VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada’s prime minister — unhappy with the level of defense cuts made so far — has taken the unusual step of telling his defense minister where he wants further reductions, in addition to asking for improvements in the procurement process.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper is seen as one of the most pro-military prime ministers in decades, but that hasn’t stopped him from pushing for more cost-cutting in certain areas. The Canadian Forces has too much “tail” compared with its operational units, he says.
Harper, speaking in Ottawa at the Oct. 29 ceremony to swear in the new chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Tom Lawson, warned the military’s leaders they must change the structure of the military to save money. “The forces must be restructured to ensure administrative burdens are reduced and resources freed up for the front line,” he said.
The service must transform itself into a modern military, with “more teeth and less tail,” Harper told the senior officers.
Harper delivered a similar message to Defence Minister Peter MacKay. In a June 15 letter obtained by Defense News, Harper wrote that the cost-cutting underway was not good enough.
The Department of National Defence (DND) and Canadian Forces have identified 1.1 billion Canadian dollars ($1 billion) in savings over the next three years. That will come from eliminating 1,100 DND civilian jobs and through cutting back on the use of private contractors.
Other savings come from pausing a plan to increase the regular forces from 68,000 to 70,000.
In addition, the Canadian Army is eliminating a number of weapon systems and vehicles. Thirty-four air defense anti-tank systems and the systems’ missiles will be taken out of service. Also to be removed from service are TOW missile launchers and 2,200 TOW missiles.
In addition, the Canadian Forces will pull its personnel out of the NATO airborne warning and control system program, and it has withdrawn from NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance system, which is to acquire a fleet of UAVs.
But Harper noted in his letter to MacKay that of the 20 billion Canadian dollar defense budget, more than 9 billion Canadian dollars goes to corporate or institutional support and services. A further 2 billion Canadian dollars is for management and command and control, he added. That leaves only 9 billion to support front-line capabilities, the prime minister wrote.
“It is apparent that there is a serious imbalance in our current defence organization,” he wrote.
Harper told the defense minister he needed to work closely with the prime minister’s office to make further reductions. Among those, Harper suggested reducing duplication in civilian and military management, reducing activities that do not contribute directly to operational military readiness, and looking at selling off DND property.
Harper also told MacKay he needed to change defense procurement practices to make them more accountable and efficient.
Defense sources said it will be up to MacKay to determine how best to proceed with further reductions.
In response to questions about what further cuts MacKay might make, his spokesman, Jay Paxton, said “officials continue to review and assess resource allocation at the [DND] and the Canadian Forces, and will promptly disclose any final decisions to the Canadian public.” Paxton provided no other details.
Lawson also would not give specifics on where further cuts might come from, saying this will be decided in the future. But he added: “There is very little fat,” to cut.
“What we need to do now is continue to hold on to as many capabilities as we can,” Lawson said after the prime minister’s speech. “We are in a period of tighter funds, as are all the departments. It’s going to require us to look hard for new ways of doing things.”
Lawson did hint that some of the major equipment procurements outlined in the Conservative Party government’s defense strategy could be reduced. “We’ll have to look at all of those options,” he said.
He did not get into specifics. The government’s defense strategy calls for purchasing a wide range of new equipment — from close combat armored vehicles to maritime patrol aircraft to a replacement for the CF-18 fighter jet.
Alan Williams, the DND’s former assistant deputy minister in charge of procurement, said Harper’s letter is a “slam” at MacKay for not delivering. “The prime minister is telling the defense minister to go and do the job and provide the reductions he was originally asked for.”