Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ideology and ignorance, a toxic mix

James Travers needs to either educate himself, or learn to stay in his lane. I'm not normally big on fisking as a form of commentary, but Travers has stacked so many grotesque opinions, misleading statements, and easily-refuted conclusions into one article that a fisking is the only appropriate way to deal with his viral strain of ignorance.

Let's start with the not-so-subtle propagation of the peacekeeping myth:

According to Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, this peaceable kingdom with peacemaking as well as peacekeeping in its past is prepping for the future with 10 to 15 years of fighting.

Travers needs to stop confusing his own distorted views on our national self-image with reality. That reality is that, with the exception of the Cold War when we were actively preparing to fight a war with the Warsaw Pact in Europe, Canada has been a warfighting nation rather than a peacekeeping one. Furthermore, as explained and vigourously supported by Eric Wagner in the Canadian Military Journal (pdf), our Cold War peacekeeping was a self-interested response to Canada's security needs in a dangerous bi-polar world:

When considering the motivations underpinning Canada’s peacekeeping missions, it is important to place them in context. From 1954 to 1973, the Cold War and the spectre of the Soviet Union were dominant considerations in the formulation of Canadian international policy. Canadian leaders feared Soviet aggression and the spread of communism, and they put their faith in multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the British Commonwealth, to defend Western interests and to prevent local conflicts from escalating into nuclear war. Peacekeeping was not considered separately from these more pragmatic considerations. In fact, peacekeeping was seen by Canadian planners as complementary to the strategic interests of Canada and NATO. [my emphasis]

Basing one's worldview on a popular myth is hardly confidence-inspiring in a columnist.

Travers follows this most inauspicious start with even more unsubstantiated mischaracterization:

Despite Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier's wild accusation of a decade of darkness, Paul Martin recognized the problem and got started on solutions.

The accusation is grounded in fact. I've addressed the issue previously, as has our own Mark Collins. The only reasonable complaint to make against Hillier is that a decade is too short a time frame for the real darkness - that it stretched even further back.

But this conclusion fails to take into account the increased operational tempo (pdf) of the past fifteen years or so, which compounded the budgetary problems while also creating a whole new slate:

Since 1990, the number of operations in which our military has participated has tripled compared to the period between 1945 and 1989. The number of personnel deployed on foreign operations has frequently exceeded the sustainable ceiling of 4,000 set in the 1994 Defence White Paper. At the same time, it was not anticipated that the Canadian Forces would so often deploy simultaneously and for lengthy periods to so many theatres around the globe.

The difference between how Hillier characterized the past decade and how Travers represented Hillier's remarks is that the CDS can back up his assertions with fact. Just because it's a four letter word doesn't mean Travers should avoid it.

Next unsupportable claim?

At Hillier's urging, Ottawa shelved its Cold War weapons and thinking to begin creating armed forces capable of speedy domestic response and swift offshore intervention as well as the slow, problematic work of stabilizing failed and failing states.

I'd love to hear precisely which "Cold War weapons" the CF "shelved." Because the only one I can think of is the Leopard C2 tank weapon system. And you can see just how solid a decision that was by Hillier's obvious relief - and that of his troops - at being able to keep a tracked, heavily armoured, direct-fire platform in the Canadian inventory. Once the CF realized it could move tanks to missions around the world, our soldiers were no longer willing to part with them.

“I think we’re actually losing a millstone around our neck that’s been hamstringing our thinking, hamstringing the way we approach operations based on building around a tank force yet never deploying that tank because it’s not appropriate to do so,” Hillier said in October 2003.

Now, as chief of the Defence Staff, Hillier says he never questioned the use of tanks. He said he questioned the military’s ability to move tanks around the world to places where they would be of use.

Travers barely finishes with one miserably unsupportable argument before he embarks upon his next.

Canadians have no way of knowing if $650 million for 120 leased and mothballed tanks is money well spent or if O'Connor's grim predictions are a reliable forecast or just a tactical justification for a suspect purchase.

I know the media coverage of this has been confusing, but if you go to the source of the agreement, you'll find we're not actually leasing any tanks. We're borrowing twenty Leopard A62M's from the German army.

To replace the Canadian Forces’ 30-year old Leopard 1 tanks, the Government will purchase up to 100 Leopard 2 tanks, as well as securing the loan of 20 Leopard 2A6 tanks for use in Afghanistan this summer. [my emphasis]

Contrary to Travers' assertion, Canadians have a quite credible way of determining if the $650 million is money well-spent. First, ask the CF if the equipment is needed:

The heavily protected direct fire capability of a main battle tank is an invaluable tool in the arsenal of any military. The intensity of recent conflicts in Central Asia and the Middle East has shown western militaries that tanks provide protection that cannot be matched by more lightly armoured wheeled vehicles.

