VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada’s Army is bearing the bulk of government-ordered defense spending cuts and has been forced to reduce training and delay some key equipment programs, the service’s commander said.
Army Commander Lt. Gen. Peter Devlin and other officers have confirmed that the service’s budget is being cut by 22 percent.
The Canadian government would not authorize the public release of figures on the extent of the Army cuts. However, budget numbers obtained by Defense News from sources show the service’s budget will drop from the 1.51 billion Canadian dollars ($1.46 billion) spent in 2011 to 1.17 billion Canadian dollars by 2015.
At the same time, however, the Department of National Defence (DND) is spending 475 million Canadian dollars more this year on consultants and contractors, prompting former Army Commander Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie to publicly criticize how the cutbacks are being handled.
Leslie, since retired, was in charge of a review team in 2011 that recommended the Canadian Forces and DND significantly cut consultants and contractors and transfer the savings to operational units.
Concerns over the impact of Army budget cuts have been building over the past year, but have recently become more pronounced as tough fiscal measures have taken hold. Some 400 reserve soldiers, serving in the Army on a full-time basis, have been cut and the jobs of 1,300 of the Army’s 4,500 civilian employees have been eliminated.
Devlin said he intends to protect key training to ensure the Army can remain combat-ready.
Army officers said budget cuts have also delayed a program, worth at least 400 million Canadian dollars, to purchase 1,500 trucks. Industry representatives met with government procurement specialists to discuss the standard military pattern truck project on Jan. 20, but no firm details have emerged on when the vehicles might be purchased.
The Army also is disposing of its main air defense systems as well as tube-launched guided missiles to save money.
The move to dispose of the Air Defence Anti-Tank System (ADATS) leaves the Canadian Forces without a primary air defense system. Army officers say that decision is risky, but the service has determined it is acceptable in the short term. The Army plans to introduce a new air defense system around 2017, but work on that project has been delayed because of lack of funding. Other projects, such as the purchase of a multiple rocket system for the Army, have also been delayed.
John MacLennan, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees, which represents civilian workers, said the cuts are hitting a wide range of employees at Army bases. Those range from weapon technicians to vehicle mechanics to cleaning staff.
“The Army is feeling the most pain out of all three” services, MacLennan said.
MacLennan said the cuts are hurting the Army’s combat readiness. He pointed out that military personnel are required to fill in for the civilian support staff who are being laid off.
“The work isn’t going to disappear, but now they’re going to have to take soldiers from the front-line positions to do jobs that civilians are now doing,” MacLennan said.
The move to cut the Army while the defense department hires more consultants and professional staff angered Leslie, who before he retired produced an extensive report on how the Canadian Forces should prepare for the future.
In his 97-page “Report on Transformation,” Leslie recommended the Canadian Forces “ruthlessly focus” on reducing its spending on private contractors. He called for an 80 percent cut in management consultants and reducing other contractors by 30 percent. He figured at least 445 million Canadian dollars could be saved and that money could be redirected to operational military units.
“It’s going exactly in the wrong way,” he said on CBC Radio on Jan. 19. He also noted that the Army cuts are going to hurt force readiness levels.
The Canadian Forces and DND spend a little more than 3 billion Canadian dollars a year on consultants and private contractors. But Conservative government officials say the Army cuts have to be put in context.
Jay Paxton, a spokesman for Defence Minister Peter MacKay, said since 2006, the Conservative government has increased the overall defense budget by 6 billion Canadian dollars. In that time frame, which coincided with the Afghanistan war, the Army received an extra 500 million Canadian dollars to spend, he added in an email.
Paxton also noted that Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan, which ended in 2011, required the assistance of contractors and professional services.
“Our government is taking action on services that are no longer priorities,” he stated. “We have already identified hundreds of millions of dollars in savings over three years in budgets associated with contracting and in-service support of defense material, and we are transforming the defense organization so that defense resources are focused on operational priorities.”
Paxton, however, did not offer an explanation on why, if this were the case, spending on contracting and professional services increased by 475 million Canadian dollars.
The DND did not respond to questions about contractors and the provision of professional services.