News / Ottawa

Military likely to be scaled back, not scaled up in coming decades, says expert

Don't expect promises of a tricked out Canadian military loaded with more of the latest gadgets to come to pass in the next 20 years, said a University of Ottawa professor as he peered into the forces' future.

"If they remain committed to buying expensive items in a stagnant budget there is less money for other things," said Paul Robinson, a military expert with the university's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. "They say they don't plan to cut personnel, it makes you wonder where they will get the money from."

In 2008, the government drew up a plan in the Canada First Defence Strategy that would see defence spending increase from $18 billion in 2008 to $30 billion in 2027.

Yet military spending in reality has become constricted, Robinson said. "I would say the Canada First Strategy has been a misnomer for what has happened in practice. They were talking about sustained growth and now it's cutbacks."

In a leaked letter from the Prime Minister to Minister of Defence Peter MacKay that was obtained by the Canadian Press in October, the Prime Minister wrote "there can be no expectation that the defence budget will grow in the next few years." Cuts to defence spending are expected to reach $2.5-billion a year by 2014.

Robinson criticized the government's plans to purchase the F-35 at a cost of $25 billion. "A lot could be cut without harming the military. F-35 would be the first to go. It's a vast waste of money in a capability beyond what Canada needs for its own defence. We could do with something far more modest and cheaper."

He also said a military buildup in the Arctic is misguided. "The Arctic is not somewhere we should be considering militarizing. We're not going to go to war with the Russians, Americans or Danes."

Despite this, the build up will continue in the north, wrote Minister MacKay's press secretary Paloma Aguilar in an email. "We will continue operations in the North and increase our footprint in the Arctic with a new training centre and a berth and refueling facility in Nanisivik."

Aguilar wrote that "the Forces must be restructured to ensure administrative burdens are reduced and resources freed up for the front line," without suggesting where future conflicts could be.

The Conservatives will have their hand on the tiller of the military for a time yet, said Robinson. "They're not likely to dramatically change direction."

Will Canada purchase any drones?

Canada's military is already using drones in Afghanistan and the Arabian Sea, said Paloma Aguilar, press secretary for Defence Minister Peter MacKay Wednesday.

In fact, the government intends to purchase more. In a request for information sent to aerospace firms July 23, the government indicated it is looking for weaponized, "unmanned aerial vehicles" (UAVs) to patrol the Arctic. The contract is worth $1 billion according to DND's estimate.

"In the U.S. 50 per cent of all air power is now drones," said Paul Robinson, a military expert at the University of Ottawa. "They are the future... manned aircraft is not."

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