Friday, November 30, 2007

Aging birds in the north

Don't let anyone say Canada has no Commandos up there--talk about adventure tourism (this post's for Dave, sixth comment here):
The ambience aboard Buffalo Airways' 1942 Douglas DC-3 is somewhere between Disneyland and chicken bus.

From the outside, the plane's pug nose and bulbous fins look like a cartoon come to life. Inside, stacks of frozen fish and auto parts jut into the narrow centre aisle, their odours mingling with propellor exhaust and motor oil.

A flight attendant - or "biscuit shooter," as the position is known at Buffalo - dressed in greasy jeans and an oversized sweatshirt passes out homemade cookies.

The regulars - most of them northerners making the morning hop from Hay River, NWT, to Yellowknife for work or for family - have learned to tolerate day trippers. In the nearly 40 years that Buffalo Airways has been flying to all points north of 60, its antique birds have become increasingly irresistible to history buffs and aeronautical nerds...

Ask aviation enthusiasts around the world and they'll rattle off specs for Buffalo's vintage fleet and its distinction as the last airline in North America to fly scheduled DC-3 passenger routes.

Search Buffalo Airways online and you'll come up with hundreds of photos and several YouTube clips of a hardworking airline whose reputation for keeping history aloft attracts aviation nuts from all over the world to the Northwest Territories...

Among Buffalo's main attractions are several snub-nosed DC-3s, the revolutionary planes whose 21-seat configuration [spot the joke in the link] first made commercial passenger flights financially viable in the late 1930s; two Curtiss C-46s, or Whales, whose cavernous bellies hauled Allied troops and cargo over the Himalayas during the Second World War; and nearly a dozen temperamental DC-4s, which clocked a million miles a month over the Atlantic when German U-boats were posing a menace to marine convoys [C-54s actually, and I don't think their flights were terribly relelevant, one way or another to U-boats, more like expedited personnel and special cargo movement]...

A few weeks ago, for instance, two German fellows showed up unannounced on the Buffalo tarmac wanting a ride in a Curtiss C-46.

"They didn't know a thing about northern Canada," says Mikey McBryan, the founder's son, "but they knew they wanted aboard a C-46. They waited around for a week and a half, but we couldn't get them aboard."

They settled on flying aboard a DC-3...

Last year, Buffalo updated the fleet with the purchase of two Lockheed Electras, four-engine long-haulers [not really] rolled out the year John Diefenbaker became Prime Minister [I flew on the rival Vickers Vanguard several times, along with DC-3s; no C-46s for me though I'm pretty sure my father was a passenger on them over the hump to China in WW II - MC]...
Nice piece of journalism.

Update: The Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum, Hamilton, has a flying Dakota (via Jack MacLeod--Commonwealth services' name for the C-47, military version of the DC-3). More on the origins of the DC-3, and RCAF service here (pdf).

And a charming letter in the Globe and Mail, Dec. 1:
What a great aircraft.


Ottawa -- At the end of the Second World War, the RCAF bought a large number of DC-3s, many of which were veterans of flying supplies over the Hump in Burma (Welcome To Prophead Heaven - Life, Nov. 30).

In the Canadian service, these DC-3s were called Dakotas, or Daks. I recall one Dak so stitched with patched bullet holes it was known as Whistling Willie, because it whistled when it flew. The Hump resupply operations used DC-3s and some DC-2s, the earlier model of that workhorse aircraft. One DC-3 was repaired by using a wing - slightly shorter - from a DC-2. They called it a DC-2½, and it flew right to the end of the war.

What a great aircraft.

Afstan is expensive

Only to be expected--but which may help explain the squeeze on the Auroras amongst other things:
The incremental cost to National Defence of the Afghan military mission is rising steeply and has reached a total of $3.1-billion from its start in 2001, according to Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

Mr. MacKay made the disclosure [!?!--why not "announcement" - MC] as he appeared before the House of Commons defence committee, which is studying supplementary spending estimates of $875-million for the department for the current fiscal year.

In May, Mr. MacKay's predecessor, Gordon O'Connor, told the Commons that the incremental cost of the mission was $2.6-billion. A spokesman for Mr. MacKay said yesterday that the extra costs are due mainly to additional tanks and force protection expenses...

The MPs peppered the minister with questions on issues ranging from plans to refurbish the fleet of Aurora maritime surveillance aircraft to the state of the runways at CFB Bagotville, Que.

New Democrat David Christopherson wanted to know about $10.5-million that the department is spending on non-lethal laser "dazzlers," concerned that the high-tech device could end up being dangerous like the taser [emphasis added]. He worried that the dazzlers could end up blinding people...
Dazzler stuff takes up about the whole second half of the story. Odd priority, must be the "t" word.

NATO ISAF video site

Just came across it--don't seem to any pieces featuring CF.

Good Afghan news from Dutch

The extension of their combat mission looks a virtual certainty, with only a small reduction in troop numbers:
Dutch troops will stay in Afghanistan with the multinational NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for another two years until 2010, the government said Friday.

In a widely anticipated announcement the centre-left coalition government said it would extend the mandate of the Dutch troops in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan until December 2010.

The mandate had been set to expire in August 2008.

The government decision still has to be approved by parliament but it is expected to go through because the parties in the coalition government, who hold a majority of the 150 seats are backing the extension.

"Today the Dutch cabinet decided that we will make a new contribution to the ISAF mission in Uruzgan for a period of two years," Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende told reporters.

"The Netherlands will end its leading role in Uruzgan on August 1, 2010," Balkenende said. Troops would pull out over a four-month period and would be home before December 2010.

A government statement said that the mission would however be slimmed down as NATO partners Czech Republic, France, Hungary and Slovakia had agreed to contribute troops [emphasis added].

Currently the Dutch have some 1,650 soldiers in Uruzgan: that number will be brought to between 1,450 and 1,350 [emphasis added], said the statement.

Balkenende said he wanted the parliament to vote on the matter before the Christmas recess which starts December 21...

Meanwhile a French general has a certain gall (though he is speaking with his NATO hat on):
Larger NATO Force Needed in Afghanistan
As the Danes keep their end up:
Two Danish soldiers were killed Thursday in a gunbattle with Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan, the Scandinavian country's military said.

The soldiers were part of a Danish reconnaissance unit that came under fire in Gereshk Valley in Helmand Province, the Army Operational Command said.

The two were evacuated by helicopter to a Danish camp, where they were pronounced dead.

"It is with great regret that I have received the news that two Danish soldiers from the reconnaissance unit in the Danish battalion in southern Afghanistan fell in a battle with the Taliban," Maj. Gen. Poul Kiaerskou, head of the Army Operational Command, said in a statement.

The military did not release any other details about the shooting...

Denmark has some 600 troops in Helmand province that are part of NATO's 40,000-member force in Afghanistan [with tanks--video here]

A total of nine Danish troops have now been killed in Afghanistan
[emphasis added].
The Danish population is around 5.5 million so those casualties are not light by ISAF standards. By comparison the Dutch have had twelve fatalities with a population of some 16.5 million--almost exactly half Canada's.

Update: Here's another indication why our public has so little knowledge of the Afghanistan issue. The Dutch decision was not reported in the Ottawa Sun or Ottawa Citizen, Dec. 1, and all it got in the print edition of the Globe and Mail was an "In Brief" mention. The Globe online, however, carried the full Reuters story (is that significant of something?) and generated lots of comments. The Toronto Star did give the story decent coverage. Go figure.

A civilian maritime patrol aircraft fleet?

But first Denis Coderre, scandal seeker, aircraft expert, and guardian of the public purse:
The federal Liberals want the auditor general to look into the future of the air force’s Aurora maritime patrol planes, a move which puts a local political squeeze on Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

The Liberals have written to Auditor General Sheila Fraser calling for an investigation in to the suspension of a multi-year upgrade contract on the nearly 30-year-old surveillance aircraft.

At the same time, Nova Scotia Premier Rodney MacDonald expressed concern that the refit of the CP-140s won’t proceed and promised to lobby Ottawa "aggressively" to ensure the multimillion-dollar contract with Halifax-based IMP Aerospace continues.

MacKay, who represents Nova Scotia in the federal cabinet, testified before the House of Commons defence committee Wednesday that no decision had been made.

He conceded publicly for the first time that the Defence Department is looking at the possibility of buying new patrol planes [emphasis added] to monitor the East and West Coasts, as well as the Arctic.

