Canada 1st: strategic defence management?

Dave Perry has supplied a superb analysis of the Canada First Defence Strategy or CFDS. I particularly support his conclusion "The defence strategy is therefore competent, long term planning, devoid of any exciting new promises that might attract criticism for outlandish spending plans and un-needed equipment."

The strategy itself correctly recognizes that there is 'nothing new under the sun' in matters of essential military equipment. It one needs reinforcement of this, he or she only has to return to our earlier cost-based decisions to get rid of our Chinooks and forgo tanks. Afghanistan showed operating without these basic equipments costs lives. Our allies travails have also helped here. The US Navy's efforts to replace multi-tasked frigates with a single task, disposable Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) of one-tenth the size and one-tenth the cost ended in disaster. Today, the project is in limbo approaching termination with the two competing firms having both produced vessels that now approach frigates in cost and size. Meanwhile every other navy from Norway to Australia started ordering destroyers and frigates outside the doomed LCS there are no other options on the drawing boards of any navy. Last year, Paul Kennedy writing for the Herald Tribune reported that the Asian nations are particularly enthralled with destroyer and frigate building.

Closer to home, bold new visions in defence policy have not done well either. For example, our 1971 defence policy promised lighter, more mobile, more flexible forces. Lighter they were with such turkeys as the CF 5 being retained, but the government proved unwilling to fund the strategic lift necessary to make even these forces mobile. Soon after, European concerns over the utility of these forces in facing the Soviet Army caused us to buy 128 Leopard tanks. The 1987 White Paper stressed Canadian sovereignty and the Arctic and promised a massive purchase of nuclear submarines. The policy rapidly dissolved as the government soon decided it could not afford the bill. The 2005 International Policy Statement promised joint Standing Contingency Task Forces with the vessels to allow the full implementation of the Defence, Development and Diplomacy or '3 D' strategy. Moreover it maintained all the basic elements of a modern army, navy and air force. The Paul Martin government then provided the largest defence increase in Canadian history within an unheard of five year planning horizon. However, even with this increase, the Liberal's 2009 funding level of 16.2 billion dollars per year was soon seen inadequate for the "3 D" defence vision desired. Indeed the Conservative allocation of $19.5 billion for that same year will just allow the delivery of the same basic force the Liberals provided sans the amphibious ships the 2005 3 - D strategy implied.

Given the fate of the more bold defence policies, I see great benefit in the 2008 CFDS having traded excitement for extremely competent long range planning. It extended the Liberal five-year planning and budget projection to 20 years. Moreover, it forecast the bulk of large equipment purchases the will take place over that period. Finally it dictated a final armed force's structure of some:

65 fighters,
21 transport aircraft,
44 helicopters,
10 - 12 maritime patrol aircraft
17 Fixed Wing SAR aircraft
15 destroyers and frigates
3 Joint Support Ships
4 submarines
6-8 Arctic Patrol Vessels
a new family of land combat vehicles
2300 logistic vehicles

This twenty-year policy owes much to the 2005 Liberal initiative to set defence spending within a five-year schedule with fixed annual budget allocations. The result breaks the pattern whereby defence planners were never sure of the annual defence allocation until the day the budget was announced. Long-term equipment acquisition and sustainment is difficult in that milieu. The 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy, with its twenty year financial plan and detailed long term force structure, is best seen, therefore, as an extension of the Liberal planning effort.

The plan is not without fault. Indeed many now argue that the resulting $19.5 billion dollar a year defence budget is still inadequate, and here Senator Kenny is the most credible of critics. However, now we have a plan that allows for organized change. Given the readiness of both major parties to adopt five year and then twenty year planning horizons it is also far more likely that the changes need to adjust either structure or budget can be done progressively, rather than in our more typical 'boom and bust' 'slash and burn' style. I am now going quite far out onto a limb, but we may also be approaching a less partisan approach to strategic defence management. Exciting it is not, but both the Liberals and Conservatives demonstrated unusual competence in their 2005 and 2008 defence policies.