Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Afstan: Canadian officers take command at Kandahar and of Regional Command (South)

A fact to which the Canadian government prefers not to have attention drawn. Our forces in Afstan will be under overall command of Americans, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry and Maj.Gen. Benjamin C. Freakely (10th Mountain Division), until this summer.

On Feb. 24 Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope, Commanding Officer of Task Force ORION--the Canadian battle group in Operation ARCHER-- took command of operations in Kandahar province under overall command of US Operation Enduring Freedom.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Battle Group officially took over control of operations in Kandahar province February 24, 2006 at a ceremony at Kandahar Airfield.

The American soldiers they replaced are returning home after a year of operating in this volatile region. After weeks of handing over duties and passing on knowledge, both American and Canadian soldiers say they are confident the Patricias will further the allied goal of helping Afghans turn the province into a stable, secure environment effectively governed by Afghans.

Soldiers from the battle group... started deploying to Kandahar in mid-January. After a couple of weeks of familiarizing themselves with the environment and preparing their equipment and vehicles, they started accompanying American soldiers on patrols throughout Kandahar province.
Canadian and American military police

Canadian Military Police (MP) talk with their United States counterparts before departing for a joint patrol. The Canadian MPs ride with the Americans to watch and learn how the Americans have been conducting patrols. Photo by: Master Corporal Ken Fenner

At first, the Canadians occupied the right seat on the patrols, following the Americans' lead and learning as much as they could from the Americans' experience. Afterwards, they took the left seat and led the patrols with the Americans riding shotgun and offering tips and advice.

On Feb. 28 Brig.-Gen. David Fraser took command of

Regional Command (RC) South today in Kandahar, succeeding US Army Col. Kevin Owens. As commander of the multinational brigade led by Canada, Brig.-Gen. Fraser will be responsible for Canadian and coalition operations [including US troops] in Southern Afghanistan until November 2006...

RC South is also still under Enduring Freedom. It covers

...six provinces in the southern part of Afghanistan, which spreads over some 220,000 square kilometres.

Brig.-Gen. Fraser has

125 CF members with the Multi-National Brigade Headquarters (MNBHQ) in Kandahar. In total in the headquarters, there are 250 personnel from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Romania, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and United States of America stationed with MNBHQ...

So far the multinational brigade does not have its UK and Dutch units and appears to be an HQ without an actual brigade. There is however a Romanian battalion of 405 soldiers in addition to the Canadian battle group.

Later this year, a British Battle Group in Helmand province and a Dutch unit in Uruzgan province will join the Canadians. These allied forces will be led by Brigadier-General David Fraser's Canadian-led Multi-National Brigade Headquarters that will take control later this spring.

These UK and Dutch units are not there now, contrary to what Canadian media reports may suggest.

The UK is however beginning to deploy troops into Helmand province, immediately west of Kandahar. I am unclear whether these forces are currently under the multinational brigade HQ.

150 Royal Marines Commandos left Britain on 14 February 2006, headed for Helmand, Afghanistan where they will provide support and protection for the UK personnel who are building a base...The Marines form part of an 850-strong advance party deploying to Afghanistan this month which will also include engineers from 39 Regiment, Royal Engineers and three CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The Marines will carry out the vital function of protecting Army and RAF personnel as they build the infrastructure critical for the follow-on deployment of 16 Air Assault Brigade in the summer.

And at some point this summer the multinational brigade will shift from Enduring Freedom to command of NATO ISAF; ISAF HQ in Kabul will be under British General Richards from May 2006 (there is a good account at this link of UK plans for Afstan by Secretary of State for Defence John Reid).

Complicated? You bet.

Afstan: it's the immature anti-Americans, stupid

Jack Granatstein also indentifies another culprit responsible for opposition to the Canadian military mission: the peacekeeping myth that will not die.
...the word "peacekeeping" triggers a series of powerful memories and positive images in the Canadian mind: Lester Pearson's Nobel Peace Prize; a Canadian soldier in a blue helmet interposed between warring factions; the peacekeeping monument in Ottawa, and the widely believed mantra that, while Americans make war, we Canadians keep the peace.

Canadians are fixated on peacekeeping. We believe that Mike Pearson invented it, that Canadians are the best in the world at it, and that if we do peacekeeping, ideally for the United Nations, then we will not need large numbers of troops or much expensive equipment. The idea of peacekeeping as our métier has certainly shaped Canadian defence policy, and not for the better. The billions of dollars that Liberals and Conservatives have belatedly pledged to rebuild the Canadian Forces will take years to make a difference and to undo four decades of neglect...

...Canadians need to consider what they want their military to do in the 21st century. The war on terror is a reality and Canadians are targets, no matter how we try to convince ourselves that the world loves us. It doesn't...The Canadian troops in Kandahar are working to prop up a democratically elected government that is under attack from fundamentalist Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists. Participation in that operation is in Canada's national interests, and it is very much in the interests of democracy...

[Many Canadians think] Afghanistan is still the Americans' war, George W. Bush's war, and, automatically, large majorities of Canadians believe it must be wrong.

Canadian anti-Americanism is at a record peak in 2006, and this strong feeling colours every question...

...a mature nation....understands reality and faces it and acts to protect and advance its national interests. Peacekeeping is a cherished part of our past and, even if it has dwindled in utility, it might once again become important. But the reality now is one of terror attacks on the democracies and those struggling to build free societies. Canada's national interests demand that we employ the Canadian Forces to help the new democracies and protect the old...

Historian J. L. Granatstein is chair of the Advisory Council of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

Perhaps Canadian troops in Afstan should be equipped, to ward off the myth, with garlic amulets--though I suspect crosses would be thought de trop.

Update: An excellent letter by Alain Pellerin, executive director, Conference of Defence Associations.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Afstan: photos of Canadian troops

A nice selection by Chris Wattie of the National Post.

Monday, February 27, 2006

How Canada can help Iraq

Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps has an excellent idea.
After the Dayton Peace Accord was signed in 1995, and the Liberal government announced that our over-rotated army units were coming home from the Balkans for a "rest and refit," the M113 carrier fleet was sent en masse for a complete modernization overhaul. Valued at about $400 million, the M113 upgrade program had barely gotten underway when the army brass decided to plot a different course for the future. Instead of buying replacements for our aging Leopard main battle tanks, the revised plan was to acquire Stryker mobile gun systems...

Without tracked Leopard tanks, there was no longer a need to operate tracked M113 carriers...

In an effort to recover some of the lost capital, the Canadian government quietly put the entire M113 fleet up for sale...

Canada can unload 300 or so unused armoured vehicles onto the new Iraqi army. As they have just been completely overhauled and refurbished, these M113s would be a godsend to the Iraqi soldiers and they would be compatible with the ones they now possess. For Bush and his hard-pressed accountants on the Iraq file, this generous gesture would equate to more than a billion dollars worth of hardware, and it would provide protection for about five battalions worth of Iraqi soldiers. Most importantly, as the M113 possesses no integral weapon system, it poses no risk to American troops, and even Canadians fervently opposed to Bush’s invasion of Iraq cannot voice opposition to the provision of protection to Iraqi security officers...

