Dr.(Colonel (retired) Chris Kilford has written a series of articles for the Ottawa Citizen, he’s not an overly partisan academic, he’s been equally critical of Conservative and Liberal policies and proposals.
His latest is a look at the ongoing Defence Review and it is very much worth a read.
Ditto a piece on CBC News from Terry Milewski in which, after enumerating many of the current deficiencies in defence procurement he says, “if the military “capability gap” is real, might there also be a political capability gap to deal with?” As he explains the “political capability gap” results from needing to break one of two competing promises:
- We will not buy the F-35 stealth fighter-bomber.
- We will immediately launch an open and transparent competition to replace the CF-18 fighter aircraft.
There was a contradiction right from the start: if the F-35 was excluded then the competition was, by definition, limited and opaque. It must have been clear to the Liberals but they just assumed that Canadians wouldn’t notice and that the media would give them a (relatively) free ride.
Mr Milewski’s question parallels Dr Kilford’s comment that “no matter what one thinks of the defence policy review process, it has highlighted the fact that many of our current capabilities have become paper-thin or simply gone missing-in-action.“
First, let us admit that our defence capabilities didn’t wither away in the last eight months, since Prime Minister Trudeau took office. In fact the decay started, in earnest, in about 1970, and the damage done then, especially in the real, terrifyingly bleak “decade of darkness” from 1969 to 1979, was too severe to overcome, even when, prime ministers (Mulroney, Martin and Harper) were inclined to rebuild the Canadian Armed Forces. Pierre Trudeau had not just cut the “fat” ~ there is always some ~ he had chopped away meat and muscle and bone, too.
But this Defence Review is, in my opinion, just a sham. As Dr Kilford says, “although public consultations continue, the government hasn’t been waiting for Canadians to weigh up their defence options; key decisions about the future are being taken right now. Three weeks before the public consultation phase winds up at the end of July, for example, the 2016 NATO Summit is about to taken place in Warsaw. As we now know, Canada will make a substantial and perhaps permanent troop contribution in Eastern Europe to counter a resurgent Russia.” No, no one,especially not me, should argue that governments, faced with changing strategic situations, cannot and must not act even while major reviews are underway, but the NATO mission ~ which has already grown from 500 to about 1,000 ~ will be a major undertaking, especially when a Canadian National Support Element (essentially a Canadian support base in Eastern Europe) is added and it, alone, will drive army thinking for a decade while the Canadian Army adjusts from counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism to close combat with a near peer enemy.
Chris Kilford also picks up on a theme of mine when he says “well before the results of the public consultations are published, it’s also highly likely Canada will make a major commitment to support one or more peacekeeping missions. Since the Liberals came to power in November 2015, the number of Canadian police and military personnel deployed overseas on UN missions has actually fallen from 112 to just 79 men and women. This trend is about to be reversed … [and] … In part, the return to peacekeeping has a lot to do with the prestige factor of winning a two-year seat on the UN Security Council beginning in 2021. Norway and Ireland are our competitors for the two available seats and, combined, they have some 500 military personnel deployed on UN operations. It’s likely then, along with generous humanitarian aid, that at the very least our federal government will seek to commit a similar number of troops to the UN, at least until elections for the two seats take place in 2020.” My guess is that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told Prime Minister Trudeau that either Norway or Iceland would accept “defeat” in this contest for a perfectly useless bit of faded prestige if Canada did step up in NATO but, conversely, that ALL of Europe would unite and use all of the weight o its “good offices” to oppose Canada’s election if we did not step up. This is, essentially, what the Arab League did a few years ago when Prime Minister Harper refused to toe the line on Israel.
It should be possible to logistically sustain one large,ready-for-combat mission in Eastern Europe and a handful of, say three or four, 50-250 person UN missions in Latin America and Africa at the same time. It may, however, convince the government that it should be looking around for a few more “nearly new” C-17s.
The danger is that all this unfocused activity: deployments and policy reviews, may take executive and public attention away from what I consider to be Canada’s Number 1 Military Deficiency: the sad state of the Royal Canadian Navy.
Our national shipbuilding strategy aims to rebuild the Canadian shipbuilding industry, not the Navy, and give it a steady, reliable ‘stream’ of work that will last for decades. But, the problem is that, once again, as circa 1990, we are facing “rust out,” as too many ships are reaching the end of their useful service lives at once. The senior bureaucrats who thought up the national shipbuilding procurement strategy probably envisaged a stately progression of “batches” of different “classes” of ships sliding down the slipways over the years and decades. But we need a bunch, now. I don’t know what the right answer is but I’m convinced it involves a healthy mix of the big (7,000+ ton) Canadian surface combatant (the destroyer/frigate replacement), perhaps two classes of six each, and two ‘batches’ within each class, and several (say another dozen) corvettes (something under 2,000 tons) but certainly bigger and more capable than the current Kingston class MCDVs, plus arctic capable patrol ships (almost everyone who seems worth listening to agrees that we need to assert our sovereignty in the North), plus supply ships/tankers, plus submarines, plus, plus, plus … and, of course, some senior management talent has to be devoted to stick handling the CF-18 replacement project through all the swamps and minefields and, in that process, to break a promise without appearing to have broken a promise. It’s all a bit of load on a neophyte minister.
The Defence Review was, in my opinion, designed to take defence “off the table” for a couple of years.instead events, not the best laid plans, drive things (remember British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s quip about “events, dear boy, events” being what would bring his government to ruin?).