"We’re looking at a number of options, which include looking at the purchase — eventually — of a replacement aircraft to provide that capability," he said.

The department has postponed a decision on whether to continue with the major improvements to its fleet of 18 CP-140s until after Parliament rises for the Christmas holidays.

Earlier this week, critics lambasted the deferral, calling it an attempt to bury what’s expected to be a bad news announcement for MacKay.

MacDonald says the upgrades are crucial to the province’s aerospace industry and has already met with MacKay to discuss the future of the Auroras.

"It’s very important to employment. We have good-paying, solid jobs," he said Wednesday in Halifax.

"The federal government has a good aircraft there and it’s my hope and we’ll be pushing forward aggressively to ensure that continues."

Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said he believes the CP-140 still has a lot of life left in it and his party will oppose replacing the 1980s-vintage four-engine planes.

The refit, started under the Liberals, was supposed to keep the Auroras flying until 2025, but defence sources argue that by the time it’s done in the 2012-13 time frame, the air force could have brand new planes.

The air force has received new heavy-lift C-17s and will receive new medium-sized C-130J cargo planes, fixed-wing search and rescue planes, as well as navy and battlefield helicopters, said Coderre.

"I believe the time has come to think about taxpayers’ money," said Coderre about the nearly $20 billion in spending.

"I truly believe those planes (CP-140s) are working. They are working very, very well.

"Instead of flipping through the catalogue and saying what’s the best thing we can have, then I guess the time has come to proceed with the upgrade."

The Auroras have already received an improved navigation system, global positioning systems and better radar under the first two phases of the refurbishment.

The next two phases, which are now on hold, would have given the aircraft better data management system, sensors — such as imaging radar — and protection against surface-to-air missiles. Companies, including IMP Aerospace, were preparing for the next round when the project was put in limbo in September.
A thought: why not separate general maritime, and arctic, surveillance duties (including vessel identification, pollution detection, fishery enforcement) and part of marine search and rescue from the Air Force and make them a civilian mission? As Transport Canada is already doing for pollution detection with a modified Bombardier Q Series.

Fisheries and Oceans meanwhile contracts with Provincial Airlines for three Beach King Air 200s for maritime surveillance, two east, one west coast (Aurora work for DFO also noted at link).

In fact Q Series, modified by Field Aviation, are used in the general maritime role by Iceland (eight hour endurance), the US, Sweden, Japan and Australia.

Transport Canada could well operate such a fleet (despite their effort to become mainly a non-operational agency) on behalf of Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Coast Guard, Environment Canada, CBSA/RCMP, CF as required, and others.

The Air Force would then presumably need fewer maritime patrol planes (whether Auroras or replacement) that would concentrate on military missions such as ASW and armed interdiction (and terrestrial surveillance, e.g. Afstan?).

And, if the Field Aviation Bombardiers actually fit the bill for such a broad suite of missions as outlined above, acquiring them would be a political plus I would imagine.

Some UAVs would also come in handy for maritime/arctic missions (operated by the Air Force for both military and civilian missions).

Update: The links for the Transport Canada surveillance aircraft within the post linked to above no longer work. Two that give details of the program are here and here. Moreover Tranport Canada actually uses four Bombardier aircraft for aerial surveillance (the three mentioned in this Oct. 2006 report, plus the new one with the advanced sensor suite; another one with that suite appears to be being readied for Pacific use--I can't figure out if it's a new plane or one of the other three being upgraded):
A representative of Transport Canada, Mr. Louis Armstrong, highlighted several initiatives aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP), notably the acquisition of a new suite of remote sensing equipment for the Dash 8 pollution surveillance aircraft. The NASP utilizes three aircraft located strategically across Canada to conduct pollution surveillance. Two of these aircraft are leased from Transport Canada's Aircraft Services Directorate, and the third is under contracted from Provincial Airlines Limited. During the November meeting Transport Canada noted that over-flight statistics indicates a decline in observed oil pollution over the past few years. It was also emphasized that there has been a recent increase in aircraft patrol hours funded through the Oceans Action Plan, coupled with the acquisition of earth observation imagery to task aircraft.
So in fact there already is a fleet of seven civilian aircraft doing maritime patrol for the Canadian government: four Bombardiers doing pollution patrols for Transport Canada and the three PAL King Airs doing fisheries patrols for DFO.

Squadron pride

I know it was almost a week ago, but I'd ask you to look at these two pictures from the Grey Cup in Toronto.

Sometime between when the first and second pictures were taken, it seems that Maj Rob Mitchell was able to plant a 431 Squadron sticker on the base of the Cup. Which is not only in the best traditions of the CF, but also thoroughly appropriate, given that the Snowbirds are based out of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Having engaged in some pretty decent larks myself over the years (like briefly kidnapping John DeChastelain and his lovely wife in a graffiti-covered van one evening in the fall of 1990), I have to tip my hat to this one: maximum exposure and publicity for the deed, but unlike most pranks, no possibility for embarrassment.

BZ to 431!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Manley Afstan panel

Conclusions of a submission (pdf) by the Conference of Defence Associations (lots of analysis behind them):
We conclude, therefore, in the strongest possible terms, that it is very much in Afghanistan’s national security interest to help keep the Taliban from regaining control of Kandahar.

A premature pull-out by Canada could hand these enemies of Afghanistan a huge victory, for Kandahar is “Vital Ground” in every sense — militarily, politically, and psychologically, and its loss would undermine all that we and our allies have achieved so far, and result in all of Canada's sacrifices to have been made in vain. We also need to remember that stating an “exit strategy” would be very dangerous, in that it would offer the Taliban the strategic option of simply waiting for us to leave.

We wish to emphasize the importance of supporting NATO in order to avoid a disastrous breakdown of the Alliance over Afghanistan. We have always held NATO to be a vital pillar of Canadian foreign policy, from our role as a founding member of the Alliance, to the present. Moreover, we must remember that this is a UN mandated mission and that a mission failure could seriously affect the credibility of that institution.

In regard to Canada’s contribution in Kandahar Province, the CDA acknowledges that it will need to evolve in form and nature, in large part as a result of the increase in the capacity of the Afghan National Army Brigade in Kandahar to lead in security operations, an improvement made possible through the work of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams.

We believe that this mentoring relationship is one that can only be built up over time as both sides gain greater knowledge of each other, and greater confidence and trust in each other. That knowledge, confidence, and trust has now been established. It must not be broken.

The Conference of Defence Associations is therefore of the view that Canada must remain in Kandahar Province, beyond 2009.
The panel in Afstan:
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The reality of war was front and centre this week as John Manley wrapped up a visit to Afghanistan as part of his panel's report on the future of Canada's mission in this war-torn country.

Three Canadian soldiers were sent to hospital Tuesday morning after their light armoured vehicle drove over an improvised explosive device...

While in Kabul, the capital, the panel met with President Hamid Karzai and NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

They later visited the northern province of Balkh and, for the last few days, have been in Kandahar.

"There are positive signs and there are negative signs and it's a matter of trying to understand what exactly is happening that we are really struggling with," Manley told reporters at Kandahar Air field in a rare interview since agreeding to chair the panel seven weeks ago.

Manley's group will make a recommendation by the end of January on what Canada should do when its current commitment to the NATO mission expires in 2009.

The options include continuing to train the Afghan army and police so Canada can begin withdrawing its forces in February 2009 or possibly focusing on reconstruction and having forces from another country take over security.

Also being considered is shifting the Canadian security and reconstruction effort to another, safer region in Afghanistan or withdrawing all Canadian military except a minimal force to protect aid workers and diplomats.

"I think we've still got quite a bit of work to do before we're at the point of making a recommendation," said Manley.

"I think all of us have seen things that have helped us a great deal in understanding both the complexity of this country as well as the complexity of some of the issues."..

Manley said the complexity of the mission in Afghanistan will make it difficult to come up with a recommendation.

He said one week gives only a snapshot of what is happening in the country but the information will help form the overall report.

"I don't know what we're going to recommend but what I do know is this has already been Canada's most significant international commitment since the Korean War and we're going to make sure we take the time that is necessary to give the best advice that we can," Manley said...

Manley, like Harper, has said Canada should not abandon its mission in Afghanistan.

But he said that when the final report is complete he wants it to generate genuine and informed debate and not partisan bickering.

