When calamity strikes, how much can the military really help?

The Canadian Armed Forces are helping out at Fort McMurray, but the Auditor General has warned that their ability to assist in domestic crises is deficient.

Operation LENTUS is the Canadian Armed Forces’ contingency plan to provide support to provincial and territorial authorities when a major natural disaster threatens to overwhelm local capacity to respond. On May 4 the Government of Alberta asked for the military’s assistance in dealing with the wildfire situation in Fort McMurray, and on May 6 the military deployed four CH-146 Griffin helicopters and a C-130J Hercules to evacuate civilians, conduct search and rescue missions, deliver medical supplies, and fly reconnaissance missions to monitor fire-affected areas.

That’s the extent of the assistance reported so far, but the Canadian Armed Forces could be called upon to do more.  Could they? Undoubtedly. But in a report just a few weeks ago, the Auditor General found that the key resource the Forces make available to help with domestic emergencies, the Army Reserve, is under strength, can’t recruit and train all the soldiers it needs, and is short on equipment. This is a dangerous situation at any time, but it could be catastrophic if the Reserves were ever called upon to deal with more than one major calamity at a time.

The AG audited the condition of the Army Reserve up to this past winter, and so could not take account of the potential effects of an important directive issued by the new Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen. Jon Vance, in October 2015 to strengthen the Reserves — Army, Navy and Air Force. The directive was in response to the increased concern within the Government and in Parliament about the capacity and readiness of the Reserves as a result of the toll taken on personnel and families by the operational demands made on them in recent years. As Gen. Vance noted in his directive:

The P Res (Primary Reserve) is a critical component of the CAF’s ability to contribute to my priority of delivering excellence across the full spectrum of operations with capabilities which include, but are not limited to, force protection, arctic response, search and rescue, CBRNE (chemical, biological, nuclear, radiological and explosive), health services, special forces, influence activities, and public duties.

Following are extracts from the AG report. The full report is available at http://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_201602_05_e_41249.html#hd2a


2016 Spring Reports of the Auditor General of Canada

Report 5 — Canadian Army Reserve — National Defence

5.1 National Defence is composed of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. The Canadian Army, including its Army Reserve, is the component of the Canadian Armed Forces that conducts missions on land. The Army Reserve is fully integrated into the Canadian Army’s chain of command. When Army Reserve members put on their uniforms or volunteer for training or deployment, they are required, like all other members of the Canadian Armed Forces, to carry out their missions without reservation, regardless of personal discomfort, fear, or danger.

5.2 The Army Reserve is the largest component of Canada’s Primary Reserve Force. As of August 2013, it had provided almost half of the Canadian Army’s 40,143 soldiers. The Army Reserve consists predominantly of part-time professional members of the Canadian Armed Forces who contribute to the defence and security of Canada. These part-time members must balance the demands of their military activities with their civilian lives.

5.3 Training and operating the Army Reserve costs about $724 million annually, based on figures from the 2013–14 fiscal year. Army Reserve units train to be ready to support domestic and international missions. In recent years, Army Reserve units and soldiers have contributed to domestic missions involving fighting floods and forest fires. Army Reserve soldiers have also served on international missions, including deployments to Bosnia and Afghanistan. According to the Canadian Armed Forces, Army Reserve soldiers completed 4,642 deployments to Afghanistan. Sixteen of these soldiers died and 75 were wounded in action. In addition, between 2012 and 2015, Army Reserve soldiers were deployed 150 times on 16 other international missions. At the time of our audit, Army Reserve soldiers were deployed to international missions in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.

5.10 The Army Reserve is organized into 123 units and 10 brigade headquarters in 117 communities across the country … The purpose of these units is to organize, train, and equip their member soldiers to work as cohesive teams so that they are prepared to deploy and accomplish assigned missions.

Map showing the distribution of Army Reserve divisions and units across Canada

International missions

5.13 We found that the Canadian Army had not given Army Reserve units clear guidance as to how they should prepare soldiers and teams to contribute to major international missions. Although the Canadian Army had given Army Reserve units guidance on general training requirements, it had not identified what it expected the units to do to organize and train their soldiers in preparation for international missions.

5.18 The Canadian Army expects Army Reserve units to provide up to 20 percent of the soldiers deployed on major (large-scale, extended-period) international missions. This means that after Regular Army soldiers are deployed on the first rotation (planned for up to eight months), Army Reserve units will provide about 1,000 trained soldiers for each subsequent rotation of the mission. These soldiers could be placed in existing Regular Army units or be part of dedicated Army Reserve teams of up to 150 soldiers that will undertake one of the following key tasks:

  • Influence Activities,
  • Convoy Escort,
  • Force Protection, or
  • Persistent Surveillance.

5.19 We found that the Canadian Army has directed Army Reserve units to train soldiers to work in teams of 25 to 40 soldiers so these small teams can work together in teams of up to 150 or more soldiers. As a result, more training is required before Army Reserve soldiers and teams can deploy on major international missions. Individual Army Reserve soldiers placed in existing Regular Army units are to be given this additional training when they join these units for their pre-deployment training.

5.20 On major international deployments, the Canadian Army expects that dedicated Army Reserve teams will perform specific key tasks. However, we found that individual Army Reserve units had not been given clear guidance on the training that is required for the key tasks of Convoy Escort, Force Protection, and Persistent Surveillance until a mission has been identified. The Canadian Army plans for Regular Army soldiers to perform these tasks until dedicated Army Reserve teams have been trained for deployment. In our opinion, the absence of guidance for these key tasks is inconsistent with the Canadian Army’s expectation that Army Reserve soldiers will be prepared to provide these tasks as part of dedicated Army Reserve teams during major international missions.

