Monday, July 11, 2005

Old Canadian military competencies don't die, they just fade away...

Babble on.

The Armorer at Castle Argghhh!!! has posted a tidbit on the Canadian Forces' attempt at restructuring, and as usual, he is being quite a gentleman about it. By that, I mean he expresses some polite enthusiasm for the effort, whether or not he actually agrees with the specific actions being taken. As a Red Ensigner, John has come to understand that the Canadians who actually read his site are already a little touchy about the problems plaguing the CF, and don't need any salt ground into their wounds.

John could have been much more critical, as the steps being taken to turn PPCLI troops into Strathconas aren't universally applauded, even within the CF. While I don't take the opinions of two Corporals as the Gospel-truth on matters of strategic restructuring, I can't dismiss them out of hand either. I'd be curious to hear from any serving or former Combat Arms soldiers, regardless of rank, as to how they feel about this process - in comments or e-mail, your call.

Unfortunately, the supposed "transformation" of our military hasn't yet even staunched the bleeding yet. Via my Chief Ottawa Correspondent, faithful readers of Babbling Brooks (who have now dwindled to a short-strength Pictionary team) will be interested to learn that private contractors will soon be providing basic weapons training to CF members. Yes, you read that right: civilians will be teaching soldiers how to shoot.

The successful applicants will have experience in heavy equipment and weapons. Among other things, they will train recruits how to fire the cannon on the army's LAV-III armoured vehicle.

Until now, the army has handled such combat training in-house.

It is wrong that our army has reached this nadir. It is wrong that we as Canadians have allowed it. And it would be wrong to trust that our Liberal oligarchy has the political will and discipline to fix the problems they themselves have either created or perpetuated throughout the last decade.

Since its release in April 2005, Canada's Defence Policy Statement (DPS) has been greeted with both enthusiasm and caution. The enthusiasm is warranted. Given the DPS' bold vision and a $13 billion increase in defence spending on the horizon, many in the defence community hope the Canadian Forces (CF) will become a stronger, more influential military. At the very least, Ottawa's promise of new money suggests that the CF is finally emerging from the decade of overstretch it endured following the end of the Cold War.

Yet the caution that met the DPS is justified, too. As Martin Shadwick notes, the volte-face is a Canadian defence policy staple. Defence spending commitments made by the current government could be diluted or reversed after the next election, especially if the balance of power in the House of Commons is held by the Bloc Québecois or New Democratic Party. Alternatively, an economic downturn might reduce projected federal surpluses, compelling Ottawa to cut spending or accept budget deficits. The federal government might be forced to choose between cutting promised social services or curtailing defence expenditures. Past experience indicates that defence would not prevail in such a trade-off, leaving the DPS' restructuring goals in limbo.

As Lagassé notes later in the article, even if the funding does come through as the Fiberals promised, it will almost certainly not amount to enough to complete the vision laid out in the DPS. And if the operational tempo remains at a higher-than-sustainable level, the CF will continue to bleed personnel - a huge problem for the Canadian Armed Forces.

Strangely enough, although the military seems to understand that hiring civilians with intimate knowledge of Canadian weapons systems means cannibalizing its own front-line and training units for experts, they're proceeding anyhow.

"This will be fairly new ground for us," said Lt.-Col. Steve Strachan, chief of staff at the Gagetown CTC.

He expects the winning contractors to be people who have left or are thinking of leaving the Armed Forces.

"We are anticipating a little risk that some of the people we have on staff now may opt to take their retirement and take some of these positions," Strachan acknowledged.

With stories like the ones highlighted here, it's hard to know if the CF is moving forwards, backwards, or standing still in the grand scheme of things. The only thing we know for sure is that we aren't out of the woods yet. Not even close.

Babble off.

Update: John has kindly linked to this post with an update to his own, and given me a gentle reminder of what he does to earn a paycheque these days:

And I should note, full disclosure, that the Armorer makes a living since his retirement doing things like, well, providing training to active military personnel, developing the tools to provide that training and now doing analytical work on myriad things about the Army of the future, which frees up the young healthy bucks to go do things like, um, OIF and OEF... and instead of a Major with 15 years of service under his belt doing it, you get someone with, um, (feh, this makes me feel old) 30 years of experience doing it... but cheaper than someone with equivalent length of service.

Fair enough. I responded in e-mail to him:

Just to be clear, I have no problem with civilians training military personnel in specific areas where the expertise lies outside the military, or where the training isn't military-specific. So, for example, letting civvies train soldiers on how to use PowerPoint isn't a big deal. Neither would having civvies train the trainers on a new weapon system (eg. the test pilots and engineers at Boeing and Lockheed Martin getting the military up to speed on the new F-22 they've bought).

I don't even have a problem with former active duty soldiers taking over instruction in areas where they've forgotten more about the topic than the young bucks will ever know.

But when you go about it the way our CF has - contracting basic flight training to a big civilian firm, recruiting civilian trainers from your own active ranks when retention is such a critical issue, using ex-servicemen to conduct general military-specific training on an existing system (like how to fire a turret gun) - you start to erode the ability of the military to sustain its own base of competency. Besides, if you deprive the young leader of training opportunities, you may eventually wind up with veteran contractors who have never had to teach before.

Think of it this way, John: who taught you? And how did you learn to teach? Do you think it would have inspired confidence in U.S. Army leadership to have had a civilian and/or retiree providing basic training on your main weapon?

Personally, I think having an active-service military trainer as the undisputed expert on things like that is important, if only because it sets an example for the trainee - a standard of competence through leadership.


At 2:43 p.m., Blogger John of Argghhh! said...

Heh. CAPT H left out the part about contracting out training... that said - you *do* understand how I make a living, right?

My firm being paid by the Army to apply my 24 years of military experience to... at first training, and of late, analysis of alternatives? It's not necessarily as bad as you might think, keeping the skilled old farts doing this, freeing up the young healthy ones for work requiring a touch more vigor.

Just a thought.

Not that *that* particular observation on my part in any way detracts in large measure from your central thesis.


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