Thursday, September 22, 2011

There Are Trends and Then There Are Trends

Lots of discussions these days about LtG Andrew Leslie, his report and "transformation" of the Canadian military.  The big issue is that headquarters staff have been growing this past decade, which means that there are fewer folks to sail ships, fly planes and go to places like Afghanistan.   My temptation is to snark and say that if there are only 79 fighter planes in the Canadian Forces, is the real shortage of pilots that are not at desks or of planes?  Same with ships.  Obviously, a bit less likely with the Land Staff (the Army). 

There has been a significant increase in staff over the past ten years, and this is not unique to Canada.  As operations in dangerous places like Afghanistan have become an on-going reality for many advanced democracies, more and more folks have been required at various headquarters to report to the folks at the top what is going on.  Indeed, one of the complaints I have heard around NATO countries and NATO itself is that there are so many demands for reports that staffs that are supposed to be doing planning cannot do so. 

General Rick Hillier re-organized the Canadian Forces with the creation of four distinct commands: Canada Command (CANCOM covers North America), Canadian Expeditionary Forces Command (CEFCOM is for all forces deployed elsewhere), Special Operations Command (duh), and Support Command (logistics).  This is really what increased the staff dedicated to HQs.  Was Hillier wrong?  He certainly does not think so, voicing his opposition to Leslie's suggestion that these four commands become re-centralized more or less.

Where is my ill-informed position? 

In between.  Taking the running of operations out of the hands of the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff made sense since that person had a heap of responsibilities, and running operations seemed to be way too much to do, in addition to being the executive officer of the entire force.  Having a person/staff running all overseas ops made sense as well, especially since other allies had similar designs (the US combatant commands are similar force deployers/operators; the Aussies built their own equivalent, the Brits staffed a similar entity and so on), which made it easier for Canada to cooperate and coordinate with the allies.  They had similar places to plug into, facilitating operational planning and so on.

So, the first question is whether one needs both a CANCOM and CEFCOM?  The US armed forces are so big that regional divisions make sense (CENTCOM, EUCOM, SOUTHCOM, etc).  Is there enough going on in and near Canada to justify their own HQ?  I am not sure, but would probably say yes, it makes sense to have one three star officer responsible for North American stuff (especially since this makes it easier to work with the four star American officer running NORTHCOM).  The real questions are not so much about these two commands in my amateur mind, but the commands for support and special ops. 

Having a separate chain of command for Special Ops does not make sense to me (even/especially for the American case) as it would make sense for the senior officer responsible for a theatre of operations to have command of the special operations types wandering through.  Part of the idea of having operational commanders is to overcome the distinctions among services/branches--that a navy officer responsible for the Pacific, for instance, commands US Army, Air Force, Marines and Navy assets in that area, providing some glue to unify these services.  Sure, Canada talks the game of unified services, but still the operational commander has part of his/her job making sure the branches play well together.  So, why then have the Special Ops folks be distinct?  I am sure a Special type would be able to argue with me about their need for a distinct chain of command, but I don't buy it.  If they are playing in someone's sandbox, that sandbox owner should have command of them.  Same for support command.  The various staffs should generate, train and equip the forces, but should be commanded in ops by either Canada Command or CEFCOM.  See, I have managed to cut HQ's by half (less than that, I guess since the support and SOF commands are probably smaller and cheaper) with no real sweat while keeping Hillier's intent.

Of course, all of this reminds me of how universities facing budget problems rarely cut administrators. 

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