Canada's top soldier says the military is on the 'cusp' of rapid change

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre says the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is facing many new challenges and will need to move quickly to cope.

Gen. Wayne Eyre says CAF needs to adapt to new technologies and boost recruitment

Gen. Wayne Eyre, Canada's chief of the defence staff, said Thursday that Canada's military is facing challenges in adopting new technologies, attracting diverse recruits and providing housing for soldiers. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre says the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is facing many new challenges and will need to move quickly to cope.

In a speech delivered to one of Ottawa's "Mayor's Breakfast" networking events, Eyre said the military will need to adapt swiftly to changes in technology, geopolitics and culture to be effective.

He didn't mince words when speaking about the CAF's need to modernize.

"Overall, the armed forces that we have today is not the armed forces we need for the future," he said.

"We are on the cusp of so much change that has to come."

Eyre said the military needs to focus on improving its capabilities in new technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, quantum computing and hypersonic weapons. He also said the CAF needs to develop skills in the domain of cyber warfare.

He said Russia's invasion of Ukraine shows how the "security situation" facing Canada is "going to continue to evolve."

WATCH | Gen. Wayne Eyre discusses future of the Canadian Armed Forces

Gen. Wayne Eyre discusses future of the Canadian Armed Forces

12 months ago
Duration 1:34
Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre talks about how he sees the Canadian Armed Forces tackling technological advances and recruiting.

The federal budget, tabled last week, boosts defence spending by $8 billion over five years.

That would bring Canada's defence spending as a portion of GDP to about 1.5 per cent — still well below the NATO target of 2 per cent.

The budget also promises to provide $875.2 million over five years and $238.2 million ongoing to fight cyber security threats. Most of that money is going to Canada's civilian electronic espionage agency, the Communications Security Establishment (CSE).

The CSE warned recently that CAF personnel are the subjects of Russian misinformation. Russian operatives are posting doctored images purporting to show members of the Canadian Armed Forces in Ukraine and have been posting false claims that Canadian soldiers are committing war crimes.

Housing, recruitment and climate change 

But new technologies and modernization aren't the only hurdles the CAF faces, Eyre said. 

He said the "skyrocketing" cost of housing is affecting the military and the armed forces is short of between 4,000 and 6,000 housing units on bases across the country.

"The number one issue when I travel around the country is the cost of living," he said.

Eyre said that addressing the cost of living for CAF personnel is a top priority of his.

Eyre said the armed forces faces a recruiting shortfall as well. The pandemic has undermined the CAF's ability to recruit and train, he said.

"Our numbers are not where we'd like them to be, and they've gone down since the pandemic began," he said.

New Canadian Army Reserve recruits participate in Basic Military Qualifications at the Guelph Armoury. (Nick Bauman/Canadian Armed Forces)

Improving recruitment and retention is going to be critical going forward, Eyre said, because the military needs to attract diverse recruits to meet its needs.

"We have to be able to attract and retain talent from all segments of Canadian society," he said.

"If we can't attract that talent, we won't be able to protect Canada into the future and we're going to become irrelevant as an institution."

The military recently reported that it's around 7,600 members short of full strength. Currently, the CAF has roughly 65,000 regular members.

The CAF also needs to embrace cultural change, Eyre said. Several high-ranking officers have been the subject of sexual misconduct accusations.

Climate change is also affecting the military, Eyre said, because soldiers are more often called on to respond to natural disasters.

Eyre will be thinking about all of these challenges when he works on a new defence policy review, which was announced in the budget.

"A dangerous, uncertain future looms, and it's not going to wait for us to be ready — so we have to be ready now," he said.


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