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There's No Life Like It...Apparently

There's No Life Like It...Apparently

Although it is the last thing many people would want, Mark Powell thinks he is lucky. He'll be in Afghanistan within the year. He's a Governor General's Foot Guard, a reservist who competed and won the opportunity to go abroad with the regular forces.

"Ever since I joined the military, it was something to aspire to," Powell said.

The Canadian Forces are responsible for contributing to international peace and security operations, while defending the vast Canadian landmass. Lately it has been difficult to fulfill both mandates.

Depending on the information source, the Canadian Forces are either in a death spiral leading to an eventual crash-and-burn, or managed miraculous achievements without much support from the federal government.

There has undeniably been a shift in Canada's military. When the Liberals came to power in 1993, one of the first things they did was cancel a $1.3-billion contract to replace the outdated 1956-vintage Sikorsky helicopters. That cost $500 million in penalties and didn't make the country any safer.

When Jean Chretien took charge 10 years ago, we had 80,000 regular forces. Today, military's ranks have been whittled 60,000 regular troops and 20,000 reservists. The military bureaucracy employs 20,000 civilians.

In 1993, the federal defense budget was more than $12 billion. Cuts were made steadily until 1998. The worst cuts to the Forces came as Finance Minister Paul Martin wrestled the federal deficit to the ground. The Department of National Defence had its budget cut by 23% between 1994 and 1998. Beginning in 1999, the Government of Canada began to increase defense-related spending. The 2004 Budget promises $13 billion in defense-related expenditures.

The federal government has been harshly condemned for neglecting the Canadian Forces, while sending them on dangerous missions abroad. Critics complain that the increased funding is still not enough to restore the Forces.

Col. Howard Marsh (Ret.), a senior defense analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations, says that not enough government funding granted to DND actually makes its way to increasing Canada's defense capability. Marsh estimates that only 45% of the defense budget is spent on combat/defense capability, with the rest of the funding going to wings of the Forces involved in corporate policy or military bureaucracy.

"The money doesn't really get down to the guys who do the real work," Col. Marsh said.

David Pratt, who served only six months as Minister of National Defence, promised there would be a White Paper on Defence. It was hoped that, in undertaking a review of Canada's defense needs, the military would be in a better position to carry out its mandate in a post-9/11 world. The idea went down the drain when Pratt was defeated in the June 28 election. Almost immediately upon taking office, newly minted Defence Minister Bill Graham killed the idea of a White Paper. Needless to say, that went over like wet toast with most defense analysts and stakeholders in the defense realm. The Canadian Defence Association, the federal Tories and even former military generals have been calling for a full defense policy review or a White Paper similar to the one released in 1994, which would draw up a "road map" to guide future defense spending.

In an exclusive interview with Ottawa Life Magazine, the Canadian Forces' Chief of the Defence Staff General Ray Henault outlined the new defense priorities. The new "3-D" model emphasizing defence, diplomacy and development will be the underlying government policy that will dictate the role of the Canadian forces over the next several years.

The 3D model is part of an integrated federal government initiative that puts domestic public security as the government's number one security concern. Under this policy, the military will be much more focused on domestic security and integration of the work they do with other law enforcement and security agencies as part of a compact strategy to ensure the country's security. In a nutshell, the Canadian Forces will place more emphasis on domestic defense and security issues. Deployments abroad will be based on need, threat assessment and resources. If the Government of Canada decides to participate in an international venture, the idea is that first the diplomatic corps and military will go in to stabilize the region and then the development component (Canadian International Development Agency and relief organizations) will follow. This fits in well with the Prime Minister's vision of having a new rapid response battalion of 5,000 troops put in place for United Nations and humanitarian deployments. The 3D plan metamorphosed out of the experience in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Haiti and Iraq. In Afghanistan and Haiti, Canada's troops went in under the UN banner to stabilize the region while our diplomats worked on numerous fronts to help build new government structures and bring in the humanitarian and development aid.

Doing more at home will take some pressure off the Canadian Forces, stretched tight trying to meet our international commitments. It's still too early to tell for sure, but the Navy, Army and Air Force may finally be getting the required funding to do the work they are called upon to do by their political masters.