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Afstan: combat or not? Minister of National Defence goes wobbly

Mr O'Connor contradicts the Canadian commander on the spot.

Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan aren't looking for a fight but will defend themselves, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor says, admitting he's got a big selling job ahead of him to explain why the troops are there.

"We're not in Afghanistan to conduct combat operations," Mr. O'Connor said yesterday...

"There is an insurgency in Afghanistan. But we're not aggressively going after the insurgents," Mr. O'Connor said. "But if we're attacked, we'll attack back."..

This is what the commander of the Canadian battle (?!) group at Kandahar said a month ago:
...Lt.-Col. Hope said yesterday he plans to take the offensive against the suicide bombers and those who train and support them. "We'll never be able to stop them completely, but we will continue to do the active offensive operations to counter them and deter them."

The Conservatives seem to be creating another Wonderland in Canada.

..."one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

Mr O'Connor has adopted the UK position. See this Jan. 27 post at Daimnation!

Afstan: Brits won't hunt enemy; will Canadian troops stop?

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Canadian Forces: How to Join

The Forces maintains a website dedicated to "How to Join", through which one can check out the variety of trades in the Forces, and learn of the standards each requires.


The first point is the Basic Standard for applying:

"To be eligible for consideration for the Canadian Forces, you must meet the following minimal conditions:
• be a Canadian citizen;
• Citizens of another country who have landed immigrant (Permanent Resident) status in Canada may also be considered for enrolment when the CF has need of their skill, when the position cannot be filled by a Canadian citizen, and if the national interest would not be prejudiced. However, only under exceptional circumstances will authority be granted tenrollol a citizen of another country.
• be 17 years of age (with parentguardianian consent) or older;
• junior level Military College applicants must be 16 years of age;
• you may be enrolled in the Reserves providing you are 16 years of age;
• meet the minimum education requirements for your entry plan and/or occupation;
• this can vary from Grade 10 (Sec III in Quebec) for combat arms occupations to a university degree for the Direct Entry Officer entry plan."

Next, on meeting the basic requirements, the applicant must take:
1. An Aptitude Test, to determine initial suitability for a selected trade;
2. A Medical Examination, self-evident; and
3. A Fitness Evaluation, to confirm the applicant is suitably fit to begin training.

After formally joining the Canadian Forces, the successful applicant is sent to the CF Recruit School at CFB St-Jean, and then to an Environmental school for general Army, Navy or Air training. Finally he is posted to a Branch School for his initial Trade training. On graduation, the new soldier is posted to a unit where his formal service begins.

Money: that's what I want

Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier would also urgently like a Hercules replacement.

... ideas the outspoken defence chief tossed out in a major speech to a largely military audience yesterday [Conference of Defence Associations], in which he also said that despite some big spending promises by successive governments, the Canadian Forces are running a $750-million yearly shortfall and also need additional "billions with a capital B" to replace rusting-out equipment and to bring on new recruits.

"We need money to sustain ourselves, then to increase our numbers to flesh out the skeletal units that we have in some places across the CF," Gen. Hillier said...

Despite a promise to increase spending by $13 billion over five years in the last Liberal budget, the Forces received only $500 million in new funds, $150 million of which was clawed back by the government for other spending.

Gen. Hillier said current defence spending remains at the 1991 level. "We remain short about three quarters of a billion dollars just to sustain the present Canadian Forces ... to march, fly or sail," including shortages of everything from bullets to housing, spare parts and gas for vehicles.

The Force's top new equipment priority, said Gen. Hillier, is a fleet of transport aircraft to replace the aging C130 Hercules transports. The Liberals announced a $5-billion plan to fast-track 16 new planes to replace the Hercules shortly before the election call last November.

The Conservatives have not said whether they will pursue the Hercules replacement, through their campaign platform suggested they would...

Then there's the need for other aircraft, yet more money, and reduced spending on bases (the Conservatives in their election platform promised, in a vote-buying exercise, to create a number of new bases, including one for an Army battalion in Goose Bay).

[Gen. Hillier] also laid out the need for new search and rescue aircraft to fly "life and death" operations, new heavy-lift helicopters to move troops and gear and the guarantee of long-range transport aircraft.

While Conservatives and the Liberals before them have together pledged almost $20 billion in new military funding, Hillier said yesterday he wasn't sure whether it would be enough.

But he hinted there is the potential for savings, noting that one-quarter of the military infrastructure — old hangars and base buildings — isn't required for operations. "We really need to be ruthless about how we parse that down," he said. Asked whether that spelled big cuts to military bases, Hillier said it's too soon to know.

Let us see how much money the Conservatives deliver and how soon (no more back-loading like the Liberals), and how fast equipment gets purchased.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Friday, February 24, 2006

Prepare to move...

Gordon O'Connor gave his first speech as Minister of National Defence yesterday, to the Conference of Defence Associations and CDA Institute. I was impressed by both the content of the speech and the clear language with which it was expressed.

O'Connor started off with praise for the academic defence community:

Alors que je commence mon mandat comme ministre de la Défense nationale, je suis heureux d'avoir la possibilité de travailler avec vous et avec tous les autres membres du milieu de la défense canadienne.

Je pense notamment à la communauté académique.

Lorsque j'étais un jeune soldat, il était difficile d'obtenir de l'information publique sur les questions de sécurité et de défense.

Aujourd'hui, grâce au travail de la communauté académique, les questions de sécurité et de défense occupent une place sans précédent dans le domaine public.

C'est là une contribution exceptionnelle, et elle doit continuer. Je suis donc un grand partisan de la communauté académique de défense.

I'm hardly an academic, and those who know me know full well the deep and abiding cynicism I hold for academia. Having said that, national defence is an area of governmental responsibility requiring a great deal of planning and thought. Relying solely on politicians or uniformed personnel to address every issue in the vast scope of this field is simply unwise. We need to talk more about defence and security issues in this country, and the MND's tip of the hat to the defence community was a welcome sign that he appreciates that fact.

O'Connor's reiteration of the three ordered priorities for DND was also on point. Defence of Canada, North America, and Canadian interests in the rest of the world - in that order - simply makes sense.

Oh, the predictable hysterics about further integration with the U.S. military are already coming from the predictable sources. But when it comes to continental defence, a high degree of integration is a textbook no-brainer.

I especially like the expansion of the NORAD agreement:

NORAD is a key element of the Canada-US defence relationship. For close to 50 years, it has watched over the skies of North America and protected Canadian and American citizens. The current NORAD agreement will expire in May, and this government is committed to renewing and strengthening it — notably by giving NORAD a role to play in maritime surveillance and early warning.

Integration is not submission, and those who paint it that way are either dishonest or uniformed. A seamless game plan for Canada and the United States focusing on areas of common interest that lays out who exactly is responsible for what is, without question, in Canada's best interest.

O'Connor spoke forcefully on the need for military involvement in Afghanistan, as a prime example of our international responsibilities:

As I mentioned earlier, it's important to address threats to our security before they reach our shores.

