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Feds spending ‘unwisely’ on armoured vehicles, report argues

A LAV III in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2007. A new report says the Harper government is spending ‘unwisely’ on armoured vehicles.

Stephanie Levitz/CP

The Conservative government is making a $2-billion bungle by purchasing armoured vehicles that are rooted in outdated Cold War doctrine and which duplicate capabilities the Canadian Armed Forces already possess, a new report argues.

Authors Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia professor of political science, and researcher Stewart Webb argue Ottawa has no need for the new close combat vehicles that it's preparing to buy.

They say the medium-armoured vehicles were initially conceived for working alongside tanks on the battlefield – a type of warfare that Canadian soldiers are unlikely to face these days. The counter-insurgency missions common today – where troops are fighting an agile and rapidly moving enemy – require soldiers to leave their bases and win the support of the local population in combatting militants.

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The authors, writing in a report for the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, cite media reports that say even the Canadian Army doesn't want the vehicles that Ottawa is acquiring.

"Instead of moving away from heavy armour and embracing contemporary [counterinsurgency doctrine], it is about to spend billions of dollars on close combat vehicles that are designed to accompany tanks into conventional battles," the authors say.

In today's budget-squeezed environment, the report argues, the Canadian Armed Forces could better use its cash on training to keep soldiers sufficiently ready for future missions. A major concern right now is that lack of funds is hindering the Forces' ability to maintain a high state of readiness.

The military justifies the close combat vehicle purchase by saying homemade bombs and armour-piercing weapons are still a major threat and the new acquisition will help protect soldiers.

But Prof. Byers and Mr. Webb, a visiting research fellow at the Rideau Institute and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, say the recent refits of the Forces' existing LAV III vehicles mean these assets can do the job instead.

The overhaul of these light-armoured vehicles is significant and will extend their use to 2035, they note.

"The upgrades are so extensive that they are essentially creating new vehicles. This raises the question: After having just spent $1.064-billion to upgrade more than 550 LAV IIIs, why spend another billion dollars to purchase 108 [close combat vehicles] that add little in terms of capability?"

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The report says the recent belt-tightening across the federal government has triggered fears that the Canadian military will suffer from the same lack of budget attention that hit in the mid-1990s and persisted for some time – a period Forces boosters refer to as a "decade of darkness."

"But it is not as if the government has stopped spending on military equipment. The problem, instead, is that it is spending the money unwisely, on equipment including close combat vehicles which are designed to accompany troops into the symmetrical wars of the last century."

The authors say Canada made a mistake in 2006 after the Harper government took office. Back then, the Conservatives embraced the tank – a weapon of war they say had limited effectiveness in this country's Afghanistan combat operations "because the Taliban quickly abandoned the 'stand and fight' approach in favour of the IEDs [improvised explosive devices]."

But the purchase of the close combat vehicles, they say, is tied to Ottawa's decision to retain tanks.

"This procurement is proceeding only because of the Harper government's 2006 decision to retain and acquire tanks, and its stubborn refusal to back away from that error."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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