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Military’s chief orders halt to non-essential activities, focus on personnel crisis


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OTTAWA — Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre is ordering an immediate halt to all non-essential activities in favour of boosting military recruitment and retention, with the Canadian Armed Forces facing an unprecedented personnel crisis.

Eyre issued the sweeping order to senior commanders across the country on Thursday, saying dramatic action is needed to ensure the military has the troops it needs to respond to growing demands and threats at home and abroad.

The reconstitution order sets a completely new direction for the military after years of high-tempo deployments and operations in Canada and overseas by making the recruitment and retention of personnel its top priority.

“The interim goal is to address shortcomings that are preventing the CAF more specifically from being in the position it needs to (be) in order to excel as a modern and combat-ready military force,” the order reads.

It later adds: “The rebuilding process needs to occur on an accelerated timeline given the geopolitical environment that we find ourselves operating within, especially in light of the invasion of Ukraine.”

Expected for several months, the order follows a period of unprecedented activity by the military. That includes large-scale deployments to Iraq, Mali, Ukraine and Latvia as well as helping with the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters in Canada.

It also coincides with lagging recruitment rates and a shortage of experienced personnel to train new recruits and lead actual missions, which Eyre said “continue to imperil our ability to recruit, train, employ and retain diverse Canadian talent, thus jeopardizing the readiness and long-term health of Canada’s defence capabilities.”

The Armed Forces is supposed to be adding about 5,000 troops to the regular and reserve forces to meet a growing list of demands, but is instead short more than 10,000 trained members — meaning about one in 10 positions are currently vacant.

The problem has become so acute that some senior offers have started using the word “crisis” in interviews with The Canadian Press, including the commander of the navy and the officer responsible for military recruitment and training.

Eyre’s order reflects on the seriousness of the situation, saying: “Owing to personnel and staffing levels that have been compounded by the CAF’s heavy commitment to operations, the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a culture crisis, National Defence continues to lose its ability to deliver and sustain concurrent operations at the scope and scale necessary.”

To that end, the order directs commanders to prioritize fully staffing recruiting centres and training schools and calls for a complete reassessment of the military’s current structure and composition.

Military commanders will take a closer look at what missions and other activities are no longer critical, whether certain positions in their units are no longer needed, and even whether certain recruitment targets are still realistic.

Eyre also opens the door to more flexible working arrangements for service members while emphasizing the continued need to change the military’s culture to better attract and retain women, Indigenous people and other under-represented groups.

“Culture change will remain the top departmental priority throughout the reconstitution process,” the order reads. “This endeavour will require significant resources and a willingness to embrace recommendations from external review authorities.”

The new approach won’t come without risks, which Eyre acknowledged in directing a reduction of large-scale training exercises in favour of more individualized classes as the military focuses on getting enough troops with basic skills into the ranks.

While military commanders have previously underscored the importance of large-scale exercises, the order says Eyre “will be ready to accept the associated reduction in readiness levels using a risk-based approach.”

And while many Armed Forces members join to serve on missions, the defence chief ordered commanders to “strike a balance between providing deployment opportunities to junior members and the need to rebuild our mid-level leader capacity.”

The defence chief indicated the reconstitution effort will take up to eight years, with the immediate goal of growing the force, and working toward the broader objective of ensuring the military’s size and structure are lined up with future needs and missions.

“External events such as major domestic emergencies caused by climate change, economic crises impacting the federal government’s fiscal flexibility, and widespread disinformation campaigns creating a lack of public confidence in national institutions could impede efforts to reconstitute,” he added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Canada donating four Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine

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Ottawa – Defence Minister Anita Anand says Canada will send four of its German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine “in the coming weeks.”

Anand announced the move this afternoon, making Canada the latest country to promise the heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Canada is also providing trainers, spare parts and ammunition, while Anand left open the possibility of sending more Leopards in the future.

Ukraine has implored Western allies to send such weapons for weeks as its forces struggle to make gains against Russia.

But Canada was unable to respond until Germany agreed on Wednesday that countries could re-export their Leopards.

The Leopards that Canada is donating are among the 112 currently owned by the Canadian Army, which includes 82 designed specifically for combat.

Retired military officers had warned that any donation would have an impact on the Army and will need to be replaced, given that the fleet is already stretched thin.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2023.

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Pressure builds for Canada to send tanks to Ukraine after Germany gives OK

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Pressure is building for Canada to send some of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine after Germany decided to provide the heavy weapons and allow other countries to do the same.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced his government’s decision on Wednesday following weeks of hesitation that created impatience among his country’s allies, saying Berlin will send 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks.

Scholz’s announcement came shortly before U.S. President Joe Biden revealed plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opening a potential floodgate following weeks of pleas by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The goal is for Germany and its allies to provide Ukraine with 88 of the German-made Leopards, which would make up two battalions, and work alongside the U.S.-made Abrams in launching counteroffensives against Russian forces.

Yet while Poland has already promised to send Leopards if Germany agreed, and other European nations such as Finland and Spain have indicated a willingness to do the same, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was more circumspect on Wednesday.

“Canada has stepped up significantly and without hesitation to support the Ukrainian people, and Ukraine itself,” he said at a news conference marking the end of a three-day cabinet retreat in Hamilton.

“We will continue to be there to give whatever support we can to Ukraine. I won’t be making an announcement today. But I can tell you we are looking very, very closely at what more we can do to support Ukraine.”

The Canadian Armed Forces has 112 Leopard 2s in its inventory in a number of different variations. Those include 82 designed for combat and 30 that are used for engineering purposes and recovering disabled vehicles.

Retired lieutenant-general and former Canadian Army commander Jean-Marc Lanthier said in an interview that any donation will almost certainly need to balance the needs and benefits to Ukraine against the potential impact on Canada’s military.

“Getting rid of any tanks — because we have so few, and so few that are actively working — would have an immediate impact on the level of readiness of the Army,” said Lanthier, who served as an armoured officer.

“Is that something that should stop us from sending tanks? I think we have a moral responsibility in terms of the immediacy of the requirements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian people. They are fighting a war. We are not.”

Canada bought its Leopards from Germany during the war in Afghanistan. They are notionally divided into squadrons of 19 tanks each, with two squadrons in Edmonton and a third at CFB Gagetown, N.B. Most of the rest are at the armoured training school in Gagetown.

“And normally you keep a bunch of them at a depot ready to be deployed, but that’s not something we’re doing necessarily because we don’t have the numbers,” said Lanthier.

Adding to the pressure is the fact only about half of Canada’s Leopards are operational on any given day due to maintenance and repair requirements for the surprisingly complex vehicles, he added.

Department of National Defence spokesman Andrew McKelvey would not comment Wednesday on what percentage of the military’s Leopard 2s are currently operational, and how many are out of service for maintenance and other reasons.

“Tank maintenance is similar to aircraft maintenance, and the status of the fleet at any given moment depends on a comprehensive maintenance, repair, and overhaul schedule, which is tied to specific requirements for training or operational employment,” he said.

“For operational security reasons we cannot specify how many Leopard 2s are being maintained at any given time or give indication of their maintenance schedule.”

The question facing the government will ultimately be whether the benefit of sending tanks to Ukraine outweighs the impact on the military, Lanthier said. If it does, another question will be whether those tanks would be replaced — and if so, how quickly.

“If we deem that we want to retain that capability that tanks give us in terms of a modern, battle-capable army, we need tanks,” he said. “If we accept that, then anything we give has to be replaced.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.

⁠ — With files from The Associated Press.

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