"I think Canadians will probably expect their parliamentarians to look at this issue, not from a partisan point of view but from a national interest point of view," he said.

"If we can frame the discussion so it's a little less partisan then we will have contributed something worthwhile," he added.
The pigs are flying (sole-sourced no doubt)...

More on the Manley panel:
Have your say

"Shadow Pilot for a day at 403 Sqn"

Nice way to get young people interested in the CF:
Oromocto, N.B. - As an active supporter of the Job Shadow Program for New Brunswick grade 9 students, 403 Helicopter Operational Training Squadron hosted students from local school districts to shadow members of the "Wolfpack".

On Nov. 7, Melanie Beaulieu, a student from Stanley High School who is very interested in pursuing a career as a pilot, had the opportunity of job shadowing with Captain Cheryl Elvidge, a CH-146 Griffon pilot. Capt. Elvidge took Melanie under her wing and provided her with worksite experience. Melanie spent the day asking Capt. Elvidge's about her job and her military experience in general...

The highlight of her day was a one hour training session at the Griffon Flight Simulator with an in depth demonstration on the use of night vision goggles (NVGs)...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Our Air Force helping the USAF

Nice to be able to pitch in as part of continental defence (and note the French in Afghanistan):
Canadian CF-18 fighter jets helped plug a hole in U.S. air defences for almost two weeks this month after American jets were grounded as part of a crash investigation.

The request to fill in for U.S. F-15s over the Alaskan coast was considered an urgent priority for NORAD, especially in light of the return of Russian strategic bombers to Arctic patrols.

Although not unprecedented, defence officials said the now-concluded operation was one of those “extremely rare” occasions when Canada was able to contribute to the defence of its much larger neighbour.

The aircraft are now back at their home base in Bagotville, Que., and the air force was able to lift what was described as a veil of operational security [why - MC?].

“I can’t say precisely how many CF-18s were involved, but certainly there were a few,” said Maj. Mike Lagace, a spokesman for Canadian NORAD operations, based in Winnipeg.

“We really don’t want to say very much in case they’re called on again.”

On Nov. 2, an American F-15C — an older variant of the hardy fighter-bomber — suffered a catastrophic failure over Missouri and crashed, resulting in the grounding of 700 frontline aircraft.

The pilot ejected to safety.

Urgent inspections were carried out on the entire F-15 fleet with newer models eventually restricted to “mission-critical” sorties only.

U.S. Air Force Gen. John D.W. Corley, who heads Air Combat Command, said in a statement that the grounding had “significant operational impact” but that U.S. and coalition partners were able to make up the difference.

In Afghanistan, French Mirage 2000 jet fighters were called to replace American F-15s in providing close air support for NATO, including Canadians troops [emphasis added].

Japan also grounded its F-15s following the U.S. crash.

F-15s have been a pillar of U.S. air power since the mid-1970s, but the air force said in 2004 it intended to replace them gradually with Lockheed Martin’s modern F-22 Raptor.

NORAD — the joint American-Canadian air defence command — had initially hoped to be able to fill the Alaskan gap with F-22s, but not enough of them were available, said Canadian defence officials.

The Canadian fighter jets were stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, near Anchorage, Alaska, and worked alongside the American 611th Air Operations Squadron, conducting sovereignty patrols on behalf of the Americans.

“It shows the joint capability where Canadian and American forces work as one,” said Lagace.

The resumption of Russian Tu-95MS bomber flights this summer along the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic borders have kept NORAD “quite busy” and the pressure has not eased, he said.

After almost of decade of infrequent forays, the Russians startled Western militaries by resuming high Arctic long-range patrols, which had been a prominent feature of the Cold War.

Flying in pairs for up to 12 hours, the Tu-95MS strategic bombers trace the edge of American, Canadian and often Danish air space near Greenland, forcing NORAD fighters to scramble to meet them.

The USAF F-15 fleet has just been grounded again, except for F-15Es. Back to Elmendorf?

For the hobbyists

I've never been into model-building - it's far too meticulous a pastime for my rather shallow reserves of patience. But I know a few people who love crafting aircraft models, and I can see just what a passion it is for them. I had one friend at milcol, now a Griffon pilot, who actually carved his own pieces and mixed his own paints to get a modification on the Hind he was working on just right.

So when I stumbled across recently, I knew it would be of interest to a specific segment of our readership here at The Torch:

By late 2003, I had designed a series of four colour prints which examine the various roundel designs used on the military aircraft flown by Canadian servicemen (and women) starting in 1914. Incredibly, there are 45 uniquely different designs that have been used over the years and the four prints contain over 2,000 words of text to explain the designs.

In early 2005, I purchased an ALPS printer to turn my artwork into usable decals and CanMilAir Decals was born. Each of my decal set provides correctly sized lettering & markings for one Canadian aircraft model and most offer optional aircraft numbers. This has two benefits: once you have decided on a specific marking scheme, you won't have to pay for a lot of decals you won't need, as you would with large multi-scheme sheets; and it keeps your cost down.

If you're a model junkie who loves building Canadian military aircraft, and you hadn't already discovered this site, you're welcome.

Finally wearing their cup

A correspondent of mine brought something to my attention the other day that I hadn't considered. He cited a number of recent letters to the editor written by CF personnel that I was aware of (here, here, and here in the past week), but then wondered out loud if perhaps the frequency was a sign that someone in the CF has finally gotten the message that inaccurate reporting needs to be fought, not accepted with a sigh and a shrug as has been the case in the past.

Maybe he's wrong, but he sure got me thinking about it. I've always heard that in intelligence circles, one event can be random, two similar ones a coincidence, but three indicates a planned operation.

If that's the case, I'm all for it. You don't let an opponent repeatedly kick you in the groin without at least trying to block the next blow, if not take a kick yourself. If the CF has adopted an unofficial approach to "never pass a fault" when it comes to misinformation in the media, I'd say that's a step in the right direction. And if not, well, at least three moles got whacked this week when their heads popped up in the MSM midway.

I'd love to see the trend continue. So to all our military readers out there, if you feel there's something that should be said out loud, some mistake that should be corrected or some misimpression that needs to be set straight, and the mainstream press won't oblige you, feel free to send your thoughts to me via e-mail (damian dot brooks at gmail dot com). If I think you're on to something, we'll publish it here at The Torch - with your name attached or not, as you wish.

But whatever you do, don't concede the information battlespace.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"US Developing Separate JSF for Foreign Partners"

Export versions of the F-35 (except maybe for UK) are likely to be less capable than US versions--impact on whether partners will purchase? Canada?
After years of claiming that all partner countries of the Joint Strike Fighter would receive identical aircraft, the Pentagon has for the first time implicitly acknowledged that it is developing a different, and less-capable, aircraft than the United States for its foreign partners.

The prospect of receiving less-capable aircraft may dissuade some JSF partner countries, which have not firmly committed to procuring the aircraft, from doing so. The crucial issue in this respect will be the precise technical definition of the “export” JSF, and which features and capabilities it will lose compared to the baseline US version.

On Nov. 15, in a low-key contract announcement, the Pentagon said it was awarding Lockheed Martin Aeronautics a $134,188,724 contract modification “to continue the design, development, verification, and test of Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Partner Version Air System development under the JSF Delta System Development and Demonstration Effort (Delta SDD).”

Neither the Pentagon, the JSF Program Office nor the two main contractors, Lockheed Martin and BAE Systems, have made any previous mention of the “Delta SDD” aircraft, nor of any export-specific changes to the baseline JSF design.

The Nov. 15 release explains that the purpose of this “Delta SDD” contract is to “to develop a version of the JSF Air System that meets U.S. National Disclosure Policy, but remains common to the U.S. Air System, where possible.”

This raises the question of exactly how this degraded “Delta SDD” version will differ from the standard US version, and which capabilities and features will be removed to comply with US national disclosure policy. Given that the JSF’s high-tech features, including stealth, and the capabilities of its electronic systems are the prime reasons which attracted foreign partners in the first place, it remains to be seen whether they will remain as committed to a degraded, less capable yet more expensive aircraft.

When they signed the MoUs to join the JSF Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development (PSFD) phase in late 2006 and early 2007, several partner countries were particularly insistent that their signature did not commit them to buy the JSF[emphasis added]. This was the case of Australia, Britain, Canada and Norway, which together account for 383 of 722 JSF aircraft earmarked for foreign partners.

