In The Media

Canada to get 'assertive' with cyber missions, commits to major military spending boost

by Amanda Connolly (feat. Dave Perry)

June 7, 2017

In order for Canada to be safe at home, it needs to take an active role in the world and become a more “assertive” player in the cyber domain.

That’s the core message in the hotly-anticipated defence policy review, released by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan Wednesday in Ottawa. The document, titled Strong, Secure, Engaged, lays out the government’s plans to direct billions of dollars in new funding to the military and engage in nine ‘core’ missions around the world.

It also sets out a commitment to bringing some serious cyber and intelligence muscle to the table in a rapidly changing global threat landscape, where great powers jockey for influence in an evolving world order.

“This policy is grounded in a thorough assessment of the global security environment — one that is marked by the shifting balance of power, the changing nature of conflict, and the rapid evolution of technology,” the policy document reads. “Increasingly, threats, such as global terrorism and those in the cyber domain, transcend national borders. These trends undermine the traditional security once provided by Canada’s geography. Defending Canada and Canadian interests thus not only demands robust domestic defence but also requires active engagement abroad.”

Over the next 10 years, according to the policy review, government spending on defence on a cash basis is to grow from $18.9 billion last year to $32.7 billion in the 2026 fiscal year, not including the cost of military missions.

While the policy takes a 20-year view of defence spending and priorities, the bulk of the spending on acquisitions is to happen within the first 12 years, defence officials said at a technical briefing.

In all, total defence spending on an accrual basis from 2017-2018 to 2036-2037 is estimated to be $497 billion, not including the costs of major military operations.

Of that, $48.9 billion will be new investments on an accrual basis, with $33.8 for the acquisition of capital assets and $15.1 billion for operating requirements.

Canada also has changed the way it categorizes defence spending following a study conducted as part of the defence policy review that found Canada has been “under-reporting” its spending — because other NATO allies include certain types of spending in the calculations that Canada, historically, has not.

As a result, future reporting “will now include defence spending from other government departments, such as: payments made directly to veterans; peacekeeping and humanitarian operations; direct information technology support to defence; centrally funded defence personnel costs; and direct program support to defence.”

Under the new formula, the federal government reports, Canada is now spending 1.2 per cent of GDP on defence — instead of the 1.01 per cent calculated without taking those new categories into account — and will hit 1.4 per cent of GDP for defence by 2024.

“This represents significant progress on the Defence Investment Pledge goal of working towards two per cent GDP spending on defence,” the policy states. “This will also position Canada to exceed NATO’s target for members to spend 20 per cent of defence expenditures on major equipment. Under Strong, Secure, Engaged, it is forecast to reach 32.2 per cent in 2024-25.”

The review also lays out a goal to have Canadian soldiers simultaneously involved in nine international operations, some of the details of which are included in the policy.

Two of those missions will be major sustained deployments of between 500 to 1,500 personnel, including one mission where Canada is the lead nation. Another will be a time-limited deployment in the same size range for between six to nine months.

There also will be two minor sustained deployments of between 100 and 500 personnel, as well as two time-limited deployments of the same size for roughly six to nine months.

The government sees the military being able to deploy to one Disaster Assistance Response Team mission and one non-combatant evacuation operation.

The locations and details of those missions are not included in the policy, which also lays out a plan to create 605 new special forces positions and 120 new military intelligence positions, and hire 180 new civilian intelligence personnel.

Beefing up the cyber and intelligence-crunching capabilities of the Canadian Forces will be a major focus.

“We will assume a more assertive posture in the cyber domain by hardening our defences, and by conducting active cyber operations in the context of government-authorized military missions,” the report states. “Cyber operations will be subject to all applicable domestic law, international law, and proven checks and balances such as rules of engagement, targeting and collateral damage assessments.”

That shift in focus to increased cyber, space and intelligence capabilities will be the driving force behind the target of growing the regular force by 3,500 to 71,500 members, and boosting the reserve force by 1,500 to 30,000.

The policy also made it clear that the government is committed to getting all 15 of the Canadian Surface Combatant ships scheduled to be built under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, even as a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer last week found that the cost of the program had more than doubled.

Defence officials said the decision to acquire the full 15 significantly increases the budget for the project and puts it in line with the projections that it will cost closer to $62 billion.

Canada will also buy 88, rather than 65, new fighter jets, bringing the new estimated acquisition cost for that procurement to between $15 billion and $19 billion.

Officials also noted there are no plans to have Canada join the ballistic missile defence program. Instead, they stressed the need to modernize NORAD and adapt to the wide range of threats facing Canadian security.

And in keeping with the government buzzword of the year, innovation will be another area of focus, with $313 million allocated over five years for a new Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program.

It will create clusters of defence innovators doing research and development in areas “critical to future defence needs.”

As well, the policy includes a plan to streamline military procurement by allowing the Department of National Defence to act as the contracting authority on procurements of up to $5 million.

The policy says that will bring over 80 per cent of defence procurements under the management of defence officials rather than those at Public Works.

It also includes a plan to increase the number of women in the military by one per cent per year to hit 25 per cent by 2026.

Conservative defence critic James Bezan and associate critic Pierre Paul-Hus issued a statement Wednesday afternoon about the policy, saying they are skeptical about the prospect of the Liberals actually making the changes they are promising.

“Canadians have been waiting a long time for Minister Sajjan to unveil the Liberals’ defence policy, and while it contains some big promises, we are deeply concerned that the government will not be able to deliver, given the Liberals’ dismal record on national defence thus far,” the two said.

“We are not confident that today’s announcement will result in any meaningful change.”

But Dave Perry, a defence analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said the fact that the money promised in the policy is not entirely back-loaded is a good thing, and praised the commitments being made by the government.

“I’m actually quite pleasantly surprised at how much investment they’re making and when they’re going to make it. It’s back-end loaded but not actually as much as I had feared that it might be,” he said. “There’s a lot of new investment, if it comes to pass.”

The challenge, though, will be exactly that — following through on the spending pledges if, for example, the economy worsens.

While officials attending the release of the policy said its projections had been costed-in with the government’s long-term fiscal plans, those calculations appear to be based on current economic measures — and a sudden shift in the fiscal climate could mean a shift in spending priorities as well.

“The last plan for stable, predictable funding only lasted 20 months,” said Perry, referring to the former Conservative government’s Canada First Defence Strategy. “I don’t really know that we have any more or less confidence in this one but for the department, you can’t bank on fiscal certainty like that. You had to wait for time to tell and realisticlaly, how the economy does is probably going to play as much of a role in whether this stuff actually happens as anything else.”

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