Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Three priorities

Babble on.

Our new MND hasn't cast anything in stone at this point, but he's laying out priorities for DND and the CF that make good sense to me:

“On the big scale, the top priorities are to straighten out the recruitment training system so that we can bring in the recruits and train them so to expand the armed forces,” he said.

The other big priority is to simplify the procurement process so that it’s fair and transparent, said O’Connor.

“So that Canadians everywhere know what we’re acquiring and where we’re acquiring it.”

He also wants to install an Arctic navy. O’Connor said the first of three icebreakers might arrive within five years.

“I want armed vessels in the north so that we can impose our will when necessary. I want the navy up there so we can have a three-ocean navy, so that we can move through the Arctic.”

I like his first priority, because it deals with the trickiest issue facing our CF today: training and personnel problems. Undermanning hurts our present-force capabilities, but it also hurts our future-force capabilities as a consequence. For example, a specialist PO2 who jetty-jumps to fill a slot on two different ships on back-to-back deployments isn't available to train new specialists in his trade. He's also a lot more likely to burn out - family problems, depresssion, etc - and deprive the CF of a fully trained operator. Reinvesting our 'human capital', if you will, in the training system requires some short-term sacrifices, but will pay dividends in the long-run.

I like his third priority, because it deals with a huge gap in the CF's primary mission: to defend Canadian sovereignty on our Arctic borders. Yes, there are some serious roadblocks to putting artic-ice-capable warships into action, especially if they are to be Canadian-built. We're creating a military competency from scratch, for heaven's sake - it's not going to be a walk in the park. But when the alternative is to continue to cede everything but the moral high ground to those nations who don't recognize our sovereignty, I think we have to bite the bullet and fight our way through the difficulties to make our presence felt. Will there be some mistakes made along the way? Almost certainly. Should that stop us from proceeding? Absolutely not.

O'Connor's second priority is more problematic. Perhaps he's on the right track, and perhaps he simply understands his political purview a little better than I do, but his phrasing leaves me concerned: simplifying the procurement process so it's fair and transparent.

Procurement is a gargantuan problem for the CF. But I'll be honest with you: I don't give a rodent's hindquarters about fairness or transparency at this point. I simply want to make sure the military has the equipment and supplies it needs, where it needs them, when it needs them. Now, don't get me wrong: process matters over the long-haul. But now is not the time for getting hung up on process above all other things.

When you're speeding down the highway at 100 km/h, and you want to change lanes, you check your mirrors, you do a shoulder-check, you signal, and then you move gradually over to the other lane. Following this process consistently greatly decreases your chances for an accident in the long-term. Following it when the big-rig directly in front of you jack-knifes could be fatal. At that point, you rely on situational awareness and swerve, because the urgency of the circumstances requires it.

In the abstract, DND's procurement process needs to be fair and transparent, too true. But when we're moving equipment into an overseas theatre on rented transport planes, moving it around slung under rented choppers, hitching rides on Dutch or American helos, keeping our air-support home because of avionics concerns and insupportability, jerry-rigging Sea Kings as troop-transports, bone-yarding our tactical transports because of airframe fatigue - and that's just off the top of my head - then our focus should be on results first, process second.

Let me be clear with an example: I'd support them buying the wrong heavy-lift helicopter at the wrong price, if it did the job and they could get it quickly. At this point, 'the perfect' can very easily scuttle 'the good' - and our men and women in uniform have been doing so much with so little for so long that 'the adequate' would still be a step up.

Still, concerns aside, at least our Minister of National Defence is moving in the right direction overall. Best of luck to him, and we'll be watching.

Babble off.


At 12:49 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

Who is the enemy requiring our Arctic naval defence capability?

At 1:34 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Who is the thief requiring you lock your car, Alan?

At 1:51 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

I don't lock my car or my door when I know there is nothing to steal or no one to do the stealing.

What is the mischief requiring these billions, these ships? Is this the best way to spend those billions? On what basis - what report, whose advice - is this policy decision being taken? Is this the best way to achieve this policy goal? What will not be lost should this happen? Who is the enemy requiring our Arctic naval defence capability?

Where were these questions asked and answered?

At 2:34 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Well, I'm glad that in your comprehensive survey of a land mass bigger than the Indian subcontinent, not to mention the seas and the seafloor, you've determined conclusively that there's "nothing to steal or no one to do the stealing." I appreciate you doing the legwork so the rest of us don't have to.

And we're all fortunate that your prescience allows us to stop worrying about the utility of controlling the land, the air, and the seas of the formerly-Canadian arctic. Just abandon the damned thing now, nuisance that it is. Inconvenient, all that cold empty space is.

Bah, I'm about to choke on my sarcasm here.

The point is that if we can't even patrol it, it's not really ours. And unless you think our Arctic is entirely useless, you'd better be prepared to at least put up a token defence of it.

At least your argument is an honest one: if the artic isn't worth defending, we should abandon it now, and cut our losses.

At 2:50 p.m., Blogger Robert McClelland said...

This plan is just foolish.

