A reply to Eric Lerhe: What we get for the price.

Eric Lerhe makes several valid points in his most recent post, but they do not necessarily prove his thesis that Public Relations are an inappropriate core function for Naval Reserve Divisions (NRDs).

With regards to the first point, there is no question that total administrative costs for the Primary Reserve are excessive, but the blame for the bloat in that $1.2B number can be laid squarely at the feet of the militia. There are far too many units with ‘skeleton crews’ maintained to appease local lobbies. The order-of-battle continues to bias towards a rural demographic profile for Canada that is nearly a century outdated. Nobody seriously anticipates the militia will ever mobilize on a brigade scale, and yet these expensive structures also persist. Thankfully, the naval reserve, at least, has only one centralized headquarters to drive administrative overhead. However, it too suffers from an anti-urban bias: if force generation is the core function, then the clear solution would be to open second or third urban NRDs in places like Mississauga, Laval and Surrey. That is where the people are - not in Thunder Bay or Sept Isle.

As to the second point on the cost of the NRDs specifically, note that a quick “Google” reveals Statistics Canada reporting Canadians to have spent $713, 910, 909 on “Candy and Chewing Gum” in 2006. My intent is not to be flippant, but a reality check is sometimes helpful when considering the size of public funds relative to the capacity of society to spend. Even if the naval reserve budget delivered only one single core function of connecting Canadians to their navy, I must re-iterate that I do not at all believe over $100M is an unreasonable price for success. This connection is the strategic enabler for sustainable recruiting and fleet capitalization. Of course, when NRDs rely on Regular Force officers for their command teams instead of local leadership, as Derek Carroll described, then they will fail to genuinely integrate and educate their communities’ leadership. The 1994 White Paper hearings were long ago, but such occasions are certainly red flags.

Any budget is too high [a price to pay] for failure.  However, a core function does not preclude a secondary function. We are all agreed that it is precisely operational experience that makes a reservist an effective public ambassador. However, this is why On the Job Training and short-term supplementary contracts aboard combat-capable frigates and destroyers are more mission-effective employments for “LS Bloggins” than core-crewing aboard minor war vessels on a career basis (as Eric Lerhe originally argued). Even if operational output is recognized as Job #2 for the naval reserves, it will still occupy most of the NRDs’ time and budgets. The conclusion to draw from this prioritization is not that naval reserves can shrug-off operational output. Rather, it is that force generation tasks must be tailored to meet the reality of what the NRDs can deliver. Doug McLeod seems to demonstrate quite clearly that the reverse approach - tailoring the naval reserves to meet operational requirements - is doomed.

For example, in my opinion the support and intelligence branches should be emphasized in the naval reserve personnel establishment. A resurrection of the naval reserve medical branch would be another good fit - or any trade that has a civilian counterpart in the heartland. The Public Affairs trade should be small, indeed, but it is an ideal naval reserve function nonetheless. By its nature, the naval reserve could provide force generation for these professions much more effectively than for hard-sea trades onboard minor war vessels - and probably do so better than the Regular Force. Like Intelligence, Public Affairs appointments have often seemed to serve as a convenient pre-retirement option for Regular Force MARS officers who loose their appetite for seagoing instead of a youthful, dynamic, and aggressive cadre in its own right.

As an aside, I note that our principle enemies focus their best and brightest operators on Public Affairs and Information Operations, which goes a long way to explaining their stunning strategic success despite quite minimal “operational output.” The enemy understands very well the implications of Clauswitz’s definition of war as “politics by other means,” and he accordingly values these operations for their political effects. The current buzz phrase “effects-based operations” is truly a reinvention of the wheel.  Are the criteria for success as a service operational or strategic?  Amidst all our busy operations, whatever happened to victory?

This is a wonderfully refreshing debate! However, I admit I should identify myself as a (rather cheeky) Sub-Lieutenant, employed full-time as an HQ staff officer. I do not consider myself a reservist in any meaningful respect. The main consequences of my Component affiliation are twofold:

1) I have more direct control over my career path, allowing me faster, entrepreneurial, merit-based responsibility vice the seniority-oriented Regular Force culture;
2) I am paid less for equal work than my regular force peers (“Class B”).

I continue to accept this trade-off. Though I’m not sure it’s logical personnel policy either, I do indeed suggest focusing this debate on the rationale for part-timers (“Class A”) at NRDs. They are the “core crew” of the naval reserves, since they are the ones actually in reserve. Orienting a “reserve” to regular full-time service is a simply contradictory.