OK, two things came to mind as I read this article by David Pugliese in the National Post:
- First: it (Liberal defence policy) is all about window dressing, buttons and bows and so on, but then, so from 2012 to 2015, was Conservative defence policy; and
- Second: increasing the size of our Special Forces without increasing the size of the base from which they are drawn is suspect.
I don’t object to new uniforms for JTF-2 and the Special Operations Regiment (and 427 Special Operations Squadron and the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit, too, I assume), I just think they are something that should come AFTER many more serious operational requirements have been addressed ~ new fighter aircraft, as just one example, might fall into that category.
I am a bit more worried about expanding Special Forces, as Mr Pugliese reports, by 600 members, from 1,900 to 2,500, without either:
- Increasing the size of the base force from which they are drawn; or
- Lower the quality standards ~ making our Special Forces just a little less special.
I know that someone ~ a DND spokesperson ~ will say that quality will not be compromised and that at least 700 more people passed all the entry tests than there were vacancies in Special Forces units so that isn’t an issue and that’s probably true … until you try and sustain a larger force, year after year after year; then quality does become an issue.
There are worries in the United States about the over-reliance on Special Forces, the contention is that they are “too easy” for government to use and they create a dangerous fiction that many problems can be solved by relatively cheap, small, fast “precision” operations.
Special Forces are a good tool, and an old one … their origins go all the way back to colonial (mid 18th century) North America when units like Butler’s Rangers and Roger’s Rangers were formed. The British kept skirmishing troops alive in the form of The Rifles (heirs to the traditions of numerous, famous “rifle” and “light infantry” regiments) and many 21st century Canadian regiments still bear similar titles. Special Forces had a rebirth of sort in World War II when the British made raiding and commando operations into an important tool ~ because they, the Brits, did not have the resources to take the fight to the Germans in Europe in 1941 and ’42 using conventional forces. Modern history is full of raiding exploits from Entebbe to the killing of Osama bin Laden and it all encourages penny pinching politicians to believe, incorrectly, that a few Special Forces soldiers can replace battalions and brigades … they cannot, they do not: they are (relatively) narrow specialists who do a few, small things very, very well but cannot conduct major combat operations or even their own specialized tasks for anything like a sustained period.
Canada needs some Special Forces ~ maybe 2,500 is the right number, I do not know. But good Special Forces are always drawn from a large pool of tough, superbly disciplined, well trained sailors, soldiers and aviators. If the government wants to use more and more Special Forces in a variety of roles then it needs, above all, to maintain a large enough, high quality base from which to create and sustain them. Special Forces are part of a modern, combat capable (and, therefore, expensive) military … they are not a low cost replacement for it, no matter what the Liberal Party of Canada might want.