Defense industry officials say they expect Canada's purchase of a new maritime aircraft to replace the existing fleet of CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes, above, to be delayed well beyond the 2018-2020 period originally planned. (Canadian Forces)
OTTAWA — Canada’s military is rewriting its defense procurement strategy as it reduces troop deployments overseas and scales back on operations in the Arctic.
The new strategy — expected to be released this year — will update the ambitious 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy, which called for spending up to 60 billion Canadian dollars ($59 billion) on new equipment over the next two decades.
That strategy proposed purchasing a fleet of new close-combat armored vehicles, maritime patrol aircraft, search-and-rescue planes, a replacement for the CF-18 fighter aircraft, trucks for the Army, and supply ships and new surface combatants for the Navy.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay acknowledged in a Feb. 22 conference call with journalists that “there is a necessity to adjust and synchronize that [strategy] document with realities of both operational tempo and, of course, the fiscal realities.”
He did not provide details, but military and industry sources say the strategy is being rewritten to stretch acquisition projects over more years. What specific procurements might be directly affected by the rewriting of the strategy is unclear.
But defense industry officials say they are already seeing a slowdown in the proposed purchase of major programs such as the fixed-wing search-and-rescue aircraft. They also expect the purchase of a new maritime aircraft to replace the existing fleet of Lockheed Martin CP-140 Aurora surveillance planes to be delayed well beyond the 2018-2020 period originally planned.
On March 11, the Air Force Association of Canada said it appears the acquisition of the new maritime patrol aircraft outlined in the Canada First Defence Strategy “will not happen in a timely manner.” The association, made up of 7,000 retired military personnel, called on the government to deal with the delay by upgrading the fleet of Aurora aircraft so they could operate until 2030.
The updated defense strategy is not expected to be released until later this year.
“There is no set date, but I can confirm that work continues on the Canada First Defence Strategy and it will be released following government approval,” said Paloma Aguilar, MacKay’s press secretary.
At the time of its 2008 release, government and military officials said the strategy provided predictable and stable funding for the military over a 20-year period. But opposition members of Parliament at the time questioned whether there would be enough funding for the equipment acquisitions outlined in the strategy.
As part of its plan to deal with budget reductions, the Army has called a halt to all mountain, jungle and desert warfare training and will reduce Arctic operations and exercises.
That move, in particular, undercuts the Canadian government’s much-publicized plans to establish a major presence in the Arctic to enforce sovereignty in the region and secure natural resources there.
But Army commander Lt. Gen. Peter Devlin warned in January that he had no choice but to reduce operations in the north to save money.
“Recent Northern exercises and operations highlight the fact that conduct of these activities can cost from five to seven times more than if they were conducted in Southern Canada,” Devlin wrote in the document “Programme Assessment 2013-14 Canadian Army.” That 14-page report, signed by Devlin on Jan. 31, was leaked to Defense News.
“The Army will have to limit/reduce the scope of its activities in the North, thus directly impacting on Canada’s ability to exercise Arctic sovereignty,” Devlin added in the assessment.
The assessment also calls for international deployments and training exercises to be limited.
Additional cuts should be expected in operations and maintenance and civilian jobs, Devlin wrote, but he did not provide more details.
“This period of fiscal uncertainty and reduction will have an impact on the way the CA [Canadian Army] has been accustomed to conducting its business for the past decade,” he added. “As a result, the CA is being forced to review the way it trains and sustains its soldiers for all phases of war.”
As part of the Canadian government’s austerity program, the Defence Department and Canadian Forces had originally identified 1.1 billion Canadian dollars in cuts to be made over a three-year period starting in 2011. But last June, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on MacKay to make further cuts.
According to government spending estimates released Feb. 25, the Defence Department’s budget will now drop from 20.2 billion Canadian dollars in fiscal 2011-2012 to 17.9 billion Canadian dollars in fiscal 2013-2014. A fiscal year runs from April to April.
The Canadian Forces and Defence Department had already been trying to save money by eliminating more than 1,100 civilian jobs. Other savings are expected to come from temporarily delaying a plan to increase the size of the regular forces to 70,000 from the current 68,000.
In addition, the Canadian Army is eliminating a number of weapon systems and vehicles from its inventory. Thirty-four air defense anti-tank systems and the inventory of missiles for the systems will be taken out of service. Also to be removed from service are TOW missile launchers and 2,200 TOW wire-guided missiles.
The Canadian Air Force is also pulling its personnel out of the NATO airborne warning and control system program and has withdrawn from NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance system, which is to acquire a fleet of UAVs.
Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson told journalists Feb. 22 that cutting costs would be a priority for the Canadian military in the coming years. “It will be our center of gravity for a year, two years, three years to come,” he said.