That's precisely what we're doing in Afghanistan: our troops in that country contribute to the safety of Canadians here at home by ensuring that Afghanistan does not once again become a base for the spread of terrorism.

It's also important for Canadians to better understand our commitment to Afghanistan. Our success in that country depends on the support of Canadians and the Conservative government is determined to openly explain the nature of our commitment in Afghanistan in Parliament.

Great stuff, that: here's our doctrine, here's how Afstan fits into that profile, and by the way, we're not afraid to discuss and debate something so important in Parliament (which should have happened from the beginning). Well said.

The Minister then talked about rebuilding the Canadian Forces. It's nice to see a Minister of the Crown admit the Forces need rebuilding, instead of vainly defending the government's shameful record of neglect.

Increasing the strength of the Canadian Forces to at least 75,000 Regular force personnel is a clear priority. We also intend to increase the Reserve force personnel by 10,000.
Le recrutement, l'instruction et le maintien de l'effectif sont donc au cœur de notre plan. Pour être honnête, si nous ne pouvons pas recruter et former du nouveau personnel, nous ne pourrons pas mettre en œuvre nos idées pour l'avenir de nos forces armées.

For those with french-language skills even rustier than mine, that last paragraph deserves at least a rough translation (very rough, with apologies for the mangling):

Recruiting, training, and maintaining effective strength are at the heart of our plan. To be honest, if we can't recruit and train new personnel, we won't be able to follow through on our ideas for the future of our armed forces.

People are at the heart of the Conservative vision for defence. O'Connor gets that the biggest challenge the CF faces doesn't have to do with equipment - enough money will fix that problem quickly enough. No, the greatest threat to our military is the lack of sufficiently qualified, trained, and motivated men and women in uniform to do all the things Canadians ask of them.

As he said, if we can't fix that, we can't fix the rest of it. And he's willing to consider some fairly creative solutions to the training problem:

Ceci dit, nous devons faire plus qu'augmenter notre nombre de recrues. Nous devons également nous assurer qu'elles reçoivent la formation dont elles ont besoin dans un délai raisonnable. En effet, il est inutile d'ouvrir nos rangs à plusieurs milliers de nouvelles personnes si la plupart d'entre elles demeurent inactives en raison de goulots d'étranglement dans notre système d'instruction.

To meet this requirement, we'll expand the existing recruitment and training system, as well as look at alternate ways to increase personnel levels, such as temporarily tasking selected operational units to act as trainers. (my emphasis)

You know, I never in a million years would have thought of that, but I'm damned glad someone in a position of influence did.

Another block in the foundation required to rebuild the CF is obviously equipment. I commented recently on O'Connor's previous remarks about transparency in procurement, but his words yesterday added some much-needed context that put my fears to rest:

Over the last 20 years, it's taken an average of nearly nine years to get from identifying an operational deficiency to awarding a contract. And there are too many examples to name of projects that have taken too long.

Our acquisition process needs to be fair. It needs to be transparent. And most of all, it needs to give the Canadian Forces the equipment they need when they need it. (my emphasis again)

The Minister very succinctly summed up the government's most rational position on Arctic sovereignty:

International law and diplomacy are important instruments in the protection of our sovereignty. However, our claims must also be backed by strong military capabilities. This means the capacity for both surveillance and presence over every part of Canada's Arctic territory.

If sovereignty actually means "supreme authority within a territory," the credible threat of national force must remain a part of Canada's strategy.

The best part of O'Connor's speech came at the end, though, as he laid out his clear and concise vision for the CF:

I can summarize this government's defence vision quite succinctly: it's about having a three-ocean navy, a robust army, and a revitalized air force. They would all operate as part of an integrated and effective Canadian Forces team anywhere in the world.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much support the government will be willing to provide O'Connor and DND to get the job done, and whether even full support will be enough. But this is, by any reasonable comparison with any other Canadian government in living memory, a most promising start.

Nation of peacekeepers

When Jack Layton, during the recent election campaign, called for an open debate on Canadian participation in Afghanistan, he came in for criticism from those on the right who take that participation as given. And he received the fervent support of those on the left who take it for granted that Canada should not be involved in any military venture more fraught with peril than, say, distributing pet bunny rabbits out of the backs of armoured personnel carriers to smiling children.

Layton's call for debate was motivated by his opposition to Canada's involvement -- after all, you don't call for debate on a fait accompli that you fully support. But setting asides his motives, he was right to a certain extent. Carl von Clausewitz made the point almost 200 years ago: warfare is a continuation of policy by other means. And in a democracy, policy should be the result of open debate and public consultation -- open debate that did not occur before the mission of Canadian troops in Afghanistan was changed. Fair enough.

At the time, I felt the point was somewhat moot. Canadians, after all, support the idea of building stable democracies in failed states. Canadians, by and large, have supported active intervention in numerous places where it did not occur: Bosnia, Darfur, Rwanda, and so on. Canadians recognize that "peacekeeping" may, in the absence of a peace to keep, extend into peace enforcement.

Canadians, then, would be likely to support expanding the role of Canadian troops in Afghanistan to counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban, who are bent on reinstating their undeniably disastrous government and quashing any hope of stability in Afghanistan. Right?

Uh, wrong, apparently
. The Grope & Flail today reports that a "robust majority of Canadians say they would opt against sending troops to Afghanistan and would like to see parliamentarians have the opportunity to vote on the issue."

Allan Gregg, quoted in the article, suggests a reason:
"I think you've got a knee-jerk against doing anything with the Americans, especially on the military front, but also part of this distinctiveness and difference with the United States is our unwarlike nature."

This matter of our supposed "unwarlike nature" is interesting. We do like to view ourselves as a "nation of peacekeepers," but what exactly is peacekeeping? Many, probably most, Canadians would have supported killing people in Rwanda, to stabilize the country and stop a genocide. Canadians would have supported a more active role in Bosnia, particularly during the siege of Sarajevo. That would be okay for a nation of peacekeepers. But killing people in Afghanistan to prevent them from further destabilizing the country and provoking a new civil war ... well, apparently that's not something a nation of peacekeepers should do.

It's a branding problem, in marketing-speak: in this case, the mission is related to the American war on terror, and to oil. And that is the whole reason that many Canadians oppose it.

About ten years ago, I saw Lewis MacKenzie speak at UWO, and he said quite frankly that the west would have intervened in the siege of Sarajevo had the Bosnian Muslims only found reserves of oil under the city.

Because there was no oil, the problem was purely humanitarian. Had the Bosnians found that oil, you can bet that as official, government support for intervention rose, the support of "humanitarians" for intervention would have waned. The war would then, after all, have been all about oil, which presumably would make the lives of the actual humans involved somewhat less important.

For those opposed to our presence in Afghanistan, the question is quite simple. Which is more important: to stabilize the country and benefit the human beings who reside there, or to frustrate American interests? And if frustrating American interests is more important than human beings, what kind of a humanitarian are you?

x-posted from The Amazing Wonderdog

Reporters who aren't up on their choppers

Mike Blanchfield of The Ottawa Citizen has not done his research (how typical).
Gen. Henault [Canadian, chairman of NATO's military committee] admitted yesterday the alliance is still plagued by the same problem that has continually dogged it there: a shortage of equipment to do the job, especially attack helicopters...

