Let me begin with an anecdote … back in 1987, the Conservative government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney released a White Paper on Defence that caught many people, including many quite senior people in National Defence Headquarters by surprise. (It was, in fact, a very good paper, although it was, soon, overtaken by events; it was, and remains, infinitely superior to ‘Strong, Secure, Engaged,’ which is, in the main, tripe.) My boss and I, and a host of others were surprised to find, on page 54, that the government proposed to equip the Navy with 10 to 12 nuclear submarines. My boss, a Navy admiral, was delighted that someone had, finally, recognized that we could not maintain the sovereignty we claimed over our Arctic waters without some sort of under-ice capable submarines, and, in 1987, nuclear boats were the only answer. But he was dismayed that the authors of the report had failed, almost totally, to consider the need to support that fleet. Eventually, there was a discussion about Support ~ with a capital S ~ and we said something like this:
“We are pleased that nuclear submarines have been chosen for the fleet ~ they represent the best way to secure our claims to sovereignty over (and, especially, under) our Arctic waters, but we are disturbed that no-one seems to understand that we, Canada, have no ~ zero ~ capacity to Support a nuclear fleet. We have no facilities to refuel and repair ship’s nuclear reactors, we have no nuclear engineers in our Navy. We need to start, right now,” we said, “refurbishing the Royal Military College in Kingston [which had, then, one Safe LOW POwer (K)Critical Experimental, or SLOWPOKE nuclear reactor in the Department of Chemical Engineering] and we need to start training nuclear engineers for the fleet, and we need to hire some smart, experienced people to staff a project office and we need to design and start building two new nuclear submarine bases ~ Esquimalt and Halifax may not be the best choices for the refuelling sites ~ and all that is going to cost twice as much as the capital costs of submarines [which the White Paper authors guesstimated to be about “comparable to the cost of an air defence frigate … [and] … the projected cost of replacing the current diesel submarines and acquiring a third batch of air defence frigates would, however, be roughly equal to a 10 or 12 nuclear submarine program over the next 20 years” and which better brains than mine estimated to be $10 Billion].“
Suffice to say the Minister’s staff was horrified that we were raising all these obstacles.
Support ~ with a capital S
But that is how too many people, including far, far too many senior serving officers see the support business: as an obstacle to their plans.
I’ve quoted this before …
… but it bears repeating, again and again.
Logistics is more than just ensuring that the bullets and beans get sent forward to the infantry companies … it encompasses the whole business of manufacturing, stockpiling, shipping, handling and delivering everything the sailors, soldiers and air force members need, on time and to the right place. It is a complex science, and, when bombs are falling and bullets are whizzing about, a bit of an art, too. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, in Part 2, the administrative and logistics services are always ‘soft targets‘ for cuts when admirals and generals don’t want to cut their own pet components. The admirals and generals who always try to cut too much of the support “tail” before pulling a few teeth are always wrong.
When we consider logistics and training we should consider then both, together, as part of Support ~ with a capital S. Support also includes keeping facilities (barracks and training areas and workshops and supply depots) up to date.
Training is not just teaching selected skills; it involves planning on how many people will be needed, each with specific skill sets, to crew ships, to serve in regiments and battalions, to fly aeroplanes and to repair and maintain ships and tanks and trucks and aircraft over the long haul. Training also involves ensuring that teams know how to work together … training is how we prepare for war.
The capital S Support base for the Canadian Armed Forces must be properly staffed, properly funded (which means funding must be stable, over the years and decades) and properly organized and managed. Supporting our troops and fleets of ships, vehicles and aircraft requires a mix of civil and military people: some in uniform, some civil servants and some on contract from the private sector. There is no perfect model … most modern, Western states, including America, Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark and so on, use a mix of military, civil service and contractor support service. each trying to get the right mix of operational effectiveness and economy. The key, as I mentioned above, is stability. The support system needs to be properly staffed and funded year in and year out, decade after decade. Those elements ~ dockyards and depots and workshops and schools and agencies comprise the firm base upon which the nation’s war-fighting (combat) powers depends.
How the nation’s armed forces should be organized is a topic of nearly endless debate amongst military people. It is no secret, I think, that I favoured the joint force structure that former Defence Minister Paul Hellyer introduced in the 1960s. I was less enamoured with his idea of functional commands, but it was hard to strike a balance. I like the American model of joint, regional commands.
There is, almost always, a need for a few, national, functional organizations ~ for special forces and, perhaps global, strategic command, control and communications (C³) ~ but, in general, I believe that one large, national, strategic/operational HQ can control a half dozen commands, say four or five regional and two or three functional, something like this:
In my model (which reflects my deeply personal and often idiosyncratic views) the three-star* Chief of the Defence Staff, in Ottawa, would command, just for example, four two-star regional joint commanders (rear admirals or major generals) who would, in their turn, command almost every formation, base, depot, dockyard, base, combat ship and combat brigade, unit or wing in their geographic area. There would be a few exceptions ~ the one-star officer (commodore or brigadier general, perhaps only a Navy captain or Army/RCAF colonel is needed) commanding the Strategic Communications System would command the specialized units scattered across the country and, indeed, around the world, but those units would get their day-to-day administrative and logistical support from their regional commander. Ditto for the one-star officer commanding the Special Operations Command … except that he might need to have a bit more administrative and logistical power because of the nature of his business. There might be a perceived need for a separate Joint Operations (Overseas) Command but I doubt it is really necessary. The national Joint Staff (headed by a two-star officer) in Ottawa can plan and direct the mounting of operations and each regional command should have a one-star deputy commander who has a deployable HQ than can go, by sea and or air, to any trouble-spot in the world on fairly short notice.
In my model it seems obvious that Pacific and Atlantic Commands are going to be, primarily joint Navy/Air commands, likely, usually, commanded by a Navy rear admiral or an RCAF major general while Western and Eastern Commands will be, mainly, joint Army/Air commands, usually commanded by Army or RCAF major generals, but, if (s)he is the best person available there is no reason why an Army major general could not command Pacific Command and no reason why a Navy rear admiral could not command Western Command, for example. The commanders will have real commands, full of fighting and support forces … things like the current Canadian Forces Intelligence Command will revert to being staff branches in the national HQ and the units will be part of the joint commands. Similarly, the Chiefs of the Naval, General and Air Staffs will be the professional hears of their services, responsible for things like doctrine, individual training standards and equipment requirements, but they will not be commanders.
Anyway, or those who complain, with some reason, that I only talk in the vaguest of generalities, are some ideas on some specifics about what Canada needs and could have … with a 2% of GDP defence budget. I have ignored some of the capabilities that I said Canada needs, like strategic intelligence and defence procurement, but I have discussed both in the past.
Fire at will!
* One of my critics has chided me for using the term “stars” when we, Canadians, don’t put stars on admirals’ and generals’ shoulders, rather they have maple leaves to indicate the level of their rank … fair enough, except that he is, as we used to say, “picking the fly sh!t out of the pepper” because I’m not using “slang,” as he suggests, but rather, I am using that was, when I served, and I understand is, still, common parlance in Canada and amongst our allies, including in the UK and Australia, too.