Tag Archives: State of the CF

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 – Last RCN Destroyer Hors de Combat 2017

HMCS Athabaskan (commissioned in 1972!), last of the Iroquois class, will enter harbour for the last time:

Incoming capability gap [long-distance air defence]: Canada’s last destroyer leaves service in early 2017

Her Majesty's Canadian Ship (HMCS) ATHABASKAN alongside Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Jarrod David FranaisHer Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) ATHABASKAN alongside Sydney, Nova Scotia…

Lots here on the planned Canadian Surface Combatant, some number of which are supposed some day to replace both the Navy’s destroyers and frigates.

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

Stephen Saideman – The Afghan Mission: Canada’s military is willing to learn, but has it done so?

This post was originally published on July 21st, 2016 on OpenCanada:

Like most modern militaries, the Canadian Armed Forces consider themselves to be a learning organization. The risks are too high to not engage in extensive efforts to learn from past and on-going operations—people will die and missions may fail.

While researching Adapting in the Dust: Lessons Learned from Canada’s War in Afghanistan, I found that, of all of the parts of the Canadian political system, the CAF adapted the best, as they systematically engaged in lesson-learning exercises and as their leadership continually sought out expertise from within and beyond the military.

Indeed, not only do they learn lessons, but they share them. This distinguishes the CAF from the non-military decision makers – in 2011, the Harper government commissioned a report on lessons learned and then subsequently buried it. It is not just academics who cannot read it; the report has not been circulated within the government. A key step in lesson learning is dissemination, but the previous government apparently was afraid to admit mistakes.

Perhaps one reason why the CAF can learn is that the organization’s officers understand that it is not so special. One of the challenges in Canada during the time of the war in Afghanistan was that many actors focused on the Canadian experience and kept forgetting that the war was an allied effort. The CAF was aware at all times that what they were doing was not that different from what the British and Danes were doing in Helmand, what the Dutch and Australians were doing in Uruzgan, what the Americans were doing all over the place, and on and on. By constantly comparing and drawing upon the experiences of other countries engaged in the same effort, the CAF could figure out what they were doing well and what they could do better.

One challenge that the CAF could not overcome was how to be positive about the mission without setting unrealistic expectations. The Canadian military is much like its brothers and sisters in arms elsewhere: they are a can-do outfit. When asked to do something, they say yes and tend not to complain about it. Officers would come back from each deployment and tell everyone how well the Canadians were doing, and how well the war effort was going. Yet Afghanistan remained a deeply problematic place, and the mission was, alas, deeply flawed.

This relentless optimism might have been good for morale within the CAF, but it created a credibility gap between the CAF and the political world. We kept hearing how great things were going, and then we would watch the news and see that Afghanistan’s progress was slow and fragile at best. In future missions, the leadership of the CAF is going to have to talk plainer to the politicians and to the public about the challenges they face. Otherwise, they might find people will begin to simply doubt much of what they have to say.

This leads to the second big challenge: how to respond when asked to do something on the cheap. The biggest problem for the CAF in Kandahar was that they were always too small and under-equipped for the task they faced. When Paul Martin authorized General Rick Hillier to plan the mission, he provided a strict limit on how much it would cost. This forced Hillier into making a variety of difficult tradeoffs. The small size of the force meant that the CAF could not complete the counter-insurgency strategy of clear/hold/build as they did not have enough troops to hold territory that had been cleared until the Americans showed up late in the game.

The limited envelope also meant that Canada could not bring along helicopters, and thus became dependent on the allies to provide transport. While the U.S. and UK were very dependable for medical airlift, they did not have enough spare capacity to always transport the Canadians. This meant more convoys on Afghan roads seeded with landmines (improvised explosive devices, or IEDs) and, as a result, more Canadian casualties. Of course, the CAF will salute and say yes when ordered to deploy, but their leadership will need to learn how to advocate within channels for more resources when given risky tasks. This is not easy, but is a key lesson to learn.

Finally, the CAF, like the rest of Canada and the rest of our allies and partners, must learn about the limited utility of force. Canada and the rest of NATO could not kill their way to victory. To win these conflicts, the key battlegrounds are inherently political: who governs, how do they govern, on whose behalf, and so on. The job for the CAF and their allies was to provide as much security as possible while the politicians “fixed” the system and provided governance. This required reliable local allies, which are almost always in scarce supply (they naturally have their own agendas). It also requires the civilians at home to figure out how to do the political and development side of state-building. The results thus far of the most recent wars suggest we have not figured that out.

So, we all need to learn some humility. There is only so much we can do, which might mean saying no when asked to do the impossible.

Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

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

Further to this post and “Comments”,

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

the well-informed Matthew Fisher of Postmedia writes that

Truck attack in France ups the ante for Canada’s peacekeeping mission in Mali

Canada’s impending peacemaking mission to Africa took on a more urgent tone Thursday night when a Tunisian man drove a truck through crowds enjoying Bastille Day fireworks on Nice’s palm-lined waterfront.

French President Francois Hollande immediately announced that France’s already overstretched armed forces would mobilize 10,000 troops and every member of the army reserves to guard French streets, border crossings and airports.

France needs Canada’s help — and Canada will answer the call. The army and air force will be heavily involved in Africa and no unit more so than the French-speaking brigade built around the Royal 22nd Regiment, known as the Van Doos [unofficial website here].

As Postmedia first reported on July 6, the Trudeau government intends to send troops to French West Africa [story here]. Mali is their most likely destination, but the Central African Republic and a couple of other nearby countries are in the mix, too.

Ottawa and Paris have been talking for some time about where Canadian soldiers would fit into one of France’s multiple troop deployments there. No date has been set for the mission. The Dutch and the Germans have already been helping France with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA [website here]). That is because even before the murderous attack in Nice, the Hollande government was having difficulty sustaining the tempo of its African missions as well as operations against the Islamic State in the Middle East and against terrorists on French soil. It is why the RCAF has already spent a lot of time in Africa, using its C-17 Globemasters to provide essential logistical support for French forces.

Canada’s Defence Minister, Harjit Sajjan, had intended to travel to French West Africa next month to help hammer out the details of Canada’s mission there. After France’s latest terror attack, and the call-up of forces to defend France, that trip may have to be moved up…

Read on, note the risks involved; this is not the “traditional” peacekeeping of which so many Canadians are mindlessly (and a-historically) enamoured.

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

Stephen Saideman – NATO Spending and Doing

This post was originally published on June 24th, 2016 on Saideman’s Semi-Spew:

Yesterday, NATO put out its report on spending by its members. It sets some of the context for the summit later this week. By the traditional measure, the aspiration to eventually spend 2% of GDP on defence, Canada is, um, not doing well. Canada is now under 1%, and there is no chance that it will double its defence budget in the near, medium or distant future.

A closer look at the report suggests that Canada does not suck as much as it appears:

  • Yes, Canada is below 1% and ranks fifth worst on % of GDP.
  • Canada is close to the NATO standard on percentage of budget spent on equipment. Of course, if one spends a lot on getting a little, that is a problem (which I return to below).
  • If one focuses on the total amount spent on defence, controlling for exchange rates and all that, Canada is behind the US, UK, France, Germany and Italy…. and that is it. So, total spending does not look bad.
  • If one focuses on total amount spent per person (controlling for population size), Canada is about the average for non-US members of NATO.

But this exercise does raise questions and concerns.

  • That spending is a lousy measure since it is a measure of inputs, not outputs or outcomes. This is a relatively new but constant theme here at the Semi-Spew–that folks tend to measure what is easily measurable. Spending is easy to measure, but what does it mean for capability or impact? Um, not sure.
  • Spending compared to one’s ability to pay (GDP) makes sense as a way to measure the effort to share the burden, but again, Greece does really well on this, and no one thinks Greece ranks highly as reliable/useful ally. Greece ranks highly because its denominator (GDP) is small. So, if one’s economy does well, the measure here can be deceptive.
  • Spending on what? Canada tends to pay a lot for whatever kit it buys because it does so slowly (defence inflation always bites), it always requires Canadianization for whatever is purchased (making stuff fit Canadian military standards–some of this is reasonable but is all of it?), and the desire for “industrial benefits” means protectionism. And protectionism is always inefficient, leading to higher prices and lesser quality (yes, I am a Classic Liberal when it comes to trade).

I am a big believer in focusing on the doing more than the spending, so Canada did Kandahar and it is doing Latvia while others are not. BUT it is not clear this is sustainable–all these operations plus the relatively fixed costs of procurement (well, commitments that only seem to grow in cost) and personnel (the Minister of Defence has promised not to cut the size of the force despite having an extensive Defence Review) means that there will be less training and maintenance. And that will mean a hollow force that is of whatever size, but not so sharp. And a dull knife is far more dangerous to the user than a sharp one, alas.

So, we can read a lot into the NATO report. The good news is that Trudeau can use the Latvia mission as a shield against criticisms this week. The bad news is that Canada is not spending enough or spending smartly enough. The Navy is facing that crisis right now. The rest of the CAF will face it soon enough.

Stephen Saideman is a Fellow and the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs

Mark Collins – Canadian Defence Policy Review: CGAI Contributions

Below are essays submitted by the Canadian Global Affairs Institute as contributions to the government’s Defence Policy Review (the public process ends July 31–more here on the review):

2016 Policy Review Series


Click on “Defence Collection” for a complete pdf, click essay titles for individual pdfs, and click ‘bio’ for additional author information and photo.

Foreword and Introduction
by David Bercuson (bio)

Defence Policy Review Considerations: Canada’s Army
by Stuart Beare (bio)

Future Roles for the RCN
by Serge Bertrand (bio)

The RCAF and the Role of Airpower: Considering Canada’s Future Contributions
by Alan Stephenson (bio)

Canada’s Special Forces
by D. Michael Day (bio)

Reserve Options
by George Petrolekas (bio)

Fixing Procurement
by David Perry (bio)

Canada and Cyber
by John Adams (bio)

Making Canada’s Role in NATO More Effective
by Julian Lindley-French (bio)

Canada’s Space Policy and its Future with NORAD
by Andrew B. Godefroy (bio)

Realistic Peacekeeping Options for Canada
by Sarah Jane Meharg (bio)

Real and False Tradeoffs in the Defence Review: Size Versus Readiness, Not Hard Versus Soft
by Stephen M. Saideman (bio)

Canada’s Security Role in Asia-Pacific
by Marius Grinius (bio)

Collaboration Amidst Complexity: Enhancing Jointness in Canada’s Defence Instrument
by Doug Demptser (bio)

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

Colin Robertson – Canada Must Start Pulling its Weight in NATO

This article was originally posted in The Globe and Mail on July 4th, 2016

This week’s NATO summit in Warsaw will test the Trudeau government’s commitment to collective security.

Speaking last week in Canada’s House of Commons, U.S. President Barack Obama called on every NATO member to contribute its “full share to our common security.” So that there was no mistake about his message, Mr. Obama repeated his call three times that NATO “needs more Canada.”

The next day the Trudeau government announced that Canada will take a “leadership role” to support NATO in Eastern Europe. Putting boots on the ground is demonstrable support for deterrence. It illustrates continuity with the Harper government’s earlier commitments of fighter jets and trainers to Eastern Europe. It is also smart politics: three million Canadians claim Eastern European origins, 1.2 million from Ukraine alone.

Canada’s new contribution will be welcomed in Warsaw but there is still a big gap between Canada’s current spending of 1 per cent of GDP on defence and NATO’s 2-per-cent standard. With the U.S. currently spending 3.62 per cent and tired of carrying the rest of the alliance, neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will likely be as gentle as Mr. Obama in pressuring Canada and other NATO members to budget more on defence.

The 28 nations that make up the NATO alliance face a series of crises, including leadership changes. Europe is weakened by economic malaise, the migrant crisis, and now Brexit, a contagion that threatens to spread across Europe. To the east, the alliance confronts a revanchist Russia. On its southern flank there is continuing turmoil in the Middle East and terrorist strikes deep into member countries.

The spine that sustains our beleaguered liberal international order is collective security. Collective security depends on a credible deterrence supported by all members of NATO.

The Warsaw summit comes as the government concludes its cross-country consultations on Canada’s new defence policy. Two submissions, by retired naval officers Bruce Donaldson and Glenn Davidson, stand out.

Retired vice-admiral Donaldson argues that the key questions in the review are not the what, when and where but rather, “how much … how soon, and for how long … how many at the same time”, and “at how much risk”? To enhance Arctic sovereignty, Mr. Donaldson recommends investments in high data-rate communications, navigation safety, air and ground transportation infrastructure, and monitoring of activity in remote internal areas.

In his submission, Mr. Davidson warns that while planning is useful, “things will only rarely happen as forecast.” This underlines the need for a flexible Canadian Forces response capability and to maintain interoperability with U.S. Forces. Mr. Davidson, who later served as Canadian ambassador in Syria and Afghanistan, also says that because deployments historically extend well beyond their originally anticipated date, we need to build sustainability into operating budgets.

Both admirals are also critical of recent defence management. Mr. Davidson argues for greater risk tolerance, more continuity in senior positions and a “long pause” in continual “organizational tinkering.” Mr. Donaldson warns of the culture of “risk intolerance” that infects government with the senior bureaucracy adverse to all financial risks and ministers reluctant to make decisions. The result is serial delays at the cost of capacity and capability.

Later this week Dr. David Bercuson will release a collection of essays by experts on Canada’s defence challenges, underlining the importance of collective security and the U.S. defence partnership. Dr. Bercuson’s essay warns that Canada “must never spread itself too thinly, try to do too much across the spectrum of military operations, or use the military as tokens where tokenism won’t count for much.”

The Trudeau government has shown deftness in its handling of foreign policy and leadership on climate and migration. It understands soft power and the importance of multilateral engagement and dialogue. But experience suggests that a credible deterrence is a precondition for constructive dialogue with adversaries.

Once again, hard power counts. The government’s international credibility will depend as much on its defence policy as its diplomatic finesse. This means a credible and sustained Canadian contribution to NATO.

A former diplomat, Colin Robertson is vice-president and fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Alan Stephenson – Flying Blind on Procurement

This article was originally posted on iPolitics.ca on July 4th, 2016

“Estimate the situation. Do not situate the estimate.” This fundamental lesson is taught to all junior officers in the Canadian Armed Forces who are being trained in how to examine all relevant factors, determine possible courses of action and select the most appropriate option to achieve their objectives. It’s called an estimate of the situation — or just ‘estimate’ for short.

‘Situating the estimate’ means deciding beforehand the course of action one wants to follow, then rationalizing that decision through the motions of the estimate process. In other words, it’s shaping one’s analysis to fit the desired outcome — a flawed approach to military operations, but one that the Liberal government evidently has decided is acceptable when it comes to finding a replacement for the CF-18 fighter aircraft.

With its plan to sole-source the Super Hornet as an ‘interim’ solution, the Trudeau government has demonstrated clearly that it never intended to fulfill its election promise to “immediately launch an open and transparent competition to replace the F-18 fighter aircraft.” That’s unfortunate, since it calls into question the validity of the ongoing Defence Policy Review process. If Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has decided already on a solution and is shaping the CF-18 narrative to fit the desired outcome, then Canadians should expect nothing less from the Defence Policy Review.

For starters, the sudden appearance of Minister Sajjan’s “capability gap” in the current CF-18 fleet is questionable, given that the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force assured the Standing Committee on National Defence in April that the CF-18s would remain operationally capable until 2025.

And if the Liberals were truly concerned about the life expectancy of the CF-18s, one would have expected that factor to have been central in their narrative explaining the decision to pull the fighters from Iraq. It was not, because it is not a critical concern; it’s a recent politicization of facts to provide cover to proceed on a predetermined course for procurement. Aircraft life cycles are risk-managed by military professionals who will not jeopardize aircrew safety or mission accomplishment.

Prime Minister Trudeau failed to articulate a sound reason in February 2016 for pulling the fighters out of Iraq; his remark in October 2014 about “trying to whip out our CF-18s” could both be excused as simple partisan politics. However, there appears to be an underlying immaturity in the government’s understanding of the true contribution of Canadian airpower to the campaign in Iraq and Syria. Canadian CF-18s flew classic air interdiction missions that stopped Islamic State from committing further acts of horror, a campaign begun by American airpower when it prevented the imminent enslavement of 40,000 Yazidis trapped in the Sinjar Mountains.

The Canadian missions that provided human security to the vulnerable in Iraq were flown in 30-year-old fighters that were chosen through a formalized selection process. Such missions were unimaginable when the government of Pierre Trudeau made the unprecedented decision to purchase an unproven U.S. Navy fighter aircraft, the F-18. Canada’s contribution to international security today was made possible only by choosing the right fighter for Canada in 1980 — one with the flexibility and capacity to evolve with advancing technology — and not by limiting the choice through predetermined Cold War political predilections. The purchasing process should be no different today.

It was heartening to believe that the Liberal government would step away from their party pledge to dismiss the F-35 as a possible replacement for the CF-18 and run a mature transparent purchasing process. There are sound reasons to consider both the Super Hornet and the F-35 to replace the venerable CF-18s — but without a transparent selection process that analyzes and considers the four dimensions of military procurement (political, operational, technological and economic) the government may placate party loyalists, but Canadians will not be assured of receiving the best value for their defence dollar.

An interim solution ultimately might make sense — but generally, most such solutions are costly in the long run and less than effective in meeting unforeseen contingencies.

The Liberals’ credibility is at stake in this decision. Transparency was to be the hallmark of this government. Good governance demands that sound public policy trump parochial political platforms. If the Super Hornet is truly the right solution for Canada, then a public procurement process would establish that fact. But the evidence suggests that Canada does not face a ‘capability gap’ that would require a quick, sole-source solution.

In ‘situating the estimate’, Minister Sajjan does himself and the Liberal government a disservice — unless it is the intent of the new government to play the same old political games with military procurement.

Alan Stephenson is a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, holds a PhD from Carleton University and is a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces with 3,600 fighter hours flying third generation CF-104 Starfighters and fourth generation CF-18 Hornets.

Mark Collins – Experts’ Submissions to Canadian Defence Policy Review (note Prof. Saideman)

At the official website:

Read submissions from Canadian defence, security and other experts who participated in a Defence Policy Review roundtable. Learn more about these issues and see how your views compare to these opinions and recommendations…

Note this one June 27 by Canadian Global Affairs Institute Fellow Prof. Steve Saideman, with focuses on NATO, readiness, personnel costs and the size of the Forces (maybe need to be slimmed), and the strengths and weaknesses of the services (already “specialized”). His cogent conclusions:

I do think that the best decision would be for Canada to spend more on its military, but I recognize that this is probably a non-starter. Whatever increases will probably not catch up to inflation. I also recognize that Canada will continue to spend more and get less due to the insistence on buying Canadian built equipment even when better/less expensive kit is available [see, e.g.: “The Extravagant Lunacy of Building RCN and Canadian Coast Guard Vessels in Canada“]. Given these trends, the CAF is in for hard times ahead (although calling a new decade of darkness is a bit much)–expected to keep up the pace of operations while avoiding hard decisions about priorities. Perhaps the Defence Review will lead to some difficult decisions actually being confronted.

One suspects that final sentence may be a tad optimistic. Still…

More here on the review. Plus an excerpt on defence policy from a post of mine in February 2013:

…The [Conservative] government has said it will announce a redo of the CFDS [never happened] some time after the budget…But if each service tries to go on being as all-singing and all-dancing as possible each is likely to end up not performing all that well. The government needs to make some some very difficult choices to focus the services, and abandon some capabilities so as to be able to afford and maintain others. That means the government must decide what types of missions/roles each service must be able to perform (as opposed to “nice to have”) and how much it is willing to pay for the personnel and equipment so that those missions/roles can be carried out effectively and efficiently [e.g. should the RCN focus again on ASW in the North Atlantic with the new Canadian Surface Combatants? Are our four subs very useful for this purpose?]. But I doubt this government is capable of–or our services willing to–engage in such a serious review…

Now up to the Liberals.

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