Canada isn't the only country that thinks so (pdf):

Warfare is evolving rapidly in the computer age, especially in sensing technology, precision guidance, and control of forces. Heavy forces benefit from these advances while continuing to offerthe advantage of survivability. They were developed during World War I to solve the problem of crossing terrain swept by enemy fire. Ninety years later, they still solve this problem despite a wide range of efforts to make them obsolete.

The answer is that Canada does need tanks.

Next, ask if $650 million is a good price for one hundred tanks, upgrades, and a preliminary raft of spare parts:

Acquiring new tanks off a production line was also examined, but delivery would not occur for a few years and the individual tank cost is approximately three times as expensive as procuring and upgrading the same capability that exists on the surplus market. [my emphasis]

According to DND sources with insight on this project, only the Greeks are building new Leo 2's. The price tag for the tank alone, without any throw-ins would be approximately $10M per unit, and we'd have to try to wiggle our way into some other country's production schedule. Using those numbers, we're buying $1 billion worth of heavy armour for $650 million, plus we're getting training and spares thrown into the deal, plus we're getting them far more quickly than we would buying new.

Could we have gotten an even better deal on surplus? Well, the only way to know that is to shop around. Which we did:

When examining the surplus tank option, Canada approached six allied nations to enquire about availability. Formal proposals from three nations were thoroughly evaluated by Public Works and Government Services Canada and the Department of National Defence (DND) in terms of price, upgrade costs, delivery schedule, operational performance, survivability and through-life operating and maintenance costs.

Even if you're not inclined to trust DND numbers, a quick Google search reveals a 1998 Spanish purchase of 239 Leo 2A6's for 1.94 billion Euros. While the Spaniards got more in the way of frills thrown into the deal (simulators, logistics, etc), the unit price breaks down to over 8 million Euros per tank - almost double what Canada is paying. And that's without adjusting for inflation.

The Defence Industry Daily article also notes:

These figures help to explain how the Leopard 2 has become the modern-day standard European and Scandinavian tank via second-hand purchases and upgrades. Not to mention the remarkably inexpensive terms on which countries like Greece and Spain are acquiring them. While Germany will not sell them to just anybody (it refused Turkey, for instance), the fire-sale process for those countries that are on the approved list make serious consideration of new-built Western 6th generation tanks like the American M1 Abrams, British Challenger, or French LeClerc virtually impossible. Even far-inferior options like the T-72 make little sense in this context.

With armored vehicle production the next target of consolidation for European bureaucrats, the German government's fire sale of Krauss-Maffei Wegman's Leopard 2s may do much more than just bring in revenues and send some refurbishment work KMW's way. Given the virtual European standardization on the Leopard 2 tank, with more likely to come, Germany's near-giveaways may have also put KMW in the driver's seat. [my emphasis]

So when Travers questions if we're getting value for the money, he's pontificating from a position of profound ignorance on the subject. Canada is getting fantastic value for the money in this procurement.

Ignoring his political opinions, which fall outside the purview of this blog's mandate, Travers stumbles his way through one last piece of faulty reasoning:

In practice as well as in philosophy the Armed Forces are edging closer to becoming interoperable – as well as heavily dependent – on the United States, just as foreign policy, with a few notable exceptions including Arctic sovereignty, is becoming more aligned.

There are as many defence, security and continental cohabitation advantages in that closeness as there are difficult, overarching questions about Ottawa's freedom to hunt national interests as relentlessly as Washington pursues its own.

Canada's military purchases have precisely the opposite effect on the range of foreign policy options available to us than Travers suggests. Right now, if the Americans aren't involved, it's awfully tough for us to support an overseas mission on our own, and almost impossible to engage independently if the mission is in a remote and isolated area.

But when we buy C-17 transport aircraft, it means we don't need to rely on the Yanks to move our personnel and equipment into an overseas theatre of operation, or into a domestic emergency zone for that matter. When we buy CH-47 heavy helicopters, it means we're free to engage in operations where we can't count on allied helo support. When we buy Leopard 2 tanks, it means our forces are more capable and robust, which means we require less American involvement in any mission in which we choose to participate, not more.

Being able to stand on our own two feet militarily means Canada can engage in missions where the U.S. has no national interest to compel their involvement. It means we can chart our own course, instead of being forced to simply tag along on other countries' pet projects because we lack the capability to do anything without them.

