Tag Archives: Canadian Army

Mark Collins – SNAFU, or, Canadian Defence Procurement

The start and end of a book review by Matthew Fisher, a rare Canadian journalist who is actually interested in matters military and has a real understanding of them–and note the deleterious role of our media generally:

New book pleads for fix to Canada’s dysfunctional military procurement system

The new book Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada [see here] is a “cri de coeur” for political leaders to forge a bipartisan approach when deciding what to buy for the Canadian Armed Forces.

The author, Kim Nossal, is not delusional. The Queen’s University professor [more here] recognizes that for this to happen “involves a considerable leap of faith.” However, given how procurement blunders have “degraded the Canadian military,” he argues a better way must be found to replace them than the largely dysfunctional procurement system that exists at present.

Charlie Foxtrot — military shorthand for “clusterf—” — is particularly relevant today because the Liberal government is seemingly intent on equaling if not surpassing the their Conservative predecessors’ brutal mishandling of the multi-billion dollar programme to finally buy new fighter jets [see “What Stinking RCAF Fighter “Capability Gap” for NORAD and NATO?“]…

It has not only been the politicians who are to blame for Canada’s politicized procurement process. The media treat procurement as political theatre. There is little dispassionate analysis of the choices and the dilemmas involved in buying equipment that must last for decades in an environment where technological advances can render many acquisitions quickly obsolete [emphasis added, OH SO SADLY TRUE].

The government, for its part, has never hired enough procurement specialists, a problems that bogs down every purchasing process. Nossal argues that if Canada matched what its allies spend on a GNP basis, a lot of these problems would disappear. As it is, he writes, too many programs are always chasing too few dollars.

Nossal’s inevitable conclusion is that the “root cause” of Canada’s procurement failures has been an absence of political leadership. Governments have been able to get away with botching procurement for years because “the consequences of decisions made by one Parliament will not be felt until much later, usually well past the next general election.”

The only practical solution, Nossal says, is for Canada’s two leading political parties to create a bipartisan approach to defence procurement…There is zero chance that even an exceptionally brave Canadian politician would dare embrace such an obvious and honourable idea [OH SO SADLY TRUE]. Still, Charlie Foxtrot is worth reading to understand how much Canada would benefit if its leaders confounded voters and actually took the high road.

Lots more here on the constant Canadian procurement morass.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


Mark Collins – RCAF Chinook Helos for UN Peacekeeping Mali? Canadian Army?

Further to these posts,

Canadian UN Peacekeeping in Mali? RCAF Helicopters?

Africa: UN’s CAR MINUSCA Mission to be Canadian Forces’ Schwerpunkt?

a Canadian Forces’ operation in Mali is looking ever more likely. Besides CH-147F transport helos will some armed CH-146 Griffons be sent? Though not attack helicopters, they could certainly provide fire support for today’s killer peacekeeping (more here on that)–but how off-putting might such a quasi-combat role be for our government? And will there be a significant Army contingent? Remember the government has committed to supplying some 600 Forces’ personnel to the UN:

Sajjan heads to Mali, Germans consider attack helicopters, Canada might provide Chinooks

There are reports in the German media that the country’s military is looking at providing Tiger attack helicopters [see here] to accompany RCAF Chinooks for an upcoming mission in Mali.

But the Liberal government says it still has to decide on whether those Chinooks, based in Petawawa, Ontario, – or any other units for that matter – would be heading to a mission in Africa.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Press is reporting [story here] that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan will travel to Mali and Senegal later this week as the Liberal government considers where to send hundreds of Canadian peacekeepers.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau visited Mali in September. Sajjan visited the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

In September, the Canadian government sent a team to Mali to do a reconnaissance mission for a potential UN operation in that country. The reconnaissance team included members of the Canadian military, Global Affairs Canada and the RCMP.

The UN mission currently involves around 10,000 military personnel taking part in an effort to stabilize Mali [MINUSMA, website here]. Various armed groups, including Islamic insurgents, have been conducting sporadic attacks in that country. The UN plans to boost the mission by around 2,500 personnel.

