Following That $175M

As Denis Stairs noted in his budget article, one of the few defence announcements in the Harper government's Budget 2007 was the acceleration of $175M from fiscal year 2009-2010, to 2007-2008. This, as Stairs notes, might well reflect a looming operational bill from the Afghan mission. A recent report in the Globe and Mail would certainly reinforce this notion, and point particularly to equipment maintenance and replacement as worthy recipients of the shifted money. As Chief of the Land Staff Andrew Leslie noted, the harsh climactic conditions and continual operations in Afghanistan are chewing through equipment at a far higher rate than expected. Twenty of the deployment's LAV III light armoured vehicles have been destroyed, and the rest will require refurbishing back in Canada, according to Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor.

Considering only 651 of the vehicles are in service, the loss of 20 a year will put a substantial dent in the Canadian inventory, especially considering they are no longer being manufactured. Similarly, the highly touted Nyalas are breaking a "hell of a lot faster" than planners thought, and the military lacks the spare parts to replace them. Due to high demand for the parts that presumably will become available at some point, Canada will be paying an arm and a leg for replacements. Similarly, the government is shipping another 100 M113 armoured vehicles to Afghanistan and purchasing 85 more armoured trucks in the next 6-8 months, both initiatives driven by combat operations in Afghanistan.

When you start adding up the cost of purchasing spares, shipping the rundown equipment home, fixing it, and shipping it back to the other side of the world, it's not hard to see where the $175M could go, especially when you're talking about vehicles than run $3.5M apiece. And that's just some of the army's vehicles. To this one would also have to add the recent announcement that the government will be leasing 20 tanks for use in Afghanistan, although as the Torch points out, this money might be coming from the cancelled Mobile Gun System project.

However, the list above is still limited to Army vehicles. Our Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and C-130 Hercules tactical lifters are flying around the clock, and the rest of the deployment's kit includes artillery, small arms, uniforms, etc, etc. - all of which was designed, presumably, for operations in more temperate climes, and certainly not in the harsh extremes of Afghanistan. One can only presume that the operating environment is affecting the operations and maintenance of damned near everything in the Canadian inventory. To wit, there will most likely be a number of other equipment replacement bills coming due in the near future, as we continue sustaining some 2,600+ people in Afghanistan through February 2009.

The long term implications are potentially even more frightening. While this issue has received little attention in Canada, some analyst of the American war effort have taken out their calculators and started adding up the long term implications of operations in the Middle East and SouthWest Asia. David Isenberg, of the British American Security Information Council, cites figures of $12.8 Billion to replenish the US Marine Corps , and $17.1 Billion in FY 2007 alone to restore the US Army's equipment stocks. With the Canadian army burning through equipment (albeit on a much smaller scale) in Afghanistan until February 2009, the CF's equipment lifecycles will almost certainly be thrown out of whack, requiring replacements in one form or another far sooner than originally anticipated.

This can't bode well for the Canadian navy. It the rumoured decision to pay off both Protecteur-class replenishment ships a full two years before their replacements, the Joint Support Ships, arrive in pursuit of marginal cost savings is any indication, it may well be naval platforms that are sacrificed in future to keep the army supplied. With the politicians making every indication that they will do what is require to ensure the troops on the ground get what they need, one is left wondering what assurances the navy has that the money will still be there when the fleet needs replacing. All of this speaks to the pressing need for an articulate case being made, to politicians and the public, for the ongoing requirement for effective naval forces. Otherwise, the soldiers of today will get the equipment they need, but the sailors of tomorrow might not.