Point one: Recruitment has become an increasingly difficult problem and considering that most of Canada is experiencing a growing labour shortage I don't see how a simple reorganization will solve the problem. Without meaningful incentives and pay raises recruitment will remain low.

Point three: I'm with Alan on this. There is no threat to our Arctic sovereignty. Perhaps in the future such a threat may arise but to worry about it at this point in time is a foolish waste of our current resources that could be better used elsewhere; like incentives for recruitment or addressing any number of deficiencies.

At 3:17 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

McClelland, not to put too fine a point on it, your opinion on this issue doesn't hold much weight with me. Still, I'll address your comments:

Money and incentives are not primary motivators in recruiting for the military. They're factors, certainly, but they're not the issue at this point.

Fielding a defence in the North - heck, putting a simple presence up there - after a threat has emerged is like closing the barn door after the horse is gone. Either it's ours, in which case we need to be able to control it, or it's not, in which case we should stop pretending our borders encompass it.

At 3:45 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

Just for full and open process, BB and I are sharing notes on the 1946 case of The Corfu between Albania and the UK to see if we can come to consensus.

At 3:48 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

By which case it is clear that bits may be less ours (NW passage) than other bits (the islands). Would it not be better to determine that before building a navy? Maybe work on a treaty? Less dramatic for sure but saves billions.

At 4:01 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

When it comes to the borders of my nation, I like grand pieces of paper, but I like warships even better. Because at the end of the day, it is only the credible threat of force that makes treaties worth the paper they're written on.

Old-school, I know. But history abounds with the lessons, etc.

At 4:40 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

Yes, the history of smaller nations is littered with the success of their use of force against larger neighbouring friends. To hell with decades of successful and universally respected international marine law! Viva cannons on ice breakers! Viva! Viva!!!

At 4:51 p.m., Blogger AwaWiYe said...

The question is: what will and can we do if someone starts drilling for oil in "our" arctic waters or on one of "our" remote northern islands. Can't do anything right now? Oh, well. End of sovereignty there.

The primary missing incentive is "doing the job they joined to do". Pilots quit when flight hours are cut back. Sailors quit when sea time is cut back. Soldiers quit when meaningful training is cut back. Service people in general quit when they realize the commitment to safe and capable equipment is cut back.

All of those are in fact areas which have been cut back.

At 5:01 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

I trust we have a jet which allows for the timely attachment and release of bombs now. Would that not suffice to curb a rogue well driller in a couple of hours? What will a ship that takes days or weeks to get there add?

At 5:26 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Alan, to you, any measure to defend our sovereignty up north will be too much since you see no threat - present or future - to deal with. Those of us who would rather be safe than sorry look at the world differently.

After having had this same conversation many different ways with many different people, trust me when I say it's a waste of time. Certainly a day of typing in my comments section won't change your fundamental way of perceiving the world, and that's really what's required to understand the necessity.

At 5:45 p.m., Blogger GenX at 40 said...

No, that is true. I rely on the solidity of international law which has had no greater success than in the rules of marine sovereignty. I can try to explain here and in our emails this afternoon but you closed your ears. So away with you and my tax dollars and build the equivalent of personal jets packs with it. I will pester you no more on this point.

At 10:03 p.m., Blogger Robert McClelland said...

Money and incentives are not primary motivators in recruiting for the military. They're factors, certainly, but they're not the issue at this point.

No, they aren't issues which is why this is a foolish plan. There are too many competing oportunities for our youth to seriously consider enlisting. They can go to Alberta and in a few years be making $40/hr so why would they even consider the military. At least in the US the military makes itself a viable alternative to the private sector. Canada's military doesn't.

Fielding a defence in the North - heck, putting a simple presence up there - after a threat has emerged is like closing the barn door after the horse is gone.

Threats don't emerge out of thin air, Damian. And there aren't even any on the near term horizon. Defending Arctic sovereignty is a low priority so why waste the money on that front when it's needed elsewhere. This part of the plan is like buying yourself a fancy hat when you have no shoes.

At 10:16 p.m., Blogger John B said...

If there is a "rogue well driller" in our Arctic territory, then that implies there is oil. The icebreakers will then be useful but otherwise they aren't much of a deterrent. An Arctic deterrent would require an undersea capability.

As for "Threats don't emerge out of thin air" - the Danes have already claimed Hans Island. It's difficult to maintain Canadian sovereignty over the North West Passage (assuming the ice continues melting) if Canada lacks any presence in the area.

At 2:27 p.m., Blogger AwaWiYe said...

>Would that not suffice to curb a rogue well driller in a couple of hours?

Rogue well drillers will buy the rights to go ahead. Foreign nations may not, and if they arrive with batteries of surface-to-air missiles, under-ice capable submarines, and assorted firepower and simply refuse to recognize Canadian sovereignty, then the ball is back in our court to assert sovereignty or cede it.

At 10:00 a.m., Blogger Paul W. said...

This will take years (in the double digits) to plan and implement. It's a monumental task when you get down to it...


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