Monday, May 12, 2008

"Canada First Defence Strategy": Drowned squib

Prime Minister Harper gave a speech in Halifax today unveiling the Conservative government's long-promised ( it's well over two years since the Conservatives took power) "Canada First Defence Strategy" (news release here, video here).

Rather a complete disappointment. After all that work we get this--all of five pages if you care to read them. There's nothing new of any substance in the "Strategy". Except maybe these items: the Regular Force will eventually be expanded from the current 65,000 to 70,000 (less than a year ago then-MND O'Connor was promising a future strength of 75,000; DND's 2008-09 Report on Plans and Priorities pledged 68,000 by FY 2011-12. So now 2,000 more in never-never time. Wow.

The reserves, now 24,000 will increase to 30,000. That is 4,000 more than the 26,000 envisaged in the Report--but 5,000 less than the 35,000 Mr O'Connor promised.

The "Strategy" is just a repackaging of what has been in budgets, the Plans and Priorities documents, announced procurement actions, and well-known future equipment replacement projects (update: but only 65 new fighters, very likely F-35s). Future spending pledges are of no substance given the realities of politics. In any event even the promised increases will get us nowhere near spending the 2% of GDP on defence that we probably should be.

Especially disappointing from my point of view is that there is no rethinking of the services' roles and required equipments: e.g. (my examples) Air Force aerial combat/ground attack fighters, Air Force doing search and rescue; a blue water Navy with submarines. I just don't think Canadians are willing to pay for the effective and efficient "combat-capable, flexible, multi-role" Canadian Forces that the "Strategy" maintains will continue to be an achievable goal. I wonder if this essentially empty--from a "strategic" standpoint--two year exercise had anything to do with General Hillier's decision to step down as CDS (he has had his differences with this government).

And of course the prime minister is trying to sell the economic goodies that will flow from current and new procurements. As he put it in answer to a question, getting the "greatest economic bang for the buck". He had no solid answer when asked about speeding up procurement--which is almost always slowed by the time taken to define the attached, highly politicized, industrial benefits--which is why, I'm sure the contract for the C-130Js took so long to negotiate (more here--note the "astounding coincidence" near the end).

A few specific comments. There is nothing about UAVs for northern and maritime surveillance and nothing about satellite surveillance capabilities, especially a follow-on to RADARSAT-2 (see Uppestdate here). There is no mention of a replacement for the Twin Otter as our northern utility aircraft and nothing on attack/escort helicopters (the Buffalo fixed-wing SAR aircraft will be replaced at some point, as will be the Army's LAV IIIs). And there is nothing about big honking ships (more here).

On the bright side General Hillier seems to have been able finally to kill the Conservatives' silly campaign promises about new rapid reaction battalions at various ill-suited bases (update: e.g. Goose Bay) across the country, and for troops in our cities.

Update: Babbling lets fly.

Upperdate: Here's an official list of various procurement initiatives with related backgrounders and news releases [the original has vanished into the ether, this is from April 3, 2009]. Apparently the prime minister's speech, and that of MND MacKay which followed (not even a news release on that available yet online), are themselves to constitute the "Strategy". Good grief. Moreover the full text of neither speech is online yet.

Predate: There were full defence white papers in 1987 and 1994.

Uppestdate: PM's speech found, 21:05:41 EDT, May 13. Great communication. Still awaiting an official text for whatever the MND said (21:45 EDT, May 13). Good freaking, non-transparent, grief.

Uppesterdate: I'd forgotten that proposals for the Northern Utility Aircraft, Fixed-Wing SAR aircraft, and UAVs apparently went to Cabinet in November 2006--and died. My comments at the end of the preceding link still seem pertinent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

also in Halifax today, Bill Casey essentially accused the government of fraud over the issue of the sub maintenance contract and Duffy gave him carte blanche to postulate his theory that DND is paying a million bucks to send subs to Victoria for "an oil change"

Anyone know what is going on ?

6:01 p.m., May 12, 2008  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Fred, I wrote about that little tempest in a teapot here.

6:07 p.m., May 12, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thnx BB.

Only difference seems to be now Casey has a new line to spin out, saying the trips are for routine oil changes not major maintenance or refits. He also says there was a lot of contracting flim-flam going on and Halifax got screwed.

The "just for an oil change" line is pretty good . . spins it into a scandal, or tries to.

8:35 a.m., May 13, 2008  

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