Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Defence strategy: we sure ain't Germans

Meanwhile, in Ottawa, "It becomes a challenge." Well, yes, to a government that, I suspect, has no serious interest or expertise in defence matters other than in terms of their associated political benefits or costs; what a pity. Though I will give the government credit for doing their best about Afstan.
Canada's military strategy for the next 20 years exists in a document that, for now, is being withheld from the public and is for the eyes of federal cabinet only, Canwest News Service has learned.

"There is obviously a government document that lays this down in detail," a senior official from Defence Minister Peter MacKay's office said Wednesday. "There's a very detailed cabinet document that lays this down and more."

That revelation Wednesday contradicts the official government line that was put forth Monday when Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MacKay announced the "Canada First Defence Strategy" with great fanfare in Halifax. At the time, MacKay's spokesmen said Canadians would have to rely on the speeches of the prime minister and defence minister, not a written document that laid out the government's plans.

"It is not a 'document' like a White Paper," spokesman Jay Paxton said Monday. "The strategy is what they unveiled," added Dan Dugas, MacKay's senior spokesman [see Upperdate]...

Moreover, the cost of replacing heavy equipment is expected to cost much more than previously indicated by the government.

Lt.-Gen. Walt Natynczyk, the vice-chief of the defence staff, said replacing heavy equipment over the coming decades will also cost between $45 to $50 billion. That is significantly higher than the $30 billion price tag that MacKay and Harper announced on Monday to replace ships, maritime patrol aircraft, fixed-wing search and rescue planes and army combat vehicles.

Half of that will be spent on ship upgrades for the navy, specifically the upgrading of frigates and destroyers, said Natynczyk...

On Wednesday, the official said the government is assessing what portions of the cabinet document can be made public so Canadians can get a better look at the new military plan.

"You've got the bones of it here," the official said, following an oral briefing at Defence Department headquarters in Ottawa in which senior military officials offered further explanations about the defence strategy.

"There is a very solid, detailed document in existence. It's not just stuff pulled out of the air," the official said.

The Forces have been working for two years on its defence capabilities plan. Last year, it produced a 39-page Canada First Strategy that was rejected by the current Conservative government because it was too detailed, and could be used by critics to more closely measure what projects were completed and what were not...

Overall, the annual defence budget will grow to $30 billion by 2028 from its current $18 billion based on the two-per cent annual increases that the Conservative plan now promises.

Military officials attempted to offer more details of the new defence spending plan at a briefing on Wednesday.

However, the event quickly went off the rails, when military officials told journalists that none of the assembled military experts could be quoted by name.

Only the opening remarks by Natynczyk, Canada's No. 2 soldier and the front-runner to replace Gen. Rick Hillier in July, were deemed quotable by defence officials.

Natynczyk rejected a request by journalists to hold the entire briefing on the record in the public interest.

Afterwards, some senior military officials expressed dissatisfaction with the ground rules for the briefing.

One senior officer used an expletive to express his dissatisfaction with how, in his view, the most proactive spending plan the Forces have ever seen was being communicated to the public.

"It's the policy of government," said another senior military official, who declined to say whether the ground rules were imposed by the prime minister's office.

Asked if he was comfortable with how the briefing had unfolded, the office said: "It becomes a challenge."

Military planners said they took a comprehensive modern approach to predict what global security risks or "conflict drivers" such as terrorism, climate change or population migration would drive up demand for the services of the Forces.

"Food is one, oil is another one, water is one," said another military official...
Just maybe that official was aware of what the Germans are up to. Money, equipments and personnel for the military are important. What is more important is what a country expects the military to be prepared to do with that money, equipments and personnel. That is what this government is unwilling to try to specify.

Note the proportion of money devoted to maintaining a blue water Navy, as opposed to one focused on coastal defence and sovereignty protection. Why does our Navy need to be engaged in the Arabian Sea interdicting rum-runners (see Update)? Or hash smugglers?

The answer: jobs building and repairing ships in Canada, and the hoped-for attendant votes. Western countries have a surplus of frigates/destroyers for any likely multilateral blue water operations requiring such vessels. Canadian ones are not essential for the West as a whole; we are exceedingly unlikely to operate on the blue waters on our own.

Then there's the Air Force. Does Canada really require fighters with top-end aerial combat abilities (as opposed to interception and patrol in defence of Canada and North America) and ground-attack capabilities?

Trying to maintain "combat-capable, flexible, multi-role" Canadian Forces for all three services is, to my mind, simply impossible for those services all to be effective and efficient, given the limited funding that our governments (both stripes) are willing to provide.

So a true "defence strategy" would attempt to:

1) Outline how the government thinks the CF should be employed for national, and then international, purposes;

2) Outline what mix of service capabilities are required to fulfill those roles.

But that would require serious decisions with political and service consequences this government is not willing to make--nor are, I am sure, most Canadians. Will any Canadian government ever be so ready?

More at the comment thread here (I'm for a mini-Marine Corps plus national sovereignty protection--first comment at link). And how about:
A civilian maritime patrol aircraft fleet?
Get mad at me--but get mad at our governments first for not being willing, or able, to think honestly in public.

Update: Dates:
...The briefing served up a few more details on the plan, such as a rough schedule for the purchase of new fighter jets (2017), search-and-rescue planes (2015), destroyers (2017) and frigates (2024) [actually Single Class Surface Combatant, to replace both]. The ships will eat up more than half of the equipment budget...
Upperdate: I am corrected:
...Mark there is not SCSC anymore, it's Destroyer Replacement Project. Any frigate will be be a version of the destroyer.
Some details:

Destroyer Replacement Project
Client Department: Department of National Defence
Prime Contractor: To be determined
Company Contact: To be determined
Industry Canada Manager: Greg Browning 613-954-3266
Mary Campbell 613-954-3789
Contract Period: To be determined
Description: Replacement of Iroquois Class vessels.


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9:40 a.m., May 15, 2008  

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