The same four countries are also financing 7.5% of the program’s first (and current) System Development and Demonstration Phase, and may balk at the program’s ballooning costs.

In April 2007, the Pentagon revealed that the total cost of the JSF had increased to $299.8 billion for 2,458 aircraft, or $121.97 million per aircraft. This is far in excess of the prices mentioned by Lockheed Martin, the program’s prime contractor, which are generally in the $60-$70 million range [emphasis added]...

The problem is that sharing technological data with JSF partner nations is severely constrained by the strict export controls contained in the US International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) legislation.

This led to a major row between the US and UK governments in early 2006, and other JSF partners, including Australia, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark have also raised the problem with the Pentagon. US Senator Joseph Lieberman said, during March 14, 2006 hearings on JSF by the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, that “very interestingly, [from] the representatives of the U.K., Italy and Australia, I hear a strong, unified voice of concern, complaint, even grievance, about the question of technology transfer.”

The British government tried in vain to obtain a waiver from the ITAR to ensure access to the software codes and other data that they will need to maintain and upgrade their JSFs, but this option was dropped because of “insurmountable” opposition in Congress.

The issue appears to have been solved with Britain, the only JSF Tier I partner, by a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding, signed at the end of 2006 for the JSF’s second phase. This document, which has not been made public, includes a highly classified supplement that details assurances given by the US to the British government, and which deals with the issues of operational sovereignty, incoming UK Defence Procurement Minister Baroness Taylor of Bolton told the Commons Defence Committee during Nov. 21 hearings.

No similar arrangements have been concluded with any of the other JSF partners, although several, including Australia and Norway, have publicly stated that they would demand unfettered access to all of the system’s technology as a condition of their purchase of the JSF[emphasis added].
More on Canada and the F-35 here.

AgustaWestland settles suit over Sea King replacement competition

Looks like the government won in effect.

*The Cyclone helicopters (Sea King replacements) are scheduled to start delivery in early 2009.
Update: Now this is interesting (via newfin at
``AgustaWestland has identified two recent proposals by Canada to purchase military equipment,'' Cameron [AgustaWestland's lawyer] said today in a phone interview. ``AgustaWestland is interested in competing in those procurements without any impediments such as might be posed by the litigation.''..

The Canadian government plans to buy armed reconnaissance helicopters to escort its Chinook fleet, being used in Afghanistan, according to Cameron. Canada might also buy additional search-and-rescue helicopters such as the EH101, he said...

Recruiting and retention

I wrote cautiously about CF recruiting victories back in June of this year because I was concerned about training and retention difficulties: if you can't train those you recruit, or if you lose more personnel through attrition than you recruit, your net numbers drop. And when it comes to increasing the Trained Strength & Advanced Training List, it's really the net numbers that count.

That's why this story, while deeply concerning, is really only one piece of the puzzle:

L’armée a du mal à retenir ses soldats. De 2001 à 2007, le nombre de militaires qui ont volontairement quitté les Forces armées canadiennes a presque doublé, passant de 2043 à 3797.

Voilà ce que révèlent des statistiques des Forces armées obtenues par Le Soleil. Ces chiffres excluent les départs à la retraite ou pour des raisons de santé. Pour l’année 2007, les données ont été compilées jusqu’à la fin octobre.

Comparés aux officiers, les militaires de rang sont proportionnellement plus nombreux à tourner le dos à l’armée.

Ces derniers comptent pour 85 % des départs en 2007 (3216 militaires) alors qu’ils représentent 75 % des effectifs.

Of particular concern is that, according to the article, attrition is higher among NCM's than officers. Senior enlisted personnel are the heart and soul of any professional fighting force, and if you're losing them at a disproportionately high rate, you have some serious problems.

There are a lot of factors that play into retention: op tempo, quality of life issues on base, pay, career progression, civilian employment prospects, and posting decisions, just to name a few off the top of my head. Each of those is worth a research paper all on its own, and I simply don't have the time to delve into all of them in detail.

Suffice to say that the Chief Military Personnel needs to find out what the problem is, and then fix it.

You can't recruit a Sergeant. It takes many years to grow one. Which is why you definitely want to lose as few as possible before their time. Pitter, patter.

Monday, November 26, 2007

NATO's need for helicopters in Afstan

The details, and what it being done, sort of. Excellent story, note the source and the Canadian NATO official (via GAP at topic there is great for daily Afstan news):
NATO is desperately short of attack and transport helicopters that can support its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, senior sources in NATO Headquarters say. In recent weeks, the alliance has been examining multiple options to correct the shortfall.

Proposals on the table range from improved training and logistic support for deployed helicopters, to a commonly funded modernization of 20-odd Russian-built, Czech-owned Mil Mi-8 Hip transport helos that could then be used to form a multinational transport pool for Afghanistan-type operations.

Representatives from several NATO nations will be discussing these options at a seminar in Brussels, a senior European diplomat in NATO Headquarters tells Aviation Week & Space Technology.

“I believe the U.S. will also shortly come forward with specific proposals to help solve this problem,” he adds.

The helicopter shortage is the “single biggest operational problem” that is hampering the day-to-day operations of ISAF, a 41,000-strong multinational mission led by NATO and comprising troops from 38 nations, including 14 that are not members of the alliance.

“We’re beseeching, begging, doing everything we can to convince nations to contribute more rotary-wing aviation assets, both transport helicopters and attack helicopters,” a Canadian NATO official says.

“It’s not that NATO nations don’t have helicopters. The problem is that they’re very expensive to ship to Afghanistan and to operate and maintain them there. I think there are several nations that prefer to keep their helicopters at home for this reason.”

At the Shephard Heli-Power conference in The Hague, operational commanders stressed that ISAF is struggling with a “constant imbalance of demand versus availability of both attack and transport helicopters.”

“Without helicopters, operations in southern Afghanistan are not possible. There’s a lack of road infrastructure and a high threat of improvised explosive devices and ambushes by Taliban and other opposing militant forces,” says Maj. Gen. Ton van Loon of the Royal Netherlands Army. He returned from Kandahar earlier this year after having commanded ISAF’s Regional Command (RC) South.

“If we don’t have the helicopters, we must admit defeat [a bit excessive if this means the need for more aircraft - MC]. It is unacceptable that a soldier dies because the medevac helicopter and its attack helicopter escort are not available. Several times, we came very close to not getting this right because we were stretched,” van Loon told the conference.

The 11,600-strong RC South includes the troubled provinces of Helmand (where British forces provide the bulk of the ISAF presence), Kandahar (Canadian forces) and Uruzgan (Dutch and Australian forces). Fighting has been on the increase in recent months.

Aviation assets available to RC South are primarily British, Dutch and U.S., with the British typically having eight Chinook HC2 transport helicopters, eight Longbow Apache attack helicopters and five Lynx Mk. 7 battlefield support helicopters divided between Kandahar Air Field and the main forward operating base in Helmand, Camp Bastion.

The Dutch have three CH-47D Chinooks at Kandahar plus five AH-64D Apaches forward-deployed at Tarin Kowt, Uruzgan.

U.S. Army Aviation has about 100 helicopters in country (including 24 Apaches, 25 Chinooks and 50 UH-60 Black Hawks), but many of these are assigned to the 13,900-strong Regional Command East, where most of the 15,100 U.S. troops are based.

At times, other nations, notably Australia, contribute a couple of Chinooks to RC South that are normally based at Kandahar, while there are also some Mi-8 Hips used by Afghan special forces.

The helicopters available to RC South are in constant demand, says van Loon, not just because of the terrain and the threat of IEDs, but also because of their swiftness of response. “Thanks to helicopters, we can offer immediate support to troops in contact, and we can use surprise and vertical envelopment tactics to attack the weak points of our opponent. Unfortunately, we cannot meet the demand and we have to do something about that.”

A decision recently was made to charter about 20 commercial helicopters on a wet-lease basis to take on routine supply flights in RC South. Although these, too, would likely have to be escorted by attack helos, the extra capacity would free up Chinooks and Black Hawks. These could be dedicated to supporting troops in contact and to conduct preplanned air-maneuver operations to chase the opposing forces, officials in NATO headquarters say.

