The Canadian government has launched a defense review that is widely expected to scale back or eliminate some of the military's planned equipment programs and could see niche roles emerge for the country's military.
But the Liberal Party government, which came to power in October promising a leaner, more agile Canadian military, has assured Parliament that some key roles, such as search and rescue operations and equipment, will remain untouched.
The government's all encompassing review, the first for the Canadian Forces since 1994, would be ready early next year and focus on the actual needs of the military, not what the various services want, said Harjit Sajjan, the country's defense minister. Sajjan said he expects the review to be made public in early 2017. It will guide the Canadian Forces on its roles for the future and set the stage for the equipment to be purchased.
"Important choices will have to be made," said Sajjan, backing away April 12 from his original claims that all capabilities were on the table.
The review had originally been tasked to examine whether the Canadian Forces still had a role to play in search-and-rescue operations. The Royal Canadian Air Force operates both fixed wing and rotary aircraft for those missions — a capability that forms the backbone of the federal government's search and rescue response.
Originally on the agenda for the defense review was an examination on whether any of those military aspects of search and rescue could be turned over to the private sector. However, Sajjan reassured Parliament that is no longer being examined.
"The previous government might have been looking at privatizing search and rescue," Sajjan told the House of Commons Tuesday, April 12. "But this government is not, because the Canadian Armed Forces play a critical role in search and rescue."
Sajjan noted that a plan to replace the country's CF-18 fighter jets as well as acquire new ships for the Royal Canadian Navy would proceed as planned and not be affected by the defense review.
Canada is in the process of acquiring new supply ships and Arctic patrol vessels for the Canadian navy. The two supply ships are expected to be in the water by 2021. Work has also begun on the Arctic patrol ships, with the first vessel expected to arrive in 2018.
The Canadian government also intends to build a new class of ship to replace the existing destroyers and frigates. That project alone is valued at CDN $26 billion (US $19 billion) but actual construction is not expected to begin until after 2022.
Sajjan, however, did not provide a timeline on the replacement program for the fighter jets. But potential contenders to replace Canada's CF-18s include the F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, Boeing's Super Hornet and Saab's Gripen.
In addition, the Liberal government is delaying spending CDN $3.7 billion on "large-scale capital projects." That money, already promised to the Department of National Defence, would be delayed until 2022.
The types of equipment projects that will be affected by the funding freeze have yet to be released publicly.
Sajjan said he wants the military to be still versed in combat operations but suggested the Canadian Forces would examine building expertise in niche areas, highlighting in particular the need to expand capabilities in cyber warfare and space operations. "We have seen cyber space become an extension of the modern battlefield," he explained.
Future equipment acquisitions will have to be relevant to the new defense policy.
Sajjan said he has met with U.S., British and Australian defense officials to hear about ongoing efforts to transform those militaries for the future.
"My goal is to establish a renewed vision for our military," he pointed out.
Sajjan has also noted that the makeup of the Canadian Forces could be changed. "Force structure is on the table," he explained. "We have to go through a very lengthy process to making sure that we have the right force structure for future needs. But right now I can't answer that question to say exactly what that structure would be."