If James Travers is going to continue to opine on military matters, he needs to correct his ill-informed and ideologically-motivated misconceptions. He needs to develop some factually-based expertise in matters martial. He needs to do some research and educate himself.

Until then, he needs to stop embarrassing himself and his newspaper with tripe like this.


Blogger OMMAG said...

"Until then, he needs to stop embarrassing himself and his newspaper with tripe like this."

Good luck with that! Travers specialite' is uninformed comment!

6:33 p.m., April 17, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

Well fucking smote.

8:51 p.m., April 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

would make an excellent Letter to the Editor at the Star . . .

Send it to the CBC and tell them you'll debate him on Newman's show . . . maybe they'll put Staples on the panel as well . . . . they don't have the courage to do it but force them to say no.

9:01 a.m., April 18, 2007  
Blogger Mark said...

Travers' ideological rhetoric passing as journalism is a natural outgrowth of the media's veering away from factual reporting towards op-ed disguised as factual information.

This is why Travers has a job reporting on the military: facts don't matter in the media world.

9:52 a.m., April 18, 2007  
Blogger nomdeblog said...

Damian and Mark, thanks for your terrific efforts on countering the Travesty of “fake but accurate” Dan Rather-like reporting in the Liberal propaganda rag The Star.

The facts will eventually win the day. But the MSM is still jammed full of old lazy baby boomers disguising as reporters. Travers and his ilk are really legacies from a Vietnam/ Cold War view of the world.

They still think we are protected by distance and the seas. If they understood the globally connected society that we live in, then these legacy news outlets would be valuable assets. Instead we see the Chicago Tribune and Boston Globe being attacked by vulture funds trying to salvage what’s left of their carcasses.

The same will happen here as we see with the break up of BCE with its compulsive spiral into oblivion, hopefully taking CTV and the Globe and Mail down with it. Maybe the CRTC can go through an enlightenment and we’ll have Murdock giving us real competitive options.

Thanks again and keep up the good work.

11:01 a.m., April 18, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...


Who cares about the news, where are the tits Murdock?

Good god.

12:11 p.m., April 18, 2007  
Blogger nomdeblog said...

Err no, I was thinking the Murdock that purchased the Times of London and Weekly Standard, the political magazine that generally supports Republican politics. But like most risk taking entrepreneurs he didn’t start out with respectability.

Presumably you favour the cocooned views of Travers, Haroon Siddique and Linda McQuaig.

Australians aren’t protected by anyone; they have to fend for themselves.
A shake up by an Australian would give us a more worldly perspective than the snobbish cocooned cabal from Mont Royal and Rosedale who’ve dominated Canadian media.

2:48 p.m., April 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is the CF going to "move tanks to missions around the world"? The new transport aircraft can't carry a tank without refuelling, and we don't have compatible refuelling aircraft.

3:46 p.m., April 18, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Are you certain about that, Drunknsubmrnr? As I understand it, the C-17 can fly 2,250 nautical miles with a payload of 160,000 pounds. Gander to Brize Norton (to pick a UK base) is 1,998 nm.

See links here and here.

From there, you can get wherever you need to go in 2,000 nm hops, without air-to-air refuelling.

If I'm missing something, though, please point it out to me.

4:56 p.m., April 18, 2007  
Blogger langmann said...

Who you going to believe:

Travers who knows next to nothing about anything or,

People in the military who are actually using the old Leopards and are glad to have them along?

I think I believe the people who are on the ground and know what they are doing.

Its guys like Travers who get us killed.

8:05 p.m., April 18, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"payload" includes fuel. For anything above 90 000 pounds, you're exchanging fuel for cargo, and usually need to tank right after take-off.

8:13 p.m., April 18, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

"Presumably you favour the cocooned views of Travers, Haroon Siddique and Linda McQuaig."

Yes sir, and the terrorists... you missed how I love the terrorists.

6:28 a.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Drunknsubmrnr, I don't think you're correct on this.

Reference this U.S. DoD mobility report (pdf) on p.133 of the document:

Payload consists of passengers and equipment.

Fuel isn't included in the "payload" capacity for the terms of this discussion.

From p.132 of the same document:

The maximum payload capacity is 170,900 pounds, and its maximum gross takeoff weight is 585,000 pounds. With a payload of 130,000 pounds and an initial cruise altitude of 28,000 feet, the C-17 has an unrefueled range of approximately 5,200 nautical miles.

