The dire threat of the Leslie Report to the navy

Retired Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie was on CBC radio’s The House on Saturday to speak about his view of problems with increased spending on ‘corporate services’ and ‘institutional overhead’.  You can hear the interview on-line here.

Leslie continues to argue that the tactical units of the army must be maintained and that ‘logistical tail’ of the CF should be cut instead. In the interview, Leslie specifically identified second- and third-line “heavy maintenance on ships and aircraft” as a target that should be cut. This shows that the former army general does not understand the difference between the ways that the three services are sustained. The army does not operate the type of heavy repair and maintenance organizations that the navy does for fleet readiness. Therefore, since the navy (and to a lesser extent the air force) do not ‘conform’ to the normative pattern, the ‘oddities’ of the naval and air services should be cut so that all three services are structured and operate in the same way.

Leslie's view reveals the type of thinking that has resulted from the years of unified force structure in Canada. Unification has caused the loss of service identity and joint understanding of how each other’s organization works. Instead, the homogenised joint doctrine that is driven by the army majority assumes that there is only one approach to operations and, by extension, only one way of doing everything else. This is not only a false notion; it is dangerous. Any commander of joint forces that does not appreciate service doctrinal differences is doomed to failure.

Conformity has become a second-order effect of the culture that has developed subsequent to unification of the forces. As a result, lateral options for planning and innovative thinking are discouraged.

Vice-Admiral Bruce Donaldson was also on the program.  He spoke about how the rise in corporate services is actually a contractual approach to reducing total operating costs. The problem with that explanation is that it creates an organizational ‘target’ for the inter-service ‘snipers’ who are far less concerned with economy than with perceived inequity. Inter-service rivalry is alive and well in the CF today. The military’s low-level focus on tactics and small unit operations means that esoteric arguments about ‘alternate service delivery’ will not have any effect on critics whose ‘noses are seriously out-of-joint’ because they feel someone has an unfair advantage.

The air and naval services operate differently and, by extension, have unique needs for support and sustainment because their environments demand them. The army requires far higher levels of human resources than do the technologically intensive air force and navy. The counter argument to that of Leslie is that the army is unfairly established at manning levels far above that of the navy, and that they should be reduced so that the services can operate on an equal footing. This is just as absurd as the argument that the navy does not require its fleet repair and maintenance capabilities. Without them, the navy will cease to function reliably and its service motto of “Ready, Aye, Ready,” will become meaningless. More to the point, the incomparable advantage of seapower will be eliminated. When asked by the minister, “How soon can you have a ship at sea?” the answer will be, “In six months,” which will conform to the army's readiness and force generation cycle. For the type of security of life, property and sovereignty missions that routinely fall to the navy, this is clearly unacceptable.