Not surprisingly, most pundits seem to be zeroing in on the idea of a reconstituted Airborne in yesterday's Conservative defence announcement. Objections range from "we don't need it" to "look what happened last time."
As I commented over at Andrew's place:
I think many folks, commenters here included, may be getting the wrong idea about an Airborne Battalion (650 men). The recent Defence Policy Statement already called for a standing rapid deployment force from our existing units. A reconstituted Airborne would provide a focus for those efforts.
The question is one of readiness and capability. At the highest level, we have JTF2, members of which can take on the most difficult missions in the least amount of time. At the next level, we have an Airborne Battalion which can get there a little less quickly, but which packs a bigger punch. It's also a great feeder system for JTF2 (much like the Rangers are for Special Forces - Green Berets - in the U.S.). At the lowest level are our regular units - still trained to a high standard, but slower to deploy and less specialized.
Even in the current policy context, this makes sense, folks.
As far as the idea that the serious discipline problems that led to the disbanding of our Airborne Regiment could resurface: technically, anything can happen, but in this case it's not likely to. Why? Leadership.
General Hillier has set the tone, and it's a strong one. He has willing subordinates injecting pride and professionalism back into the Canadian military. The officers and men who form the backbone of our military today (the senior Captains and Majors, and the Sergeants and Warrant Officers) were raw recruits when the Airborne went off the rails, and it was a shock and embarrassment to them. Let me tell you with certainty that those people were disgusted with the lack of discipline that was evidenced in Somalia, and would leap at the chance to expunge that stain on the Canadian military by rebuilding a strong and honourable Airborne that upholds the traditions forgotten in the early nineties.
An Airborne Battalion would fit seamlessly into our current Defence Policy, and this time I'd lay good money it would be done right.
Update: From military commenter JMH via e-mail:
The CAR (Babbler: That's Canadian Airborne Regiment for the uninitiated) was never to be a super-elite unit, but "the best Infantry Battalion" in the Canadian Army, which happened to specialize in jumping out of presumably safe aircraft. What started the decline to the final debacle was the presumption that the CAR was something special on its own. I forget the name of the final CO, but his job was to persuade the unit members that they were special as the "best infantrymen in the world", not just because they jumped out of airplanes.
The re-establishment of the CAR would be as the 10th Infantry Battalion (Parachute) of the Canadian Army. This would give us 10 Infantry battalions, of which four are "Light Infantry", of which one is "Parachute-delivered". Note that at least one battalion (3PPCLI) has already been rated as Ranger-equivalent by the US Army. Further details on deployability will have to wait for Commander CEFCOM to get himself sorted out, but he should have 1st Battalion (Airborne) under his command. And the heavy lift choppers, and the heavy lift Transport Sqn.
Did I mention "Airborne" is just another delivery means for the experienced infantryman?
I had no idea 3PPCLI was rated Ranger-equivalent by the US Army, although after Op Anaconda, I'm not surprised. You see, I'm just pretending to be a milblogger until a truly qualified Canadian comes along, at which point I will gladly cede the floor.
Updater: Ahh. I was a little distracted when I posted JMH's comment above, and I now realize he wasn't saying what I thought he was. His opinion seems to be that the new Airborne Battalion would be just one of ten infantry battalions. One that coincidentally happens to be capable of dropping from the sky hanging under a sheet.
That's not actually the intent here - from the Conservative announcement:
- Creation of a new airborne battalion (650 regular force personnel), to be stationed at CFB Trenton and to be available for rapid deployment; (Babbler's italics)
The idea is to make this unit more than just another infantry battalion with jump wings on their chest.