Furthermore, from p.134:

The C-17 and C-17ER operating weights (the givens) are 280,000 pounds and 282,500 pounds, respectively. The maximum fuel loads for the C-17 and C-17ER are 181,000 pounds and 245,000 pounds, respectively. The maximum payloads for the C-17 and C-17ER are 167,400 pounds and 164,900 pounds, respectively. Adding the figures gives a C-17 total weight of 628,400 pounds and a C-17ER total weight of 692,400 pounds, far exceeding the maximum operational takeoff weight of 585,000 pounds for both aircraft. Operating crew must reduce either fuel or payload to stay within the maximum operational takeoff limit.

I think this illustrates that your assumptions aren't quite accurate.

A Leo 2 weighs in at 62 metric tons, or just under 137,000 lbs.

Max takeoff weight: 585,000 lbs (C-17ER)
minus aircraft operating wt: 282,500 lbs (wt of acft + avionics + safety gear + crew)
minus Payload wt: 136,686 lbs (Leo)
equals potential fuel: 165,814 lbs

The C-17 can take our tanks pretty much anywhere we want to go.

9:40 a.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Cameron Campbell said...

Ok, so if I can still do basic math, that's one tank at a time?

11:39 a.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Yup. It's always going to be more efficient to move heavy equipment around by sea or rail. But that's not always possible. Afghanistan is a perfect example of this, lacking a seacoast or significant rail infrastructure.

12:19 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting, thanks for the link. The stats I had were from a C-17 not a C-17ER and were for long-distance deployments.

The weights you have are light for a Leopard 2A6M, but the aircraft should be able to make it to the operational theater with a tank, as long as they stop for gas along the way. (6200 miles to Kandahar from Trenton)

At 4 aircraft x .88 availability (best the USAF achieved)x 1 flight/2 days (one to get there, one to get back) x 26 vehicles (20 MBT, 2 ARV, 2 engineer, 2 bridging vehicles) we're looking at 45 days to deploy the direct fire support portion of the battlegroup.

How is the rest of the battlegroup supposed to deploy?

12:31 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

The same way they always have? On a combination of Polaris, Hercules, and leased transport aircraft?

This is pretty tangential to my original post. What are you trying to get at?

12:45 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The C-17's were bought based on the argument that we would no longer have to depend on others to deploy us if we got them, so depending on leased airlift to deploy our troops now is a bit dishonest. The AN-124's that are used for leased air mobility are not only in high demand they're wearing out fast, and there are no more being built.

Your original post was partly based on being able to deploy the Leopards. Unless there's a problem with my math, the Leopards are not realistically deployable.

1:34 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Ahh, I see. You're against the Globemaster purchase.

Let's be clear: everyone uses leased airlift. NATO has pooled airlift, in fact.

The real question is: do you want to depend entirely on rented planes for larger loads or longer distances? If the answer is "NO" then you need to secure your own heavy airlift.

As far as the Leos are concerned, there's no problem with your math, just with your assumptions. Who says our foreign deployments are all going to be a full squadron? Who says we won't be able to use a combination of owned and leased aircraft? Who says tanks need to be on the ground on Day 1 of a deployment?

The Leos are deployable.

As far as the idea that the purchase is somehow dishonest...lose the tinfoil helmet.

2:38 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No, the Globemaster purchase was a rare moment of sanity at NDHQ. I just don't see how the Leopard purchase makes sense. It's not like we can use the NATO airlift pool, we weren't a part of it. Only partners have access to those aircraft.

There are very few aircraft in the world that can do strategic airlift, and the demand for those aircraft is going up far faster than the available airframes. If C-17 production is shut down soon as planned, the situation is going to get far worse in terms of airlift availability. Planning on having access to those airframes is not a good idea, it's unlikely to happen.

DND has stated that they intend to deploy full squadrons of 20 MBT's plus specialist vehicles. This is because there aren't a lot of alternatives for direct fire support, especially with the expanded role they've given the Leopards.

The Leopards just aren't realistically deployable, and the situation is going to get worse not better.

2:48 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Hmm. We seem to be a part of SALIS, which is, at least initially, a three year contract. I'm curious if you have a link showing DND's intent to deploy full squadrons of tanks overseas.

But on the broader issue, what's your alternative for a tracked, heavily armoured, direct fire capability?

3:11 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My bad...We are in SALIS. SALIS gives us access to 125 hours of airlift a year...which works out to about 5 flights each way, maybe less. Those aircraft are leased and may not be available exactly when we need them. There are a numbe rof other partners in that deal, and a coalition deployment will have a lot of countries scrambling for a few planes.

There's also another NATO C-17 pool, which we're not a part of and do not have access to.

The army stated the squadron deployment intention in the backgrounder on the tank purchase. That's also backed up by inference, since there isn't much left other than tanks to deploy in the Direct Fire Squadron that's supposed to be part of the battle group.

