The cover of the Toronto Star on March 10th had a seemingly shocking title, but not so for those aware of the current status of the Canadian Military.
“Army running on empty” the headline ran, subtitled with “Broken-down vehicles pile up in Canada as Afghan war sparks equipment ‘crisis'”.
Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie, who is Chief of the Land Staff and Commander Land Forces Command of the Canadian Forces, warned senators by saying: “We are running out of time to keep your army functioning the way that it should because our vehicle breakage rates are now far higher than I’ve ever seen them.”
This issue may force the army to take a one year ‘operational break’ to rebuild, starting after the current commitment in Afghanistan is over in July of 2011. Despite this break Leslie said the army would still be prepared to respond to emergencies if called on: “We will always be prepared to carry out our various national and international tasks.”
The wear-and-tear is partly caused by the weight of the extra armour that has been added to vehicles to shield troops from roadside bombs. To add to the woes the army is short about 100 mechanics. “We are not in a position to repair them because we don’t have enough mechanics and technicians,” Leslie said.
Conservative Senator Pierre Claude Nolin said he was ‘stunned’ to hear this. “It’s fine to buy equipment but if we don’t have mechanics and technicians to maintain the equipment then we have a serious problem,” he said.
Leslie reported that Canada has 40 state-of-the-art Leopard 2A6M tanks sitting in Montréal – currently unavailable for use because Ottawa has not issued the contract for the vehicles to be retrofitted to Canadian specifications. 20 of the new tanks are in use on the front lines of Afghanistan but Leslie wants the other 40 tanks to be in service to train troops in Canada.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the government intends to get the Leopards into action expeditiously. MacKay has recently received the backing of U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration in his bid to become the next NATO secretary general. It is said that Canada is deserving of the top NATO post in recognition of the load the country has carried in the last few years. Fomer Prime Minister Jean Chrétien complained, after then-Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley‘s bid for the post failed in 2003, that Canada was little more than NATO’s “cannon fodder”.
The issue of Canada’s military is a pressing one that I will explore further in future posts.