Thursday, May 05, 2005

Disappointed in defence

Babble on.

I have the worst time putting titles on my posts. They're almost invariably corny or unimaginative. This post is no exception, although at least today's header is descriptive: I've finished reviewing the Defence portion of the International Policy Statement, and quite frankly, I found it disappointing.

One of the heartening aspects of the Overview was a noticeable lack of self-congratulatory content and tone. The Defence document can make no such claim, pushing lines like: "This policy is the right one for Canadians." Oh, well since you say so, I guess that's that, isn't it? Someone needs to remind the wonks who write this empty pap that Jedi mind tricks only work on the weak-minded, and people who read policy statements don't generally fall into that category.

Beyond the shoulder-dislocating attempts to pat itself on the back, however, this policy paper is nothing more than a series of half-hearted compromises and contradictions. I think I'm doubly disappointed because the Overview was good enough to raise my hopes for the Defence policy to unrealistic levels. I should have known better.

The "new" first priority of the CF will be the defence of Canada and North America. If you're shaking your head in surprise that this wasn't always the first priority of our military, let me assure you, you're not alone. Some of the proposals to support this mandate are extremely general: improved cooperation with the Americans, better interagency cooperation within Canada, hiring 3,000 more reservists and 5,000 more regualars. Other proposals are more specific, and more useful: establishing interdepartmental Marine Security Operations Centres on both the east and west coasts, creating an Integrated Threat Assessment Centre in concert with CSIS, putting more High Frequency Surface Wave Radars on both coasts. The revamping of our Command and Control structure into a 'Canada Command', while holding promise, will remain a cipher until the details become public.

But there remain gaping holes in the policy. For example, the Defence paper stresses Arctic sovereignty as a critical aspect of domestic defence:

The demands of sovereignty and security for the Government could become even more pressing as activity in the North continues to rise.
Adversaries couold be tempted to take advantage of new opportunities unless we are prepared to deal with asymmetric threats that are staged through the North.

But other than a specific commitment to replace the workhorse Twin Otter aircraft currently used for Northern operations with a more modern platform, and a nebulous promise to improve regular force coordination with the Rangers and conduct more Arctic patrols, there is little to support this objective.

We have three ocean coasts, but we operate on only two. Where is the commitment to purchase or build icebreakers that will allow us to conduct naval patrols of our northern coast?

As the policy paper notes, activity in the North continues to rise: diamond mining, oil pipeline construction, increased air traffic, and the possibility of commercial vessel traffic if warming trends continue. The area of land and sea Canada claims is enormous - almost 3.7 million square kilometres in our three Northern territories. Just as a point of comparison, the entire country of India is only 3.3 million square kilometres. Where is the commitment to preposition significant land and air assests closer to the Arctic than Edmonton?

I'd bet a month's wages that at least three foreign navies operate submarines in Canadian arctic waters. Where is even an acknowledgement of this hole in our sovereignty, let alone a discussion of how to develop a crucial under-ice naval capability to counter it?

I'm not the first military-watcher to say this, but we should OWN Arctic op's. This policy statement pays only lip service to Arctic sovereignty.

When it comes to foreign deployments, the same sorts of gaps and inconsistencies exist. More money for capital expenditures - if it ever actually materializes - will be welcome. More troops - assuming the CF are given the resources and time to equip and train them - will also be a definite improvement. A focus on the "three-block war" in failed and failing states - if the politicians adhere to it in their international promises - is encouraging.

I don't like the fact that we've formally given up on the idea of Canadian heavy armour in favour of a light- and medium-weight replacement (LAV's, Mobile Gun System, and Multi-Mission Effects Vehicle), though. While this is probably the most justifiable compromise in the policy paper, the proven effectiveness of tanks in an urban environment and the widespread availability of RPG's to 'insurgents' in failed and failing states around the world give me pause. I wonder if survivability tests with Mister Dithers and the Honourable Sock Puppet for Defence inside the vehicles would elicit a call for more armour? Sheila Martin's not going to be waiting for her husband to come home from a six month tour in some war-torn hot-spot anytime soon, so I guess we'll just have to hope the armour we're getting will be enough for the missions we'll be undertaking.

