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Canadian Military Needs a Battle on Bureaucracy

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Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie's vaunted report on restructuring and streamlining the Canadian military (mainly the army, it seems) is apparently causing shock waves among those who've read it.

Leslie is now retired, and can speak more freely. He's quoted in Maclean's as having said the "tail," or administrative staff in Ottawa's Defence headquarters, has grown like topsy and "we've got almost as many people in Ottawa as we have in the regular-force deployable army."

One is tempted to ask "what else is new?"

DND has always been filled with more non-combatant military people and civilian staff than those who actually serve in the field think is necessary. The tail wagging the dog is a familiar refrain.

More to the point, those who run the military and make decisions, are traditionally staff people, far removed from actual operations. Perhaps it's always been this way. In WWII, Allied forces always had a larger and longer tail than the enemy.

In the U.S. military, the tooth-to-tail ratio is something like 10 behind the lines (including logistical support) to maintain one combat soldier. (The better the logistical, the more effective the combat soldier.)

In totalitarian forces, the support system for combat soldiers is usually weaker.

Lt.-Gen. Leslie knows this and wants a better "tooth-to-tail" balance. He did his job, but is not convinced his recommendation to cut staff in Ottawa, and other measures to improve efficiency will be acceptable. It the past (the Trudeau years), austerity measures have damaged the military and not resulted in more efficiency. Cynicism reigns.

Maclean's quotes Leslie recalling that when he laid out his efficiency plans to military leaders in Ottawa, their near-unanimous reactions was, "Andy, we support transformation... but don't touch my stuff."

Military people are so conditioned to being picked on by politicians and bureaucrats eager to cut the defence budget that they're wary of any proposed changes -- which almost always include budget cuts for improved equipment.

But Leslie has a point when he notes that since Canadians began serious fighting in the Khandahar region of Afghanistan, spending on the rear echelon and support system expanded four times faster than spending on the fighting troops -- whose numbers remained relatively stable during this time.

If one looks closely at DND, it will be found that civilians of equivalent to general officer rank, outnumber uniformed generals. This gives an idea of the power structure.

Every time proposals are registered to increase efficiency in the army and to cut waste, something seems to go wrong. Forty years ago Paul Hellyer, as Defence Minister, sought to streamline the military, and his changes dismayed many in the military. Some of the changes then are now being changed back.

A while back it was decided the Canadian army could function without tanks -- deemed leftover from past wars. As it turned out, we ended up renting German tanks for Afghanistan. We sold our helicopters to Holland -- then in Afghanistan, rented them back. Not reassuring.

Maybe a positive aspect of Lt.-Gen. Leslie's "Report on Transformation" is that retired Gen. Rick Hillier, once Canada's top soldier, is quoted in Maclean's: "You try to implement that report as it is and you destroy the Canadian military." Such vehemence may indicate Leslie's on the right track. Then again, maybe not.

In other businesses (Journalism?) reducing bureaucracy usually increases efficiency. Why not in the military too?