The UN has also made it known it would like attack helicopters and transport helicopters to fill the void left by the withdraw of Dutch Chinooks and Apaches [attack helos] from Mali.

“We have decided to continue the Mali mission, but with a reduced capacity,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Oct. 7. “Dutch helicopters will be withdrawn.”

Sajjan has said that by the end of the year the government expects to make its decision on the next peacekeeping mission. But in his interview with the Canadian Press, he appeared to retreat somewhat on his previous statements. “We need to go into this eyes wide open,” Sajjan said. “So based on that, I have not set a deadline as I want to make sure that we do all the necessary work, so that we can have the meaningful impact.”

The French would certainly welcome as large a Canadian contribution as possible, as would the UN.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – NATO: “Albania, Italy, Poland and Slovenia will contribute to the Canadian-led battalion in Latvia”

Further to this September post,

455 Canadian Troops to Latvia with NATO Spring 2017–Italians Too?

the Italians are indeed in along with others–company-sized contingents from Canada and the rest plus a Canadian HQ? NATO’s Secretary General makes the announcement:

I am proud to announce that many other Allies confirmed contributions to these forces today [Oct. 26].

Albania, Italy, Poland and Slovenia will contribute to the Canadian-led battalion in Latvia [coherence, effectiveness?].

Belgium, Croatia, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Norway will join the German-led battalion in Lithuania [coherence, effectiveness?].

Denmark and France will contribute to the UK-led battalion in Estonia [looks militarily sound–large British contingent with tanks].

And Romania and the United Kingdom will join the US-led battalion in Poland [pretty decent].

Our forces will be truly multinational. Sending an unmistakable message: NATO stands as one. An attack on any Ally will be considered an attack on us all.

In Warsaw, we said that we expected to deploy the four battalions in early 2017.

I am pleased to confirm that we are on track…

But how militarily effective might such motley crews be? Interesting that most northern and southern look best. And a tweet:

Good luck, tripwires.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – How the US Army Went Wrong in Afghanistan

One simple thing: a personnel promotion system for officers that undermined effectiveness locally. Is the Canadian Army any different? Excerpts from a must-read post by a retired US Army officer at Tom Ricks’ blog The Best Defense:

Our generals failed in Afghanistan

The United States military failed America in Afghanistan. It wasn’t a tactical failure. It was a failure of leadership.

The ascent of David Petraeus and the Army’s rediscovery of counterinsurgency doctrine led many to believe that the military had dramatically adapted itself for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately the transformation was only skin deep. Petraeus was a myth, and the intellectual father of the Army only in the eyes of the national media. The institutional inertia of the military bureaucracy never caught up with the press releases. The result was a never-ending series of public pronouncements by senior leaders about the importance of counterinsurgency, accompanied by a continuation of Cold War-era personnel and rotation policies that explicitly short-changed the effort…

Taking the lessons of unit cohesion from Vietnam, the military has followed a policy in Afghanistan where entire units rotate in and out of country every seven, nine, or 12 months. This model, more than the policy of individual rotation in Vietnam, ensures both tactical proficiency and unit cohesion at the soldier level. But it also is completely ill-suited for a counterinsurgency campaign. It makes sense to limit the time soldiers spend conducting tactical operations, but leaders attempting to establish the kind of relationships and understanding necessary to be effective in counterinsurgency must be kept in place much longer. By changing out entire units so frequently, our policy has guaranteed that military leaders rotating through Afghanistan have never had more than a superficial understanding of the political environment they are trying to shape.

The shortcomings of this rotation policy in counterinsurgency have been further reinforced by an institutional culture and personnel management system that places a low priority on the advisory mission. From the beginning of our efforts in Afghanistan the advisory mission was promoted publicly but given a low priority in execution.

