Turmoil at the top

I see, from a story on Global News, broken by Mercedes Stephenson, of Global and David Pugliese (Post Media), two journalists with very good sources inside DND and the downloadCanadian Armed Forces, that “The second in command of Canada’s military Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk is resigning after he said Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance planned to replace him as the vice chief of the defence staff with Vice-Admiral Mark Norman … [but] … Vance then reversed that plan weeks later, according to Wynnyk, when Norman settled with the government and retired from the military.

Lieutenant General “Wynnyk was the fifth vice chief to serve under Vance, and questions are now being raised about his leadership, senior military sources told Global News … [and, the report says] … There are now questions about who will fill the job next. No one appears to be ready, the sources said.” With the utmost respect to Mercedes Stephenson’s sources, who are, I suspect three and two-star admirals and generals, almost any general officer is “ready” to be Vice Chief of the Defence Staff or to fill almost any other “flag” appointment (jobs like surgeon general and the judge advocate general being obvious exceptions). I lived through times when the head of the Army’s equipment engineering branch was not an engineer ~ but was picked specifically because he could lead and manage people and could leave the “engineering” to subordinates, and when a logistics officer ran the Army, to the horror or a few combat branch dinosaurs, and when a Signals officer was Chief of the Defence Staff, too, because, at the time, the top leaders still understood that generals are generalists. I will assert, some will disagree but they are wrong, that almost every rear admiral and major general, from almost every corner of the military, is “ready” right now, to be Chief of the Defence Staff and almost every commodore and brigadier general is equally “ready” to be the Vice Chief. If that is not the case then the Canadian Forces’ leadership system is in a crisis right now,  which only a wholesale slaughter of admirals and generals will rectify … or else there will be a slaughter of young Canadian men and women when our armed forces muct face a near-peer enemy.

At the risk of repeating myself:

  • The current military command and control (C²) superstructure is beyond bloated, it is morbidly obese;
  • The military C² system has things back-asswards ~ staff officers outrank combat commanders. We have commodores and brigadier generals sitting behind big desks in Ottawa when they ought to be commanding flotillas, brigades and air groups. The desks in HQs should be occupied by Navy captains and commanders and Army and RCAF colonels and lieutenant colonels, all of whom are, already, proven executives;
  • The CDS should be a three-star officer, a vice admiral or a lieutenant general ~ Canada, with only about 110,000 men and women, regular and reserve, in uniform, doesn’t need a four-star CDS. Reducing her or his rank would be an act “pour encourager les autres;”
  • The military’s command culture must start with getting the foundation right. The recruiting, selection, training and development of junior leaders, corporals and 2nd lieutenants (using the Army as my example), must be the highest priority for every single senior officer. If the foundation is solid then developing admirals and generals will not be a problem. If, as I suspect, the foundation is weak, if there is rank inflation, as I assert there is, at the tank/rifle section and troop/platoon command levels, then problems are going to persist and be magnified at the unit (ship, regiment or squadron), formation (group, brigade, wing and higher) and command levels and in National Defence HQ, too. Eventually, if the foundation is weak then we, Canadians will pay the price in blood … the blood of our sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters.

The solution is, relatively, cheap and easy:

  • First, cut the number of admirals and generals in the Canadian Armed Forces by at least ⅓, preferably by ½; lower almost every rank by one level ~ the CDS to be a vice admiral or lieutenant general, most director generals to be Navy captains or Army/RCAF colonels and directors, the first executive level in NDHQ, to be commanders and lieutenant colonels, the same ranks as the officers who command major combatant ships, fighting regiments and flying squadrons. Yes it will cause serious morale problems amongst 50 or so of our 100+ admirals and generals; yes it will disrupt things, yes it will require a rejig of the military pay system, but it’s all worth it to get the C² superstructure right … or at least a lot less wrong; and
  • Second, review and reform the foundations of the military, make developing good junior leadership the absolute highest priority task for every single senior officer in the Canadian Armed Forces. Make tank and rifle section commanders youngish master corporals rather than middle-aged sergeants and, thereby, restore the senior NCO ranks to their, proper, advisory and mentoring roles. Ditto for troops and platoons ~ they should be commanded by young 2nd lieutenants and lieutenants; captains should command large, complex support platoons and troops and fill regiment/battalion staff jobs.

I’m not worried about the turmoil at the top except that I fear it is a symptom of problems at the bottom. I am absolutely certain that if the foundations of military command are less than solid then Canada will suffer grave consequences when, not if, we have to send our men and women into battle. The problems are identifiable and soluble, it is just a matter of will and political leadership.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

6 thoughts on “Turmoil at the top

    1. Thanks. I know that my views on our C2 superstructure are often unpopular and even seen as being “radical” and “destructive” by some serving and retired members, but I remain convinced that we have built a huge, elaborate castle on a foundation of loose sand.

  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment Ted. I understand that in today’s complicated world the Canadian Armed Forces may require additional leadership capabilities to deal with, overseas missions, expensive equipment procurements, ever changing political landscape, etc. Is it possible the upper levels of leadership have grown way beyond what can be considered reasonable / effective. Where are the benefits to the Canadian taxpayer or the fine men and women in uniform. Overseas missions are quickly becoming more posturing / planning with less boots on the ground. Equipment procurement is a mess with desperately needed equipment delivered, insufficient in numbers, overpriced, long overdue, subject to immense political meddling, etc.

    Recently two top leaders have left the Canadian military. Just imagine the dollar value of these two leaders to the Canadian taxpayer. The years of training, experience, insight on world military issues, leadership abilities, etc,. It must be in the millions. In the case of Vice Admiral Norman the Canadian taxpayer is probably on the hook for additional millions to make the issue disappear.

    What are the possible reasons for the departure of Vice Admiral Norman? Was he a leader who put the wellbeing of the men & women in uniform first? A leader, who in a rare occurrence, helped procure a desperately needed supply ship at good value for the Canadian taxpayer? Was it the case of a Prime Minister who let his ego get the best of him and spoke out of turn? Was it lack of an effective leader at the top of the military leadership structure that did not back up Vice Admiral Norman when needed? Was it the political influence of a large shipbuilding company on the East Coast that desperately did not want to loose even a snippet of market share? Was it all of the above plus more?

    In the case of Vice Admiral Norman we Canadian taxpayers most likely lost the value of a proud Canadian, a valuable military asset, and a truck load of money to save a few political egos. To Vice Admiral Norman, thank you for your years of service to Canada and I wish you all the best in the future.

  2. So I was right all those years ago, when I was told by the Flight Sergeant to be quiet and get on with it, just think if they had listened.

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