Canada does not have attack helicopters, but that is something new defence chief, Gen. Rick Hillier, was able to convince the last Liberal government to fund through its last federal budget. As a NATO commander in Afghanistan in 2004, Gen. Hillier also complained about a shortage of helicopters...

Blanchfield is wrong. Attack helicopters were not in the 2005 budget. It in fact called for acquiring:
new medium capacity helicopters...

Gen. Hillier was trying last November to get the Liberal government to commit to heavy-lift (e.g. CH-47) helicopters, not attack helicopters (the Dutch and British will be providing Apaches to NATO ISAF in Afstan). Although he had the support of Minister of National Defence Graham, Gen. Hillier was unable to convince the Liberal cabinet to commit to any helicopters at all.

Cabinet did agree on a $4.6 billion plan to fast-track a CC-130 Hercules replacement, while rejecting the rest of the Canadian Forces' $12.2 billion proposal for new aircraft.

By the way, this was the Conservative response to Graham's efforts to re-equip the Air Force.

The Conservative defence critic, retired general Gordon O'Connor, says he's concerned the government is rushing the process unnecessarily and has made the requirements "so precise only one solution's possible."

Mr Blanchfield compounds his mistake in another article today.
The Liberals, in their last federal budget, promised to increase defence spending by $13 billion over five years, buy new equipment, such as attack helicopters...

Oh dear.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

What It Means To Be No. 16

According to our Department of National Defence, Canada's defence budget ranks 16th in the world and 7th in NATO1. Despite a steep decline in allocation -- from CDN $12 billion in FY 1992-93 to CDN $9.38 billion in FY 1998-99 -- Canadian troops still proudly serve with their NATO counterparts and still patrol former "hot zones" across the globe. What about all the national bellyaching about reduced capabilities, ancient equipment and recruiting / retention problems? For answers, it might be instructive to look at the example of our southern neighbours, who are also looking at their defense expenditures and wonder if it's all being wisely spent.

Apparently, the US spends more per year [on defense] than the next 15 countries combined,” Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote on Jan. 3.

In a memo to his top aides, the evidently surprised Defense Secretary noted that the US last year devoted $456 billion to the military, while the nations ranked No. 2 (China) through 16 (Israel) together shelled out only $454 billion...

These amounts stir political sensitivities at a time of huge budget deficits. A recent poll for the Pew Research Center found 42 percent of Americans gave “top priority” to reducing the $319 billion deficit. Thirty-six percent wanted to do so by cutting defense spending.

Right on cue, the New York Times chimed in, “After the Pentagon’s spending orgy over the past five years, there is plenty of scope for cutting.”

-- "What It Means To Be No. 1", Air Force magazine, February 2006.

As one might expect, the Air Force Association does not exactly castigate the administration for its spending habits; rather it tries to make sense of them in the context of America's strategic posture and security commitments. Is the fact that America spends more than the next fifteen runners-up significant? The AFA answers with an emphatic no. The next fifteen nations2 have small economies relative to the United States; their combined GDP is a mere USD $17 trillion, while the United States alone weighs in with USD $13 trillion. There are other considerations that drive US defense spending, and they are certainly relevant to Canada.

Start with the obvious strategic considerations. The United States, unlike any other nation, is a global power with worldwide interests, responsibilities, and allies. No other nation would be called on to extend its deterrent power around the world or would even want to. None have the power to fight and win two major regional wars at a time. Only Washington can do that.

Indeed, the scale of US military might enables some other major nations—Germany, say, or Japan
[ed. and certainly neighboring Canada]—to be relaxed about their own defenses.

Another factor to consider: Americans have decided that, if war comes, it will be waged far from US shores. That decision imposes certain military demands, all of them expensive.

-- "What It Means To Be No. 1", Air Force magazine, February 2006.

The money 'graph there is the last one: if America fights a war, she has decided in advance that it will be fought far from continental North America. This immediately alleviates Canada's defence establishment of certain territorial responsibilities that it would otherwise be hard-pressed to meet. Significantly, American political leadership has for generations recognised that their forces will defend the homeland from afar, and structured their military forces appropriately. On the other hand, Canada's political leadership has for generations committed our forces to distant peacemaking operations while simultaneously starving them of appropriate kinetic and logistic capabilities.

Lest anyone think sort of political over-reach is a uniquely Canadian situation, take a look at Japan. A major regional power with a highly effective fighting force, Japan's Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) deployed 550 non-combat troops to Iraq in 2003. The JSDF soon found that keeping those troops supplied was a major undertaking, since it was never before authorised nor equipped to operate a globe-spanning combat logistics chain. Japan stepped into a domestically unpopular role she wasn't equipped for, but is able to shoulder for a limited period of time. Canada has been doing it for decades.

Fighting far from home requires lots and lots of transport—especially airlift—to haul bullets, beans, parts, and troops. It also requires costly overseas bases. Because every war they fight is an “away game” in an enemy’s backyard, US combat forces can’t be just a little stronger; they must be much stronger—in the air, on land, or at sea—and that requires high-technology weapons.

It also requires a huge amount of combat support. At present, about 50 percent of USAF’s budget goes to so-called “joint force enablers”—tankers, satellites, and surveillance aircraft.

Much of today’s defense cost flows from the kind of force to which we Americans have committed ourselves psychologically. It is an all-volunteer force, not conscripted. Attracting and keeping high-quality personnel costs a fortune—$111 billion a year just for pay—and grows more expensive each year. Health care costs and other benefits have been soaring.

Such a professional combat force, in turn, requires extensive, realistic training, which pushes up outlays on fuel, spare parts, repairs, and depot labor. The US military spends $150 billion a year on these accounts, twice as much as it spends on weapons...

Second, the US took a “procurement holiday” in the 1990s, deferring acquisition of new systems, so weapons are now wearing out all at once and are in urgent need of replacement.

-- "What It Means To Be No. 1", Air Force magazine, February 2006.

These factors are also in play for the Canadian Forces. Every war since 1812 has been an "away game" for Canadian soldiers, too, although to be generous the Great War and Second World War did involve a terrific amount of territorial patrolling. And every peacekeeping or peacemaking assignment is, at heart, a combat operation. Peacekeeping is a nice way of saying internationally-sanctioned gunboat diplomacy. It means getting between warring parties -- often over their objections -- and promising to retaliate in kind if anyone should harm the peacekeepers.

Despite our secure national land mass and increasing political emphasis on overseas peacemaking operations, the Canadian body politic has not adapted to the change. The Canadian Forces have had their logistical capabilities shortened and starved in the postwar years to the point where they can bareful fulfil their territorial mission, let alone overseas commitments. We will run out of mission-capable airlift, sealift and (most urgently) invaluable human capital before replacements are fully procured and operational.

