Navy faces budget crunch?

Two of Canada's 12 Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels

To be mothballed? Maybe not. Two of Canada's 12 Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels

Defence Minister Peter MacKay and Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, the commander of the Canadian Navy, are contradicting each other on the state of the Navy’s budget (David Pugliese, “Cash-strapped navy being cut to bone, analysts say,” Montreal Gazette, 12 May 2010; see also David Pugliese, “MacKay says no decision made on fleet reductions; Admiral and sailors say otherwise. Who is right?,” Defence Watch, 13 May 2010).

Vice-Admiral McFadden told the Navy in April that a number of naval vessels would be mothballed because of budget pressures:

The fleet of Kingston-class maritime coastal defence vessels will be reduced from 12 to six ships and three frigates, HMCS Montreal, St John’s and Vancouver will now be conducting domestic and continental missions to a “limited degree,” according to a letter sent to naval formations by the service’s commander Vice Admiral Dean McFadden.

Combat systems on HMCS Toronto and HMCS Ottawa will be “minimally supported to enable safe to navigate sensors and communications only,” states the letter written April 23 and released to the Ottawa Citizen on Wednesday. The same will happen to the destroyer HMCS Athabaskan, it added….

Funding issues are behind the moves and even though the navy and Defence Department successfully argued for additional money, “a shortfall still remains,” he added.

McFadden noted that the reductions are being done to ensure that the navy’s top priorities, the Victoria-class submarines as well as the modernization of the Halifax-class frigates, are supported as fully as possible.

Defence Minister MacKay, on the other hand, has denied that such reductions have been decided, and he has already had the order to mothball the six Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels rescinded. MacKay also disagrees that the Navy is facing a budget crunch:

“We are at historic levels of funding. In fact, this year’s budget will see $200 million — approximately $200 million more — going to the Canadian navy,” MacKay told Canada AM during an interview from Ottawa on Friday morning. “So, in their 100th anniversary, they have record-high funding and we are in the process of building, of growth.”(“MacKay says navy well-funded, in good shape,”, 14 May 2010)

Other sources agree:

One defence industry source said MacKay is right to say that the navy has been getting increases and has a large amount of money for procurement. The source noted that there is no money for navy operations, however.

Steve Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, agreed that the navy and the Canadian Forces has been getting large increases in budgets under the Conservative government. He said the navy is trying to pressure the government for even more funding.

“We’ve seen this movie before,” said Staples, who has criticized defence budget increases. “Last time the air force said it was going to shut down the Snowbirds if it faced cutbacks. That never happened. This is no different.”

With an overall budget of $22.267 billion this year, up from $21.154 billion in fiscal year 2009-10 and already higher than at any time since the Second World War, the Department of National Defence certainly ought to be able to find enough money to fund the Navy.

A number of factors may be playing a role in the moves:

  • The annual costs of the Afghanistan mission go well beyond the official $2.3 billion “full cost” reported by DND and are likely to have eaten half or more of all the budget increases received by DND in the last half decade.
  • The Navy’s insistence on continuing to sink money into the Victoria-class submarine moneypit is depriving it of funds that could be used more usefully elsewhere.
  • An equally or perhaps more important reason for reducing the operational fleet may be the recruiting difficulties that the Navy is facing. The Navy is currently said to be 1,400 people short of the numbers it would like to have. It’s hard to operate ships without crews.

DND photo

Tags: David Pugliese, Defence policy, Department of National Defence, Military spending, Navy, Peter MacKay, Steven Staples, VAdm Dean McFadden