5.21 We found that the Canadian Army did provide clear guidance for one key task: Influence Activities. This task coordinates support between military forces and civilian authorities and shapes the opinions and perceptions of target groups, be they friendly or hostile. The Army Reserve is responsible for training almost all of the soldiers needed for the Canadian Army’s Influence Activities task. At least one Influence Activities team of 52 soldiers is to be prepared to deploy without delay with the Regular Army …

Domestic missions

5.23 We found that the Canadian Army had provided the Army Reserve with clear guidance on preparing for domestic missions. However, we also found that when Army Reserve units and groups deployed on domestic missions, they did not always have access to key equipment. Furthermore, we found that the Canadian Army did not require formal confirmation in writing that Army Reserve brigade groups were prepared to support domestic missions.

5.29 We found that the Canadian Army has not defined the list of equipment that all Army Reserve units should have for training their soldiers and teams for domestic missions. This means that Army Reserve units may have to rely on other Canadian Armed Forces units to provide this equipment, but we were told that it is often not available. In our opinion, this limited access to equipment impedes the ability of units to train their soldiers and teams.

5.30 We also found that between 2013 and 2015, the Army Reserve contributed to three domestic missions involving fighting floods in Alberta and Manitoba and fighting a forest fire in Saskatchewan. After each of these missions, the Army Reserve brigade groups and units conducted a lessons-learned exercise to report on the planning and conduct of these missions. When we reviewed these reports, we found many instances of key equipment lacking, such as reconnaissance vehicles, command posts, and communications equipment.

Size of the Army Reserve

5.35 Overall, we found that Army Reserve units do not have the number of soldiers they need to train so that soldiers and teams are prepared to deploy when required. The number of Army Reserve soldiers has been steadily declining because the Army Reserve is unable to recruit and retain the soldiers it needs. We found that the Canadian Army does not know if Army Reserve soldiers have the current qualifications they need to deploy for domestic and international missions. Furthermore, we found that the Army Reserve units did not have the funding they needed to fully support all required unit activities.

5.39 We found that National Defence has determined that about 29,000 positions in the Army Reserve in the 2014–15 fiscal year would be its ideal size. This number of positions allows the Army Reserve to expand when increases to funding are authorized. During the same period, the Canadian Army provided funding for 21,000 full- and part-time Army Reserve soldiers. However, we found that the average number of trained and attending soldiers in the Army Reserve was 13,944, and that 12 of the 123 Army Reserve units had fewer than half of the soldiers needed for their ideal unit size.

5.40 Between the 2012–13 and 2014–15 fiscal years, the number of Army Reserve soldiers declined by about five percent per year, as a result of several factors. In particular, we found that the National Defence recruiting system was not able to recruit the number of soldiers needed by the Army Reserve, and that Army Reserve units had difficulty retaining their trained soldiers.

5.47 We also found that for the 2014–15 fiscal year, the Canadian Army had budgeted $334.9 million for about 21,000 Army Reserve soldiers. This means that the Army Reserve was funded for about 72 percent of its ideal size: $202.4 million to cover the pay for 19,471 soldiers on part-time service, $91.3 million for 1,500 full-time soldiers, and $41.2 million for operating and maintenance costs.

5.48 In the 2014–15 fiscal year, the average number of part-time and full-time soldiers in the Army Reserve was 19,544. Of that number, 1,732 had not taken part in unit training or other activities in the previous six months, and 3,868 were undergoing or had not completed the first phase of their occupational training. This means that approximately 70 percent of the soldiers in the Army Reserve, 13,944 on average, were trained and had attended unit activities in the previous six months.

Diagram contrasting the ideal size of the Army Reserve with the number of funded positions and average number of active and trained soldiers in the Army Reserve in the 2014–15 fiscal year

Recruitment and retention

5.51 We found that the National Defence recruiting system did not recruit the number of soldiers needed by the Army Reserve and that Army Reserve units had difficulty retaining their soldiers. National Defence officials stated that the current Reserve recruiting system does not work—it is too slow and does not recruit the number of Army Reserve soldiers it needs, given the present rate of attrition.

5.52 Each year, National Defence sets recruitment targets for all components of the Canadian Armed Forces. We found that in the 2014–15 fiscal year, the recruiting system’s objective was to deliver 2,200 recruits to the Army Reserve—far fewer than the 3,000 recruits needed. National Defence has recognized that it needs to reform the recruiting system.

5.53 We found that National Defence has not developed a retention strategy for the Army Reserve. For example, in order to train their soldiers, units must retain a sufficient number of qualified instructors, such as master corporals or sergeants. We found that units have had difficulty keeping the qualified instructors they need. For example, from 2012 to 2015, the number of master corporals in the Army Reserve declined from 1,971 to 1,770, and the number of sergeants declined from 1,645 to 1,593.

5.54 We also found that during the 2012–13 to 2014–15 fiscal years, almost half of the 7,200 soldiers who left the Army Reserve did so before they had completed their first level of occupational training. This represents a lost investment in recruitment and training.

5.55 The Canadian Army knows it needs to take steps to improve retention in the Army Reserve. The Canadian Army has recognized that providing challenging, exciting training will help improve retention. Furthermore, the Canadian Army does not facilitate the transfer of Regular Army soldiers to the Army Reserve. Doing so would enable the Canadian Army to retain valuable skills within the Army Reserve acquired by Regular Army soldiers.

5.56 In late 2015, National Defence set a goal to increase the Army Reserve by 950 soldiers (five percent) by 2019. In our opinion, this goal will be difficult to achieve given the present rate of attrition.


The mission of the Vimy Report is to inject new information that will raise the quality of public discussion on security and defence issues, to do so with impact, and thereby to educate and influence the ultimate decision-makers: citizens and their elected representatives.

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