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Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Public Accounts

Support for Overseas Deployments—National Defence

(Chapter 2 - May 2008 Report of the Auditor General)

17 June 2008

Hugh McRoberts
Assistant Auditor General

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss Chapter 2 of our May 2008 Report, National Defence Support for Overseas Deployments. I am pleased to speak to you today about this important topic; operational support is the foundation upon which military missions rely. With me is Wendy Loschiuk, Assistant Auditor General, who was the Principal responsible for our Defence audits at the time this audit was under way.

Our objective for this audit was to examine the logistical support provided to the Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan. We focused on whether the supply chain is moving needed equipment and supplies into theatre in a timely way and whether it can keep track of stocks. In doing this, we wanted to ensure that we fully understood the demands of support personnel in Canada and in Afghanistan, and that we had the right perspective and appreciation for the challenges they face. To do this, we followed the supply chain from Canada into Kandahar Air Field where we saw first hand the hard work and dedication of our Canadian Forces members.

We found that it is this hard work and dedication that is keeping the supply chain going. National Defence has been able to deliver to its troops the equipment and supplies they need to do the job, and personnel are finding ways to maintain the equipment and weapons. However, the operation has been challenging for them. The Canadian Forces has had to adapt and adjust as the Afghanistan mission has changed and demands on logistical support have increased. This mission has tested the ability of the Canadian Forces to support a major operation.

National Defence has adjusted to the mission demands in several ways:

  • by chartering civilian airlift to help move about 85 tonnes of equipment and supplies each week;
  • by borrowing or robbing spare parts from one piece of equipment to make timely repairs to another;
  • by sending technical assistance visit teams to Kandahar Air Field to help when backlogs build up;
  • by hiring civilian personnel to provide support, especially in the maintenance functions and for the hospital; and
  • by making do with what they have to accomplish objectives according to circumstances.

Some of the weaknesses in the supply chain are understandable considering the changes in the mission since 2003. Audits by our colleagues in the UK and the US have reported similar problems in their deployments to those we found in ours. Their findings suggest to us that, given the experiences of both those countries in conducting overseas deployments, some of the problems we found are inevitable when there are long supply chains supporting thousands of personnel. Nonetheless, we believe it is important to be aware of these problems and to address them.

We found that there is some cause for concern as supplies are arriving late and significant amounts of supplies cannot be accounted for. Most items requested from the supply system by Kandahar Air Field do not arrive on time, including spare parts needed to keep equipment and weapons working. Shortages in spare parts make it harder to maintain some equipment and weapons in an environment that has already put considerable wear and tear on fleets. For the most part, combat fleets are meeting operational expectations, but reserve stock for some combat equipment has been declining. Some support vehicle fleets, such as land mine detection systems or trucks for transporting supplies, had very low rates of serviceability.

Commanders have expressed their concerns about shortcomings in the supply chain and the difficulties these have added to conducting the mission. Nevertheless, we found no reports where, according to the commanders, supply chain problems had caused a significant impact on operations.

Tracking supplies was also a problem in Kandahar. While we appreciate that the camp is large and shared by several countries, we nevertheless expected that most supplies, once received, would be readily retrievable. Supply technicians at Kandahar Air Field manually record that items have arrived and in which container they have been stored. Given the volume of goods arriving on any one flight, this can be quite a challenge and has added to the difficulty of keeping track of items.. We were pleased to note that National Defence takes this matter very seriously and at the end of each rotation does an inventory count. However, these counts have shown that several millions of dollars of items either could not be located or were there but had not been entered into the records.

National Defence has agreed with all the recommendations in our chapter. The Department has also prepared an action plan that we believe represents a reasonable approach to addressing the concerns we have raised. We are happy to see that their plan includes objectives and target completion dates.

Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions. Thank you.