What ‘Support The Troops’ Really Means

I have, to my own (partial) satisfaction, at least, defined five roles for the Canadian Forces:

  • To maintain active military forces to share in the continental defence of the North American homelands, of the maritime approaches to them and of the airspace over both.
  • To maintain a global, blue water fleet, supported by air forces, that is able to, simultaneously, maintain a constant Canadian presence in at least two different theatres.
  • To maintain trained, disciplined military units that can, on very short notice, give effective “aid to the civil power” here in Canada.
  • To maintain combat naval, land and air forces and a full range of strategic and tactical support services, able to conduct low to mid intensity operations anywhere in Canada on short notice.
  • To establish and maintain sufficient naval, land and air expeditionary forces that are able to deploy and fight, for sustained periods, anywhere in the world in conjunction with allies in UN sanctioned missions.

I also, in a recent post, talked about some ancillary systems and oragnizations ~ command, control and communications (C³) and medical services, supply and materiel maintenance, for example. It is those things which need to be discussed in more ~ and boring ~ detail … because they matter!


“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.”

(Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC)


Napoleon’s old adage about an army marching on its stomach was never more true than in modern, 21st century warfare. Not only do the sailors’, soldiers’ and air force members’ bellies need to article-2155213-00829C1800000258-490_306x437be filled with food, but the “bellies” of the great metal beasts ~ ships, tanks, trucks and aircraft ~ need to be filled with fuel and the the guns and missile launchers have to be filled with ammunition and so on and so forth. And everything the military does needs to be properly (politically) authorized, in advance, and coordinated and then reported upon and analyzed when it is done.

But before we send our navies and armies off to do anything it is vital to comprehend the strategic and operational situations. Governments, acting in our names, need timely, accurate information and the tools to use that information to make good, sound decisions. So, the first thing we need are services, and I emphasize the plural, to collect information and turn it into useful intelligence. We already have some of those services in place … CSE (the Communications Security Establishment) is one obvious agency, but there are others and all, and perhaps more, are needed. What is not needed is a rigid, formal, large high level coordination agency. Intelligence services can and should “compete” in a way to develop best practices, etc. Although these is, most likely, a role for military intelligence agencies this is, mainly, a civil function, but one which is critical to the military.

Another vital civilian function is: setting defence policy. Using the intelligence about the global and regional and domestic situations civilians, again, will set defence policy: they will answer the fundamental questions about, for example, the size and shape of whatever expeditionary forces we will have.

(Of course, this whole thing is predicated on the idea that we will have armed forces. There is, I suppose, a theoretical possibility that some government, someday, might decide to disband the Canadian Forces and, I guess, if this was a staff college assignment I might have to consider that possibility, if only to discard it at some later point.)

The next function, also civilian, is to decide on the size, shape and equipment for the military. The key decisions: how much to spend? what sort of forces to have? are political but the implementation is a function of the civil service. There is, of course, military advice, but, broadly and generally, these are civilian functions.

This should lead us to conclude that we need at Department of National Defence, headed by a civilian deputy minister with subordinate (but still very senior) officials responsible for policy, materiel, facilities, finance and (civilian) personnel.

Since we assume we are going to have armed forces then there needs to be a national military HQ, too. Let’s call it, for the moment, Canadian Forces Headquarters (CFHQ). Following international best practices we will wish to integrate the two HQs, DNDHQ and CFHQ into a single entity called, as it is now, National Defence Headquarters: NDHQ.

The exact arrangements for this single, integrated HQ can be complex and several experts have weighed in on the hows and whys. For my purpose, here, it is sufficient to say that we need one … but I cannot resist saying that I, personally, find the current C² superstructure of the Canadian Forces too complicated and too large: wasteful and inefficient, in fact.

Below the headquarters there need to be several organizations, agencies and units to provide a vast array of services to the HQ, to the combat forces and to on another. The list includes, but is not limited to:

  • Facilities or construction engineering;
  • Telecommunications, including communications security (cryptographic management) and radio frequency management for C²;
  • Medical and dental services;
  • Supply support which involves an intricate web of services from procurement or e.g. spare parts and “restock” items to ensure that inservice systems, from ships to soldiers’ uniforms are always ready for operations;
  • Transportation to deliver people and supplies anywhere in the world using a mix of contracted civilian and government owned and operated means and modes of transport;
  • Maintenance for everything from the most advanced and sophisticated computer controlled radar systems to tents and canvas shelters;
  • Financial services for military pay and allowances, contracted services, at home and overseas, and military operating expenses;
  • Administrative support services for all the thousands of things can can create problems for individual sailors and soldiers, for units and for the Canadian Forces as a whole; and
  • Security and police support, in Canada and overseas.

Some additional roles and tasks include:

To establish and maintain national and military headquarters, staffs and intelligence services to plan, mount and conduct military operations anywhere in the world and to manage the military in peace and war.

To construct and maintain military facilities (dockyards, bases, ranges, airfields, etc) in Canada and abroad for use by Canadian military formations* and units.

To operate a secure, reliable, responsive global C³ (command, control and communications) system, consisting of people, procedures, resources, facilities and telecommunications to support Canadian military operations anywhere in the world and emergency C³ for the whole of the Government of Canada.

To provide medical and dentals services to support the needs of Canadian military ships and units in Canada and around the world. (This will include medical and dental care for dependents for units deployed overseas with families.)

To provide support services, including  logistics (supply, transport, finance and maintenance) for Canadian military formations and units, from national depot through to local base or individual ship level in Canada and around the world; administrative support to Canadian military formations and units at home and overseas; and security and police services to Canadian military formations and units in Canada and overseas.

All this is what General Barrow said professionals must study (and master) while the amateurs discuss tactics.

It is not glamorous but it is vital: every bit as vital as warships, combat soldiers and jet fighters. But it is harder to understand and harder to manage, too.

Doing all those things, and doing them well, is what we really mean when we say “support the troops.”



* A formation is a group of units: a fleet or flotilla or task group, a division or brigade, a wing, or a contingent, for example.

6 thoughts on “What ‘Support The Troops’ Really Means”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s