The Defence statement places great emphasis on "Military Training Assistance" as one of our specialties, citing our role in training the militaries of Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. While I'm certain our troops do the job well when tasked with it, I have difficulty believing this is a capability much associted with the CF outside of the rarified air of NDHQ. Where is the CF Training Assistance school for officers and non-com's? Of all of our international deployments in the past ten years, how many personnel were devoted to Training Assistance? I have the feeling this 'capability' is a little overhyped.

Airlift is also a critical need - almost as critical as the manpower shortage, in my opinion. Renting Antonovs to deploy the DART team is simply disgraceful, as is having to beg a ride with allied forces. Yet the policy statement only specifies that the CF will:
  • acquire, or ensure access to, the right mix of capabilities to meet the increasing requirements for domestic, global and in-theatre airlift; (Babbler's highlight)

Ensure access to? Weasel words. How exactly will access be ensured if we don't own the assets, pray tell? Will we rely on foreign pilots to fly foreign equipment? Civilians? This is a non-solution to a big problem for our military.

The proposition that absolutely blows my mind, however, has to do with marine assets. According to the Defence statement, the CF will:
  • proceed with the acquisition of ships that will be able to:
    • pre-position or deply the Standing Contingency Task Force,

    • support land operations,

    • provide a sea-based national or multinational command capability,

    • deploy tactical unmanned aerial vehicles, and

    • sustain naval task group operations worldwide;

Now I don't know about you, but this sounds a lot like the hybrid carriers the Conservatives were proposing in their defence policy last summer. You know, the ones the Liberals misrepresented in their televised attack ad's, mischaracterizing them as full-sized American nuclear carriers like you see in Top Gun? The ones they implied were evidence of a 'massive military build-up to fight George Bush's wars'? Those hybrid carriers.

What massive hypocrisy on the part of the Liberals.

And at the end of the day, that credibility gap represents my biggest concern with the Defence policy as stated. I don't trust the Liberals to stay within their proclaimed parameters for determining whether to deploy troops overseas. I don't trust their commitment to long-term funding and planning. I don't trust their resolve to bridge the gap between objectives and resources perpetuated by this document. I don't trust them to fix the Byzantine procurement process.

In short, I don't trust the Liberals with control of our nation's defence, and with good reason.

Babble off.


At 11:53 a.m., Blogger Jack said...

You mean the JSS ships Paul Martin announced 3 times he was going to buy? Those hydrid carriers?

At 12:20 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

This link talks about the range of options for transport and helicopter support ships - including the JSS option.

The only thing we're sure of at this point is that not one single party is talking about buying the USS Abraham Lincoln and turning it into the HMCS Pierre Trudeau. For the Liberals to imply such a thing was completely and utterly dishonest.

At 12:51 p.m., Blogger RJ said...

A good review of the document Damian.

Like you, I'm concerned about the lack of a heavy armour capability. Used incorrectly in urban combat (Chechnya), tanks are worse than useless. Used correctly (Fallujah), their direct-fire capabilities are a tremendous asset in this type of environment. The proliferation of the man-portable AT weapons (like the ubiquitous RPG) makes tanks rather vulnerable--but no more so than the light armoured vehicles the CF fields.

The real problem with maintaining a heavy armoured capability is the lack of transport to battle areas. We can barely transport our own troops and have to rely upon commercial shipping carriers to haul armoured vehicles (anyone remember the incident where a commercial carrier transporting CF armoured vehicles decided not to dock until he'd been paid...)

Defence of Canada and Canadian interests requires much, much more capability than this document would even begin to suggest.

At 1:17 p.m., Blogger Greg said...

How about "The Liberal's Indefencible Policy". That one is free. The next one will cost you big. ;)

At 1:25 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Heh. That's obviously why you get paid the big bucks, Greg. With talent like that, you should start a blog or something. ;)

At 2:07 p.m., Blogger rightwinger said...

I wouldn't worry about the northern coast needing ice breakers - isn't global warming supposed to take care of that?


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