Don Martin, a mainstay of CTV News, gets it exactly right in a bit of a rant on his Power Play programme the other evening:
“You see them,” he says “driving up and down streets in beat-up pickups on garbage day, rummaging along the curb for items with flea market sales potential … [and now, he adds] … With reports of Canada negotiating for a used surveillance drone, one stripped of its hi-tech navigating equipment and considered scrap-worthy by German defense officials, we are at risk of becoming the garbage pickers of the world.“
First, he explains: “Our coastal sovereignty is backed by 1970s diesel submarines that were dented, dangerous and already severely used by Britain when we bought them in 1998. They have spent far more time in dry dock being repaired than on patrol.” I was only recently retired when that decision was made but I still counted a few people who were plugged into that deal as friends or colleagues or, at least, mess mates: the Department of National Defence rationale was that a) these boats (submarines are boats, not ships) were good vessels but they were being sold at ‘fire sale’ prices because they were surplus and had not been kept in proper, long term preservation ~ they were, really, ‘fixer uppers;’ and b) the Navy would get nothing else from the Chrétien Liberals who disliked the military, on principe, and had ridiculed the Conservatives’ nuclear submarine plan of a few years earlier. I remember hearing the Chrétien government being accused of reneging on a promise to give the Navy extra repair and overhaul money which was needed to bring the boats up to snuff before they entered service ~ I don’t know if that was true or not.
Next he says that: “Our jet fighter capability gap, deemed so urgent we were warned Canada’s NATO and NORAD obligations were at risk, is being filled with 25 jets designated surplus by the Australian air force. They’re already so old that seven of these F-18s will be bought for parts.” I’ve spoken out about that often enough, I think.
“Now this:,” he says “A 20-year-old drone prototype deemed unsafe to fly in Europe – a rather major impediment to successful drone deployments – is being considered for Canadian purchase.” There is a two page discussion ~ some of it by people who actually know about remotely piloted vehicles ~ of this over on Army.ca. Essentially the problem is that Canada, even with RADARSAT-2, does not have enough capacity to conduct the sort of airborne surveillance and reconnaissance ~ not just military, but, as Don Martin says, to be “on the lookout for everything from oil slicks to polar bears,” thus the need for a remotely piloted vehicle … as one of my well informed friends says, please don’t call them drones.
Don Martin concludes by saying that “Transport Canada officials point out there’s a budget to buy a non-military drone, but,” he suggests, and I agree, “let’s at very least buy one that comes with the modern capability to patrol our Arctic vastness .. [but, again] … Talks are far from finished. There’s time to stop and shop for a drone from this century that won’t need a major upgrade after having all its U.S. guidance systems stripped from its innards … [and] … At the risk of droning on, we are a country that can’t build navy ships on time or budget, is still replacing Sea King helicopters which arrived when John F. Kennedy was U.S. president and has a government which will fail to order new fighter jets in this mandate … [but] … On the bright side, Canada is displaying a unique skill set …. [which is that] … When it comes to wringing or extending the life of equipment others deem surplus, salvage or scrap, we are second to none.” Our ancient Sea King helicopters were ordered by the Diefenbaker government in the early late 1950s and we started flying them in 1963.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with using old equipment, as we (and the Israelis) proved by getting 1980s performance out of 1945 vintage Centurion tanks, which we used in Korea and then in Canada and Europe until 1977. The secret to our (and the Israeli’s success) was in the human factor: we and they) simply had better people ~ better tank crews and better mechanics and technicians than any other armies, anywhere, ever, had. We recruited good people and trained ’em well and hard and they took great pride in getting 100% out of old, beaten up fighting vehicles. The Canadian Forces can still do that … if the social engineers in the government will let them.
But, back to the “garbage pickers” and remotely piloted vehicles … I agree with Don Martin when he says that “There’s time to stop and shop for a drone from this century that won’t need a major upgrade after having all its U.S. guidance systems stripped from its innards;” yes, of course it will cost more but Marc Garneau is one of the few real ‘grown ups’ in the Trudeau regime and he’s a good engineer and he knows ~ I’m 100% sure he knows ~ what’s needed for Transport Canada to fulfill its mandate and I’m pretty sure that he knows that one used, stripped down Global Hawk is far less than a good solution. I’m also pretty sure that he knows, as did the Navy back in the Chrétien era, when we bought the used submarines, that the political centre, the PMO, is not inclined to give his department much of anything because it’s not, actively and publicly, being feminist and First Nations friendly when it shops for aircraft.
So, while I wish I had said what Mr Martin did, but the problem that he highlights, and that Transport Minister Marc Garneau probably understands all too well, is not just that Gerald Butts, Katie Telford and Justin Trudeau don’t like or even understand the military or technology or protecting our natural resources, it is that Canadians, by and large, just don’t care; they don’t want to hear; they are happy to re-role the Departments of National Defence and Transport into the Western world’s “garbage pickers.”