By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch
Auditor General Michael Ferguson appeared before the Senate’s defence committee on Tuesday. His presentation, based on an audit of the Army reserves, as well as his answers to questions from senators painted a less than encouraging picture about the situation the Army’s reserve units find themselves in. Here is some of what Ferguson had to say:
-Training of the Army reserve was not fully integrated with that of the regular Army units. Although the Army reserve was given clear guidance on preparing for domestic missions, units did not receive the same level of guidance or how to train troops soldiers for international missions. The Army Reserve doesn’t always have access to the equipment it needed for training and deployments, Ferguson noted.
– Army reserve units are responsible for training their own soldiers. But the AG found that many reserve units didn’t have the number of soldiers they needed. Twelve of the 123 Army reserve units were smaller than half of their ideal size, Ferguson said.
– The Canadian Army provided funding for 21,000 reserve soldiers but only about 14,000 were active and trained. When Army reserve units met in 2105 for their annual, large‑scale collective training events across Canada, only about 3,600 Army Reserve soldiers attended, Ferguson said.
– DND knows that the current reserve recruiting system doesn’t work and that it needs to take steps to boost retention. It has set a goal to increase the Army reserve by 950 soldiers by 2019. But Ferguson said this goal will be difficult to achieve as the number of Army reserve soldiers declined by about 1,000 soldiers a year for the three years his office conducted the audit. Ferguson pointed to the latest numbers provided by DND; as of May 15, 2016, the number of active and trained Army reserve soldiers dropped by a further 1,000 soldiers, to 13,181.
-Ferguson’s audit found that although individual skills training was designed to train the Army reserve and regular army soldiers to the same standard, reserve courses were designed to teach significantly fewer skills than were taught in regular army courses. This skill gap was not always addressed during the pre‑deployment training of Army reserve soldiers, Ferguson pointed out. One example he used was that when Canadian Army soldiers began to deploy as part of NATO’s mission in Eastern Europe, a gap remained in weapons training between Army reserve and regular force soldiers.
-A number of reserve soldiers weren’t receiving the number of days of training that was predicted for them.
-Even if the reserves had all the personnel needed and all of the equipment required, and were doing all of the training, the result would be a severe strain on the existing funds the force has.
-Twenty‑seven per cent of the Army reserve’s existing budget is being spent on full‑time reservists, even though reserves are supposed to be mostly part-time.
-$166 million out of $706 million of their total budget is being allocated back to National Defence to pay for infrastructure.
“What I’m saying is based on everything that we’ve looked at, it is hard for me to sit here and see how they would be able to fund everything they’re supposed to do within the budget that they currently have,” Ferguson told senators. “But certainly it looks to me like it would be a significant challenge for them.”