The premier example of this mismatch between what military leadership said we were doing, and what the bureaucracy was actually prioritizing, can be found in the story of the AfPak hands program. The program was launched by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mullen, and lauded as the key to shaping Afghanistan by creating a cohort of expert officers from across the services that would have the language skills and experience to build the kind of long-term relationships needed to build an effective Afghan security apparatus. While a priority for the Chairman, the effort was never embraced by the services.

Despite the fanfare and stated importance of the program, mismanagement and mis-utilization were rampant as this specialized cadre encountered personnel systems unable to support non-traditional career paths. Caught between career managers that saw the program as a deviation from what officers “should” be doing – leading tactical units – and a deployment system that often led to random staff assignments instead of partnered roles with Afghan leaders, the program quickly became known as an assignment to be “survived” if not avoided altogether.

A leaked briefing from the Army G-1, the service’s head personnel officer, to the Chief of Staff of the Army in 2014 confirmed that the AfPak Hands program had become a dead end for military careers…

In discussing what the Afghans need to be ready to fight the Taliban, a senior Pentagon official recently said, “The local forces need air support, intelligence and help with logistics.” Yet, unaddressed by this official, and largely unasked by anyone, is why the Afghan military needs these capabilities when the Taliban have been able to achieve such success without them [WHY ARE THEIR AFGHANS BETTER THAN OUR AFGHANS?]?..

Our current exit strategy entails the creation of a massive security force designed for a nation with neither the effective bureaucracies nor functioning civil society that are required to sustain and control such a force…

Jason Dempsey retired from the Army in 2015, last serving as special assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2009 as the operations officer to an infantry brigade and again in 2012-2013 as a combat advisor to the Afghan Border Police. He returned again briefly in 2014 to assess the advisory mission. He is the author of Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations. He currently serves as an adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for New American Security and Director of the Military and Veterans Initiative at Columbia University.

One wishes retired Canadian Forces’ personnel might engage is such institutional soul-searching. We had similar rotational policies in Afghanistan and one imagines promotional practices are not dis-similar. How many officers were fluent, or even somewhat competent, in Pushtu or Dari?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – 455 Canadian Troops to Latvia with NATO Spring 2017–Italians Too?

Further to this July post,

NATO in Latvia: 450 Canadian Army Troops, HQ, Six CF-18s (sometimes)

we see some good digging in the Latvian media early Sept. 16 by milnews.ca at Milnet.ca (our media noticed sometime later):

A couple of updates courtesy of Latvian public media …

The Canadian-led multinational battalion in Latvia will receive 455 Canadian troops who’ll start arriving around spring 2017, Canada’s Chief of Defense General Jonathan Vance told the press Thursday [Sept. 15].

Other countries forming the battalion will be able to decide on the number of troops to be sent to Latvia.

“We do not have any set numbers of troops for each country. I can tell that there will be about 1,000 troops in total,” said Vance.

He said it’s still being discussed which countries will form the battle group and confirmed the estimated time of arrivals.


As previously reported, Canada will lead a NATO reinforcement battalion in Latvia next year but other nations, possibly including Italy, are also expected to contribute smaller numbers of troops.


During a meeting September 14 with Italian President Sergio Mattarella, Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis expressed hope that Italy will join the Canadian-led multinational NATO battalion which will be deployed to Latvia, reported LETA.

During the meeting, which took place at a conference in Bulgaria, the two sides praised their cooperation on security matters, which is important in implementing the decisions made during the recent NATO Summit in Warsaw.

”We are happy at the decision made during the NATO Summit in Warsaw on strengthening the alliance’s presence in the Baltic region and Poland, which foresees the deployment of a Canadian-led multinational battalion in Latvia,” Vejonis said.


As previously reported, Canada will lead a NATO reinforcement battalion in Latvia next year but other nations, possibly including Italy, are also expected to contribute smaller numbers of troops.

Italian military officers have already inspected facilities in Latvia.


