Mil­i­tary grap­pling with years of un­der­fund­ing

Cape Breton Post - - Canada -

De­fence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan of­fered a grim as­sess­ment Wed­nes­day of the state of the mil­i­tary, say­ing years of un­der­fund­ing has hol­lowed out the armed forces and left it strug­gling to do even ba­sic tasks.

The com­ments to de­fence in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tions and ex­perts came as the Lib­eral govern­ment pre­pares to un­veil its new de­fence pol­icy, which Sa­j­jan promised would be­gin to fix some of the prob­lems.

“It will be a plan to get out of the hole we are start­ing in and it will be a plan to build an even stronger mil­i­tary,” Sa­j­jan said in a speech to the Con­fer­ence of De­fence As­so­ci­a­tions In­sti­tute.

“It will be a plan to al­lo­cate re­al­is­tic fund­ing to those ‘bread and but­ter’ projects that will keep our mil­i­tary run­ning ef­fi­ciently and ef­fec­tively for years to come.”

It was the un­der­fund­ing of those “bread and but­ter projects,” known in de­fence cir­cles as the “Key 18,” that were the main fo­cus of Sa­j­jan’s ad­dress and which se­nior de­fence of­fi­cials say pose the big­gest prob­lem.

Those in­clude up­grades and life ex­ten­sions to two mil­i­tary he­li­copter fleets, air de­fences for in­fantry units, and en­gi­neer­ing and lo­gis­ti­cal ve­hi­cles for the army, among oth­ers.

Sa­j­jan said gov­ern­ments have also con­sis­tently un­der­funded sup­port for mil­i­tary per­son­nel.

“We are now in the trou­bling po­si­tion where sta­tus quo spend­ing on de­fence will not even main­tain a sta­tus quo of ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” the min­is­ter said.

“Cur­rent fund­ing has us dig­ging our­selves into a hole. A hole that gets deeper ev­ery year. As a per­cent­age of GDP, we are spend­ing less on de­fence to­day than we were in 2005.”

Yet Sa­j­jan was light on de­tails when it came to how the Lib­er­als in­tend to get out of that hole.

The min­is­ter said the govern­ment is be­ing more rig­or­ous in de­ter­min­ing the costs of dif­fer­ent mil­i­tary pro­cure­ment projects and the pur­chas­ing pol­icy as a whole, which ex­perts have pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied as a big prob­lem.

That in­cludes en­list­ing the help of six ac­count­ing firms to re­view how the govern­ment and mil­i­tary came up with its costs and en­sur­ing sus­tain­able de­fence fund­ing.

But Sa­j­jan of­fered mixed sig­nals when it came to whether the govern­ment will ac­tu­ally in­vest bil­lions of ad­di­tional dol­lars to pay for not only the Key 18, but also other im­por­tant, but less crit­i­cal, ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Dur­ing his speech, the min­is­ter said that “be­fore it can build any­thing new, Canada’s de­fence pol­icy must first get us out of the hole that we’re start­ing in.”

But he also told au­di­ence mem­bers dur­ing a ques­tio­nand-an­swer ses­sion af­ter the speech that the mil­i­tary will re­quire “sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment.”

At the same time, Sa­j­jan went back to the govern­ment’s pre­vi­ous de­fence of ex­ist­ing mil­i­tary spend­ing lev­els when asked about meet­ing NATO’s two per cent de­fence spend­ing ar­get, not­ing Canada is de­ploy­ing troops to Latvia.

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