Van Loon says NATO “would probably have to beg the U.S. for another extension,” but the current U.S. Army aviation brigade assigned to ISAF—which has been in the theater longer than planned—is now expected to go home in early 2008, say NATO officials in Brussels.

“The U.S. secretary of Defense has told NATO to basically suck it up and to take care of the problem. That’s why we’re chartering the commercial helos,” the Canadian official says.

At the Heli-Power conference, however, U.S. Army Col. Walter Golden said that at least two U.S. Army aviation units at Ft. Campbell, Ky., are preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. These would be the 4/101st, which is the first to fly the new-built Sikorksy UH-60M; as well as the 7/101st, which is the first unit equipped with the new Boeing CH-47F Chinook. Both belong to the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade.

The UH-60M and CH-47F both have Rockwell Collins’s new Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS).

This could be one step toward more standardization on the flight lines in Afghanistan, something that’s strongly advocated by van Loon.

“When I was commanding RC South,” says van Loon, “we had four national Chinook detachments on the ramp at Kandahar, from Australia, the Netherlands, the U.K. and the U.S.—but their respective aircraft were so different that their mechanics could not work on the other nations’ aircraft; nor could the aircrew fly in aircraft other than those of their own unit. Because we can’t share the logistics and maintenance, the whole thing becomes more expensive and more complicated to organize, which is directly translated in loss of potential.”

The logistics and maintenance workload is extremely high as it is, Golden adds. The operational tempo for helicopters in Afghanistan is very high. According to Golden, the U.S. Apaches in country manage an 83% and Chinooks an 82% mission-capable rate. The Apaches fly 51 hr. per month and the Chinooks 43.6 hr. on average, “a four times higher operational tempo than we anticipated for the global war on terror,” he says.

According to van Loon, the helicopter shortage is also caused by nations not always sending the most suitable helicopter types, particularly during Afghanistan’s hot summer months. “I will mention my own country’s Eurocopter Cougar Mk. 2 as an example: In winter it can carry 14 troops, but by April, temperatures have risen and their payload is reduced to just four troops,” he says. “They had to stop flying after 7:00 a.m. because of the heat.”

Officers speaking at Heli-Power agreed that the Chinook is the most suitable transport helicopter in Afghanistan, because of the way it’s able to deal with the prevailing hot-and-high conditions.

Operational commanders at the conference said that in order to make the most of the limited assets, those nations that contribute helicopters must urgently set up combined, integrated rotary-wing aviation exercises equivalent to the U.S.-organized “Flag” series of live flying exercises held by the fixed-wing fighter community.

The only way to improve the situation in the near term is to better integrate national helicopter contributions and to try to enhance interoperability between them, they say.

While “each individual unit is doing an excellent job,” the “pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, in terms of each nation’s specific techniques, tactics and procedures, are not aligned,” officers warned.

“Integration of the different national army aviation units in the theater is a must,” says Col. Ron Hagemeyer of the Royal Netherlands Air Force. He came back from Kandahar just days before the conference, having led the Dutch Air Task Force in southern Afghanistan.

“There are differences in the rules of engagement, national caveats in terms of targeting guidelines, different regulations on handling of dangerous cargo, different procedures on how to transport troops, different limitations on weather and the use of night vision goggles, as well as different tactics,” he says.

For example, British and Dutch Apaches normally fly at around 1,800 ft., above the range of small-arms fire, while U.S. Apaches operate at much lower altitudes, officers at the conference said.

“If a landing zone is not properly prepared, with cargo and troops ready to join the helicopter in accordance with the relevant national regulations, a Chinook may have to spend 15-20 min. sitting on the ground, wasting time and fuel while being vulnerable,” says Hagemeyer.

“For years, the fixed-wing fighter community has had integrated multinational exercises.”

“We need to take a big step and to establish a major platform where rotary-wing aviators from several nations can talk and train together in day/night multinational, multi-type, multi-ship operations in brownout as well as hot-and-high environmental conditions.”

Or maybe not...

I posted last week about reported cuts to the Post Living Differential Allowance, one of the most important quality-of-life tools available to the CF. Without it, being posted to a major urban centre would be a major financial hardship for many.

Apparently, according to an NDHQ spokesman, the story was overblown:

Your Nov. 22 article, "Ottawa to Axe Soldiers' Bonus," is inaccurate and highly speculative The Post Living Differential Allowance stabilizes the overall cost of living of Canadian Forces members and their families to maintain a relative and predictable cost of living, no matter where in Canada a member is posted. This policy accounts for changes in the cost of goods and services, accommodation, transportation and taxes.

The allowance has been under review to ensure its rates reflect accurately and fairly the needs of its members across the country.

Lieut.-Col. Jamie Robertson, Ottawa

If all the fuss was about a standard periodic review, and not about eliminating the program, then it's nothing more than a tempest in a teapot. RUMINT masquerading as news - it wouldn't be the first time.

A month-old shipbuilding story

The Ottawa Citizen's ace defence reporter has this major story today:
Navy urges steady flow of shipbuilding
Current policy supports cycle of boom and bust in industry: report

...current government policy supports a "boom and bust" cycle whereby shipyards build large numbers of vessels in a short period and then have to lay off their staff until the next contract comes along...

"Without adequate industry infrastructure and associated skill sets, ongoing maintenance of present and future naval assets would be compromised," the report noted...
Funny, he wrote a very similar story for just under a month ago.
Canada Wants To Smooth Way for Shipbuilding Orders

Current government policy supports a “boom-and-bust” cycle, where shipyards work full tilt on construction and then face an economic downturn and layoffs of skilled labor at the end of each vessel-building program...

“Without adequate industry infrastructure and associated skill sets, ongoing maintenance of present and future naval assets would be compromised,” said the 7-page report, “Canadian Shipyards: Capacity, Capabilities and Issues.”..
Both stories are based on the same April 2006 DND report, obtained via Access to Information (Mr Pugliese's maintstay). The story published today does, I'm glad to see, add that:
In addition, the Canadian Coast Guard is in need of new ships...
As for timeliness: February, Vice Adm. Drew Robertson, head of the Canadian Navy, told the House of Commons standing committee on national defense that predictability in the construction of warships would help the domestic shipbuilding industry, which has faced major financial problems...

Not so really hot aircraft news

This story received pretty good coverage almost two months ago. But now there is a terrible suspicion that there may be some politics involved. Regarding our armed forces and industry, in Canada, in Nova Scotia. Quelle horreur! Who'd a thunk it?
National Defence has postponed a decision on whether to continue with major upgrades to its fleet of Maritime patrol planes until after Parliament rises for the Christmas holidays.

Critics say the deferral is an unabashed attempt to bury what is expected to be a bad news announcement for Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

A substantial portion of the work has been carried out in his home province of Nova Scotia.

Defence sources say the long-anticipated announcement was put off earlier this week until Dec. 18, almost one month past the government’s self-imposed deadline and at least four days past Parliament’s scheduled Christmas break.

Despite several telephone calls over three days, the department’s material branch did not answer requests for comment — or explain the rationale for the extension involving the CP-140s.

The air force had originally intended to keep its 18 CP-140 Auroras in the air until 2025, but a multi-year upgrade contract was put on hold in September and there have been suggestions the military has been shopping for a replacement aircraft...

Companies, including IMP Aerospace in Halifax, were preparing for the next round when the project was put in limbo.

Defence sources said officials from IMP met with MacKay earlier this month.

The minister offered no hint about what the final decision might be "other than to suggest they might not be happy with the result," said an official who asked not to be named.

A spokesman for the minister denied MacKay is leaning one way or another and that politics played any part in the decision to postpone.

"The minister has not made a decision on this file and is expected to within coming weeks," Dan Dugas said in an email note.

"The reason for the postponement is that the minister wants all the information possible on this important file before he does decide the way forward and he’s waiting for more advice."

But Opposition members said they don’t buy it and the stonewalling — particularly by department officials — can only mean the Conservatives want the issue dropped into the pre-Christmas news void to protect MacKay.

There has already been controversy surrounding defence contracts in Nova Scotia’s business community.

Irving-owned Halifax Shipyards is suing the federal government over the awarding of a long-term submarine maintenance contract.

"So, it means during Christmas, ho, ho, ho, and we pull-the-plug," said Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre.

"The only reason they would want to do this during the holidays is because they want to cover it up so nobody knows what happened."

NDP defence critic Dawn Black said she’s troubled by the extension and that politics appear to be at play.

