Doing the right things

Yesterday I talked about four strategic priorities that should guide Canada’s defence policies through to about 2050. They are:

  • Containing and reducing threats to global peace and security by helping to maintain alliances like NATO and  groupings like AUSCANNZUKUS and supporting global peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts, even the generally worthless United Nations efforts;
  • Confronting current threats to peace ~ like Russia ~ and deterring (by matching the growth in military power of) potential future threats ~ like China;
  • Cooperating with the USA in the protection of North America; and
  • Securing the land we claim as our own, the waters contiguous to it and the airspace over both.

Previously I have suggested that there are eleven defence capabilities that we, any respectable nation, need to have in order to be considered to be a serious about security and defence:

  • A structure to collect and collate information, from all sources and from all over the world and provide useful strategic intelligence to the cabinet and operational intelligence to departments and agencies;
  • A super-structure to make strategic plans and to control and manage our military forces;
  • Surveillance and warning systems to cover our land mass and, especially, the maritime approaches to it and the airspace over both;
  • Military forces to intercept, identify and, appropriately, deal with intruders;
  • Military forces to contribute to the continental defence, especially to the protection of the US strategic deterrent;
  • Military forces to patrol our territory, the maritime approaches to it and the airspace over both;
  • Military forces to give “aid to civil power” when provincial attorneys general cannot manage with police resources;
  • Military forces to provide “civil assistance” when disaster occur and the civil authorities in provinces and cities cannot cope;
  • Military forces to conduct expeditionary, combat operations around the world ~
    • Unilaterally for relatively small scale low and even mid-intensity operations,
    • As part of “coalitions of the willing” for some low and mid intensity operations, and
    • With our traditional allies for the full range of operations, including prolonged general war;
  • Supporting operational and logistical services ~ telecommunications, engineering, intelligence, medical and dental, supply and transport, materiel maintenance, administration and policing ~ to support all other military forces; and
  • An efficient and effective defence procurement system.

Readers will not, I hope, be surprised to learn that I believe that a few of those capabilities are applicable to all four priorities and that each capability is linked to at least one priority. Even “civil assistance” is part of “Securing the land we claim as our own,” if our military is not ready and able help the people in times of great distress or natural disaster then they, the people have a right to ask why we even have one and to ask if the country is worth having at all.

I’m always willing, indeed I would be happy to be argued out of one or more of my priorities or capabilities or to be persuaded that there ought to be one or two more of each … but, to date, no one has tried to do either.

Canada has a pretty fair base upon which to build all of the eleven capabilities:

  • We have, Wikileaks tells us, a “world class” SigInt agency that can peer deeply into the inner workings of foreign governments and agencies;
  • Heaven alone knows that we have more than enough headquarters full of admirals and generals to plan and manage things for a force three times our size;
  • I don’t know, and it should be hard to find out about the capabilities and limitations of our terrestrial, under water and space based surveillance and warning systems … but I will suggest that we rely too much upon allies and we need to have more systems of our own;
  • We have both ships and aircraft that can intercept, identify and, sometimes deal with intruders, but the interceptor aircraft (our 35 year old CF-18s) need replacing and we need more ships and we need enough airborne army units to jump into remote locations if there is an incursion;
  • The same CF-18s that patrol our skies also serve in NORAD and the too, of course, need replacing;
  • The forces that patrol our territory, contiguous waters and airspace are the same ones that intercept intruders and they are too few in number, in my opinion;
  • Aid to the civil power is complex task that is, mostly, assigned to Canada’s three, understrength, infantry brigade groups based in Edmonton, AB, Petawawa, ON and ValCartier, QC;
  • Civil assistance is also tasked, mostly, to the three regular brigades, but the many reserve units across Canada have done yeoman service, too;
  • The expeditionary forces are a mix of out two naval fleets, one on each coast, the three regular army brigades and a few RCAF fighter, transport and maritime and (army) tactical helicopter squadrons ~ all have too few ships, tanks, howitzers, trucks, aircraft and sailors, soldiers and air force people ~ we are deficient for
    • Unilateral, low intensity operations,
    • Mid intensity, “coalition of the willing” missions, and
    • High intensity allied missions;
  • We have pretty much the full range of supporting services but they are often even more deficient in numbers and supplies than are the combat forces they need to support; and
  • We have a broken procurement system.

The Royal Canadian Navy has said, over the years, and I agree that it needs, about:

  • 25 surface combatants ~ warships that can sail into harm’s way and fight a real enemy ~ these ships should all have organic aircraft and/or unmanned air vehicles or remotely piloted aircraft;
  • Four supply/support ships;
  • A few (four, five, six) submarines; and
  • Some miscellaneous vessels.

The Canadian Army has been less forthcoming but experience says that governments want to deploy a battlegroup ~ and all arms team of 1,000+ fighting soldiers and support elements. The same experienced people who have done this say that if we are going to deploy a battlegroup then we need to be able, quickly, to deploy and sustain a brigade group (6,000+ soldiers) when necessary … and someday, probably when we least expect it, it will be necessary, you can bank on that. Experience also says that we need four brigades, ideally five, to be able to deploy and sustain one:


Canada only has three brigades and I know of not one single senior army officer, serving or retired, who thinks that any one of them is, in any meaningful way, ready for war. There are no fully equipped, up to strength units, much less brigades, anywhere in Canada. It’s a damned disgrace.

The Air Force has some very good, new aircraft … but too many fleets are old “clunkers.” I don’t know the “right” numbers but more is usually better and sooner is better than later or too late.

Our support services have great people but never enough of them and there are rarely enough of the things sailors, soldiers and air force folks need in the bins.

dday2.jpg.size-custom-crop.0x650Canadians pay a lot in taxes every year, but we do not get our money’s worth from our defence department because we never tell our politicians that we want efficient and effective armed forces … until it is too late. We know what we need … we know it costs money, which most of us don’t like spending. We have to bring our good common sense to bear on the issue and decide that we want to do the right things and do them right, too.

2 thoughts on “Doing the right things

  1. Agreed. And the aircraft carrier will not be obsolete for a long time to come, and many countries with fewer challenges have them (and the associated strike etc aircraft). And submarines are needed with long-endurance under-ice capability, and six is probably not enough. And serious warships with a seriousl through-ice capability.

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