Land forces

I said, yesterday, that: “I’m going to write, for a few days, on how I believe Canada can (because it has the resources) and should (if it has the will) establish, maintain and use its military forces and ancillary service, too … [and] …  The structure I am going to describe will require a lot more than 65,000 to 70,000 regular (permanent) force members (maybe half again or twice as many (100,000 to 135,000 full time, regular force members) and more than 1% of GDP ~ perhaps even more than 2% of GDP while the force is being rebuilt … [and, further] … I have some views on how the force should be organized. Personally, I favour a joint, geographically based system: four fully joint commands ~ Pacific, Western Eastern and Atlantic ~ one of which also has, as a sub-component, a Joint Special Operations Group. But I recognize that there was considerable merit in e.g. Paul Hellyer’s mid-1960s “functional command” model and that there is, probably, some merit in having three services and a Joint Support Command. But I will not advocate for one over the other ~ there are enough experts out there, but I will continue to argue for a ‘leaner’ and simpler command and control (C²) superstructure.

I began by talking about ships and, indeed, different fleets of ships. Today I will discuss the Army.

Navies are best, better than all the rest, at power projection. Air Forces are fast and flexible. But, finally, only armies can engage and kill an enemy at close range, seize the enemy’s towns and cities and farms and mines and airports and, finally, force his surrender.

We all know what the world’s second oldest profession is … soldiering may be the third oldest one. It seems that almost as soon as early humans settled down to grown food and raise children they began to look for easier ways to get the necessities of life and that often must have seemed like sending someone off to take what was needed, or just putin-fist-reuterswanted, from the neighbours. Fifty-thousand and more years later, in the middle of the 20th century, we got around to declaring aggressive war to be a crime against humanity … but some of us appear to have not quite understood that message. There are very real “bad guys” out there who want shat we have worked hard to get and they are prepared to use force to get it.

So, what does Canada need and what can Canada afford to have to protect its sovereignty, territory and vital interests ~ which include maintaining peace and security in the world so that we can move about and trade freely?

There was a time, before most readers were even born, when Canada had a very large but, sad to say, not terribly well organized army. There was also a time, when I was a young man, when Canada had a small but very, very well trained, led and organized army. For most of my adult life, however, since about the 1970s, Canada has had a small, underfunded and poorly organized army ~ something I have described as more of a Potemkin Village than an effective fighting force: all show, everything, as we used to say, “in the shop window,” organizations cobbled together for “one off” specific tasks, and that included our NATO contributions post 1970 and our recent operations in Afghanistan. There is nothing wrong with the raw material ~ the men and women in uniform ~ but there is a lot wrong with how they are funded, organized and managed.

I mentioned, in the linked article that when (1964) Canada spent almost 3% of GDP on defence we had an army with four quite large, combat ready brigades but now, as we spend only about 1% of GDP on defence we have three “hollowed out” brigades ~ none ready for battle, none with even one up-to-strength infantry battalion, tank regiment or artillery, engineer, signals and logistics units.

In my opinion Canada needs, and can afford, a force of about six brigade sized formations:

  • A small, specially equipped “Defence of Canada” brigade ~ perhaps only 3,500 soldiers, mostly airborne or air mobile troops;
  • A two phase “expeditionary force” consisting of –
    • A light (airborne/air-mobile) brigade group of about 6,500 soldiers, and
    • A mechanized brigade group of about 6,500 soldiers;
  • Two standard infantry brigade groups, each of about 4,500 soldiers (9,000 in total); and
  • An Army Aviation Group of several transport, utility, reconnaissance and attack helicopter squadrons and about 2,500 soldiers.

Apache_Helicopter_Firing_Rockets_MOD_45154922That’s almost 30,000 soldiers in combat unites alone, add on people for schools, logistical depots, hospitals, bases and headquarters and we are probably looking at 40,000 Army members – far more than half the total current strength of the Canadian Forces.

It would take years, even decades to “grow” such a force and that could, likely, only be done after the whole of the Canadians Forces’ command and control (C²) superstructure is dramatically restructured. The Canadian Army that we need must be properly staffed with enough of the “right” people, well trained for the whole range of operations from UN peacekeeping through internal security and general war, adequately equipped, well led and well organized, too.

I’m not going to propose exact organizations or equipment sets … there are plenty of experts who can do that. What I do propose (maybe just hope) is that some current and former Canadian politicians, from all parties, and some retired generals ~ leaders who have thought about these issues, leaders who have considered the options and made choices …

… should be speaking out, now, in public, to the media and, even more importantly, in caucus and at the cabinet table, about what Canada needs and what it can afford and how we should get from the unsatisfactory, even wasteful here to the desirable, indeed essential there.

2 thoughts on “Land forces”

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