"This is important for surveillance and for the safety of Canadians on both coasts and we deserve to know what is going on."

The Auroras are used for submarine hunting and coastal surveillance.

In 2005, IMP and L-3 Electronic Systems were awarded two contracts totalling $961.1 million.

IMP, which has maintained the airframe of the Auroras since they were introduced in the 1980s, has been carrying out engineering and structural upgrades.

Industry officials told MacKay it would be cheaper to continue with the upgrade and keep the planes flying until 2025, rather than spend several billion dollars to purchase new ones.

But the air force has countered that the slow pace of the refurbishment means it could have new aircraft by the time the old ones are back in service, said a defence insider.

Bailing out on the rest of contract would result in a "managable" penalty, the source admitted...
I'm shocked, see that M. Coderre is in top, technically-informed, Liberal national defence critic mode:
So, it means during Christmas, ho, ho, ho, and we pull-the-plug...
I'd bet that if he was in a bathtub racer he'd pull the plug by accident. What a shame.

Update: This story, by the Ottawa Citizen's David Pugliese in an apparent effort to catch up with CP's Murray Brewster (author of first quote above), is really not hot. Unless Mr Pugliese is right that the Air Force is set on the P-8 as the Aurora's replacement (sole-sourced, horrors!)--statements for which he gives no source:

From Mr Brewster (at the end of his story):
The air force is said to be looking at two aircraft, the P-8 Poseidon and the ASTOR.

The U.S. Navy replaced its Auroras with Boeing manufactured P-8s, which are essentially 737s modified for surveillance. The ASTOR is a smaller version of Quebec-based Bombardier’s Global Express jet.
From Mr Pugliese:
The military's recommendation is to keep the Auroras flying until 2016 without any upgrades, while at the same time proceeding with the purchase of the Poseidon surveillance aircraft, the U.S. navy's successor to its version of the Aurora. Several years ago, Canada was invited by the U.S. to take part in the Poseidon program, but declined...

The military would prefer to tie in to the U.S. navy's P-8 Poseidon aircraft program starting around 2011 or 2012. An order placed then would see the delivery of the first of those aircraft by 2016...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Afstan/Pakistan: Not easy

Four relevant articles:
U.S. Notes Limited Progress in Afghan War
Strategic Goals Unmet, White House Concludes

In Afghanistan, [US Army's] Hunt for Arms and Militants Can Be a Slog

[UK] Armed Forces face 'failure' in Afghanistan

Pivotal test of Pakistan's will against extremists
Growing violence in the northwest, where insurgents have set up an Islamist ministate, could presage a push by militants in tribal borderlands, experts say.

On other hand, the UN peacekeeping force in the Congo was authorized in 1999 and doesn't look like leaving in the foreseeable future.

Update: Here's hoping:
Pakistani troops have begun a major ground offensive against pro-Taleban militants in a former tourist resort in the North West Frontier province.

Military officials say more than 200 militants have been killed in the past week, but there is no independent confirmation of those figures.

A curfew has been imposed in the area around the Swat Valley, about 160km (100 miles) from Islamabad.

Thousands of civilians are reported to have fled from the fighting.

Food supplies cut

This is the first time that Pakistani ground troops have been in action against militants in the Swat Valley...

The fighting in Swat is highly significant because it is the first major pro-Taleban threat in Pakistan in what is known as a settled area...

Friday, November 23, 2007

AFVs in Afstan

An interesting thread at (the Danes, with four Leopards, are the only other NATO army with tanks there).

Maybe fewer firefights in our Afghan future

So far this CP story does not seem to have been printed in our papers (other than the Calgary Sun) or noticed by the electronic media:
New roles for troops in Afghanistan

LAKOKHEL, Afghanistan -- Canadian troops arriving in Afghanistan in the future will find a rapidly changing military landscape, says the new commander of the Canadian Forces mentoring program.

Col. Francois Riffou said troops will have to adjust to these changes, which will mean problems for both those arriving in the Afghan theatre for the first time and for those who have been away for least a year.

While soldiers in a previous rotation may have been largely in a combat role, that is changing with the growing competency of the Afghan National Army, Riffou said.

Troops are also being used to mentor the Afghan National Police. Combat-tuned soldiers may therefore not like where they eventually end up, said Riffou, who takes over the mentoring program when the next rotation of troops arrive in February.

"There's a lot of education to be done inside the army for those coming back," said Riffou. Newcomers will still have to learn to work with security personnel who often don't understand English and whose culture is much different. There are efforts to simulate the conditions in Afghanistan before deployment, with training sites such as the one in Wainwright.

But, Riffou said even this kind of advance training can't fully prepare soldiers for the hottest days of the Afghan summer.

"It's hard country," he said.

Afstan: Read them and draw your own conclusions

Differing views:
Opposition says military too optimistic
Canadian Forces accused of maintaining 'culture of secrecy' after Commons address

Canadian army paints upbeat picture of Afghanistan, contradicts Senlis Council [more on Senlis around the middle here; our opposition parties like to ignore the fact that the Council wants a much strengthened NATO ground combat effort, with less reliance on air strikes.]

Hillier bucks Pakistan push
General: Canada, NATO’s focus on southern Afghanistan

'There is reason for optimism,' NATO chief says

Afstan and public opinion polls

This is the text of a lengthy comment just made on an earlier post--I think it bears posting itself:
Sorry, I know this is ages after the fact, but I just wanted to respond to your comments about the CBC/Environics poll, which has raised concern among people who have worked in Afghanistan. I was on a trip to Afghanistan when it was released, hence this timelag.

If you're still interested, here are some points that I think bear some discussion on the poll's methodology:

Concerns with Validity -

Methodology involves entering people's homes and ask people's opinions on the military, especially the Afghan National Army/Afghan National Police. While the ANA/ANP are not quite like the militia in Iraq yet, they (esp the ANP) are very corrupt and often seen as dangerous to civilians.

Poll was conducted from September 17-24th, right at the beginning of the Holy month of Ramadan, which for many Muslims represents a period of charity and goodwill, and when the good that is done by fasting can be considered void is one speaks ill of others behind
their backs.

Afghans' oral culture and hospitable nature makes the linearity, aggressively
direct, and confinement of responses into five categories of intensity (highly agree, somewhat agree, etc) bewildering. My own direct attempts at conducting quantitative research in Afghanistan are written up here (Kish grid, audience research survey):, pages 42-3, 81-3. The problems I've listed in my Master's thesis barely skim the surface of the research challenges I've continued to have while conducting my PhD.

I have spent 7 years working in and around Afghanistan as an academic, development practitioner, and "undercover Afghan." As a Dari-speaking Afghan-looking woman, I have tended to find that after you scratch the surface of Afghan discourse, something else comes out that could never adequately be captured in as blunt and culturally unfamiliar a tool as a western poll. I usually find that people from other cultures tend not to appreciate the underlying resentment or suspicion felt by many Muslims towards the powerful West, and how quickly it can bubble up over a quiet discussion over a cup of tea.

Finding a good facilitator for polling is hard in Afghanistan. ACSOR has done polls for organizations like the Asia Foundation (said to have been founded with CIA funding) and the US state department, and their polls tend to have eyebrow raising results which run counter to other research but are advantageous for suggesting the military operations are running well. The Environics poll is not the first strange public opinion poll coming out of Afghanistan by ACSOR.

Sometimes the timing of the release of such polls is telling. I did a survey of publicly available public opinion in Afghanistan in Dec 2005, it is available here: . The studies that I looked at are listed in the appendix. Shortly after I finished this study (which found sharp pessimism and a downturn in public opinion), a new quantitative survey was released that claimed that Afghans were very pleased with the reconstruction process and international presence, released right before a major donor conference. This was in the same year that friends of mine were chased out of a UN compound in Jalalabad by angry mobs, who set fire to the compound. Also the same year as the Koran riots and Afghan Minister of Planning Bashardoost winning major public support in demanding that NGOs leave the country.

Methodology doesn't state how questions were piloted. Were there ways of triangulating responses? For instance, if people are so positive about the future, why is it that in the Environics poll only 40% think the government and foreigners will prevail in the current conflict? (20% believe the Taliban will win, 40% don't know). 20% believe Al Qaida is a positive force in the country - how does that mesh with other responses?

