Army commander pondering deep manpower cuts to make financial ends meet
Monday March 19 5:26 PM EST
By JOHN WARD
OTTAWA (CP) - The commander of the Canadian army can't make financial ends meet and is looking at drastic cuts in the ranks.
Lt. Gen. Mike Jeffery, who took over command of the army last fall, says he can't maintain the status quo with the money he's got. "The institution requires more dollars to keep it running than there are dollars available," Jeffery told The Canadian Press in a recent interview. Jeffery said he can restructure things to save money and try to save more with better management, but in the end, he's likely going to have to "cash in people to pay the bills."
He would't give any exact figures, saying the numbers are still being crunched, but he offered a hint:
"When my predecessor was going through some of this exercise earlier there were options that included the potential for going from three to two brigades and clearly that is an option . . . if you want some idea of magnitude."
Losing the equivalent of a brigade would mean several thousand people out of a force with an authorized strength of 21,000, and a combat strength of perhaps 10,000.
Defence analysts were aghast.
"It causes any number of problems," said Jim Hanson, associate executive director of the Canadian Institute for Strategic Studies and a retired general. "I think if I was chief of the land staff I'd think seriously about cashing in my second career at this stage of the game."
"Any commitment is going to become more and more difficult notwithstanding the spin of NDHQ that it's quality, not quantity that counts," said Alain Pellerin of the Conference of Defence Associations.
"We are into big trouble," said Brian MacDonald, a retired artillery colonel.
"We are in the interesting position of seeing a once proud and magnificent institution just simply, suddenly crumbling in front of us."
The general's comments follow on the news that the air force plans to scrap a third of its fighter-bombers and come after the navy tied up one of its West Coast destroyers for lack of a crew. Rumour suggests that an East Coast destroyer may get the same treatment, also for lack of sailors.
Defence Minister Art Eggleton, who recently found another $600 million for the military in the supplementary estimates, has said repeatedly that the Forces will get what they need to do their jobs.
Jeffery said he didn't set out to cut the ranks.
"Shrinking the army is not the objective. It may indeed, and probably will, be a byproduct.
"The bottom line is I believe the army can do what is required of it, but if we don't change what the army is and don't change some of the dynamic, there will come a point when it can't."
He said new equipment and a restructuring of the army can mean that a smaller force remains highly capable.
"We tend to equate capability to numbers of people and numbers of pieces of equipment. I and most professionals don't accept that description."
But given a budget shortfall, which Jeffery suggested was probably around $600 million a year, something has to give.
"I'm living beyond my means. You can't do that in running your own household . . . and the government is not going to allow me to do it either."
David Rudd, executive director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, said Jeffery deserves credit for facing facts.
"Kudos to him for recognizing that the financial handwriting is on the wall," said Rudd. "However, if you do chop people, that will inevitably decrease your ability to remain involved in peace support operations or our ability to deploy a brigade in support of our allies."
Rudd also said there will be that many fewer people to cope with natural disasters at home.
Jeffery stressed that quality equipment and good training will let him field an effective force despite manpower cuts.
But, as it was said about the old Soviet army, quantity has a quality all its own.
"Smaller means smaller, there's no question about that, notwithstanding that overall capability," the general conceded.
Sean Henry, analyst for the Conference of Defence Associations, said the talk about maintaining quality is headquarters "spin."
"All the Canadian army can do right now - and even that is stretched - is produce 1,700 people every six months to go to Bosnia.
"That 1,700 commitment to Bosnia is dominating the entire army."
Those soldiers, Henry added, are little more than "glorified security guards."
When it is getting this far it has gone too far. Two Bde's cannot maintain the current operational tempo and provide troops available to meet our other commitments. Does Air Command still have a Band? Cut that. Cut the skyhawks and the Snowbirds. Those won't affect operational capabilities. How much does it cost to run RMC? I have notice that the quality of officer that comes out of there is no greater than one who comes DEO or RESO. The CF could save a bundle buy closing that school and offering the ROTP package to students at civi universities.
Eliminate costly airborne taskings to reserve units (QOR), reduce the number of HQs, reduce the size of HQ's. Eliminate the armoured regiment from each Bde (they don't have modern tank Sqns and we don't forsee this changing so why keep them?) but do not reduce the number of Inf through elimination of a Bde.