Air Forces are the best tool a country can have for delivering results quickly.
Military aircraft are fast. A modern fighter jet can take off from a base in Quebec and be in the Arctic (at, for example, Iqaluit which is 1,700 kms away) in 2½ hours with weapons ready to fire. A giant C-17, loaded with soldiers and supplies can fly from Trenton, ON to, say, Riga, in Latvia (6,500+ km) in a day, including a rest and refuelling stop.
Military aircraft are flexible: one “multi-role” aircraft cam perform two or three or four of the roles discussed below. One transport can be a “peacekeeper” one day, a “search and rescue” specialist the next and a disaster relief ambassador from Canada the day after that. Equally a modern fighter bomber can shoot down enemy fighters in the morning and destroy enemy tanks on the ground in the afternoon.
Military aircraft and the bases and systems needed to operate and maintain them are also complex and expensive and they require teams of highly trained, very skilled people to make the best use of them and get the most out of them.
One key point: aircraft ≠ Air Force. Navies and Armies, including Canada’s, should have their own, organic aircraft. In Canada’s case, the ship-borne helicopters (ancient Sea Kings, being replaced by Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones) and their crews and maintenance people should be transferred from the RCAF to the Navy and the Army should have squadrons of transport, utility, reconnaissance and attack helicopters, too.
A good Air Force has multiple roles:
- Air defence against missiles and manned aircraft (bombers);
- Offensive counter-air ~ attacking the enemy’s air forces and achieving air superiority;
- Bombing and ground attack;
- Air transport;
- Search and rescue; and
In Canada’s case, we should be full partners in America’s ballistic missile defence shield. We should also have space and ground-based surveillance and warning systems (radars, mostly) and manned, aircraft for airborne warning and control. Our main air defence role is within the North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) and we should continue to provide radars, bases, control centres and fighter squadrons for that role.
Canada should also have first-rate expeditionary force fighter-bomber squadrons to conduct offensive counter-air, reconnaissance, bombing and ground attack mission in support of allied combat operations overseas … even though the Trudeau regime has decided not to procure what is, arguably, the best fighter jet available and, instead, will saddle the Royal Canadian Air Force with 1980s technology and hand-me-down sensors.
Canada is a HUGE country and we have (and should understand and acknowledge that we have) vital interests around the world. The Air Force needs to be able to move people and supplies to hot spots and troubled areas on short notice: a large, diverse, very capable air transport fleet is an absolute necessity for our RCAF. We have, in the C-17s and C-130Js the right aircraft … but they are too few in number. The air transport fleet is an important tool for foreign aid, foreign policy, domestic and international disaster relief and peacekeeping: all of which are components of Canada’s soft power.
Search and rescue is an important function for the safety of Canadians … the Air Force (and the Navy and Army, too, with rotary-wing aircraft and crews) should be a major factor in the national search and rescue effort along with e.g. the Coast Guard and the RCMP.
Finally, the Air Force should be the authority for all flight and aircraft safety and maintenance systems and services. I said, above, the Navy and the Army should “own” and operate and maintain their own, specialized helicopter fleets but that does not mean that they each need their own flying training or maintenance training systems: one, single Air Training Command should provide flight training, aircraft engineering and maintenance training and air safety services for all of the Canadian Forces.
I’m not going to try to set numbers: but more is my common mantra. Combat aircraft are often used, including by me, as an example of how militaries can, sometimes, do more with less. There is no doubt that the performance “envelope” (range, speed, weapon load, reliability, etc) means that 100 CF-18 Hornets could do a more than a mix of 150 F-104 Starfighters and CF-101 Voodoos, but the key question wasn’t could they do more? The important point is what needed doing? Fewer and fewer aircraft may, indeed, do a bit more, but, too often, a lot more is needed.
As I said yesterday, the key is for leaders ~ political, military (usually retired), academics and “opinion leaders” ~ often journalists, to explain that Canada’s soft power is only useful if it is backed up by sufficient hard power. As my friend Tony said: “to inform is to influence.”