The Update to Strong. Secure. Engaged.
Theatres and Threats
Strategies, Outcomes, and Capabilities
Funding, Organization and Procurement
People, Culture, and Institutions
Dollars, Sense… and Speed
Punching below our weight
Hard power isn’t everything, but it does matter. Canada is rich in geography, resources, and people; is a member of the world’s best and richest clubs: the G7, G20, and OECD; and yet punches well below its weight in defence.
I will speak here to three aspects that can be fixed only by Canada’s political and civilian leadership: funding, and (unsurprising given my background) organization and procurement.
Sine qua non
In private, it appears, Canada has been “honest” that it has no intention of increasing its below-average contribution to the global defence and security environment that underpins its trade and prosperity. I can only assume this is a personal view, and not this nation’s defence policy.
In public, Canada has committed to a defence spending floor of 2% of GDP. Canada has the means to do its part, and including the Coast Guard, CSIS, CSE and RCMP operations abroad within Canada’s defence spending totals is perfectly appropriate.
Absent this funding, however, policy is simply wishful intent.
Making R&D Great Again
It wasn’t always better in the old days. but one thing was: the alignment of purpose between defence procurement and defence research & development.
In following the then trend, the separation in the 90s of R&D from DND’s Materiel Group had the unintended consequence of rupturing the operational-level connections between R&D and the procurement of defence materiel.
Previously, as integral to the Materiel Group, with daily participation at the top tables of DND’s procurement organization, R&D leadership collaborated as a natural organizational course of events with their engineering and program management colleagues toward a singular purpose: exploring and proving the capabilities the CAF needed urgently for the immediate, and importantly for the future.
R&D made a difference. Canadian integrated R&D resulted in world-beating systems and industrial development.
Speed of procurement is of the essence. Just ask the Ukraine.
Canada’s procurement system is generally fair, open, and transparent, performing well in many situations and occasionally showing that it can move quickly.
But swift it is generally not, and two situations bring the system to a state of near paralysis.
The first is when there really is only one alternative. Canada’s competitive culture becomes a weakness, incurring debilitating delay as staff seek ways of tilting the field to remove advantage from the stronger competitor. The outcome may now be a more competitive 50:50, but it is no longer fair.
When the weaker competitor wins, the outcome is not just poor value for money. Our military is uncompetitive where it counts: in-theatre.
The second situation is when technology is moving faster than the speed of procurement. Canada hesitates to risk obsolescence before procurement can conclude, but also leaves our military firmly in the past as to its use.
The answer is to treat it as the developmental program that it is: progressive approvals authorizing negotiations toward value-for-money contracts to procure exemplars (yes, even expensive exemplars) to trial, learn from, and provide an interim operational capability evolving alongside. And yes, with R&D and operations integrated, and open lines to the various industry players. Imagine!
Speed of defence procurement is not a bureaucratic attribute; it’s a defence capability.
Room for improvement
Canada has room for improvement in its funding, organization, and procurement. Increased funding will take time to grow institutional capacity and force structure. Integrating R&D back into the Materiel Group will realign priorities at a time of fierce technological competition east and west. And de-conflating “fair” with “50:50” and using a program approach to keep pace with rapid technological change will do much to ensure “speed matters”.
Jake Jacobson has studied and served for more than five decades in defence: at sea and in major programs for the Navy, in industry in a variety of executive roles, and as an Assistant Deputy Minister Chief of Staff for the Materiel Group in the Department of National Defence.