Very relevant to the Canadian Forces’ foreign deployments:

Latvia with NATO vs UN Peacekeeping: Where Government’s Heart Truly is

Yes, Canadian Forces into Africa: Where, When, How Many? Really Peacekeeping?

“The end of peacekeeping, and what comes next for Canada’s soldiers”

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Who’s Doing What in Anti-ISIS Coalition?

Compare our effort with others’, listing starts at p. 10 PDF at link below–at Foreign Policy’sSituation Report“:

Crib sheet. Here’s a very handy little report from the Congressional Research Service listing what countries are taking part in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Iraq, what their contributions are, and where their troops [and air personnel] are based…

Even without CF-18s engaged in bombing (the current government clearly does like the routine application of deadly force), our contribution does not appear inappropriate to me. Especially given the CAF’s operation in Ukraine and the ones upcoming in with NATO in  Latvia and with the UN in  Africa (somewhere).

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – “Part 2: Interview with Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of [Canadian] defence staff”

At Vanguard magazine, with a link to Part 1–interesting (curious?) that there is no specific mention of either NATO or NORAD.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Defence Budget One Percent GDP: What Balance Between Canadian Armed Services?

A retired Army colonel regretfully assesses that the regular Army is too large–an excerpt from a very cogent piece at the “CDA Institute Blog: The Forum”:

Core Challenge for the Defence Policy Review: Creating the Right Balance

…Does Canada, with no credible conventional land threat and no legacy colonial responsibilities, but very substantial maritime and air approaches to police and defend, have the proportions right?..

It very much pains this proud former Canadian Army officer to conclude that this country very probably does not have the right balance. The Canadian Armed Forces have only a few “no-fail’ missions. Disaster response at home and, in a supporting role, domestic security are two of them but these will rarely require significant numbers of well-equipped and highly trained combat-capable forces. They need flexible, well-organized and disciplined troops in adequate numbers, and the means to get them to where they are needed quickly. Two missions that do need well-equipped combat-capable forces are protection of our maritime (surface and sub-surface) and air approaches, and it is a national imperative that we do these tasks well enough to hold the confidence of both ourselves and our US continental defence partners [note: defending our maritime approaches does not necessarily require the same  type of naval vessels as for blue water expeditionary operations–nor need they be built in Canada at extravagant cost other than for political reasons] .

Most other Canadian military capabilities have to be considered optional, or at least scalable to the level of national ambition. In the context of a pretty clear multi-party political consensus on limiting defence spending to about 1 percent of GDP, this means that appetites for maintaining and employing military forces also have to be limited and governments have to pay close attention to priorities. Capabilities needed to do the nation’s “no-fail” missions must be adequately resourced first. What’s left is what’s available to resource expeditionary capabilities for tasks like international peace operations…

Colonel Charles Davies (Ret’d) is a CDA Institute Research Fellow and a former Logistics officer who served for four years as the strategic planning director for the Material Group of the Department of National Defence and three years as the senior director responsible for material acquisition and support policy in the department…

As for air and maritime threats:

NORAD to Face Escorted Cruise Missile-Carrying Russian Bombers?

USN “Admiral Warns: Russian Subs Waging Cold War-Style ‘Battle of the Atlantic’”–and RCN?
[note “Comments”–and those subs can also carry cruise missiles, more here]

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins- Canadian UN Peacekeeping in Mali? RCAF Helicopters? Part 2

Further to this post, excerpts from a major piece by the CBC’s excellent Brian Stewart:

Analysis: Trudeau government taking a long look at precarious peacekeeping options

It’s not surprising the Liberal government is having a difficult time deciding where and how best to fulfil its election pledge to lead Canada back into significant peacekeeping — there is simply no shortage of potentially life-or-death factors to consider.

This country has been a minor player in peacekeeping in recent years. But now the government intends to sign on to a major United Nations mission somewhere in this troubled world at a time when the global body is desperate for our help and dangers for peacekeepers have never been more deadly.

