The Canadian Army Reserve is in terrible shape according to the auditor general report. According to Michael Ferguson’s latest audit, the Army Reserve is lacking “clear guidance on preparing for international missions, had lower levels of training as cohesive teams, and had not fully integrated this training with that of the Regular Army.”
Adding to that, the number of reservists is lower than needed and are not fully prepared to deploy when required. Constantly declining in numbers, Canada’s Army Reserve is having issues recruiting and retaining its soldiers.
In this blog post, I will only address the budget and training issues because I could probably write a 10-page essay on the Army Reserve transformation.
Although the Army Reserve budget has been based on a 21,000-strong force, whereas approximately 13,900 reservists are actively taking part in training, the units have insufficient funding. Due to budget restraints, army reservists have less training and have access to a strict amount of ammunition and equipment to develop their soldiering skills.
It is inconceivable that our reservists have very limited amount of ammunition and equipment to fulfill their tasks. Due to that, they can’t properly train nor keep their skills to a reasonable level.
As a matter of fact, while the soldiers are clearly in need of more support to train them up to standards, the bureaucracy and the astonishing number of officers are draining up the budget. More than 27 per cent of the current Army Reserve budget is allocated to reservists that work on a full-time contract — 1,704 soldiers had contracts longer than 180 days in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Canadian Army reservists are great soldiers, but they need better training to be able to fully function with the Regular Force in a short amount of time.
The Army Reserve has 123 units and 10 brigades. For example, a Regular Force brigade has more than 5,000 soldiers under its command. A Reserve brigade might have less staff than a regular one, but we’re talking about 10 Army brigades for 13,900 soldiers. Within those brigades, a substantial number of officers and non-commissioned officers are working full time. It is a big waste of money, and the Canadian Forces could easily reduce the numbers of brigades and use the saved money for their soldiers; the same soldiers that will be on the frontline during deployments.
Another option would be to fill all the full-time positions with Regular Force soldiers. This would encourage full-time reservists to transfer to the Regular Force — meaning they would need to deploy and not on a volunteer basis anymore — and a substantial amount of money could be transferred into proper training for the troops. As of today, a full-time reservist receives 85 per cent of the salary of a Regular Force soldier and all the same benefits. However, a full-time reservist cannot be deployed abroad unless he/she volunteers to do so. This is why many of the full-time reservists end up serving years without deploying, something I can’t agree with. If you want the benefits of a Regular Force soldier, you should meet the same deployment availability.
Canadian Army reservists are great soldiers, but they need better training to be able to fully function with the Regular Force in a short amount of time. I believe it is time for Canada to completely review its structure and how they use their allocated budget effectively. Let’s not forget the incredible contribution the part-time soldiers made during the Afghan campaign. Many of them deployed more than once to serve their country while some Regular Force soldiers found many reasons not to get deployed. However, to allow them to deploy, a considerable amount of time and resources were used.
Take a Reserve infantry regiment for another example. Many of them in Canada have fewer than 200 soldiers but have the same structure a regular infantry battalion has. So for each of the 123 Army Reserve units in Canada — that’s about 113 active soldiers per unit considering 13,944 soldiers are active — there is a commanding officer, a regimental sergeant-major, and an insane number of officers to lead less than 100 soldiers. Twelve of the 123 units have fewer than half the soldiers needed for their ideal unit size.
A regular infantry battalion has the same structure and has more than 500 soldiers under its command. I believe the Canadian Forces should consider merging different units together. This would lessen the number of officers and staff and enhance the training capabilities. Having bigger units would also enable the reservists to train up to regular force standards due to bigger budgets and a great amount of soldiers present during weekend training. Having less “brass” would also mean a better management; a definite impact of the troops in the field. And by “in the field,” I also mean clerks, logistics and intelligence personnel.
By merging units together, I believe the Canadian Army would have a better control on training, spending and could offer its soldiers more ammunition, resources and much-needed equipment.
This brings me to the lack of training the Army Reserve soldiers receive. First, their basic and trade training are clearly not long enough. For example, an infantryman in the Army Reserve will not have access to all the weapons a Regular Force infantryman has during its training. Due to that, when a reservist integrates a Regular Force unit, he needs to undergo numerous training to get up to speed. I don’t understand why a Reserve soldier is not trained on the same weapons since they are often called upon — on a volunteer basis — to fill in the gaps during Regular Force training and deployments.
Interoperability between Regular and Reserve units is also primordial. I believe the Canadian Army should involve Regular Force soldiers in the Reserve training. Cells should be created to enable the reservists to learn valuable lessons through combat veterans that made the Army their careers. The cells could also train the reservists on different weapons during the training period, enabling them to quickly integrate a Regular Force unit if needed.
The auditor general’s report should be read by anyone interested in defence spending in Canada. In the report, it is clear that the Army Reserve severely lacks critical equipment and resources to train their soldiers. And let’s be honest, it is already in a terrible shape and I haven’t talked about domestic operation capabilities and equipment, preparedness, physical fitness and the amount of money wasted in infrastructure support for more than 123 units and 10 brigades.
This article was first published on The Huffing Post Canada.