full-time basis to patrol the Atlantic Ocean with allied navies.

HMCS Halifax was part of the NATO force in October of 2001 and left the force for the Persian Gulf as part of the coalition war against terrorism. The understanding was that, when Persian Gulf operations were completed, a Canadian ship would return to the NATO force. But the war on terrorism has taken such a toll that the navy wants to regroup before sending another ship to the standing force.

"We will certainly engage [with NATO] in 2004," Adm. Davidson said, adding it could be in either the spring or the fall.

"All things being equal, [the fall of 2004] would be a great time for us," he said.

After suffering through a decade of cutbacks, the Canadian Forces in their entirety are stretched thin, struggling to recover from large deployments overseas.

The army is about to embark on yearlong mission to Afghanistan, involving 3,600 soldiers, and it will need a year after that mission to recover.

In an open letter to The Globe and Mail, navy chief Vice-Admiral Ron Buck sent a clear message to his sailors that they will be kept at home for much of the coming year.

"While extended absences have always been part and parcel of navy life, there is no doubt from my perspective that we have recently been through an exceptionally busy period. The Navy must now pause to rest, re-generate and rebuild, and look after our people," Adm. Buck said in his letter.

"We are working on a plan that will focus on training and maintenance and limit the amount of time sailors must spend away from home until we can recover from this Herculean effort."

He insisted that the navy will stay on top of its domestic obligations.

"While we will be limiting our time away on overseas deployments, we will not be letting down our guard, especially as it relates to domestic security and sovereignty," he said.

Retired naval officer Richard Gimblett, a research fellow at Dalhousie University, said the navy is doing what is required to survive. He said the navy has learned a lesson from the army, in that it refuses to take on tasks that will mortgage its future.

"The navy has a severe personnel shortage," Mr. Gimblett said. "The navy doesn‘t want to get caught in the trap that the army has been in for the last decade, of sending people over to Bosnia three tours in a row, and just basically wearing out the army."

Too bad LGen Hillier couldn‘t just tell the MND that the army needs a year off. I suspect many soldiers would be just as happy to see us pull out of Bosnia and call things even.