Canada's top admiral says navy staff, resource needs in 'critical state'

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's understaffed and resource-stretched navy is in "a critical state" and might not be able to carry out its basic duties next year, the top admiral said in a YouTube video released this week.

The comments by Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee are an unusually blunt expression of unhappiness from the military over the state of the armed forces. Canada only spends about 1.3% of its annual gross domestic product on defense, much less than the North Atlantic Treaty Organization target of 2%.

In the video, which runs just under six minutes, Topshee said the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had not hit its recruitment targets for more than a decade.

"Colleagues and shipmates - the RCN faces some very serious challenges right now that could mean we fail to meet our force posture and readiness commitments in 2024 and beyond," he said.

"The situation is serious but our problems are not unique and I know that the air force and army are facing similar challenges," he continued.

The West Coast fleet is "beset with a shortage of qualified techs" which means ships cannot meet operation and maintenance targets, he said.

The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau plans to cut C$1 billion ($737.14 million) from the defense budget as part of a fiscal restraint package.

Chief of the Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre, Canada's top soldier, told legislators in late September that this had prompted a "very difficult session" with commanders of the various services.

The navy relies on its 12 Halifax class frigates, which are approaching the end of their 30-year operational life but must stay in service for another 15 years because their replacements are behind schedule and over budget.

"This is a very considerable challenge. ... I wish it was not so but I am afraid there is simply no other choice," said Topshee, who took over as Canada's top sailor in May 2022.

The video was released on Monday without any publicity.

In response, the office of Defense Minister Bill Blair said the government was making significant new investments in the navy, including plans to build more than 20 new ships of various kinds.

"This will be the largest Canadian shipbuilding initiative since World War II," spokeswoman Diana Ebadi said via email on Tuesday, adding that Ottawa was working to recruit and retain more sailors.

Topshee's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

($1 = 1.3566 Canadian dollars)

(This story has been corrected to fix the spelling of the spokeswoman's first name to Diana, from Diane, in paragraph 13)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by David Gregorio and Richard Chang)