The ‘Leslie Plan’ is not about transformation

Here are some impressions from my analysis of the Report on Transformation 2011.

This report is not about transformation. It is too narrowly focused on headquarters organization to be a serious transformational plan. The only really meaningful recommendation it comes up with is combining the four national-level headquarters (Domestic, Expeditionary, Special Forces and Operational Support) into a single entity, which assumes without proof that major savings can be accomplished in this manner.  The artificially limited scope of the report leaves it without a consistent logic to back up its recommendations for change.

The report does not provide sufficient options for change. A typical military staff paper, it produces only three plans to address the problems when there are surely dozens, if not hundreds, of options possible. The limited imagination it reveals is under whelming.

The three recommendations in the report are not readily comparable.  The diagrams and descriptive text used for the three headquarters options proposed are so dissimilar that it is virtually impossible to make side-by-side comparisons and deduce what is meant by each option.
The report does not have sufficient historical scope to be really useful.  By starting in 2004, when General Hillier took command as CDS in 2005, and ending in 2010, after he retired in 2008, this is really only a review of the ‘Hillier Era’ of organizational change. So much headquarters capability was cut away by previous review and reorganization programs that the possibility they went too far is not considered. This leaves the report open to criticism on the grounds of personal bias, which should not otherwise enter into the analysis.

The recommendations of the report leave a large part of the ‘headquarters problem’ untouched. The very ‘rich’ structure of the six regional joint task force headquarters has been left alone, except for some minor reshuffling of the responsibility for each of them. Retaining six regional headquarters when two, or perhaps three, could have been adequate shows that the ‘battle lines’ between the army, navy and air force over who will control what have already solidified. Turf wars must not be permitted when transformation is the goal.
The report will not have transformational effects. Instead of taking a holistic approach to reshaping the military as a useful national instrument for sovereignty and global security, it works towards retaining tactical capabilities whose relevance can be questioned. This is known in organizational theory as a ‘mean-ends reversal’, when the strategic goals of the organization are subverted in favour of pursuing operational or tactical capabilities. One of key aims of the transformational process should be to undo the tactical fixation of the CF and return it to serving the strategic vision of the government.

The report does not recognize the move towards whole-of-government approaches to solving complex problems. This move creates an enormous requirement for skilled headquarters’ staffs and knowledgeable liaison officers. The complexity of problems relating to national and human security will continue to increase over time, further raising the requirement for educated, experienced and competent staff and liaison officers.
The report is not grounded in comparative studies from abroad. The text claims: “All of our NATO partners, allies and friends are wrestling with much the same issues” and suggests that they are moving toward the same solutions to preserve tactical capabilities. This is a huge oversimplification. While it is true that other nations’ military command structures are undergoing radical transformation, they have also significantly changed the purpose, capabilities and structure of their operating forces. This is a natural consequence of a credible transformation plan. The argument presented in this report is one-sided and misleading.

The report is biased toward preserving combat capability. As early as the Executive Summary, the report states: “[W]e will not further discuss the idea of reducing the deployable output at [the] tactical level – regular or reserve – as they are our vital ground.” While combat capability is important to a military, it must not be sacrosanct in a report on transformation. Combat support and combat service support capabilities are equally important for complex operations. Other nations are making radical changes to their tactical level forces but this is off-the-table in the Canadian study. The report should be rejected on this account alone.

The report is attempting to undo the civil-military blended headquarters concept created during Unification without being open about it. A much broader political discussion about this unique Canadian approach to the corporate organization of the department must take place before this previously ‘untouchable’ political issue can be reopened.

The army cannot escape its desire for big tactical formations. The report recommends reshaping two of the six regional joint task force headquarters into divisional headquarters. This shows the army’s longing for the ‘glory days’ when Canada could field such large formations. Those days are gone. Without a politically approved mobilization plan that calls for their creation again under similarly dire circumstances, the move to restore another such wasteful headquarters structure will only make matters worse, not better.

The report does not understand the needs of the navy. One of the main reasons the navy’s personnel numbers in Ottawa are growing is the need to recreate ship design and program management capabilities. These were reduced to ‘bare bones’ in previous reorganizations efforts when the navy was not acquiring ships.  Now that is must do so again, it is without a vital naval capability for institutional renewal. The report’s emphasis on “getting the navy back to sea” missed the point: without ships, the navy will not be going anywhere, at least not by sea. The navy is sending scarce, and largely under qualified, people to Ottawa in a desperate attempt to revitalize a ‘withered appendage’.

The report assumes that the military has broad public support because of what it calls “the triumphs of today.” Its assessment of Canadian military performance is clearly seen through rose-coloured glasses. There are many grounds to challenge the results obtained in Afghanistan, Haiti, Newfoundland and elsewhere. A transformational effort should be based on the assumption that better results will be obtained through the process of change. To start by claiming ‘triumphant success’ and ‘broad public support’ undermines the need for change.

The report only tangentially links the military’s vision of the future with government’s Canada First Defence Policy. It says: “If we are serious about the future – and we must be – the impact of reallocating thousands of people and billions of dollars from what they are doing now to what we want them to do to position us for tomorrow will require some dramatic changes.” What has been said about what is wanted?  Who has said it? What forum has been the centre of this discussion? Canadians have the right to know what is being planned and to have an opportunity to voice their opinions before it is done. The closed nature of this change process is all too evident.

The report does not explain how a refocusing on tactical outputs will solve the intellectual deficits of the institution. To become an intellectually agile and adaptive force capable of dealing with the challenges of the complex security environment (a requirement ‘adapted’ from the statement by General Peter Schoomaker, US Army, in my earlier post), far more resources need to be put into advanced education and developing analytical skills. These two ‘thrusts’, as the report calls them, one toward low-level tactical ability and the other toward high-level intellectual ability, are diametrically opposed.  One has to give to make the other possible. These are the kinds of hard choices that come from true transformation.

The report does not understand the need for military family support and welfare programs. It identifies the relative growth in “Health and Welfare personnel” at 23 percent. This is the kind of change that the move to complex operations has shown is necessary.  Instead, it is viewed as a ‘threat’ to maintaining tactical level combat capabilities. One of the clearest lessons of the new security environment has been the need for social support for military families. The strains on the fabric of the military family in the new era are immense and the social and psychological costs have been heavy.Yet, it is clear that for what is being demanded, even this level of support is inadequate and has been too slow in coming. Increasing the size and number of tactical-level formations for employment will also increase the demand for military family support and welfare programs. This was the reason that General Schoomaker listed “how we treat our families” amongst his main criteria for transformation.  There is no sign in this report that this vitally important relationship has been recognized.