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Evidence of meeting #14 for National Defence in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was soldiers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Peter J. Devlin  Chief of the Land Staff, Department of National Defence
Major Gino Moretti  Canadian Forces

9:45 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

Thank you for your question.

I would like to make two points quickly, if you don't mind.

I believe that Lieutenant-General Leslie's views and my own are quite similar. He said that this was an option

that warrants further study. I respect that view, but I think there are greater strengths in maintaining a regional structure that has the reserve and the regular integrated.

So I'm thankful for his thoughts. I think he presented them as thoughts that we needed to at least give study to, as an option, which we did.

I don't think there is a need to change our doctrine. I don't think that was part of what was offered by General Leslie. I think our doctrine is sound.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you.

Mr. Strahl, it's your turn.

November 22nd, 2011 / 9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

Thank you.

Thank you for being here today.

As we've studied readiness, our committee has heard about a number of risks related to readiness and the choices you face. There is the danger--and many armies have done this--of preparing for the last war rather than for the next one. There is also the danger of preparing for so many scenarios that we are in fact ready for none. I think there's another one, which we've identified today, and that is so narrowly focusing on a single capability that the army wouldn't be flexible enough to respond to a wide variety of threats.

How does the army balance those three threats and achieve levels of readiness that are in fact relevant to the real world?

9:50 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

Thank you very much, sir.

The army alongside the Canadian Forces spends a fair bit of energy scanning for the characteristics of the battlefields of tomorrow to be able to identify and challenge those types of characteristics. I think we have maintained a level of integration inside the Canadian Forces, with the army working with the air force in particular, and lesser so with the navy. It also provides a level of flexibility for tomorrow.

Having a contemporary training scenario that is respectful of the characteristics and challenges of tomorrow allows one to adapt in the environment we are in. We train to level five--so the combat team, the combined arms team. We grow it once the Government of Canada identifies a particular theatre, a particular response that Canada will deal with. I talk from a conflict point of view.

On our ability to respond to natural disasters, we are always at a high level of preparedness and readiness, whether that be for water purification, health care, or engineering services.

I think it's a matter of being respectful of the challenges and characteristics of the battlefields of tomorrow; working alongside our sister services; keeping a regular and a reserve element close and tight; and achieving a level of base training from which we can grow with time.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

I wonder if you wouldn't mind expanding on that. When we were in Wainwright, some of us were able to observe the training. General Bowes remarked how it had changed, and that ten years ago there wouldn't have been that cooperation between the RCAF and the army in training.

Can you expand on how the interoperability between the forces has developed over the last number of years, and what effect that has had on the readiness of the army?

9:50 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

That's an awesome point; a great point.

The army and the air force are closer than we have ever been, certainly since I have been in uniform. I think the real key is tied to respect in that there is a very healthy respect among soldiers and airmen and airwomen.

On the aviation front, having helicopters on the battlefield today--and I'm sure tomorrow--has grown in importance. We synchronize our training so that the air force has adjusted to our 24-month manage readiness plan. Our cycles are now synchronized. We harmonize the training events, as you saw in Wainwright, to get maximum goodness out of them.

So I think it is built on respect. There is the synchronization of training opportunities, and I think we have grown a lot over the past decade in particular, both the air force and the army.

9:50 a.m.

Sgt Maj Gino Moretti

If I may sir, from an NCO perspective, when allowed to work with the air force I have skydived static-line free-fall. I have rappelled from a helicopter and off a building. I have been on a naval ship. I've jumped into the ocean with the marine corps.

It allows soldiers to be enthused and excited about their training. We never know what environment we'll have to go into. It gives us confidence, and will consequently give to the next generation of soldiers some of the tasks and professionalism they need to grow.

We are working to get closer and closer. Everything is combined. This is a great nation. It's a big nation also. The more cooperation, the greater success we will have in the future.

9:55 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

Could I emphasize one more point from a soldier's point of view?

As you jump on the back of an airframe today, as you jump on the back of a Chinook helicopter flown by Canadians, you'll probably see the regimental banner of the soldiers who are operating alongside our air force buds on the roof of that helicopter. They are unbelievably operationally focused at delivering the soldiers safely to their landing zone. If you jump in the back of a Herc or a C-17, there are guys and gals who are awesomely focused at their operational task, whether it be delivering gear or bringing gear back to Canada. You sense that as soon as you step on that platform.

That just reinforces Mr. Moretti's point. It's centred on respect. I think that is what's very much alive and vibrant today.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you.

Mr. Caron, you have five minutes.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Lieutenant-General, Sergeant-Major, thank you for being with us today.

I am more interested in numbers. So, I would like to present some of the data we have been given and ask you to comment.

According to the 2010-2011 Report on Plans and Priorities for National Defence, in terms of readiness, the regular land force complement should increase from 17,400 to 18,200 between 2011 and 2013. That is an increase of about 800. Since we are withdrawing from Afghanistan, is that additional strength necessary?

How do you explain the fact that, even while the complement is increasing in size, funding will be 3.7% lower over the same period? So there will simultaneously be an increase in the land force complement, in terms of readiness, and lower base funding.

9:55 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

Thank you.

Changes in strength always occur subsequent to recruitment and military personnel retiring from the forces.

We balance our strategic intake with an attrition rate.

At the present time, the rate is about 7%, I believe. However, in terms of the staff complement, we do have exact numbers.

So it's expected--we expect--that there will be differences in effectifs over time, going up and down, with some of those effectifs based on their physical or emotional health. When you talk about the availability of a unit and how many soldiers out of that unit of 1,000 who live

in Valcartier and could be deployed today, I would say it is normally about 15%.

are not deployable. Perhaps there's a family issue, a pregnancy, a broken leg, or something along those lines. So our numbers go up and down. That's what we expect the adjustments in the budget in 3.6....

