Our new MND hasn't cast anything in stone at this point, but he's laying out priorities for DND and the CF that make good sense to me:
“On the big scale, the top priorities are to straighten out the recruitment training system so that we can bring in the recruits and train them so to expand the armed forces,” he said.
The other big priority is to simplify the procurement process so that it’s fair and transparent, said O’Connor.
“So that Canadians everywhere know what we’re acquiring and where we’re acquiring it.”
He also wants to install an Arctic navy. O’Connor said the first of three icebreakers might arrive within five years.
“I want armed vessels in the north so that we can impose our will when necessary. I want the navy up there so we can have a three-ocean navy, so that we can move through the Arctic.”
I like his first priority, because it deals with the trickiest issue facing our CF today: training and personnel problems. Undermanning hurts our present-force capabilities, but it also hurts our future-force capabilities as a consequence. For example, a specialist PO2 who jetty-jumps to fill a slot on two different ships on back-to-back deployments isn't available to train new specialists in his trade. He's also a lot more likely to burn out - family problems, depresssion, etc - and deprive the CF of a fully trained operator. Reinvesting our 'human capital', if you will, in the training system requires some short-term sacrifices, but will pay dividends in the long-run.
I like his third priority, because it deals with a huge gap in the CF's primary mission: to defend Canadian sovereignty on our Arctic borders. Yes, there are some serious roadblocks to putting artic-ice-capable warships into action, especially if they are to be Canadian-built. We're creating a military competency from scratch, for heaven's sake - it's not going to be a walk in the park. But when the alternative is to continue to cede everything but the moral high ground to those nations who don't recognize our sovereignty, I think we have to bite the bullet and fight our way through the difficulties to make our presence felt. Will there be some mistakes made along the way? Almost certainly. Should that stop us from proceeding? Absolutely not.
O'Connor's second priority is more problematic. Perhaps he's on the right track, and perhaps he simply understands his political purview a little better than I do, but his phrasing leaves me concerned: simplifying the procurement process so it's fair and transparent.
Procurement is a gargantuan problem for the CF. But I'll be honest with you: I don't give a rodent's hindquarters about fairness or transparency at this point. I simply want to make sure the military has the equipment and supplies it needs, where it needs them, when it needs them. Now, don't get me wrong: process matters over the long-haul. But now is not the time for getting hung up on process above all other things.
When you're speeding down the highway at 100 km/h, and you want to change lanes, you check your mirrors, you do a shoulder-check, you signal, and then you move gradually over to the other lane. Following this process consistently greatly decreases your chances for an accident in the long-term. Following it when the big-rig directly in front of you jack-knifes could be fatal. At that point, you rely on situational awareness and swerve, because the urgency of the circumstances requires it.
In the abstract, DND's procurement process needs to be fair and transparent, too true. But when we're moving equipment into an overseas theatre on rented transport planes, moving it around slung under rented choppers, hitching rides on Dutch or American helos, keeping our air-support home because of avionics concerns and insupportability, jerry-rigging Sea Kings as troop-transports, bone-yarding our tactical transports because of airframe fatigue - and that's just off the top of my head - then our focus should be on results first, process second.
Let me be clear with an example: I'd support them buying the wrong heavy-lift helicopter at the wrong price, if it did the job and they could get it quickly. At this point, 'the perfect' can very easily scuttle 'the good' - and our men and women in uniform have been doing so much with so little for so long that 'the adequate' would still be a step up.
Still, concerns aside, at least our Minister of National Defence is moving in the right direction overall. Best of luck to him, and we'll be watching.