In my opinion, the Canadian Forces, in 2016, are poorly organized. There is, as I have explained, a huge,
bloated morbidly obese command and control (C²) superstructure perched atop a Potemkin Village of combat naval, land and air forces that we like to pretend are combat ready. But the biggest problem is that we are organized as we were in 1966, not as we need to be in 2016.
We learned a vital lesson more than 70 years ago: joint forces are a major key to victory. Armies win faster and easier when they have “on the spot” air support; the crucial Battle of the Atlantic needed carrier based aircraft and lumbering, land based Lancaster bombers to end the U-boat menace. Air forces can do a lot, on their own, they are powerful and flexible, but they cannot take and hold ground and they cannot, by themselves, secure the sea lines of communications … the three service ~ navy, army and air force, unified and working together ~ on the other hand, can work wonders.
In the 1960s, when then Defence Minister Paul Hellyer was making major, and often deleterious, organizational changes to the Canadian Armed Forces, one of the things his team had in the front of their minds was the lesson from World War II: joint (naval-air, land-air, and sea-land-air) forces, working together in a unified structure, are better, more efficient and more effective, than separate services.
When the Canadian Forces were integrated (mashed together into one, single service, in one single, green uniform) in 1966, they were also, rather sensibly, unified, and two of the major combat commands ~ Maritime Command and Mobile Command were proper, joint, Naval-Air Force and Army-Air Force, organization with, in Mobile Command, for example, a mix of army brigades and air force fighter, tactical transport and helicopter squadrons all serving together as part of one, single organization. Some of the admirals and generals advising Minister Hellyer, including some who opposed his integration (single service/single uniform) proposals, pushed hard for unification (joint C² structures, especially) because it made good military sense.
But there was, in the 1960s, little pressure to be joint: the three services worked more with other nations that one another. In 1966 the Royal Canadian Navy was a key player in securing the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic, and it worked closely and well with the UK and US navies, but it rarely saw Canadian soldiers, who were focused on fighting Russians and East Germans on the North German plain and had little interest, and less training in amphibious operations. The RCAF, through it’s transport and maritime air wings was skilled at working with navies and armies, but its primacy foci were the air defence of North America and nuclear strike missions in Germany ~ in a different part of Europe from the Canadian Army.
Perhaps some air force officers were right and Paul Hellyer and many other senior navy, army and air force officers were wrong, and the navy ought not to own and operate its own anti-submarine helicopters and the army ought not to have organic, “on call,” air support and, perhaps, the Canadian made Canadair CF-5 Freedom Fighter and de Havilland DHC-5 Buffalo were not the right aircraft to support the army …
… we’ll never know because, about 10 years after Mr Hellyer unified part of the armed forces a handful of senior air force officers, upset at what appeared, to them, to be the “first class” status of the large, unified Maritime and Mobile Commands relative to the smaller, lower ranked, air defence and air transport commands, convinced a disengaged minister and a CDS preoccupied with Pierre Trudeau’s death by a thousand cuts defence policy that military effectiveness and common sense should all play second fiddle to the Canadian air force’s need to be perceived to be at bigger and better than either the navy or the army. It was, in 1975, an organizational proposal that was, to be charitable, stupid. That it still exists today, 40 years later, is proof that far, far too many very senior Canadian military officers are more concerned with the “needs” of their own branches and services than they are with the defence of Canada.
To be fair, by 1975 many, many navy admirals and army generals, also reeling under the cuts imposed by Pierre Trudeau, were reacting with their hearts, not their heads, and they were happy enough to not have to make hard choices between new frigates and new helicopters ~ the navy needed both, or between new ground attack fighters and new tanks ~ the army needed both, and they were quiet when the air force tossed their “organic” air support on to the scrap heap and dealt with their own priorities. There was a
gentlemen’s fools agreement in headquarters in Ottawa that the three services would not bicker amongst themselves and each would support the others’ top two or three priority projects.
Anyway, some very senior Liberals knew, before 2015, and others, including some Conservatives, must know now, that the organization of the Canadian Armed Forces cries out for reform. They and Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick must know, and Prime Minister Trudeau should suspect that the admirals and generals are not about to change … too many nods and winks and handshakes have been exchanged, too many favours have been done. The military is beyond being able to reform itself. But reform is needed …
… it needs to begin with scrapping most of the “command” HQs that are piled atop other “division” HQs that are piled atop rusted out, hollowed out and almost non-existent combat ships, units and squadrons.
The the structure, from the very top down to individual ship, unit and squadron needs to be as joint as possible and as practicable. Of course there will be some single service things: that part of the CF that provides CF-18 fighters for the air defence of North America is, pretty much, a pure, 100% RCAF operation and it would be silly to try to make it joint just for the sake of being joint. But combat brigades should have organic, Army aviation units, with Army helicopters flown by Army pilots who are also skilled in e.g. Army reconnaissance or logistics as appropriate, and Navy destroyers and frigates should have Navy helicopters that are flown by Navy pilots who are also qualified bridge watch-keepers. But it is operations and operational formations that should be joint: there is no reasons why the Army and Navy need or should even want to do basic flying training, for example. There is a role for both integration, at higher level HQs and in supporting services like supply and strategic communications, and for unification at operational level formations (commands, divisions, brigades, fleets and so on).
I am not proposing any specific organizational model … there are choices, including going all the way back to something like Mr Hellyer’s model or having joint, regional commands and joint task forces within them, and even adapting the current model by slimming it down and having joint task forces. There are enough smart people in our (too many and too large) HQs to work that out. What I am proposing is that a new force structure ~ one that recognizes, institutionalizes and promotes joint operations ~ needs to be introduced, and this may, most likely, be at the expense of the recently restructured (as “commands”) Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force and to the slightly older “dot coms” like Joint Operations Command.
Canada spends a lot on defence, we are not “pikers” in terms of actual dollars spent, but we do not get a whole lot of power for those dollars. Some of our problems are structural and geographic, and not amenable to organizational solutions, but others, like the fat C² superstructure and some of our organizations are “self inflicted wounds” and can be and need to be addressed by political and bureaucratic direction. This is not about the quality or capabilities of the men and women who serve in our ships, units and squadrons, or even in our too many and too large HQs, it is, rather, about value for money, which I do not believe we are getting, and it is about proper administrational and management which, in my opinion, is lacking. We, Canadian taxpayers, are entitled to both value and good management of our resources.