Chief of defence staff vows to transform military despite budget crisis, but experts cast doubt on future capabilities

The head of the Canadian Forces wants to transform the army, navy and air force into a leaner, more modern military, but will need to do so without badly needed cash.

Gen Raymond Henault, chief of defence staff, says an increase in defence spending is not expected as part of Canada's 23 March federal budget. "We don't know what this year will bring, but we know there won't be a windfall," he told the annual meeting of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute (CDAI), a Canadian lobby group.

Henault says the rationalisation of Canada's air and sealift capabilities points to a new way of conducting military operations, but that new equipment is needed to allow it to remain effective and relevant alongside its allies. "Financial constraints are a challenge, and we have to balance the needs of today with the requirements of tomorrow," he says.

Some defence analysts believe the Canadian forces will be hard pressed to keep operations at their current level while Ottawa completes a review of its defence, international affairs and domestic security policy, the results of which are expected late this year.

"While the forces have been through some lean years of late, I truly believe that we're in the process of turning the corner. Real and significant progress has been made in terms of important equipment acquisition," defence minister David Pratt told the CDAI. "Ibelieve defence requires additional resources, and I will certainly be emphasising this message to my cabinet colleagues," he says.

Pratt adds that Canada must be involved in the ballistic-missile defence of North America, and must be at the negotiating table to protect Canadian interests. But despite improved relations between Canada and the USA under new prime minister Paul Martin, one panelist doubts things will be much different.

"Canadians are not inclined to spend on the military during times of peace," says defence critic Kim Nossal of Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. "The new prime minister may have a different attitude, but it is unlikely that the politician who presided over the dramatic cuts of the 1990s is going to suddenly reverse course and spend...on the Canadian Forces."

Canada also cannot purchase new military equipment because the procurement budget is increasingly going toward repairing outdated equipment, says Howie Marsh, the CDAI's senior defence analyst. "The department is spending C$1.8 billion [$1.3 billion] a year to repair old equipment and C$800 million on new equipment. It is time to stop, scrap all fleets that have a repair-to-replacement ratio greater than one and start again."

Marsh says the Canadian legacy of defence neglect will impose "embarrassing limitations" on the country's military capabilities for the next two decades. Future capabilities will depend on a capital infusion of an additional C$70 billion over the next 15 years, he says.


Source: Flight International