Generations of Canadian sailors, soldiers and air force members have grown accustomed to “rust out:” going to sea, or deploying, into combat, with old, hard to maintain kit …
… we were, quite literally, in 1990, installing newer (but used) weapons and electronics in warships that had, in one case, been laid down almost 40 years earlier, as they steamed to the Persian Gulf to engage in combat operations. We sent inadequately armed and armoured Cougar training vehicles to the Balkans in the late 1990s, into combat operations. And now we have only a few combat ready CF-18s left to serve with NATO in Romania ~ the newer airframes entered service over 30 years ago.
But one thing we, serving sailors, soldiers and air force members, could always trust was that our people, in Ottawa, were doing everything humanly possible (and sometimes it seemed like they worked miracles) to make our kit as effective as possible and, above all, safe for us to use … but not now, not with Justin Trudeau and Harjit Sajjan at the helm. Now, CBC News tells us, “All of Canada’s front-line navy frigates have had serious mould problems, something that has routinely affected the health of sailors deployed overseas … [and] … The navy has struggled to deal with the blight in the ventilation systems of the warships since it was first documented aboard HMCS St. John’s in the fall of 2011, but a former senior non-commissioned officer says his repeated pleas to fix the situation fell on deaf ears.” Fellows on Navy.ca, who know about this sort of thing say that the complaints are legitimate and there are possible “fixes” on the market.
In a properly managed defence department this would have been fixed years ago … but this is Canada and what we have is a
bloated morbidly obese command and control (C²) superstructure with far, far, far too many admirals and generals, who don’t actually command anything at all, sending contradictory directives to the Navy captains and Army and RCAF colonels who do command our few combat formations.
The HQ bloat is a symptom of a bigger, much worse problem: inept management and actual mismanagement of the nation’s defences. I actually feel a tiny bit sorry for our prime minister and his cabinet; it’s not Justin Trudeau’s fault, it started in the 1970s, when his father was prime minister (although some would argue that it started in the 1670s or the 970s or earlier!); it’s not Harjit Sajjan’s fault, either: this particular round of “rot” started about the time I was a young captain in the 2nd Battalion of The Royal Canadian Regiment and (much more to the point) Léo Cadieux was the Minister of National Defence, that was in about 1968. It certainly isn’t General Jon Vance’s fault either, but he and they ~ Vance, Sajjan and Trudeau ~ are there, now, and they are the ones who are being embarrassed by their own bloated C² superstructure which is failing the sailors, the ships, the CDS and the government, and only they have the power and the authority needed to put things right .
The solution is for Minister Sajjan and Gen Vance to agree, very quickly, (and they can do this on their own) to fire, somewhat arbitrarily and even quite ruthlessly, at least ⅓ of the currently serving admirals, generals, commodores, Navy captains and Army and RCAF colonels (and the CWOs who populate their outer offices) (and maybe ¼ of the commanders/lieutenant colonels and lieutenant commanders/majors, too) ~ some people who are closer to the problem than I have argued that firing ½ of the general and flag officers (GOFOs) is more appropriate but ⅓ will do for me. The hundreds and hundreds of (highly paid) positions (person years or PYs in cvil service parlance) could be converted to (cheaper) much needed junior ranks for ships at sea and units in the army and air force. There would still be dozens of over-ranked positions in, especially, allied HQs and in some jobs where the political centre has mandated a certain rank, but we could live with that ~ we’re after “better” not “perfect.” And you know what? No one, except for a handful of retired generals and a few professors in think tanks, would care. In fact, in most of ‘official Ottawa’ and in allied capitals, wise, senior executive heads would nod, quietly in approval.
The MND and CDS can, on their own, institute a sensible C² system, two feature of which might be:
- No staff officer may ever, under any circumstances, outrank the principle subordinate commanders who report to the commander (s)he serves. That is, in an army division, where the brigade group commanders should be brigadier generals (one example of where Canadian combat commanders are under-ranked) the chiefs of staff for operations and logistics should be colonels. In an Army brigade group where the principle COs are lieutenant colonels then the principle ops and log staff officers ought to be majors; and
- Since ‘director’ in “official Ottawa” is the first level of executive rank, and since a major warship’s captain (Navy commander) and army regiment/battalion and RCAF squadron CO (lieutenant colonel) are the (very bloody obvious) first executive level in the military, then all HQ ‘directors’ in the military (who are now almost all Navy captains and Army/RCAF colonels) should be commanders and lieutenant colonels ~ allowing us to cut even more senior officer positions.
The Chiefs of the Naval, General and Air Staffs in Ottawa do not need to “command” the Navy, Army and Air Forces … not so long as there are combatant commands out there anyway. Either the “commands” (there are a bunch of them) should be (mostly) disbanded, and the vice admirals and lieutenant generals “retired” or the staffs in NDHQ should be reduced in rank and scope by a HUGE amount. There is never room for overlapping commands.
Prime Minister Trudeau should tell Minister Sajjan to, quietly, wrap up his Defence Review … the report can be written by Mr Butts and Ms Telford in the PMO, the results were, always, 100% preordained, anyway … the consultations are just window dressing that have served their purpose of keeping defence off the table for a year. Now the PM should write Minister Sajjan a new mandate letter, one including some direction that Prime Minister Harper wrote to Peter MacKay in 2012, telling him to make real savings by introducing a new defence management scheme that is slim, trim and robust and then to do “better” with the “less” that will be coming in the budgets.
The prime minister needs to cut defence if he wants to keep the promises in which he needs to invest political capital. But he still needs DND and the CF to work in NATO and in Africa and, and, and … what he doesn’t need are reports of unhealthy mould in his warships and questions about his commitments for or against the F-35. He, and his message, is being sabotaged by a cumbersome, top heavy C² superstructure that he inherited and that no longer does enough useful work to justify its existence. The longer Justin Trudeau, Harjit Sajjan and Jon Vance delay, the more the C² superstructure will screw the government. The admirals and generals and commodores and colonels aren’t against the government, but they might as well be an “enemy fifth column” right inside the government because they, not the minister, not the PMO, are screwing the pooch.
The solution is obvious: a massive, wholesale reduction in the
bloated morbidly obese command and control structure and the reintroduction of some discipline and direction. The why and even the how are obvious … the only question is do Prime Minister Trudeau, Defence Minister Sajjan and General Vance care enough to pull the pin and toss a grenade into the mess.