I don't see a requirement for a tracked heavily armoured anything capacity. The bulk of the battle group are in LAV's, and the requirement is for vehicles that can keep up with a LAV-III. If we had MICV's things would be different, but we don't.

3:25 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Babbling: Afstan has zero railroads.

As to C-17s and Leopards, a picture of an Abrams may be worth a thousand comments.

"The C-17 can lift a 70t Abrams tank..."


3:38 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

I could quibble with your reference to the backgrounder, since it seems clear to me that they're referring to one squadron available for deployment, not insisting that it be deployed as a full squadron. The mix of forces required for a given mission isn't fixed before the mission is decided.

But you've failed to address my other question - if not Leos, then what?

3:55 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quibble about what? They need a direct fire squadron. The plan was to use two troops of MGS, a troop of LAV-TUA and a battery of MMEV/ADATS. MMEV/ADATS is unlikely to be deployed and there are only 36 LAV-TUA. That leaves either an entire armoured squadron, or an entire squadron less a troop replaced by LAV-TUA, depending on how things go.

I'd say the MGS would be a lot better choice than the MBT's. there are other options out there, but they're not so good.

4:09 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

I'd say the MGS would be a lot better choice than the MBT's.

That's where we'll have to disagree. The MGS is neither fish nor fowl.

Don't forget, Hillier has stated that the CF is continuing to look for better solutions:

Hillier said the Canadian Forces still want a direct-fire gun system that is lighter than a tank, easy to transport and able to move around the tight confines of hamlets as in Afghanistan. Such a system is not yet available, Hillier added.

“In the interim, we say we’re going to keep the tank we had that delivers that gun and now we have a need to deploy it,” he explained. “We’ll continue to search for the right kind of system down the road that can deliver that gun in a much lighter package and therefore would be easier to move around.”

The Leo purchase isn't the end of the road, just a waypoint.

4:57 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think waiting until after the MGS had it's combat debut to make that decision would have been a better move, but that's good news.

Thanks for posting it!

5:17 p.m., April 19, 2007  
Blogger niccolom said...

If I was the logistics officer in charge of moving the Leo 2s to Afstan here is how I would do it:

- First, load them on a cargo ship and move them all at once to friendly country that is a lot closer than Canada is;

- Once they arrive in-country, move the tanks to the closest airfield;

- Fly said tanks from the airfield to Afstan;

- This way you will be able much make more trips per day because the distance to fly is shorter, resulting the tanks becoming operational in a shorter period.

10:07 a.m., April 20, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Drunknsubmrnr, I just got some information from a tank guy at CEFCOM. Short version: "Don't use the word 'squadron' and attach it to a number. We tailor our forces for each mission."

The standard plan for an armoured squadron is three troops of four tanks, plus an OC tank, an AEV, and an ARV (fifteen units in total). But that's just a preliminary sketch - they'll customize it as needed.

So your concerns about deployability might not be as serious as you'd expect.

Niccolom your plan is the more likely one, but I wanted to show we could do it entirely by air if we needed to.

11:17 a.m., April 20, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 15 vehicle "package" is The Plan for operations within Canada, such as an exercise. It's not going to cut it for expeditionary operations, because if anything happens to the ARV or AEV it would be very difficult to recover them or disabled tanks. It would be VERY embarassing to have to blow a disabled Leopard in place to prevent their recovery by the Taliban.

For expeditionary ops, you'll see at least 2 of each type of specialist vehicle, plus the 3 troops, plus 1 each CO/XO/Sgt Maj vehicles, plus spares, so somewhere in the neighbourhood of 21-26 heavy armoured vehicles.

The numbers I quoted also don't count spares and soft-skinned vehicles etc, which also have to be moved to make the squadron combat-capable.

Deployment of that squadron isn't going to take less than 6 weeks with the resources we have. it'll take just as long with a mixed sealift/airlift model, they'll just all arrive at once instead of spread out over 6 weeks.

10:55 a.m., April 23, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

For expeditionary ops, you'll see at least 2 of each type of specialist vehicle, plus the 3 troops, plus 1 each CO/XO/Sgt Maj vehicles, plus spares, so somewhere in the neighbourhood of 21-26 heavy armoured vehicles.

I'll take the word of my guy at CEFCOM - the guys who are actually making the decisions about this sort of stuff in real life - over that of talented amateurs such as yourself.

11:05 a.m., April 23, 2007  
Blogger Temujin said...

This whole "fisking" thing might be an area of blogging you need to look into! Well done :-)

3:02 p.m., April 28, 2007  

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