You did say 3.6%, didn't you?

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Actually, it's 3.7%.

9:55 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

Perfect.

So we deal with those adjustments, which affects how much time we have in the field and the level of training we achieve.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Let's talk about increased staff levels in terms of readiness. Given the current situation—a withdrawal from Afghanistan where a great many troops were on deployment—how can you justify planning for increased numbers of soldiers who will be ready for deployment?

9:55 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

Are you talking about—

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

We are withdrawing from Afghanistan at this time, where we previously had deployed a lot of soldiers. At the same time, we are seeing an increase in the available land force complement in the coming years, in spite of that.

9:55 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

I'm not sure I understand your question.

10 a.m.

Sgt Maj Gino Moretti

Allow me to take that question.

We are continually seeking to improve the effectiveness of our staff. However, it is also important to understand how the Canadian Forces are divided up. For example, 35% of our members provide additional support to the other commands, including the Canada Command, CENTCOM and COMSOCAN. Those members wear an army uniform, but serve under another command.

In order to maintain an effective organization, we have to constantly make adjustments based on requirements. Members in all of our units can carry out tasks assigned to them by their commander. That is why when Canada proceeds with a deployment, we have the option of using class C reservists in a proportion of 25%, as the gentleman mentioned. That guarantees us 100% operational readiness in cases involving the highest level of risk.

In Canada, we do in fact have the necessary efficiency to be able to ensure that each command can carry out all the tasks assigned to it here in Canada, 24/7, or any additional tasks that may arise in times of crisis.

10 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

We want to keep the same staff level in the Canadian Forces, except in the reserve force, where we are trying to bring the complement up to 20,000 from its current level of 17,000.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you very much, Mr. Caron.

Mr. Norlock.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Conservative Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Through you, to the witnesses, thank you for coming this morning.

General, when I listen to some of the questions, it reminds me of a conversation I had with some folks at CFB Trenton just before we were elected. I can recall one of the people who worked there telling me that the base commander didn't have enough money in his budget for simple things, such as cutting the grass and things like that.

I think we're in a different time when people talk about cutting back. Of course, that's not strange to people like me, who worked for the Ontario government for years in a paramilitary way as a police officer. Certain governments said that if you went...or our directives were that if you went over 100 kilometres in a patrol vehicle, you had to explain why because of budgetary restraints. But if anybody wants to know what the difference is between budgets, we now have a base commander whose biggest challenge is to organize a huge investment in his base.

To give folks at home a scale of what's occurring, one of the hangars being constructed for the new C-17—which I don't believe the Canadian armed forces would have other than through the election of our government—has half the steel. That building, one of the largest of its kind in Canada and for sure in the Canadian armed forces, has—to give folks the scale and the size of the building—half the steel of the Eiffel Tower and half the concrete of the CN Tower. So that's some degree....

My question's going to focus on training, in particular training in Canada's north, because it is a priority for this government and, I believe, for the Canadian armed forces. I'm wondering how the army uses the training operations in the Arctic to prepare itself, not only for domestic purposes and missions, but for missions abroad. I really don't see on the horizon any conflicts or any need for Canada...outside of our own Arctic sovereignty, which is of paramount importance to our country. Could you comment on that?

Also, I have friends who are associated with the rangers. During the training exercises in the north, how do the regular armed forces and the rangers cooperate, and what's their level of cooperation during those exercises?

10 a.m.

LGen Peter J. Devlin

Thank you very much, sir.

Perhaps I could deal with both of those questions at the same time.

There is a need to exercise presence and sovereignty, and to train, to achieve a level of readiness in our north. The army takes that very seriously. There are at least two significantly large exercises per year in the north, as well as Operation Nanook, which takes place in the summertime. Our winter training exercises normally take place in the February-March timeframe, involving approximately a thousand soldiers in each of those two venues, one oriented west and one oriented east, as well as those involved in Operation Nanook.

Every single time we go to the north, we liaise in advance with our ranger patrols—4,700 rangers, part of the army, part of the Canadian Forces. They are the link with the community, they are the link with the leadership, and they are the folks who have a tremendous understanding of the local terrain and the challenges in the community in which they live. We always work with them. We always coordinate with them, even prior to being deployed.

Part of being a soldier is working as part of a team. Whether you're working in the desert or in the Arctic, there are great benefits that come from training in one environment or the other, none the least of which are training, discipline, and understanding challenge. I think that all comes from operating in the north. It is an extremely demanding environment, one that demands a level of discipline and one that demands a level of respect for the environment and the communities in which we operate.

I think it's all done with Canadian army training focused on the north. It's one of having an understanding and respect for the north, for the locals, for our equipment, and for the need to train and participate in operations.

10:05 a.m.

Sgt Maj Gino Moretti

If I may, sir, just with the ranger perspective, we commanded a mission earlier, and Canada's diversity and our culture.... Going to the north, the ranger allows us to go into a certain community, over 110 communities up north. We could not just go in there and talk to the elders. By having the ranger act as the liaison and gain the trust, it allows the young soldier to understand the process of culture, a different environment. So when we take some of those soldiers to Afghanistan, they understand that there's a certain person who has a certain key role in that perspective.

In addition to the ranger, we also have the junior ranger, another program within the CF, which allows the youth of the northern region a better foundation of living for the future years, because they do own the next generation.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you. Time has expired.

Chris, how are you doing?

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Chris Alexander Conservative Ajax—Pickering, ON

Very well.