Wednesday, 16 July 2014


It would not be surprising to discover that some serving officers are not aware that the Canadian Army was not always as we see it now. When reports are written about 'transformation' or about the issues that arise when dealing with economic realities those reports always seem to focus on shuffling headquarters units and seldom touch the subject of changes to field formations.

The current structure, with assorted name changes has endured for well over twenty years, but it was not always thus.

Between 1953 and 1971 the Regular Canadian Infantry consisted of seven regiments. The order of battle included the three present Regular infantry regiments along with three further regiments, the Canadian Guards, the Queens Own Rifles and the Black Watch, each with two battalions. The Royal 22e Regiment had three battalions while the Canadian Guards, at least for a while, had four battalions.

There was also the Canadian Airborne Regiment, which was divided into three commandos.

In 1968 the name "Canadian Army" was no longer in use as the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force were merged to form a single service called the Canadian Armed Forces. The Army was then known as “Mobile Command” and then later renamed Land Force Command in a 1993 reorganization. In August 2011, Land Force Command reverted to the pre-1968 title of the Canadian Army

All these reorganizations and name changes were accompanied by continuing reductions in actual strength.

Following unification in 1968, the Regular Force battalions of the Queens Own Rifles and the Black Watch were dissolved. In the 1970’s the Regular regiment of The Fort Garry Horse was disbanded and the Canadian Guards was dissolved with the unit's soldiers and officers becoming the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment.

What remained of the Canadian Airborne Regiment was disbanded in 1995.

On July 8, 2013 it was announced that the Government of Canada’s intended to restore Canadian Army rank insignia, names and badges to their traditional forms. The changes included the re-introduction of divisional nomenclature and patches for the then current Land Force Areas. Beginning in late April of 2014 divisions across the Canadian Army held a series of “patching” and flag raising ceremonies to mark their stand-ups and officially issue their respective divisional patches.

The Army is currently divided into five divisions. They are:
1st Canadian Division
2nd Canadian Division (formerly Land Force Quebec Area)
3rd Canadian Division (formerly Land Force Western Area)
4th Canadian Division (formerly Land Force Central Area)
5th Canadian Division (formerly Land Force Atlantic Area)

Needless to say, all of these changes in nomenclature were not accompanied by any actual change in size, or even organization.

As it stands now, 1st Canadian Division serves as a deployable headquarters in the event of a major mobilization of Canadian forces on operations, and has taken the place of the previous Canadian Joint Forces HQ.

The other four divisions have replaced the previous land force areas, and are responsible for administering all regular and reserve force units within them. The 2nd, 3rd and 4th Canadian Divisions have a Regular army mechanized brigade group under their command, together with two or three Reserve brigades.

The three Regular army brigade groups contain three infantry battalions, an armoured regiment, an artillery regiment, and a combat engineer regiment. They also contain a service support battalion and a signals unit.

The Reserve Brigade groups typically support ten to twelve geographically related Reserve units and a Brigade headquarters.

All of these “divisions” are not created equally and 5th Canadian Division is a good example. Originally created as “Land Forces Atlantic Area” (LFAA) in 1991 the formation then took command of what were previously the militia areas and the Regular Force Army units and formations in Atlantic Canada. At that point the previous Militia Areas ceased to exist, and the subordinate Militia Districts were eventually reorganized into two Canadian Brigade Groups.

In 2013, LFAA was renamed 5th Canadian Division. Among other regular units it is currently responsible for C Squadron, The Royal Canadian Dragoons and  2nd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment both of which are actually under command of 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, which is a unit of 4th Canadian Division. 5th Division also takes responsibility for the Combat Training Centre in Gagetown, New Brunswick.  On paper, at least, its main operational units are 36 Canadian Brigade Group (Reserve, headquartered in Halifax and 37 Canadian Brigade Group (Reserve) headquartered in Moncton.

In contrast is 3rd Canadian Division, formerly Land Forces Western Area, is currently responsible for all four western provinces and has one active and three reserve brigades under command.

The current Army organizational structure has survived numerous changes in nomenclature for over twenty years. The last real major changes were made in the 1970’s. From the end of the cold war to the end of Canadian military participation in Afghanistan and beyond, this structure, based largely on three infantry regiments of three battalions each organized into three brigades, has endured.

The question is, why?

The current organization may serve the services, but does it serve the country? It did not serve to support Canadian activities in Afghanistan where the army had to admit by the end of our involvement in that conflict that the high tempo of deployments had left them incapable of any action for at least a year. It is hard to see how it serves the country to have the closest army units to the Pacific coast, which is both our gateway to Asia and an area with a high potential for natural disasters, to be in Edmonton.
What Canada needs is more, smaller, brigades with a greater geographic footprint. Canada should have at least 6 divisions. First Division for expeditionary or active duty requirements and one each for the Maritimes, Quebec, Ontario, the West (that is Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta) and one for British Columbia. One of 3rd Canadian Division’s current reserve brigades is headquartered in Vancouver and could form the base for a 6th Canadian Division responsible for Army activities on the west coast. It would not be difficult to do and such an organization, which might at first resemble 5th Division in the Maritimes, would provide a foundation for a division which could better serve both Canada and the Army

 Ideally each of the five regional divisions would have eventually have one regular force brigade with two maneuver battalions (a unit not unlike a U.S.Brigade Combat Team) and supporting units along with the reserve brigades associated with the area.

To achieve these changes it is not necessary to create another 3 battalion regiment. It may come as a shock to some, but the army does not exist to meet the needs of the regiments.  In fact regiments can be of any size that suits the needs of the Army.

The present army structure has been shown to be sub-optimal. Changes in cap-badges and shoulder flashes will not fix the problem. Reorganizations that shuffle head quarters units will not add any strength to the front line. Now is the time, when defence budgets are tight and the need for positive changes is at a premium, to create the Canadian Army of the future.