Perhaps not transformation but certainly significant change

Commentary on this site and others have suggested that General Leslie’s report was not transformational enough in that it has not set the course for a recasting of the Canadian Forces to deal with future challenges.  I believe these comments to have also missed the mark. General Leslie has provided clear insight into some of the department’s greatest challenges and has made valuable recommendations as to how they might be overcome.

The Leslie report clearly indicates the scope of its ambition, which “was to identify areas where we could reduce overhead and improve efficiency and effectiveness, to allow reinvestment from within (emphasis added) for future operational capability despite constrained resources.” The backdrop for the review includes government initiatives to reduce its recurring program spending.

Overall direction for the study has, in part, been attributed to the Minister of National Defence.  If one considers the relatively recent response by the government to suggestions of laying up some of the Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels or reconfiguring the navy’s headquarters structure or, for that matter, the demise of the Standing Contingency Task Force – it is not surprising that General Leslie’s report deals with what it was asked to do. It is also not surprising that the Canadian Forces as part of the Department of National Defence responds to the government’s direction on the government’s timetable. Defence expenditures are ultimately a political decision.

The report recognizes the challenges that lay ahead in the global security environment, identifies bureaucratic processes and accountabilities that are not efficient, and identifies manpower challenges in various strategic and operational headquarters with some organizations being too large while others are inadequately staffed, such as the Associate Deputy Minister Materiel’s, which is tasked with the maintenance and, in part, acquisition of new Canadian Forces capability.

Various solutions to these challenges were considered and analysed. However, there was no consensus within the department for any of these solutions; so the study proposed seven general thrusts that require further analysis and study; but which have solid recommendations underpinning them.  These thrusts are:

Thrust 1 - Optimising Command and Control for Force Employment

Thrust 2 - Integrating Force Generation for Joint & Common Capabilities

Thrust 3 - Delivering Future Capabilities through a Revitalized Force Development Structure

Thrust 4 - Consolidating Force Support to the CF

Thrust 5 – Strengthening Force Management Today to Better Integrate Civil-Military Defence Governance in the Future

Thrust 6 - Protecting Front-Line Units by Reducing Administrative Overhead

Thrust 7 - Achieving Gains in Defence Productivity through Process Reform

Thrust 1 has three noteworthy recommendations: to consolidate operational staffs and operations centres, consolidate force employment into a single command and control construct, and consolidate C4ISR functions under the Chief of Force Employment.  The nature of these recommendations is to ‘right size’ these operational headquarters and functions to the Canadian reality; that of a modest military only engaged in several significant operations at any given time. This consolidation would allow a critical mass of staff to be achieved allowing for the deeper development of competencies, ensure coherence in command and control by having a single vice multiple command and control structures, and improve efficiencies by reducing overhead costs associated with support staff functions and command centres.

Similarly, Thrust 3 recommendations are significant.  General Leslie’s report correctly identifies Force Development to be largely “a requirements-driven activity and generally remains platform- and equipment-centric. Whether the goal is to replace or recapitalize existing equipment, or to introduce new capabilities, concepts and doctrine still appear to take a back seat to the development of requirements, and to the processes associated with translating them into formal proposals for acquisition.” The report further develops the issue by identifying the challenges that the departmental Joint Capability Requirements Board and Defence Capabilities Board face in bringing coherence to the department’s plans and the challenges of working outside of the department with PWGSC, Industry Canada, the Treasury Board, the Privy Council, the Department of Finance, etc., to move the capital acquisition plans forward in a timely manner.

To address these realities the report proposes to revitalize force development by formalizing the Chief of Force Development’s responsibility to: set joint requirements and their prioritisation, capital planning and control, and concept development and experimentation.  This is further developed in Thrust 5, which would see the VCDS responsible for force development and capital plan prioritisation.

This approach recognizes the unique competencies which each of the environmental force generators bring to stating their requirements and allows them to continue to do so; it provides a framework for exercising discipline in setting priorities and resolving disputes, and perhaps most importantly it allows for a focus on concept development and experimentation as a defining element for identifying and stating future requirements.

Thrust 5 concerns itself with a re-orientation of the VCDS to be responsible for “high-level CF governance and performance measurement, strategic planning, taskings and readiness, force development and prioritisation of the capital program, and oversight and control of key aspects of military personnel management – thereby reinforcing and empowering the VCDS as Deputy CDS, and reinforcing the ‘first among equals’ status of the office in terms of setting and controlling the tempo and scope of CF activity and resource expenditures.”

The remainder of the thrusts are efficiency focused. They should be the least controversial inasmuch as they seek to reduce duplication and to enforce common standards across the CF where it makes sense to do so. Clearly any efficiencies realized would result in more resources being freed up apply to force employment, generation and development.

While I accept that the General Leslie Report on Transformation is really focused on incremental improvements; the proposed recommendations are substantial and worthy of further investigation and implementation. They have the potential to lay a solid foundation for developing a future Canadian Forces able to deal with an uncertain future.