Canada's been on a bit of a procurement holiday since the late 1980s. At present only our CF-188 fighters can be air refueled (by specially fitted CC-130 tactical transports), and the turboprop-powered tactical airlifters are too slow to keep up with the turbine-powered fighters they refuel. The potential C-130J replacements can be air refueled, but not by the probe-and-drogue method used by the CF-188s; the Js require "flying boom" capability. The potential C-17 strategic airlifters can also be air-refueled, but again, only by boom-equipped tankers. Canada has never operated boom-equipped tankers, and our last turbine-powered CC-137 tanker was retired in 1997, without any planned or anticipated replacement.

High-quality volunteer personnel is also a cost not often appreciated. The much-lauded Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps magazine compared the armed forces of Turkey and Canada in an October 31, 2005 article. Turkey apparently spends a similar amount of money -- CDN $11 billion -- but appears to get much more bang for its defence budget buck.

Canada has a paper strength of 57,000 regular service personnel, with a reserve force hovering around 14,000. So we could mobilize 71,000 troops in a time of crisis. For their part, the Turks maintain a regular force of about 500,000 and a reserve of close to one million. In terms of combat units, Canada has just three under-strength brigades, and the Turks have four entire field armies, with no less than 14 armoured brigades.

While keen-eyed military buffs will point out that the Turkish tanks are mostly older models, the same can be said for Canada’s leopard tanks. The difference is that Turkey is in the process of replacing its armoured fleet with newer main battle tanks, while Canada is purchasing lightweight wheeled vehicles instead.

Canada’s army crown jewel is the elite 300-member Joint Task Force 2 commando unit. The Turkish generals can deploy up to five commando brigades (20,000 troops), with most of these special forces soldiers being battle-tested in combat.

In the air, Canada can scramble just three squadrons of CF-18 fighters, with another three squadrons of these planes sitting in mothballs. The Turks operate no fewer than 19 combat squadrons equipped with many of the newer-model F-16 fighters.

At sea, Canada can float 12 patrol frigates, three destroyers, two supply ships and 12 minesweepers, and we have four second-hand British subs still in the workshops. Turkey can put to sea 13 submarines, 20 frigates, 21 fast patrol boats, 21 minesweepers and 52 landing ships, and their navy has its very own amphibious brigade of marines.

Given the Turkish example, it is obviously possible to maintain a NATO-standard army, navy and air force for less than $12 billion a year. So are Canada’s defence woes really due to a lack of funding?

-- "Defence woes more than money", Scott Taylor, October 31, 2005.

All due respect to Mr. Taylor, but he is broadly misinterpreting the data. Yes, it's possible to have a robust Turkish-style armed forces, provided your soldiers, mechanics, suppliers and utilities are content with Turkish-style standards of living. The majority of the Turkish armed forces are conscripts, not volunteers; the military does not have to provide market-based wages to compete with private industry. A Turkish private earns about USD $2.25 a month; a Canadian private earns much more than that. A Turk's per capita share of his nation's GDP is a mere USD $7,900; per capita GDP for a Canadian is USD $32,8003. The tanks are also a non-starter. Turkey does operate some Leopard-1s as we do, but the majority of their armored force consists of ancient M-48s and M-60s -- tanks that pre-date the Leopard-1.

If the cost of living and doing business in Turkey is so much lower than in Canada, then naturally they will have more money available for capital projects -- does that mean DND is frittering away its budget? Or simply that the Canadian Forces should buy Turkish?

If Canada wants to revitalise its military forces, then Canadian politicians (and Canadians in general) should determine whether they want a force optimised for territorial defence or "away game" peacemaking missions. The two require very different force structures and funding commitments. If no one wants to spend a lot of money on expensive military toys, then bring our folks home from their far-flung assignments. It's not fair to send them into harm's way on a shoestring budget with inadequate equipment. If we are content to freeload off the Americans for territorial defence and want to focus on expeditionary peacemaking (like Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan), then spend appropriately on the kinetic and logistic elements required for globe-spanning operations. But please, let's dispense with the fiction that we can do both with what we've got now.

1 Measured by budget size using 2001 figures. More recent US figures place Canada in 14th.
2 China, Russia, France, Britain, Japan, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, Spain, Australia, Canada, Turkey, and Israel.
3 GDP per capita figures from CIA World Factbook, 2005.

Cross-posted to Taylor & Company

UPDATE: Thanks to Damian for pointing out that our CC-150 Polaris aircraft are being refitted with drogue pods on the wingtips, and commenter Chris for noting that RAF Hercs and USMC KC-130s have probe refueling capability.

Afstan: one of the usual suspects opposes Canada's military mission

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, National president, Canadian Islamic Congress, conveniently ignores the fact that our troops are there under UN Security Council Resolution 1623 (2005), passed unanimously. The Resolution is under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the chapter that authorizes the use of force ("peacekeeping" missions are under Chapter VI of the Charter).
Canada's involvement in Afghanistan is not, and has never been, peacekeeping. Canadians are finally waking up to the fact that there was no real debate over the decision to send our military to Afghanistan. Nor was there any discussion of concrete objectives, or how to measure our success there. When will we even know our mission is over?

Our government would do the right thing by all Canadians if it brings our troops home, because our mission in Afghanistan lacks purpose.

Funny, I thought the purpose was to help the democratically elected government of Afghanistan combat Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents and terrorists trying to destabilize, or indeed overthrow, that government.

So does the Security Council.

“The Security Council,
“Reaffirming also its resolutions 1368 (2001) of 12 September 2001 and 1373 (2001) of 28 September 2001 and reiterating its support for international efforts to root out terrorism in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,

“Recognizing that the responsibility for providing security and law and order throughout the country resides with the Afghans themselves, and welcoming the cooperation of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with the International Security Assistance Force,

“Recalling the importance of the Bonn Agreement and the Berlin Declaration, in particular annex 1 of the Bonn Agreement which, inter alia, provides for the progressive expansion of the International Security Assistance Force to other urban centres and other areas beyond Kabul...

“Determining that the situation in Afghanistan still constitutes a threat to international peace and security...

“2. Authorizes the Member States participating in the International Security Assistance Force to take all necessary measures to fulfil its mandate;

“3. Recognizes the need to strengthen the International Security Assistance Force, and in this regard calls upon Member States to contribute personnel, equipment and other resources to the International Security Assistance Force, and to make contributions to the Trust Fund established pursuant to resolution 1386 (2001);

“4. Calls upon the International Security Assistance Force to continue to work in close consultation with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, as well as with the Operation Enduring Freedom Coalition in the implementation of the Force mandate.."

Is that clear enough for Dr Elmasry? Or could it be that he is simply unhappy with the prospect of Canadian soldiers fighting Muslims?

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Conservatives' defence promises not good enough

If only Liberal Senator Colin Kenny (who knows more about defence than any other Canadian politician) were Minister of National Defence. (The sixth and seventh paras of this post have been shifted, for emphasis, from their places in the Senator's column.)

The new Conservative government has put its mouth behind the revitalization of the Canadian Forces. Bravo...

