Are we doing the right things? Are we doing things right?

I mentioned, a couple of days ago, that Canada was a world leader, back circa 1950, in changing the “model” of how armies (armed forces, in fact) were organized, going from a model of small, almost token regular forces with large reserves, often of dubious quality, to a model of (relatively) large, combat ready regular forces backed up by smaller but also “ready” reserves, all because we, in the US led West changed our strategy to suit the “come as you are war” that General and later President Dwight Eisenhower envisioned.

The new model served us well for about 20 years, until Pierre Trudeau decided that we needed neither a large standing (regular) army nor a large reserve force.

As I follow the discussions on Army.ca about ships and aircraft I see that, in fact, the Navy and the Air Force are in a world where technology is changing the “numbers” game in many ways: the most modern ships can sail father, faster and then remain on station with more and better weapons and smaller and smaller crews ~ IF they have the right people, and new, modern aircraft have performance “envelopes” that allow fewer and fewer aircraft to do more and more ~ again, IF they have the right people operating and maintaining them.

Armies have not changed in the same way.  It is true that a modern Leopard 2 tank can do more than an old Centurion but not so much more that a tank squadron should have, say, only 10 or 12 tanks rather than 18 or 20. A modern mechanized infantry company in LAV IIIs is far more capable than the old motorized company which was common when I joined more than half a century ago, but it doesn’t need, say, just 75 soldiers in two platoons, it still needs 125 in three platoons plus a company headquarters.  A modern, full strength battle group still needs, say, 1,250 to 1,500 soldiers ~ and some of them need to be highly skilled technical specialists.

imagesOne “change” I see emerging is that the “one size fits all” Canadian Forces personnel structure that Defence Minister Paul Hellyer introduced in the mid 1960s and which has, generally, served Canada well enough since then may need to change. The Navy and Air Force might need a different rank and trade and progression model than the the one which (still) suits the Army.

The “old” model is that we trained sailors, soldiers and air force members in, roughly, the same way: men and women progressed through a “linked” system that gave them progressively more (and more valuable) technical (trade) skills and, for some, more (and more valuable) leadership skills, too. The system allows a few to reach the very top ~ having both high rank (allowing them to lead or supervise large groups of people) and excellent technical skills (allowing them supervise and manage complex tasks). It also allowed some people to “plateau” at a moderate level of rank and canada-hangartrade skill, and it provided a system whereby young, junior, men and women could learn some of their skills “on the job.” But newer ships and aircraft maintenance systems seem to have less room for “apprentices” and “on the job” training: it appears, to me, that we will need fewer but much better trained people rather than the “pyramid” to which we are accustomed ~ with many “apprentices’ and junior people at the bottom, learning “on the job.” The old model still seems, to me, to be well suited for the Army, but is it what the Navy and the RCAF need?

Maybe, as new aircraft are being procured and new ships are being built it is also time to revisit one of the centre-pieces of Paul Hellyer’s military: the integrated rank and trade system. maybe we need to go back to “square one” And “disintegrate” some (many? all?) of the integrated branches like logistics, and communications and electronics and let each service decide for itself what rank (leadership) and (technical) skill sets it need and it what numbers. Maybe many young sailors will need long, intensive courses (and appropriate remuneration) before they join a ship for the first time; ditto, perhaps, for some air force technicians, but not, for example, for infantry soldiers or tank crew members. Maybe the skill sets for a Navy logistics specialist is too different from that required by a soldier in a combat supply company are so different that they should not be trained together and have their careers managed as part of a large, integrated, logistics branch.

I really don’t know … but I toss the idea out for comment by those who might.

One thought on “Are we doing the right things? Are we doing things right?”

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