Tuesday, March 1, 2016

With Federal Deficit Soaring - Are Cuts to CAF Coming?

Written by Matthew Fisher, The National Post 

Whatever the new government announces in its first budget on March 22, Canadian Forces operational readiness, training and maintenance will probably suffer in order to free up funds for units that have to deploy.

That is the opinion of Dave Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, who may be the best informed independent expert on Canadian defence spending. But, as the affable 33-year-old political scientist admitted with a smile, he probably wins the title by default.

Although defence spending is the single biggest departmental item in the federal budget, Perry is almost the only person in the country not working for government or the military who closely tracks the roughly $20 billion spent on national defence, and understands the big picture of the funding and technologies required to respond to current and emerging threats.

The Trudeau government faces hard choices about how much money it gives to the military — with the federal budget deficit soaring, a larger military training mission in Iraq and possible missions in northern Africa, huge bills in prospect for new warships and warplanes, and growing pressure from NATO to increase spending because Canada spends less per capita on defence than any major alliance member.

Ottawa has provided few hints about spending plans, but during last fall’s election campaign the Liberals indicated they expected $3 billion in “efficiencies” from all ministries. Perry said this means the Department of National Defence could contribute about $600 million a year in savings in three years.

Harjit Sajjan, the defence minister, has pledged the number of men and women in uniform will stay more or less the same.

“Because fixed personnel costs take 50 per cent of out of the budget, if you keep the size of the force the same, the cuts elsewhere (in the department) would be fairly consequential,” Perry said.

“The pot from which the $600 million will be taken is not that big. It could have a big impact on force readiness and operational effectiveness. They are going to have to restrict training funds, maintenance, repair and the purchase of spare parts — what regular forces and special forces need to make their equipment usable.”

Military spending was cut in the early days of the Harper government before it established a budget escalator that got funding this year back to about where it had been. It would be harder to find $600 million in savings now because the earlier cuts and freezes had already “imposed a fair bit of fiscal pain,” Perry said. “There is less fat than previously.

One of the many unknowns is whether the Iraq training mission will be paid for from existing funds or “incremental funding because you can’t cover it under a normal budget,” Perry said, adding the cost will be “fairly significant. For past Liberal budgets, if there were big operations like this, they would top up the budget. I hope they have some extra money for that, but I am not sure that is the case.”

Given the fiscal squeeze, he wondered how the military could afford new equipment “when everyone knows they are having trouble moving forward to acquire big-ticket items – ships and jets – as well as upgrades to protect against new technologies.” Improvements are required for satellite and cyber capabilities, and North American surveillance, detection and warning systems built in the 1980s.

There are 200 such capital projects but most are not nearly as expensive as the ships and jets, Perry said, although “they are potentially more expensive in their totality than the big, shiny things. From peace support to humanitarian aid to war fighting you need baseline investments in areas such as surveillance and cyber counter-measures. I am not sure how fully-seized the government is about how expensive the military is.”

One of the hottest political potatoes in Ottawa remains the tens of billions of dollars the next fighter jets and surface combat ships will cost. Perry praised the decision this week to combine the ship building competition into one process, rather than two, because this would mean the navy gets badly needed ships a few years earlier than expected. However, he finds it hard to believe the government’s campaign rhetoric it could “save tens of billions” from the $40 billion earmarked for the F-35 by buying another aircraft.

A defence policy review is due to be published by the end of this year. Aside from the $600 million in efficiencies being looked for in the existing fiscal plan, inherited from the Harper government, Perry said he expected there would be no major impact on defence funding in next month’s budget. But once the policy review was complete, a harsher reckoning is likely in the 2017 budget.

“We have not been hearing a lot about what the government’s (defence spending) priorities might be,” he said. Nevertheless, “I think the bean counters at defence are quite worried. My worry is that there are not enough people over there counting beans.”

Trudeau Government Shopping for Drones; RCAF Wants them Armed

Written by: Murray Brewster, The Associated Press, published by The National Post 

OTTAWA — The Trudeau government is quietly shopping for drones for the military and expects to see expressions of interest from the defence industry by mid-April.

But the tire-kicking exercise is setting the stage for a potentially bruising policy debate over whether the remotely controlled aircraft should be armed and under what circumstances they would employ deadly force.

The Royal Canadian Air Force has lobbied hard over the last few years for the capability to fire weapons from whatever drone is selected and has even written the assumption into mandatory requirements, according to a series of access to information records obtained by The Canadian Press.

Under the heading “Lethality,” the high-level requirements review — dated June 5, 2013 — explicitly states that whatever system is chosen, the RCAF expects the remotely piloted aircraft to be capable of “carrying and employing precision-guided munitions.”

A separate slide presentation, dated Dec. 12, 2013 and intended as an update for the project management office at National Defence, noted there would have to be support for a precision-strike capability, but anticipates “public concern.”

The Pentagon and CIA run drone programs which have been subject to increasing scrutiny and criticism, particularly in light of the dramatic rise in strikes over the last eight years and claims of civilian casualties.

The intelligence agency’s program of targeted assassination has been the most controversial, prompting the Obama Administration to pledge three years ago to create “clear guidelines, oversight and accountability” when it comes to decisions to employ lethal force.

A Washington-based think tank of former generals and policy experts has been monitoring the promise and issued a report card this week that gave the administration a failing grade, particularly around transparency.

A spokesman for National Defence, Evan Koronewski, acknowledged the air force wants a strike capability, but the drones Canada intends to buy will “be used primarily for surveillance and reconnaissance” of the coastlines and the Arctic.

“The policy and operational questions posed by the use of these systems are significant and require careful thought and discussion within Canada and internationally,” Koronewski said in an email.

“However, it is clear that the legal implications of the use of these systems vary depending on the context and legal framework. Any such system acquired by Canada would be compliant with Canada’s domestic and international legal obligations and employed in a manner that is consistent with these obligations.”

But Errol Mendes, a University of Ottawa professor and an expert in international law, says there will have to be more than careful thought and discussion.

He says the Trudeau government should start now to develop a framework of transparency and accountability for the use of those weapons system, if only to avoid the kind of public debate and condemnation that’s happened in the U.S.

“The issue is quite pertinent given the huge range of debate that’s gone all of the way up to the president,” said Mendes, who recently lectured the NATO council on the subject.

Introducing a Canadian program “must be done with utmost care and supervision” and with highly trained operators, he said.

“That whole area needs to be studied very, very carefully. I am not actually against well-trained and well-focused use of weaponized drones, which meet the parameters of international humanitarian law. So, I’m not against it. I know others are, but I am not.”

What needs to happen, Mendes said, is that every time the weapons are fired, it is cleared at the top, by either the defence minister or the prime minister. He says there needs to be a clear chain of responsibility that stretches beyond the military to the political level.

Retired colonel George Petrolekas, of the Conference of Defence Association Institute, says he knows there’s been debate, but hasn’t seen any evidence of the policy architecture that would be needed to run a drone program.

He also suspects that the ballooning federal deficit will put a crimp in plans to acquire drones around 2020.