A pipe dream

I have, consistently, argued that joint ~ Navy + Air, Army+Air, Navy+Army etc, etc ~ forces are:

  • Proven battle and war winners; and
  • The only choice for really effective military forces.

One of my main arguments against the morbidly obese command and control (C²) superstructure of the Canadian Armed Forces is that with all those gold encrusted senior staff officers wearing combat uniforms in all those comfortable, dry, air conditioned HQs, we have precious few joint formations. We have to ad hoc it every time and, most recently, we cemented the single service “stove pipes” in place by making the RCN, Canadian Army and RCAF major commands.

But is it possible to be “too joint?” or to be “joint just for the sake of being joint?” It may be.

(I really don’t like to do this and I have delayed posting this article, hoping I can give the authors of a paper I have not been able to read, a fair shake, but since, as I explain, below, I cannot find the paper upon which a journalist commented I can only comment on his comments.)

In an article in the Toronto Sun Anthony Furey comments on a paper he says is titled “Canada’s Defence Policy: Now Taking Off,”* and which he suggests is co-authored by, at least, Brian Hay, “a retired major in the reserves and current vice-chair of the Mackenzie Institute, a national security think-tank,” and Honorary Lt.-Col. Matthew Gaasenbeek III, who is a former Chairman of Northern Crown Capital. Mr Furey says, quoting the paper, that “The Canadian Forces should develop a new brigade that can take on sea, land and air roles all in one … [such] … A tri-service rapid response brigade, as it’s called, would be a groundbreaking endeavour that rolls in all the current and traditional capabilities of the Canadian Forces as well as new measures like attack helicopters, drones (both armed and unarmed), cyber warfare specialists and more … [and] … It would be built upon the current training models and performance levels of the Joint Task Force Two and the Special Operations Regiment … [because] … “Canada neither needs nor can afford a large general service military,” the paper, Canada’s Defence Policy: Now Taking Off, argues in one section of a broader study of the latest defence policy review. “What it can develop and maintain are smaller units consisting of highly-trained personnel with multi-modal capability.”” Wow! That’s a lot:

  • All the current and traditional capabilities ~ meaning, I suppose, tanks, and mechanized infantry and engineers and airborne forces, too?
  • New measures like attack helicopters and armed and unarmed unmanned air vehicles;
  • Cyber warfare; and
  • It will “built upon” the special forces training and performance models.

With the emphasis on “tri-service” and “rapid response” one imagines it will need amphibious forces, with concomitant amphibious assault ships, and air transport, and, and, and …

… all in a brigade sized unit? That’s going to be a pretty large brigade. Most brigades have 5,000 to 7,500 people … a “tri-service” brigade with all current and traditional capabilities plus a whole host of new ones is likely to consume most of the current combat strength of the Canadian Forces, but, as noted below, I have been unable to find a copy of the paper, so all I can do is guess.

My first guess is that this is the sort of notion that pops up, probably annually, at the bar of a staff college mess but is almost never put to paper.

There are real, legitimate needs for air-sea deployable combat and support forces. It’s a niche that e.g. the United States Marines, the Royal Marines and the Dutch Marines all fill … as sub-components of the US, British and Dutch navies. Canada considered and actually created, on paper, anyway, an air-sea deployable brigade back in the late 1960s … it was a light (air mobile) brigade with two, organic, close support fighter squadrons (CF-5 fighters which, then, belonged to Mobile Command) and it was intended for a specific mission. Even though it was small (only 5,000± people) there were never anywhere near enough human, materiel and financial resources to make it work, and by the mid 1980s it was clear that the brigade could not be made effective for war and it was disbanded. There is not, as far as i know, any mission which likely requires a Canadian “joint” formation; Mr Hay apparently told Andrew Furey that “This new brigade could do a range of activities from disaster relief to fighting terrorism.” But any brigade can do that same range when adequate naval and air support is provided.

The point of a proper “joint” force is that naval, land and air forces are belong to one, unified, commander who, because (s)he has a trained joint staff, can organize the forces to meet an array of tasks making the best use of the ships, army units and air force squadrons (s)he has available, (S)he, the joint force commander, can also ensure that navy, army and air force officers work together to prepare joint contingency plans and that navy, army and air force units train together to learn each other’s capabilities and limitations.

The Canadian forces, since about 1975, have never been joint enough ~ the navy and the army ought to have some organic aviation elements and aviation ought to be integral to the RCN and the Canadian Army,  not an afterthought provided by the RCAF. That’s an organizational problem that would be easy enough for a determined Minister and CDS to sort out.

If Canada already had strong, effective and efficient armed forces then looking at adding an air-sea deployable, joint army-air brigade (or reconfiguring an existing infantry brigade into one) might make sense, if there was a mission or probable contingency that would call for such a thing. Since we do not have strong, effective, efficient military forces nor either the resources or (apparently) the political will to build them, nor any pressing need for a joint brigade then such a force is nothing but a pipe dream.


* I have been unable to find the paper from my usual sources and I received no reply from the Mackenzie Institute when I sought a copy there.

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.

3 thoughts on “A pipe dream

  1. Ted, I agree in general, in particular with your characterisation of the likely origin of the phantom paper. There’s only so much the CF can do, and the existing roles are real enough, and challenging enough already. However, I thought Rick Hillier’s SCTF, with the BHS (Big Honking Ship) was a perfectly good idea, and viable. It foundered on budget, and on some opposition, I suspect, from the Navy, or perhaps the ex-Navy (and maybe on the shipyard lobby). But, based as it was in large part on the existing force model, it could have been made to work without too much damage to existing roles and commitments (and with a bit of extra resourcing). I also think we were wrong to miss the chance to buy the Mistral class carriers, although they would have occasioned major resource additions to the Navy. But that would be about as far as we could go. We do need amphibiosity, and more amphibious and air-landed doctrine, training and a bit of equipment such as landing craft and of course attack helicopters. But that would be far short of the major re-orientation and re-organisation proposed in the phantom paper.

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