Concerns with generalizability -

Poor to non-existent communications and road infrastructure in rural areas, inadequate mapping, lack of security, illiteracy, widely divergent population estimates and shifting displaced populations hamper statistical generalizability of their poll of about 1,500 Afghans.


I have been in Afghanistan many times in the last 6 years, and in my three visits this year I found the security situation to be the worst I have ever seen. I first entered Afghanistan during the time of the Taliban, and even then did not feel as threatened as I did in my most recent journey in October 2007. There is no sense of safety anywhere, and even longtime Afghan friends of mine now feel uncomfortable entering downtown Kabul. Such fears could only have worsened with the Nov 6th suicide bomb killing children and MPs in Baghlan, formerly considered a "safe" area.

I have been wrong more times than I can count when it comes to Afghanistan, which I find a fascinating and unendingly complicated space. I don't object to surprising research findings, but I do object to bad science that run counter to common sense. The Environics poll runs counter to what I and other longtime development workers have found to be the mood in the country (including a practitioner who has lived for 6 years in Kandahar). The poll is also dangerous, in my opinion, because the word for expressing the public's mood that is more and more being bandied about in expert circles, and among Afghans, is "occupation." I was a panelist at the Middle East Studies Association annual conference this weekend, and everybody there agreed with that framing. So I believe it is particularly important to not allow a poll (which, as we understand, even in the best of situations is just a poll and not reflective of anything other than what people choose to say to a pollster) to be taken as more than it is.

Sorry for the long post. Best regards,

Sarah Kamal
2007 Trudeau Scholar
PhD Candidate, London School of Economics

Babbler's Addendum: A different perspective on whether Afghans want us there, from another lady who's spent some time in country:

Q: Are people glad to see us there, and do they really appreciate what we are doing there to help them?

W.O. Lori Coady: I asked myself that same question everyday. And everyday I had a different answer. I was welcomed into places with open arms and received a cold handshake at other places. However, even with a cold welcome the aid that Canada was offering with me as a vehicle was always accepted.

The individuals I would ask that same question to would be the Language Assistants (translators) that worked in our camp. Their response was that our help is welcomed as long it is what Afghans want. We are very careful to ensure that what help we give is that which the villages request and distributed on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan.

Yes, people do appreciate that we are there. They recognize that it is a tough battle and they know that the Canadian public is worried about the soldiers and that there is a chance that we'll leave. They tell us all the time that they hope that does not happen. People are still afraid.

Firefight video at the Globe and Mail...

...did not get the soldier who shot it in trouble in this case. But over the long run personal videos, and internet access in general, will be increasingly hot potatoes:
The gritty video captures the crackle of machine-gun fire, the boom of explosions and the whoosh of shrapnel passing dangerously close overhead.

But this compelling glimpse of Canadians under fire during a patrol west of Kandahar wasn't shot by a journalist travelling with the troops. Rather it was taken by a soldier himself.

When Cpl. Philippe Lemieux's reconnaissance unit was ambushed by insurgents Saturday morning, the 26-year-old soldier pulled out his personal camera, caught the action and gave a copy to The Globe and Mail.

By Monday, his video was on the newspaper's website – and Lemieux's commanders were asking questions about this soldier-turned-videographer. Back at defence headquarters in Ottawa, military policy-makers were again wrestling with the challenges of fighting a war in the digital age.

Lt.-Cmdr. Pierre Babinsky, a military spokesperson, said commanders were surprised to see the video online.

"Yes we were and funnily enough, so was Cpl. Lemieux when he found out how quickly the video had ended up on the Web," Babinsky said in an interview from Afghanistan.

Welcome to the wired battlefield, where many Canadian soldiers on the front line have a small digital camera tucked beside their guns.

Thanks to those cameras – and easy Internet access at the main base at Kandahar Airfield – soldiers are sending back pictures and videos to family members, friends as well as blogs and websites like YouTube.

"Everybody there seems to own a camera," said one soldier who has served in Afghanistan.

"This is our first big operation in the digital age ... at the end of the day, all you can do is put out policies and then you make sure soldiers are aware of them," said the soldier.

But the military's gripe with Lemieux wasn't that he was taking pictures as his unit was taking fire. Rather, they weren't happy that he hadn't vetted the video with commanders before handing it over to the media.

"We like to review anything that would come out of the battlefield to ensure there is no violation to operational security," Babinsky said.

Soldiers taking pictures, even for personal use, have to abide by the same rules that govern journalists embedded with the Canadian Forces. That means no pictures of sensitive military topics like the watchtowers around a base or classified equipment within the vehicles...

...the incident does renew old tensions within defence headquarters about how much access soldiers should have to the Internet, whether personal cameras should be allowed on operations...

As for Lemieux, Babinsky says he won't be punished since there were no security concerns with the footage he had taken...
Such video might also be used for training and as part of the historical record.

More on Don Jean

A guest-post at Daimnation!:
He kept us out of war

Collateral journalistic damage?

The Ottawa Citizen and access to retribution--a letter to the editor:
Forces limit information to protect Afghan lives
The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Friday, November 23, 2007

Re: Secrecy surrounds Afghan contracts, Nov. 19.

The article misrepresents the actions and motives of the Canadian Forces on the subject of disclosure of contracting information. The publishers should also be aware that some of the information in the article may put at risk the lives of some Afghan contractors.

The authors state, correctly, that limited information is released on Afghan contractors engaged by the Canadian Forces in support of our operations in that country. The full story -- left unexplained in the article -- is that the Canadian Forces has very serious and credible reasons for limiting the amount of information released in these situations. In simplest terms, we are trying to protect the lives of the Afghan contractors with whom we do business, and their families.

In a country where the primary effort of the enemy is aimed squarely at the disruption of any attempt at normalcy, security, or rebuilding, common sense and common decency dictate that the only responsible course of action is to guard the identities of any Afghan nationals brave enough to be our allies or contractors in this endeavour.

In addition to these reasons, the relevant legislation is very clear that certain kinds of information can be exempt from disclosure. The Access to Information Act allows for example the exclusion of personal data, or of information that compromises the security of military operations, the safety of individuals, or the business details of third parties such as contractors.

Given the type of military operations we are engaged in, our constant challenge is to improve the way we disclose information, respecting the public's right to know while doing our best to safeguard our personnel and those who work with them.

One final point: in light of the information outlined here, I'm certain your readers will agree that the Citizen's decision to publish photographs and names of Afghan contractors said to be doing business with the Canadian Forces is, at the very least, disappointing.

Rear-Adm. Bruce Donaldson,
Director of staff
Strategic Joint Staff
National Defence Headquarters
Babbling's earlier post on the article:

It will sure play well to an Ottawa readership, though!

Welcome to the world of stupid bureaucracy...

...but I repeat myself:

The federal government is about to stop its practice of giving extra money to Canadian soldiers posted to some of the country's most expensive cities.

Since June 2000, almost half of Canada's soldiers have been receiving a bump in their monthly salary - dubbed the post living differential - for living and working in cities with a high cost of living.

However, Global National reported Thursday night that the Tory government will put a halt to the payments for soldiers in places like Toronto and Ottawa.

All postings are decidedly not created equal when it comes to cost of living. It's hard enough to get people to some urban postings without them kicking and screaming and pulling in every favour they have with the Career Managers; now they know they'll be poorer working at the Toronto recruiting centre than they would be doing the same job in Moncton. What possible reason could DND have for changing this policy?

Bueller? Anyone?

The liar's dilemma

"The liar's punishment is not in the least that he is not believed, but that he cannot believe anyone else." - George Bernard Shaw

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Armed UAVs

The Americans are now using Reapers in Afstan (first three pieces from Aviation Week and Space Technology, Nov. 19, subscriber only):
A U.S. Air Force General Atomics MQ-9A Reaper, the service’s big, new, missile-firing unmanned strike and reconnaissance aircraft, has dropped its first precision-guided bomb in Afghanistan. The Reaper fired a Hellfire missile during its first combat strike on Oct. 27 and has dropped two GBU-12 500-lb. laser-guided bombs.
The British soon will be:
The British Royal Air Force is expecting clearance to begin operating armed General Atomics Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles as early as next month. The Reaper is being operated by both the U.S. and the U.K. in Afghanistan...

RAF crews have carried out live-weapon drops from the Reaper (Predator B) using U.S. ranges. Jeffrey, speaking at a Royal Aeronautical Society UAV conference last week, said there had been “30 live GBU-12” releases for training purposes. Along with the Paveway II, the Hellfire missile is also a potential weapon for the RAF Reaper.