The Canadian Navy runs surveillance operations to defend the coast, and protects Canadian waters from illegal fishing and environmental damage. The HMS Windsor submarine has completed testing and is now ready to carry out operations as part of the Atlantic fleet. The other Victoria-class submarines purchased second-hand from Great Britain are still being tested. Critics were concerned about the quality of the used submarines, but to date there have been no major setbacks.

Since 9/11, the Canadian Navy has been actively trying to support the War on Terror. The Navy has inadequate funding, personnel and equipment to maintain that level of activity Most of the ships are now 20+ years old. Without increased funding, the Canadian Navy will be reduced from a Rank 3 "world-class force" to a Rank 6 "offshore territorial defence navy."

The Canadian Army is involved in peacekeeping missions and combat operations. At home and abroad, the Army works to prevent acts of terrorism and responds to natural disasters. Besides the regular force, the army also includes the Reserve Force units and the Canadian Rangers.

The lack of funding is making the Canadian Army less and less combat-capable at a time when risk and world commitments are growing. The Army is suffering a lack of modern equipment and skilled personnel to maintain its new equipment.

At a recent press conference, Gen. Henault said that the force expansion the government is considering will look at the needs of all three services, but that emphasis will be on increasing the size of the Army.

The Canadian Air Force surveys and controls Canadian airspace. The Air Force transports Canadian Forces equipment and personnel to missions around the world. The Air Force also works with the Canadian Coast Guard to carry out search and rescue operations.

The Air Force is facing a debilitating shortage of trained personnel. Since 1990, Air Force aircraft have decreased from 700 to 300. The number of trained pilots for each class of aircraft is also declining.

Almost 3,500 Canadian Forces personnel are stationed at 13 missions abroad in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Golan Heights, Cyprus, Jerusalem, Sinai, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone and Haiti. Most of the abroad postings are Canada's contribution to United Nations missions. The Canadian Forces have been seriously strained trying to keep up with the constant operational commitments. After the last few years of heavy commitments abroad, the Canadian Forces' leaders recommended an "operational pause" to let the troops get some much needed rest, but with the unstable political climate worldwide, they may not get it.

"There will always be commitment demands for Canadian troops, because they're well trained and do a good job, although there aren't enough of them," says Alain Pellerin, executive director of the Conference of Defence Associations in Ottawa.

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on our history as peacekeepers. Yet we have fallen to 34th place on the list of contributors to United Nations peacekeeping operations. Prime Minister Paul Martin's election promise of a new 5,000-person peacekeeping brigade has been met with approval and criticism. Many critics say that it would be less expensive to bring the three existing brigades (the Navy, Army and Air Force) up to strength. Each brigade is said to be short by 1,500 personnel. There are also concerns about the time it will take to get the new brigade up and running.

"It's very unlikely you're going to see any of that brigade until 2019,” Col. Marsh said.

The Government of Canada is scrambling to show that the problems with the Canadian Forces are being addressed. Significant investments were made and plans laid out to meet the Forces' needs. These measures include offering tax breaks for Canadian Forces members serving on high-risk international operations, along with additional resources to help cover costs racked up on international missions.

This will mean an infusion of $250 million to the mission in Afghanistan and other counter-terrorism activities, and $50 million more for our peacekeeping forces in Haiti. Awarding the Maritime Helicopter Project to Sikorsky will provide the Canadian Forces with a cutting-edge helicopter. Replacing the aging Leopard tank fleet with the Mobile Gun System will bring some of our ground forces into the new millennium. Moving forward with the Joint Support Ship, and accelerating the delivery of fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft will help Canada protect its flank on three oceans. All together these equipment initiatives represent almost $7 billion in federal spending for the Forces over several years.

Despite the turmoil, the Canadian Forces still enjoy a good reputation abroad. Although our allies wish we had more to offer, the quality of our Forces is undeniable.

"I strongly believe that we still produce the best soldiers, sailors and airmen in the world," Pellerin said.

But you can only do more with less for so long…

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