Unification Fallout

“Canadian politicians are not and never have been interested in defence, the Canadian public cannot escape a share of the blame. Too many of our people think that all we enjoy was always there, was not fought for, will just continue, without our personal attention. We are no longer pulling our weight in international affairs. While some reasonable degree of freedom still remains for us under our form of government, we must face the fact that this freedom will soon disappear unless we exercise our rights wisely. We must take greater pains to ensure that we are well enough informed to choose wise leaders - perhaps, great leaders.” – Rear Admiral Jeffery Brock, DSO, DSC, CD

The words above were focused on the politically-driven unification of the RCN, the Canadian Army and the RCAF into one “service” in 1968 after passing Bill C-243, The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act, also known as Unification.

I believe this Act, along with the integration of specific administrative and support functions, under Bill C-90, An Act to Amend the National Defence Act – also known as Integration – are directly linked to the current defence procurement challenges facing Canada today.

Flawed Defence Procurement
Some will argue otherwise, either because they believe there are other reasons for the current failures, or they will argue for purely partisan reasons. However, what cannot be denied is that Unification and Integration converted Canada’s military from a strategic national capability providing a wide range of options, into a tactical institution providing government with limited options.

Since Unification/Integration, defence policy and supporting defence acquisitions have similarly eroded from their former strategic-based foundation into a purely tactical-based focus, which has resulted in the double jeopardy of limiting government options while reducing Canada’s ability to successfully pursue defence procurement.

The situation further deteriorated in the post Cold War era as governments continued to cut defence budgets. These cuts occurred across the functional organizations of the DND/CF, seemingly with little forethought of the collateral impact, which systematically diminished Canada’s military capabilities, as well as eating away at the naval, army and air force cultures. And yet, as noted by Rear Admiral Brock, “Canadians and their politicians did not care.”

True, there were successes – such as designing and building the Halifax-class frigates, the CF-18 fighter aircraft procurement, and the Aurora maritime patrol aircraft – but the consequences of failed procurements haunt us today. The first Joint Support Ship failure left Canada with an extremely limited national capability to sustain her fleet at sea; the frustrating Fixed Wing Search and Rescue aircraft replacement program has yet to be resolved; the Fighter replacement has deteriorated into a media circus and political feeding frenzy; a failed procurement for armoured vehicles; and numerous project delays and deferrals.

The Government, to its credit, is attempting to refocus the bureaucracy strategically with a new Defence Procurement Strategy but is being confronted by partisan political opposition and an agenda-driven media. This is exacerbated by a defence and security bureaucracy that has not focused on strategic issues for some considerable time.

Tipping Point
What was the causal factor or “tipping point” that led to this situation? With the Unification of Canada’s military and the Integration of support and administrative functions, the then “Service Chiefs” (the Chiefs of the Naval, Air, and Army Staffs)  were politically and bureaucratically denied control of the key levers of a military or naval “service”. These include: the ability to participate in the development and evolution of strategic defence and security policy; the selection, generation and sustainment of their service’s people; the authority over the logistics and maintenance support of their operational forces; the development and the delivery of the essential systems and platforms needed to meet government defence and security policy. Moreover, Unification and Integration fragmented the unique cultures, values and principles that were inherent in the former RCN, RCAF and Canadian Army. Consequently, as the years passed, the bureaucracy lost an understanding that navies, armies and air forces are not the same, each has unique operational and support requirements, each operate in different operational environments, and each has different levels of operational and requirement complexity.

Not controlling those levers has forced the navy, army and air force to rely on non-military accountable authorities to deliver key components of military and naval capability – including major systems such as ships, airplanes and army vehicles.

Veering from the military desire for the most appropriate systems to deliver combat and naval/military capability, the mandate of these new authorities seems to be to deliver capability based on a process that reduces requirements to the lowest common denominator in order to force a competition – even when, realistically, one should not exist – eventually delivering what these militarily unaccountable decision-makers determine is adequate.

The current situation is not helped by an Opposition and a media that chooses not to address strategic national security issues, falling back on the easier option of making partisan tactical attacks on the government. The F-35 and the navy’s surface combatant fleet, two of Canada’s strategic enablers are good examples. For the F-35 the Opposition and the media have yet to address the key strategic question of why so few aircraft. Canada replaced 404 fighter aircraft with 138 CF-18s, which are now planned to be replaced by 65 next generation Fighter Aircraft. Overall, this is a platform reduction of approximately 84%. In the same period, Canada’s navy’s surface combatant fleet has been reduced by approximately 60%.

What has changed since the mid-80s that would necessitate this magnitude of reductions of Canada’s strategic capabilities? By contrast, during that same period, both our fighter force and our surface combat fleet have deployed to combat theatres of operations more than any time during the post-Korean conflict period. This might seem to argue for more, not less, and a strategy to develop the navy and the air force that Canada needs.

To fix the disparities of Unification / Integration, there have been many attempts at reorganization within the framework of the CAF, but none have addressed the key strategic issue that Unification/Integration killed the ability of the CAF/DND to deliver strategic capability for Canada. At best, the institution delivers tactical capability that has limited strategic impact which, one could argue, is what the government and the political leadership of the day desired as an outcome.

The current well-intended focus on the “new” Defence Procurement Strategy can be seen as an attempt to correct the consequence of Unification and Integration. Will it work? Time will tell, but the key features do not address the foundational reason that defence procurement seems to fail in Canada. Instead, its focus is on issues that are forced (for partisan reasons) on the government by the Opposition and the media – both of which use defence procurement purely as a means to attack government.

The first fundamental step to fix defence procurement in Canada needs to focus on re-establishing the three military “services” of Canada namely the RCN, the Canadian Army and the RCAF and give their respective “Heads of Service” the authority and responsibility to: participate in the development and evolution of strategic defence and security policy; select, generate and sustain their services’ people; control the logistics and maintenance support of their services’ operational forces; and to develop and deliver the necessary systems and platforms needed to meet government defence and security policy.

After these responsibilities are restored, a foundation for success will have been laid for defence procurement in Canada.

Ian Parker, a retired Navy Captain, is a defence and strategic analysis consultant with CFN Consultants.
© FrontLine Magazines 2014