...Anyone who takes the time to parse the situation knows that what is being offered still doesn't measure up to what is going to be needed.

We're going to come up at least $4 billion a year short -- and probably much more -- even if the Conservatives come through with what they appear to be promising...

The Senate Committee on National Security and Defence argued in its September 2005 report that the defence budget should be $25 to $35 billion by 2011-12 -- compared to the $19 billion that it would have climbed to under the Martin government's plan. The Conservatives have promised an additional $5.3 billion over five years. If an extrapolation (for which there is no firm commitment) were to hold, the Conservatives' 2011-12 military budget would be about $21 billion.

That's $4 billion short of what will be needed to fund the work that Gen. Hillier says is required...

Then there's pork-barrelling. It is worrisome that the Conservatives did what so many political parties have done in election campaigns over the years -- buy seats by promising people that their military bases won't be closed, redundant or not. Well, some of them are redundant. They're sucking money from the military budget that should be spent elsewhere. Providing an economic base for these communities shouldn't be DND's job. That is the role of departments such as industry...

Governments tend to go weak-kneed when it comes to making decisions that might antagonize voters. But somebody has to do what needs to be done.

Recruiting is a huge problem. Gen. Hillier told the committee that the recruiting process is broken. First the Liberals, and now the Conservatives, have promised significant (if inadequate) increases in the regular Forces. Yet last September recruiters were only hitting 76 per cent of the quota needed to simply replace current attrition...

...The average length of time it takes to acquire a piece of major equipment, under the current system, is 14 to 16 years. That may be hard to believe, but it's true...

Fixing the Canadian military is going to take money and more. Prime Minister Harper has said some encouraging things, but is he really going to give Gen. Hillier what he needs to keep Canadians safe?

We'll see.

Senator Colin Kenny was chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence for the past five years. The committee published 14 reports over that period. E-mail: kennyco@sen.parl.gc.ca

Update: In his first speech as Minister of National Defence Mr O'Connor provided perishingly little in the way of detail on strengthening the Canadian Forces.
Increasing the strength of the Canadian Forces to at least 75,000 Regular force personnel is a clear priority. We also intend to increase the Reserve force personnel by 10,000.

...Pour être honnête, si nous ne pouvons pas recruter et former du nouveau personnel, nous ne pourrons pas mettre en œuvre nos idées pour l'avenir de nos forces armées...

[Note this ridiculously politically correct goal.]...elles devront se diversifier et devenir plus représentatives de la société canadienne...

Our acquisition process needs to be fair. It needs to be transparent. And most of all, it needs to give the Canadian Forces the equipment they need when they need it...

We will increase our military's deployability.

We will improve our national surveillance capabilities.

We will acquire new equipment and upgrade existing platforms.

We will improve Defence's infrastructure.

And, we will take better care of our men and women in uniform...

And a partridge in a pear tree.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Arctic sovereignty: the Navy is not the answer

From a hawk in answer to For the doves.

Some clearer thinking than the Conservatives have provided (full text not online).
...Mr. Harper will have to undo one of his election pledges.

This is the pledge, made Dec. 22, to defend Canada's Arctic sovereignty by military means. Specifically, Mr. Harper undertook to place anti-submarine sensors in the Northwest Passage, and to build and deploy three heavy, troop-carrying naval icebreakers to enforce Canada's exclusive jurisdiction in its Arctic waters...

...for the Prime Minister to persist in a mistaken naval defence of Arctic sovereignty would be worse than counterproductive for Canada-U.S. relations. Consider first what might happen when new naval icebreakers and sensors are in place.

A submarine is detected and the acoustic signature tells us whose it is. It's American. What then do we do? Have troops lean over the icebreaker rail and shake their fists at the sub as it passes by under the ice? Launch depth charges from an icebreaker onto a nuclear-powered submarine?

To avert any such insanity (and to save billions of dollars), the Prime Minister ought to cancel the naval icebreaker commitment...

Derek Burney, the man who has been leading the current transition in Ottawa for the Conservative government, negotiated an Arctic co-operation agreement with the United States in 1988. It saw both countries suspend their differences in law and, on this basis, co-operate in Coast Guard icebreaker operations in one another's Arctic waters without prejudice to whatever might be said and done if ever we went to court.

The 1988 agreement to disagree has worked well. The two Coast Guards collaborate smoothly. The framework could now be enlarged to authorize without-prejudice naval co-operation, including transits by U.S. submarines through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago...

...it's not the Navy but the Coast Guard and our law-enforcement agencies that are likely to be cost-effective in the exercise of sovereignty...

The Canadian Coast Guard certainly needs new icebreakers, which would be useful for asserting sovereignty in Arctic maritime passageways--and for many other purposes. Fund these.

Moreover the Canadian Forces have much more urgent needs (Hercules replacement for the Air Force) and more important needs (joint support ships and an amphibious ship for the Navy). The Forces badly need more funding and new equipment; these should not be frittered away on politically attractive but strategically very questionable activities.

See also: "Arctic sovereignty": It's not just the U.S. that's against us; it's almost all our friends and this article at Canadian American Strategic Review.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

For the doves

Babble on.

Alan from GenX at 40 is apparently writing under a pseudonym for the Globe and Mail these days:

To rely mainly on military means is to court disaster in the defence of sovereignty. We do, however, have a practical and inexpensive way of exercising Canadian jurisdiction in the Arctic waters we call our own. Strangely, it involves talking to Washington about matters of common concern.

I guess Professor Griffiths' case has merit if you're of the opinion that Canadian territorial boundaries should be determined by someone other than Canada.

OK, that's not fair. He uses the weasel-word "mainly" to qualify the statement, and I'd agree: relying mainly on military means to win our Arctic sovereignty disputes is poor policy. But relying entirely upon diplomacy with no military presence to speak of is equally foolhardy.

I say if we think it should be ours, we patrol it and control it. Negotiate if you must, but negotiate from a position of strength. It's not like we have nothing to lose.

Babble off.

Cross-posted to Babbling Brooks

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Three priorities

Babble on.

Our new MND hasn't cast anything in stone at this point, but he's laying out priorities for DND and the CF that make good sense to me:

“On the big scale, the top priorities are to straighten out the recruitment training system so that we can bring in the recruits and train them so to expand the armed forces,” he said.

The other big priority is to simplify the procurement process so that it’s fair and transparent, said O’Connor.

“So that Canadians everywhere know what we’re acquiring and where we’re acquiring it.”

He also wants to install an Arctic navy. O’Connor said the first of three icebreakers might arrive within five years.

“I want armed vessels in the north so that we can impose our will when necessary. I want the navy up there so we can have a three-ocean navy, so that we can move through the Arctic.”

I like his first priority, because it deals with the trickiest issue facing our CF today: training and personnel problems. Undermanning hurts our present-force capabilities, but it also hurts our future-force capabilities as a consequence. For example, a specialist PO2 who jetty-jumps to fill a slot on two different ships on back-to-back deployments isn't available to train new specialists in his trade. He's also a lot more likely to burn out - family problems, depresssion, etc - and deprive the CF of a fully trained operator. Reinvesting our 'human capital', if you will, in the training system requires some short-term sacrifices, but will pay dividends in the long-run.