It’s a good time to ask questions…

While the old term “peacekeeping” is still used in delicate preference to the more robust “peacemaking,” many missions have morphed into counter-insurgency operations against Jihadist guerrillas and, in danger zones like Mali, anti-government militias and bandit gangs as well.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has clearly indicated Canada is considering sending a mission to help UN troops stop the advance of Islamist jihadists in Africa. Either Mali or Central African Republic are rumoured as likely destinations…

UN headquarters in New York receives urgent warnings from the field that peacekeeping casualties are soaring with no end in sight: 51 UN personnel killed in deliberate attacks last year, 230 in just the past four years. Many others die in accidents and from disease…

It’s a great mistake to view peacekeeping through rosy historical glasses, as Canadians are prone to do [emphasis added]. The easy missions where peace agreements have lasted generations are oversubscribed with volunteers; it’s the dangerous ones that desperately need help…

It’s not at all clear what form or strength any new Canadian mission would take because the military is still studying the options. But it’s possible we’ll put more emphasis on supplying headquarters staff, logistics and medical services rather than a great many boots on the ground.

Whatever shape the mission takes, retired colonel George Petrolekas, military analyst and veteran of both peacekeeping and the Afghanistan mission, feels our troops are far better prepared for the demands of peacekeeping than in the past — thanks to the Afghan experience and extensive training…

The threat of attacks isn’t the only difficulty a Canadian mission would face. UN morale has been badly rocked in recent years by allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation involving peacekeepers in several UN missions, including in Mali and Central African Republic.

The UN secretary general has called it “a cancer in our system” and major reforms are underway…

Canadians don’t need to hear that boosterish “can do” optimism so often paraded out at the start of missions.

Instead, they need to know what we’re getting into, our objectives, the possibility of casualties and the likely duration of the challenge ahead.

No shoot, sunny ways. Killer peacekeeping anyone?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

Mark Collins – Canadian UN Peacekeeping in Mali? RCAF Helicopters?

Further to these posts,

Netherlands and UN Peacekeeping (sort of) in Mali–Canada?

Canadian Government’s Peacekeeping Heart: With France in Africa it Seems

there’s a gap coming with which our air force might be suited to help:

Dutch helicopter withdrawal threatens to undermine UN Mali mission

The Netherlands plans to withdraw its helicopters from Mali at the beginning of 2017 due to the heavy strain the deployment had taken on its helicopter fleet, according to Dutch Ministry of Defence spokesman Colonel Jos van der Leij.

The Royal Netherlands Air Force has contributed four AH-64D Apache attack helicopters and three CH-47D Chinooks transport helicopters to the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA [website here]) since 2014. They are currently deployed at the MINUSMA base in Gao…

The RCAF has (new) CH-147F Chinooks. And it’s CH-146 Griffon utility choppers, though not attack helicopters, could certainly provide fire support for today’s killer peacekeeping (more here–how off-putting might such a quasi-combat role be to our government?):

…the Griffon brings many other capabilities to the fight; capabilities that were demonstrated throughout the exercise, fulfilling both combined and joint requirements. From reconnaissance and surveillance using the MX-15 sensor, to specialised troop insertion via parachute, rappel, fast rope, or diver casting (where the helicopter flies in low over water, divers sit on the edge of the open door and jump in the water from the helicopter) to troop in-contact support (support of troops who are in contact i.e. engaged with the enemy) using Close Combat Attack (CCA) (a coordinated attack by armed aviation against targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces) with a multitude of weapons (C-6 7.62mm machine gun, M-134 Dillon 7.62mm 6-barrel gattling gun, or GAU-21 .50 Cal machine gun), the Griffon proved its value, contributing enormously to the success of the exercise…

As they did in Afghanistan:

The door gunner of the CH146 Griffon scans the environment as it flies over Kandahar city transporting personnel to Camp Nathan

By the way three CH-146s are now with the Canadian Forces in Kurdistan for the anti-ISIS mission.

Bet’s on what the government might do if it does choose Mali?

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds