Friday, July 20, 2007

Politics in the air

As it were. The government comes up with a rather vague announcement to fulfill a silly campaign pledge and to promise money for Quebec:
Air Force Expansion in Quebec

The Honourable Gordon O'Connor, Minister of National Defence, today announced the formation of a new Air Expeditionary Wing (AEW) at Bagotville, Quebec. This new formation will be able to rapidly deploy as a self-contained unit, providing air power and associated support wherever needed, across Canada or around the world.

"This expeditionary capability marks a new era for our Air Force [funny--they seem to have deployed abroad quite a bit in the past - MC]. And it will also help ensure the long term life of CFB Bagotville, which has a long and proud tradition," said Minister O'Connor. "Today's announcement once again demonstrates this government's commitment to further strengthening Canadian Forces units located in Quebec, to make up for the previous government's years of neglect," he added.

"The promise that we are fulfilling today with this announcement about the military base at Bagotville is the fruit of hard work," said Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn. "I am very proud of the positive impact that the arrival of this wing will have throughout Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean."

This represents a fundamental change from the traditional static wing-based structure for the Air Force. The new AEW will be composed of a Command Element, an Operations Support Flight, and a Mission Support Flight. It will train together and deploy as a team, with aircraft and personnel tailored to the specific requirements of an operation.

"Many of our allies have re-structured their Air Forces in a similar fashion to this expeditionary concept," said Lieutenant-General Lucas. "If Canada's Air Force is to maximize its effectiveness for deployed operations in the security environment of the 21st Century, it must develop a robust expeditionary capability."

A fully staffed and properly supported expeditionary wing will require a total of up to 550 personnel with associated investments in infrastructure and equipment estimated at up to $300M.
At first blush this sounds like a lot of people without actual aircraft and pilots. A rather odd arrangement to my mind. One supposes they will plan, train and hold exercises with aircraft flown in for the purpose (other than fighters, unless some of the new CH-47 Chinooks are based there).

It's not exactly the stupid 2006 campaign promise:
...Stephen Harper said a government led by him would establish an army unit at the Canadian Forces Base in Bagotville, Que...
The motivation seems purely political to me. Just like the campaign promises to put other regular army "rapid reaction battalions" in Goose Bay and Comox, and a new airborne battalion at Trenton. None of which is being fulfilled as promised; nonetheless the Conservatives feel compelled to put some some kind of new military unit in each place regardless of practical CF needs.

See this link for what might be done for Goose Bay--plus some background on Bagotville, and this link for plans for Trenton and Comox. Got to give David Pugliese of the Ottawa Citizen credit for ATIP digging (regardless of other things).

A discussion thread at Milnet.Ca is here.

Update: This Globe and Mail story explains how the new unit makes military sense. See also the initial comment, by fm, on the Australian experience of such units.

However it seems to me that basing our new unit at Trenton or Winnipeg--where the types of aircraft most likely to be deployed on overseas expeditions (transports) are stationed--would make a lot more practical sense than Bagotville, where only CF-18s are now stationed. And the last time they were deployed overseas was to Aviano, Italy, in 1998/99 in response to the Kosovo crisis.

Upperdate: This opposition crap about planned defence spending is simply mindless anti-American spew; we're talking mainly transport aircraft, supply ships, patrol ships for Canadian waters, and trucks--not things that go bang overseas:
The opposition leaders agree the military needed an upgrade, but they accuse Harper of a U.S.-style defence buildup.

"We have a prime minister who has George W. Bush as American Idol," Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said.

"This seems much more attuned to offensive warfare than Canada's role of peacekeeping," NDP Leader Jack Layton said...
What a disgusting, cretinous level of political discourse.

Uppestdate: My outrage grows. Of the major current planned defence expenditures the only ones that were not under serious consideration by the previous Liberal government were the C-17 strategic airlifter and the Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships. Surely then President Bush was also Paul Martin's idol, Citoyen Dion? Or maybe you just ignored defence issues whilst in that Cabinet and have not bothered to brush up on the facts since. Immoral, political fool.

And what of our journalists who are so ignorant and unenterprising that they do not call our politicians on simple facts? What a bunch of unprofessional mediocrities. Should any one of them care to ask for references for my point above, I will gladly oblige. Fat chance.

One reference here.


Blogger fm said...

Hello Mark,

I'm a regular reader of The Torch from here in Australia and I thought you might be interested in the Australian experience of expeditionary squadrons and how our force has evolved to this point.

This article from the current edition of the Australian Air Force News shows the same expeditionary reformation in process:

322ECSS broke new ground when it became the first on-line unit of the new Northern Expeditionary Combat Support Squadron (NECSS) on July 1.

The RAAF Base Tindal squadron had completed all the required expeditionary training before going on-line to ensure it was prepared for the new role.

"The introduction of an NECSS will allow Combat Support Group to maximise capability, both material and personnel, and allow the FEG to provide effective, flexible combat support to ADF operations, exercises and activities," 396ECSW XO WGCDR Peter Davis said.

The spread of both fixed and expeditionary capabilities across 395ECSW and 396ECSW ensured that each member of the group was expeditionary trained and focused, he said.

"Combat Support Group is steadily progressing towards the provision of a refocused force, providing more balanced combat support throughout the next decade. An NECSS concept has been developed to provide a flexible and responsive expeditionary capability, shared on a rotational basis between 321ECSS RAAF Base Darwin, 322ECSS RAAF Base Tindal and 323ECSS RAAF Base Townsville.

"All three squadrons will have a small increase in personnel in 2008 to allow each to meet their new role as the NECSS and prepare to share the 'on-line' ECSS responsibilities with 381ECSS (RAAF Base Williamtown) and 382ECSS (RAAF Base Amberley)," WGCDR Davis said.

If I could explain a little of the background...

Years ago, when our commitments in the Middle East first began, the Air Force would roundup suitable people to form the combat support element of each Air Force detachment. The cooks, security guys, refuellers, communications people, watch officers, supply people, air-traffic controllers and health specialists -- all the people who were not part of the flying squadron and their maintenance crew -- these people generally came from different parts of the Air Force and were cobbled together for the first time on these deployments (there were some previously formed units, but not many). It still worked as it always had before, but the Air Force felt there were better ways to organise these people so that there were more orderly rotations and workforce planning mechanisms in place. The US, with their greater expeditionary focus, had been deploying combat support squadrons and wings for years and it's no surprise that our Air Force, and yours, has adopted something similar -- including the terminology.

In peacetime here in Australia, the same expeditionary combat support squadrons/wings will open and maintain some of our remote bases in the North for exercises, just as they will do so in wartime. The same squadrons, or some elements of them, will also rotate through the air bases that we presently maintain in East Timor, the Solomons and the Middle East.

It's not a great deal different from how things were done in the past, but it does merit a new organisational framework. And if your Air Force is anything like ours, it may be necessary to create new, extra units of this type (combat support) to maintain the present tempo of operations.

Hope that helps put some of this in context.

10:34 p.m., July 20, 2007  
Blogger fm said...

Reference your update, Mark:

The combat support units can happily operate independent of the flying/maintenance units. A medic, or a runway sweeper, or an air traffic controller don't really care about the sorts of aircraft they are supporting. If there is something aircraft specific that is needed at the airfield, generally the operating unit will bring that with them.

11:05 p.m., July 21, 2007  

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