The RAF has ordered three Reapers, but has ambitions to acquire amore. The first three were purchased to meet an urgent operational requirement. The RAF UAVs likely will be based at Kandahar, Afghanistan, where the U.S. also operates Predators [emphasis added]. The RAF then can take advantage of U.S. maintenance and support.

The RAF flew its first operational sortie with the Reaper on Oct. 22. Since then, it has flown 11 sorties and 50 mission hours. The flights have been in support of both Army and Special Forces units. The RAF is also looking to train crews for the Reaper beyond the nine it already has.The air force wants to use the Reaper to help provide security for the 2012 Olympics [emphasis added], which are being hosted in London.

The Reaper missions are being flown from Creech AFB, Nev. Imagery from the Reaper is also sent to the U.K. from the U.S. using the Skynet satellite network for further exploitation...
The Germans are squeamish:
The politics in Germany also are complicated. There is resistance in some political quarters to the idea of arming unmanned aircraft. Germany is looking to buy a medium-altitude UAV, with the Predator-B as a candidate. But opposition members have already signaled that they will resist the idea of the German air force using the system in an armed configuration, as the U.S. Air Force often does. The German platform decision is expected next year, with the goal of fielding the medium-altitude UAV in 2010.

To help assuage concerns, Stieglitz stresses that a UC[combat]AV would require a man-in-the-loop capable of intervening in the system’s mission all the way “until impact of the weapon.” Tough performance would also be required from the data links to virtually guarantee connectivity throughout a mission...
And so are we, even more so:
No Reapers for the CF

Or any other version of the Predator UAV. Pity:

Canada's air force is shopping for new, unarmed pilotless aircraft to help protect troops in Afghanistan.

The head of the air force, Lt.-Gen. Angus Watt, has ordered the program fast-tracked, and his staff plan to give special consideration to companies that can quickly deliver the so-called uninhabited aerial vehicles or UAVs...

The plan is a step back from a $500-million proposal that was rejected last spring by the federal cabinet. The original plan was to purchase 12 U.S.-made Predator drones, which can be equipped with Hellfire missiles.

The Predator proposal, part of the Conservative government's draft defence plan, was bounced back to air force planners after concerns were raised by senior ministers about the military sole-sourcing yet another defence contract.

The air chief also says the technology hasn't evolved sufficiently.

"For a while there, we flirted with technology," Watt said in a recent interview.

"We have walked back from that flirtation. That doesn't mean we are not going to pursue UAVs, but I think we have a little more realistic view of the capabilities of the UAVs."

Watt said technology that would deliver a 226-kilogram bomb, or fire a missile at a target, without humans nearby makes him nervous.

"I think it would be a stretch for us," Watt said.

"The reason being is: we in Canada like to have a man in the loop dropping weapons and shooting weapons at people [doesn't bother the Brits though]...

Dutch very likely to stay in Afstan until 2010

Very good news--which will sure put the screws on us. Note also the countries reported to be pitching in the help the Dutch. I wonder what our opposition parties will have to say about our leaving our militaristic Dutch (and Aussie) comrades rather in the lurch if Canada end its combat mission at Kandahar, immediately south of them.
DUTCH government parties have agreed to extend the Dutch mission in Afghanistan by around two years, public broadcaster NOS reported overnight, citing well-informed sources.

Dutch and Australian troops make up the bulk of the force in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan.

According to the NOS, the parties in the centre-left coalition government have agreed to extend the mandate of the Dutch troops in the Uruzgan province, which expires in August 2008, until 2010.

The Dutch cabinet will discuss the extension tomorrow and thrash out the details. The NOS said one point that remains to be determined is exactly how long the soldiers will stay, but it is expected to be around two years.

The government of Christian Democrats, Labour and protestant Christian Union is expected to officially announce its decision on Saturday next week.

The NOS reported that the Dutch mission in Uruzgan will be slimmed down as NATO partners France, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have agreed to help out with troops [emphasis added].

Currently there are some 1650 Dutch soldiers in Afghanistan.

The Netherlands is the sixth largest contributor to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

Most of the Dutch troops are in the southern province of Uruzgan where they have faced heavy fighting with insurgents from the extremist Taliban movement that was in government in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.

The country has lost 12 soldiers since deploying last year as part of the ISAF mission.

NATO is trying to persuade its partners in ISAF to recommit to the tough mission in Afghanistan, which critics say risks failure [Senlis Council report is here], and to meet a shortfall of soldiers and equipment.
More on the Dutch, and broader NATO, troop situation:
Looking forward in Afstan
And comment (received by e-mail) by the Conference of Defence Associations on the Senlis Council report (note the martial thrust of the Council's approach, something which Canadian critics of our mission try to downplay):
After having examined the report, the CDA notes that it agrees with the broader themes present in it:

-The need for a greater presence of NATO troops and the removal of caveats on the activities of national contingents (although the required number of troops should be based on a sound military analysis).

-The recognition that developments in Pakistan, especially in the frontier areas, are critical to the peace and stability of Afghanistan.

-The recognition of the need to provide security and stability in areas of development and reconstruction.

However, there are several difficulties that the CDA has with the document and the proposals contained within it:

-The comparative measures of NATO “standing armies” that are provided are misleading. For example, Canada’s army -which is about 20, 000 in strength- is listed as “60,000” strong, while in reality this is the total size of the Canadian Forces. The US’ army is listed as half-a-million; however, this excludes the considerable size of the Marines, with a strength of some 200,000.

-The calculation of national troop contributions on the basis of 2.3 soldiers per billion GDP, while clear in its measurement, has an unknown lineage; it is unclear where the SENLIS Council took this measure from.

-The “futurist scenario” approach of the report is often alarmist and unsubstantiated; there is little evidence or analysis to back up proposed “chains of events” that could lead to a downward spiral of the mission in 2008.

-There is a major difference between the Taliban “holding” territory and the Taliban “controlling” or “administering” territory, and we believe that the two should be differentiated.

-The notion of a “combat CIDA” and military control of CIDA funds in the field is a controversial proposal that needs more thought, in terms of the implications from linking political, military and humanitarian efforts so overtly.

-The SENLIS Council’s latest proposals are a stark and puzzling contrast to the Council’s previous focus on “poppy for medicine” and its emphasis on a negotiated solution in Afghanistan, exemplified by its September 2007 peace simulation in Ottawa. It is unclear how a pro-legalization and pro-negotiation position can square with calls for 40,000 more troops and military operations in Pakistani territory.
Reaction to the Senlis report by NATO's Secretary General De Hoop Scheffer and President Karzai is here (just past the middle). Note also:
Karzai said Thursday that Taliban leaders were increasingly contacting him to try to find ways of making peace.

"We have had an increasing number of contacts from Taliban from within Afghanistan and from Pakistan," Karzai said...
De Hoop Scheffer said Thursday that NATO will increase the number of transport helicopters in Afghanistan by leasing private aircraft. Some of those helicopters will go to the south, where Canadians now often travel by land convoy and operate at risk of hitting a roadside bomb.
Sorry for the monster post--sort of grew.

Investigative journalism? *snort*

I'm sure the intrepid, ink-stained scribes at The Ottawa Citizen are trying. Really. But I had to laugh out loud at their latest effort at Seriously Breathless Investigative ReportingTM:

GardaWorld, another publicly traded British firm, was hired by the United Nations to provide security advice and logistical support during the 2005 Afghan parliamentary elections.

UN employees were under tight security restrictions over where they could travel, so GardaWorld did much of the support work, said Danny Matthews, the company's manager in Afghanistan.

Just because a company has British employees and locations doesn't make it a British firm, last I checked.

In fact, I'd hardly call a company headquartered in Montreal a British firm. From the GardaWorld website, which can be accessed through that high-powered, but exclusive and complex tool of investigative journalism, Google:

We are proud to be a part of the Garda family of companies, which offers clients a comprehensive suite of consulting and investigation, physical security, cash logistics, and background screening services. Garda employs 50,000 professionals and is headquartered in Montreal, Canada.

Note also that the company's shares are traded on the TSX, under the symbol GW.

Shadowy security firms indeed, hiding in plain sight a couple of hours up the road from the sleuths at The Citizen.