I like his third priority, because it deals with a huge gap in the CF's primary mission: to defend Canadian sovereignty on our Arctic borders. Yes, there are some serious roadblocks to putting artic-ice-capable warships into action, especially if they are to be Canadian-built. We're creating a military competency from scratch, for heaven's sake - it's not going to be a walk in the park. But when the alternative is to continue to cede everything but the moral high ground to those nations who don't recognize our sovereignty, I think we have to bite the bullet and fight our way through the difficulties to make our presence felt. Will there be some mistakes made along the way? Almost certainly. Should that stop us from proceeding? Absolutely not.

O'Connor's second priority is more problematic. Perhaps he's on the right track, and perhaps he simply understands his political purview a little better than I do, but his phrasing leaves me concerned: simplifying the procurement process so it's fair and transparent.

Procurement is a gargantuan problem for the CF. But I'll be honest with you: I don't give a rodent's hindquarters about fairness or transparency at this point. I simply want to make sure the military has the equipment and supplies it needs, where it needs them, when it needs them. Now, don't get me wrong: process matters over the long-haul. But now is not the time for getting hung up on process above all other things.

When you're speeding down the highway at 100 km/h, and you want to change lanes, you check your mirrors, you do a shoulder-check, you signal, and then you move gradually over to the other lane. Following this process consistently greatly decreases your chances for an accident in the long-term. Following it when the big-rig directly in front of you jack-knifes could be fatal. At that point, you rely on situational awareness and swerve, because the urgency of the circumstances requires it.

In the abstract, DND's procurement process needs to be fair and transparent, too true. But when we're moving equipment into an overseas theatre on rented transport planes, moving it around slung under rented choppers, hitching rides on Dutch or American helos, keeping our air-support home because of avionics concerns and insupportability, jerry-rigging Sea Kings as troop-transports, bone-yarding our tactical transports because of airframe fatigue - and that's just off the top of my head - then our focus should be on results first, process second.

Let me be clear with an example: I'd support them buying the wrong heavy-lift helicopter at the wrong price, if it did the job and they could get it quickly. At this point, 'the perfect' can very easily scuttle 'the good' - and our men and women in uniform have been doing so much with so little for so long that 'the adequate' would still be a step up.

Still, concerns aside, at least our Minister of National Defence is moving in the right direction overall. Best of luck to him, and we'll be watching.

Babble off.

Cross-posted to Babbling Brooks

Remember the "Brutal Afghan Winter"?

Taliban for sale or rent? The myth of the fanatical religious "insurgent" (scumbag?) is exposed (by a Toronto Star reporter!).

The going rate for blowing up a Canadian, or any other component of the NATO takeover of southern Afghanistan, is a little less than a year's salary.

That works out to about $300, payable after the fact, in Pakistani rupees or Afghanis — bomber's choice...

...how real is a Taliban jihad that buys at least some of its recruits under false pretences from the bargain basement of Afghan despair?

A similar account was heard yesterday by Radio-Canada reporter Manon Globensky, who was told by a Kandahari seamstress that at least some of those responsible for torching Afghan schools — ostensibly an act of pious retribution against the education of women — actually have zero ideological motivation. They just desperately need the money.

Mohammadi said that whatever the circumstances, an act of violence involving conflict with the fledgling Afghan army or U.S.-led coalition troops invariably is characterized as an encounter with the Taliban. Each time the word is set in type, it deepens the impression of an ambiguous yet somehow monolithic foe...

It is not that the raw material isn't there for a more substantial jihad. Austere Saudi theology and its variants, which were covertly disseminated at madrassas along the Afghan-Pakistan borderlands as part of the anti-Soviet jihad, have quarter-century roots...

The big difference now, [Kandahar Deputy Governor] Jelani said, is that the majority of Afghans have had enough. They can see that whatever the Canadians and other troops represent, it is not Soviet-style occupation. There are nearly 2,200 Canadians deployed to southern Afghanistan...

Please absorb this simple reality, all ye critics of the US, NATO and, without even in most cases knowing it,the UN: there is no foreign occupation of Afghanistan. NATO ISAF troops should number around 16,000 by this summer; US Operation Enduring Freedom numbers will be around 16,500. So some 33,000 troops are "occupying" Afstan?

Puhleez! Get a historic grip.

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Monday, February 20, 2006

Good money after bad, and that's the best option

Babble on.


The [HMCS] Chicoutimi has been sitting in dry dock at the Halifax Shipyard since last spring. It is slated to return to duty in September 2007.

The military admits it has already spent about $25 million assessing the damage and removing some materials destroyed in the Oct. 5, 2004 blaze that killed Lieut. Chris Saunders of Halifax.

But the navy has refused to confirm or deny the projected $100-million cost, which is more than six times the $15 million the navy initially estimated for fixing the Chicoutimi.

*pinky to corner of mouth* One hundred MILLLION dollars!

Seriously, that's a pile of coin. That's over twelve percent of the Upholder project's original 'non-recurring costs' of $812 million, and it's $10 million more than the projected costs of operating the entire four-ship submarine fleet for a year.

Anyone who has ever owned a used car is familiar with the dilemma: at what point does it stop making sense to fix the damned thing and just buy a new one? With a fleet of submarines operated by no other navy in the world, the problem is even trickier. Dragging the Chicoutimi past the edge of the continental shelf and scuttling it doesn't solve the problem, since we have three more of the beasts, none of which are in good working order.

So what are our options? I'm going to assume buying new isn't one of them.

If we decide the repair cost is too high, in terms of danger to personnel and financially, then we not only lose all the formidable capabilities of a submarine force for the forseeable future, we lose the institutional ability to operate such a force. That is to say, our navy forgets how to fight in subs. That's an awfully drastic step to take, because it's not something you can undo in anything less than a generation, and probably more.

So we really have to fix the cursed things. In my opinion, if you're going to take a hit, then take it all at once and take it openly. Sit all four of the ships, and get a comprehensive, and if possible, independent review of what it will take to make all of them reliable fighting ships again. Then cost those modifications and repairs out, not to the lowest bidder, but to the one in which you have the highest confidence - we've done it cheap, now we want to do it right. Then bite the bullet and spend the money.

Otherwise, you fall into the typical short-sighted used-car trap: band-aid solutions to deeper problems end up costing more in the long-run. Better to pull the machines apart once and do everything than to nickel-and-dime it.

Years ago when it was first announced, I had hoped the Upholder purchase would mark a turning point for the long-suffering Canadian Forces submarine community. Since then, we've seen good men die - and I'm not just talking about Lt (N) Saunders here - and we still don't have a credible subsurface capability. It's about time we either ante up or get out of the game; anything less will be a waste of time, money, and quite possibly lives.

Along with our submariners, I'm still waiting for the turning point we so desperately need.

Babble off.

