Canada, under Trump pressure, says will boost defense spending

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada, which like other NATO countries is under pressure from Washington to increase defense spending, on Wednesday promised major new investments in the military but stopped short of saying how much.

Canada's Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan delivers a speech to the Conference of Defence Associations Institute in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

In unusually frank comments, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said poor decisions and under funding by successive governments had left the armed forces short of equipment and increasingly unable to do their job.

“It’s going to take a significant investment ... it’s going to be significant because of the hole we need to come out of,” he told a defense industry lunch.

Canada currently devotes just under one percent of GDP on defense, less than it did in 2005. The Trump administration is focusing on the many NATO member states who have yet to meet a commitment to spend two percent of GDP.

“We are now in the troubling position where status quo spending on defense will not even maintain a status quo of capabilities,” said Sajjan.

More details of planned spending will be revealed in a major defense policy review that is due to be released ahead of a NATO leaders’ meeting this month.

“The number that we’ll be announcing is a number that meets the needs of Canada and our support for our allies,” he said.

Sajjan said he was particularly concerned by Ottawa’s failure to acquire replacements for Canada’s ageing fleet of CF-18 fighter jets, some of which have been flying for almost 40 years. He also highlighted problems with outdated trucks, excavation equipment and helicopters.

The former Conservative administration said in 2010 it would buy 65 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 jets for C$9 billion ($6.6 billion). They later scrapped the decision, triggering years of delays and reviews.

Sajjan said that if Canada were to fulfill its defense commitments both in North America and as a NATO member, it would in any case need more than 65 jets.

“The C$9 billion in funding that was earmarked for the jet replacements by the previous government is nowhere near enough to even cover the 65 jets they proposed,” he said.

Last November, Canada unveiled plans to buy 18 Boeing Corp Super Hornets as a stop-gap measure while it prepared an open five-year competition to replace the CF-18s.

Canada has experienced a string of military procurement problems since the early 1990s, variously featuring naval ships, search and rescue helicopters, fighter planes, trucks, close combat vehicles and submarines.

Reporting by David Ljunggren