Thursday, January 05, 2006

Another elite by another name

Babble on.

I refrained from commenting yesterday on the news that the CF is in the process of forming a Special Operations Regiment in Petawawa because I wanted to get some scattered thoughts in some semblance of order before I committed them to the record.

Unfortunately, I haven't had time to do that, so you get an unvarnished opinion tossed out on the fly. I can hear the clacking of keyboards as readers rush to cancel their subscriptions to Babbling Brooks. Those willing to stick with me, read on.

First, take in the article in question:

The Canadian military will create a new 750-strong special forces unit to be located in the Ottawa Valley at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa.

Recruitment for the regiment, whose soldiers would perform a role similar to that of the U.S. army's Green Berets, has now started. The new formation, to be called the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, will be in addition to the Joint Task Force 2 commando unit based in Ottawa.


This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who read the Defence Policy Statement earlier this year. The directive was to enhance Canada's ability to react quickly and effectively to situations requiring a military response, and nothing does that like elite troops.

Incidentally, if you have more than a passing interest in the Canadian military and you haven't read the policy statement, you should. Until the Conservatives come out with an actual defence policy - as opposed to the welcome but scattershot announcements they've put forward to date - it's the blueprint for how we move forward from here.

And I'll risk your disapproval by blowing my own horn for a moment: dissenters far more experienced than me in matters military should have known I was right when I said strat-lift was a more significant announcement than an Airborne Battalion in the Conservative plan. Here's proof we were getting a similar unit irregardless of the election.

What exactly are we getting? Well, as with the Airborne Battalion idea, nobody other than the mandarins at NDHQ know for sure, and they're not telling yet. Except for Maj Allison:

Military spokesman Maj. Doug Allison said the new unit will have similar skills as that of the disbanded airborne regiment but its role will be different. While the airborne regiment was prepared for mainly a Cold War conventional battle, the new regiment will be focused on the war on terror and special operations, he added.

"What you're looking at is high mobility, high training, with both conventional and non-conventional capabilities." said Maj. Allison. "Think of (U.S. army) Ranger battalions, Green Berets, those sort of skill sets."

"They'll be able to operate off the land without significant logistical support," he added.


While I don't want to nitpick, comparisons with the U.S. Army Special Forces (the guys who wear those Green Berets) might be a stretch. While I'm sure Maj Allison was talking simply of military proficiency, U.S. Special Forces are unique even within the U.S. Special Operations Command. As Tom Clancy stated in his non-fiction primer on Special Forces, these soldiers are often tasked with semi-diplomatic missions that would be completely inappropriate for any other unit. Unless we're going to put our operators through a language school and ensure all of them speak at least one foreign language, for example, we can't claim a reasonable comparison with Special Forces. U.S. Army Rangers, maybe, but not the SF.

If the goal is to produce a unit somewhere between "line" and "JTF2" (as commenter AwaWiYe put it), this is a good start. When analyzing the Conservative proposal, I figured Airborne would fill the role, but as many observers have stated, "Airborne" is just a delivery method.

In the context of an election campaign, I can understand why Conservative Defence Critic Gordon O'Connor would stand firm on the idea of Airborne as a separate idea, but practically speaking, I can't think of a reason why we'd need two units so similar in composition and capability a couple of hours down the road from each other.

In fact, I can think of at least one good reason not to, and his response to that question is less politically-motivated:

But some critics have voiced concern that the Canadian Forces, which currently has about 53,000 trained personnel, will have difficulty sustaining that size of a special operations force. There is also concern that regular units, some now currently under-strength, would be stripped of their best people.

Mr. O'Connor, a former army general, said whatever happens it is important that the top skills usually associated with special forces be maintained. "Is the Canadian military big enough to get that much talent?" he asked. "I don't know the answer to that." (Babbler's emphasis)


At what point do elite units cease to be elite anymore? With as relatively small a force as ours, and with the political directive to bolster special operations capabilities, the question is an urgent one. Fortunately, our infantry line units (at the very least) are already trained and operated at a high standard, as evidenced by the respect accorded 3PPCLI by the Americans due to their previous work in Afghanistan.

While I continue to believe a Conservative government would offer the best political leadership for our Armed Forces, at the end of the day, it is heartening to know that no matter which direction the electoral winds blow, the CF is following a plan that will make them more capable than they are now.

Babble off.

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