Cross-posted to Babbling Brooks

A Herculean task

One hopes that the new Minister of National Defence, Gordon O'Connor, will realize very soon that replacing the Hercules transports of the Canadian Air Force is truly urgent. And that the Conservative government will act. Fast.

Old age has claimed another Hercules transport aircraft — considered the lifelines for Canadian troops abroad — fuelling fears the military may soon "fall flat on its face" when called on to respond to an international crisis, experts say.

Air force officials confirm that for the second time in the past year, they've taken a decades-old Hercules out of service because it has "run out of hours," meaning it cannot fly without a costly, time-consuming retrofit to its airframe.

The military also expects two more Hercules, also known as C-130s, will be grounded for the same reason over the coming year, leaving just 28 of the transports for flying duties at home and abroad...

"The problem is becoming acute," said retired Gen. Paul Manson, a former fighter pilot who served as chief of the defence staff in the late 1980s.

"The government of the day has got to solve this problem and solve it pretty darn fast or Canada will be faced with a situation where it falls flat on its face when called upon to take part in some operation around the globe," he said in an interview.

Add in the fact that the remaining Hercules are available for flights only 60 per cent of the time due to necessary maintenance and Canada's air force has the makings of an airlift crisis, experts say...

Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff, has conceded the current fleet would be "almost completely inoperational" by the time the replacement aircraft arrive in about three years...

One option has been to rely on civilian transports, as it is doing now in Afghanistan. Two ships carried the Canadians' equipment to Turkey from Canada. From there, leased IL-76s — Russian-built transports — have flown the supplies to Kandahar. Officials expect it will take 135 flights to move what's required by more 2,000 Canadian troops moving into the region. The IL-76s will also carry out weekly resupply runs from Trenton.

Where would we be without the Russians and Ukrainians? Good grief. The Liberals stalled for far too long on re-equipping the Air Force but were starting a fast-track process to replace the Hercules last fall. It will be close to criminal if the Conservatives dither.

Update: More from Chris Wattie, National Post, who has been doing excellent reporting from Afstan.

...maintaining the lengthy air bridge from Canada to Af-ghanistan -- likened by a senior supply officer to "a garden hose with a drinking straw at the end" -- has not been easy, and defence experts say it could all come crashing down because of the weakest link, the air force's ageing CC-130 Hercules transport aircraft...

David Rudd, director of the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, said it is the last span in the bridge that threatens to collapse the entire structure: the 40-year-old Hercules, which fly in almost daily from a staging base in the Persian Gulf...

See also previous posts:

(December 5, 2005)

PLANES NOT JOBS: IT'S A START (November 22, 2005)

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Afstan: will Canada be a weak link?

A senior prosecutor in Afghanistan's anti-terrorism courts seems to think so.

As NATO troops replace U.S. forces on southern Afghanistan's battlefields, insurgents are waging a suicide bombing campaign that appears aimed at shaking the alliance's public support in Europe and Canada...

The mission is expected to draw NATO into the first ground combat in its 57-year history. Fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in rugged, often mountainous terrain would be a major step beyond NATO's previous peacekeeping missions or the alliance's 78-day air war against Serbia in 1999 to end atrocities in Kosovo...

"I think the rise of attacks in Afghanistan nowadays is aimed at the weak forces, such as Canada and others, and that is because these countries can easily be threatened," Ansari [the senior prosecutor] said...

"It is impossible to get into the heads of the insurgents, but it sure looks like they've developed a conscious strategy of deterring those countries that are in the NATO mission," Gordon [senior fellow at the Brookings Institution] said. He was part of a team of experts who assessed the alliance's operations on a NATO-sponsored trip to Afghanistan in December.

That strategy threatens to undermine the counterinsurgency effort because some NATO governments are reluctant to get into a war with the rebels, Gordon said...

At least the Canadian commitment in Afstan is getting some attention in the international media. And our government, both Liberal and now Conservative, has so far--unlike our NATO partners to be at Kandahar, the British and Dutch--not been reluctant to take on a combat role. But one wonders how long that resolve may hold.

Update: The Washington Post (more international media!) reports from Toronto that the link will be indeed be tested:
Military and political leaders here worry the Canadian public, already sour on America and the Bush administration's "war on terror," is not psychologically ready for news of casualties.

And some predict that Canada's higher profile in Afghanistan may bring attacks home, as in London and Madrid...

Cross-posted to Daimnation!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Going Dutch, if we go at all

Babble on.

This drives me completely nucking futz:

Some of the Chinook heavy-lift helicopters buzzing around the main coalition base in southern Afghanistan should look vaguely familiar to the Canadian soldiers deployed here: that's because the Dutch air force choppers used to belong to Canada.

The Chinooks were sold to the Netherlands in the 1990s as part of a defence cost-cutting measure and now the more than 2,000 soldiers in the Canadian battle group have to make do without the transport helicopters one pilot describes as "awesome machines."

1st Lieutenant Harry, a Royal Netherlands Air Force pilot who would not give his last name for security reasons, laughed when asked whether there was any chance the Canadians could get their helicopters back.

"I would prefer to keep them, thank you," he said with a smile. "They are very useful aircraft. In fact, the Netherlands is buying six more new ones.

"It's an awesome machine."

The idea that Canadian troops have to beg a ride on choppers we used to own and fly ourselves is enough to make my blood pressure spike. Not to mention the fact that we're forced to throw good money after bad refitting Sea Kings as troop transports to meet our domestic needs as a stopgap until we buy new.

Push the procurement, Minister O'Connor. And don't settle for medium-lift - we already have enough underpowered helicopters in the inventory, and sure as God made little green apples, the CF would ask a medium-lift chopper to pull heavy-lift duties. It's just not worth the aggrevation to try to cut corners on this one. And really and truly, renting from civilians is just plain embarrassing, not to mention extremely limiting from a tactical standpoint. (You gonna ask a civvie to fly combat missions? Yeah, didn't think so.)

So, what are our options for heavy-lift VTOL?

Well, first off, from a performance standpoint, the CH-47D (I'm not even going to get my hopes up over the Super-D or -J models, although...drool...), updated Chinook is the obvious and heavily-favoured candidate. The H-53 Stallion / Pave Low family of choppers is also a proven platform, and upgrades will be available longer than for the Chinooks. It would make our Cold Warriors cringe, but the massive Russian Mi-26 (Halo) is also an option, although a long-shot.

Tangential to this discussion, but as a point of interest, both the USMC and US Army are developing next-generation heavy-lift choppers. The Marine project works off the existing H-53 design, but the jump in projected specs is impressive. The Army Joint Heavy Lift initiative starts from scratch. Needless to say, neither would be available in the short-term for Canadian needs...but again, it's fun to dream. More practically, the Marine project should factor into our long-term considerations regarding the H-53.

Given last year's aborted three-in-one idea for purchasing new aircraft, I bet the heavy-lift chopper bid specs are in a filing cabinet somewhere close to Rick Hillier's office at NDHQ, available for review by our new MND within about thirty seconds should he ask. Dust them off. Pitter patter, sir.

Babble off.

Cross-posted to Babbling Brooks

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Torch Button