Potemkin Village (3)

My friend Tony Prudori, who is a reliable source of news about all things military, has posted (on Army.ca) the ORBAT (order of battle) of the Canadian led battle group that will deploy in Latvia:

According to sargs.lv*,” he reports,  “the Canadian-led battalion level battle group will be composed of about 1,138 soldiers, as well as armor, armored transport and combat support … [and] …  Of that number, 450 will be Canadian mechanized infantry bringing with them armored vehicles and various support elements. A specialized Canadian reconnaissance platoon will also be on the ground … [plus] … Albania will send 18 combat (explosive ordnance disposal) engineers … [and] … Italy will send a mechanized infantry company consisting of 160 soldiers plus armored fighting vehicles … [plus] … Poland will send a tank company with 160 troops … [and] … Slovenia will send 50 soldiers specializing in defense aaginst weapons of mass destruction, (chemical, biological and nuclear weapon defense, decontamination operations etc) … [and, further] …  Spain will send the second-largest contingent: 300 soldiers from a mechanized infantry company and armored vehicles, combat engineers and support elements … [but] … Though some troops and equipment are already on the ground, the bulk of the reinforcements, which will work in concert with local Latvian forces, is expected to arrive in June.

Screenshot 2017-05-24 13.35.09There is an old, tried and true, military expression to describe this: “it’s a dog’s bloody breakfast!” Can you imagine trying to command and control that organization? Especially under NATO’s rules that, as we saw in Afghanistan, allow each country to impose caveats on what where when and how its forces may be told asked to do anything at all.

So how did we, Canada, get to this? How is it that we cannot, it appears, deploy a complete battle group without Albanian, Italian, Polish, Solvenian and Spanish troops? After all, we had a full battle group in Afghanistan just five years ago, didn’t we?

Well, yes, but …

First, a “battle group” is rarely a formed unit (never in the Canadian Army). It is, usually, either a full up armoured (tank) regiment or infantry battalion with add-ons: tanks or infantry, artillery in direct support, engineers and so on and so forth. Our battle group in Afghanistan was always based on one of Canada’s nine infantry battalions with attachments from a tank regiment, an artillery regiment and so on. But even the infantry battalion, the “base” of the battle group had to be augmented. Canada has not had one, single, full strength, properly organized and equipped infantry battalion for more than a decade. A battalion ought to have 950± soldiers and its own, organic, mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-tank or assault weapons, and, and , and … but many years ago, in an effort to “balance” the army the infantry was (stupidly) stripped of its mortars ~ the artillery will take care of it, it was said … and, bless ’em, the gunners have not let the infantry down, but that doesn’t mean the decision to strip the mortars, especially, from the infantry made any military sense at all. It didn’t; it was a dumb decision ~ the wrong thing for all the wrong reasons. But, a good friend tells, me, the prevailing view in the Army, especially, is that nothing must ever be cut because it will never, ever be gotten  back. Thus we strip the battalions but leave the empty shells ~ a Canadian battalions circa 2017 has 500+ soldiers, not the 1,000- it needs. Even at the height of the Afghan campaign, when Major General (then Lieutenant Colonel) Omer Lavoie led Operation Medusa (you know, the one which Harjit Sajan said he conceived as “the architect”) his battalion, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment 1RCR) had to be augmented with a company from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry because there were not enough companies in all three of the RCR battalions that had not been deployed within the last 18 months … the Army, in other words, had been hollowed out for years, even decades.

a23I’ve talked about this before; I have explained that during the decades of darkness (which began circa 1968) that the Army, especially was hollowed out until, now, it is little more than a Potemkin Village.

It’s not Justin Trudeau’s fault … the major share of blame goes back to his father: Pierre Trudeau who wanted to disarm Canada and, when that failed, decided to just push the Canadian military out of sight and out of mind … that did work. But the blame must be shared by admirals and generals, too.

I think that Stephen Harper actually wanted to arrest the decline and rebuild the nation’s defences but he insisted, first, that the Minister of National Defence had to cut the fat that the prime minister could see, quite clearly, existed in the military’s command and control (C²) superstructure and he told his MND of the day, Peter MacKay to do that ~ just as a fat man must change his habits and shed dead-weight before he can add muscle, Prime Minister Harper told Minister MacKay to cut the fat from DND and the CF.  But the admirals and generals disagreed and Peter MacKay made a cardinal error: he listened to the “hired help” instead of to the “boss,” and the “boss” decided to turn his attentions elsewhere and DND and the CF, once again, languished in the background … doing less with less.

Anyway, it appears that now our hollowed our Army can deploy one battle group (say 1,250 soldiers) to any one mission or two smaller groups (450 + 650) to two disparate missions (Latvia plus Africa). I’m guessing that is what the Chief of the Defence Staff has told the political and policy centre … and it is a sad commentary on the state of Canada’s defences and our capacity to assert our will and leadership in the world.

It’s not Justin Trudeau’s fault, but, John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail, says that, faced with the chaos and instability and downright stupidity that is the Donald Trump administration, “other leaders must preserve the Western alliance, which has kept the planet prosperous and at peace (in the larger sense) for more than 70 years. It will not be easy. For decades, Canada and other Western nations have acted as free riders, protected by U.S. military might and the U.S. will to rule. That protection is now temporarily impaired. Others must step up.” It’s now Justin Trudeau’s opportunity to correct one of the major acts of policy vandalism that his father perpetrated and change Canada’s foreign policy back to what Louis St Laurent advocated: being a leader amongst the middle powers. That means that he, Justin Trudeau, must reject both his father’s policies ~ which were often stupidly wrong ~ and many of his own campaign promises. I doubt he is man enough. I expect we will endure the Potemkin Village until we, Canadians, grow up and elect a real leader, again.

Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

4 thoughts on “Potemkin Village (3)

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