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Prognostications: 2009

Prognostications: 2009 – M to Z

Military Service – in Canada the public’s perception military service has, broadly, alternated between a few brief periods of near adulation and the more common long periods of public indifference verging on disdain. Neither is particularly useful.

The rare periods of public adoration were, essentially, bouts of self congratulation and they gave birth to or reinforced a myth that, in some inexplicable manner, the defence of Canada was best left in the hand of ordinary or average Canadians who would, when a crisis occurred, rally to the colours and save the day.

The long periods of public disinterest created or reinforced a different myth: someone else, the UK, first, lately the USA, must do the world’s policing and Canada can, indeed should, sit on the sidelines and hope that the ‘big boys’ wouldn’t do too much damage to Canada’s trading interests or expect us to take on too much.

There was one brief period (roughly 1948 to 1968) when the Government of Canada and the people of Canada actually put the military and military service into its proper perspective – as a “tool” that governments use to accomplish broader strategic aims. A succession of Liberal and Conservative governments had national goals expressed in (shared) basic policy principles that enjoyed the broad support of Canadians. Canadians, politicians and average Canadians alike, understood that in sending their small, professional military force into direct combat in Korea, into a “trip wire” role, face to face with a huge, aggressive, threatening enemy in North West Europe or on ‘peacekeeping’ duties in other regions that aimed to prevent more imminent threats they were pursuing bigger, broader, even bolder aims than those of ‘just’ military action and the military, itself, understood that it was a policy tool.

We need to return to the basics. We need to find, once again, the ”Role of Pride and Influence in the World” that we abandoned circa 1970 and, consistently, failed to assert throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s and the first decade of the 21st century. When we recover that ‘role’ then Canadians will be able to understand why they want and need an appropriately (for one of the world’s “top ten” nations) strong, flexible, professional military and why they, Canadian citizens, should take pride in its accomplishments and should want to support their military – not with yellow ribbons or red shirts but with their tax dollars and with votes for political parties that make good use of their military “tools.”

Navy Ships – our fleet needs a makeover. The three remaining destroyers need to be replaced by four area air defence and command/control ships – perhaps as the ‘lead’ of a new fleet on common surface ships. The twelve frigates need to be given a major, half-life refit, soon.  The promised half dozen or so Arctic/Off shore Patrol Vessels need to be funded, designed, built and put into service. New fleet replenishment ships need to be built or purchased. Plans need to be started to replace the four Upholder class submarines with a half dozen under-ice capable submarines. Plans need to be advanced to replace the coastal defence vessels with some combination of mine counter measures vessels and coastal patrol craft.

While all that is ongoing DND needs to hire a few thousand new sailors to make all those ships ready.

Operations – these are the raison d’être of the Canadian Forces. Not all operations are combat operations, and government needs to ensure that the Canadian Forces remain ready and able to conduct the whole range of operations from Search and Rescue and disaster relief to mass combat on a high intensity battlefield.

Press - the Canadian Government must become more conscious of its dealings with the Press and become a more active participant in putting out the word as to what Canadians and the Canadian Forces are doing to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan.  More coverage and exposure as to what Canadian Forces and Canadian Police Agencies are doing in training and mentoring the Afghan Army and Police Forces is required.  More coverage of what the OMLT and Provincial Reconstruction Teams are doing in helping to rebuild the infrastructure of Afghan communities.  More coverage of what NGO's are doing is required.   Canadians on many levels are working to rebuild Afghanistan.  By far, the majority of their stories are not being told.

Québec – Québec’s  soldiers are just as brave, loyal and ready to serve as any others. It is time the media stopped trying to create controversy where none exists. Many, likely most other Québecers, on the other hand, continue to be “out of step” with their fellow citizens – as they are on a range of issues. This is part of the complex fabric of Canada. It makes life difficult for politicians.

Recruiting and Retention - the Canadian Forces Recruiting Group must reform itself and its message. The CF needs thousands, indeed tens of thousands of new sailors, soldiers and air force members. The ‘front line’ are the men and women in the recruiting system. They need to have the skills, tools and money make the recruiting process work effectively and efficiently and, above all, speedily – consistent with getting the right people in and keeping the wrong ones out.

Members of the CF should be encouraged to continue their careers in order to maintain continuity in all trades.  There should be several plans that could encourage this.  One incentive would be a 'signing bonus' for members to reenlist in their trade on the end of their initial engagement and basic engagement periods of employment.   Another plan would encourage CF personnel on release, to do a 'reverse component transfer' to the reserves, in order to fill much needed positions in reserves with 'experienced' personnel, and bring up the calibre of the reserve forces.  This may alleviate some of the problems faced by reserve units, when they get personnel trained to a certain standard and then loose them to the regular force through component transfers.  Another incentive would be to hire retired, injured or medically released CF personnel into the training system as contractors to provide experienced instructors to free up currently serving members to fill manning shortfalls in other establishments.

One of DND’s main aims must be to retain as many trained, experienced members as possible. While a number of factors contribute to people leaving the forces, Ruxted suggests that quality of life for both members and their families is high on the list. To mention just one of many demotivating factors, garrison life in Canada can be an emotional let down after the camaraderie and sense of purpose of an operational tour. Previous generations used to jokingly refer to getting back to real soldiering after the war is over. It, however, is a challenge to convince someone who was in real peril a few months ago that the monotony of garrison routine or the artificial pressure of a career course is reality, and not the other way around.

Sudan - Canada is involved in a range of activities in Sudan, including military activities as part of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan and the African Union Mission in Sudan.  Has enough changed since the expression of Ruxted's previous position: "To call for Canadian blood to be spilled in the sands of Darfur in an open ended mission for no result is perhaps the greatest folly our politicians, academics and journalists could commit"?  Not yet - in the words of Rick Hillier, "we are unprepared, under-resourced and lacking the public support necessary to successfully intervene in many of today's complex conflicts. Until these shortcomings are addressed, discussions on humanitarian intervention will remain purely academic."

Transformation – needs to continue. The next step is to downsize, rationalize and downsize again the current headquarters – which many observers consider too many in number and too large in size. The trick is to get it just right. There is an almost unbearable demand by government/politicians to micro-manage every little process. That’s understandable – politicians, and, especially, their unelected staffs, are highly risk averse and whenever something goes wrong happens the media are there like hungry jackals circling a wounded antelope. Who can blame them?

The next step in transformation should aim at lessening the ‘management overhead’ – at every level. Less management will generate higher morale., greater enthusiasm and increased attention to the assigned tasks. Less management will produce qualitatively better forces and save a bit of money, too.

Understanding - Although great advances have been made for serving members who report mental issues with PTSD more must be done to teach the 'system' that reporting such issues will not result in a full stop in relation to career development. We have all seen the physically wounded being nurtured back to a resumption of their careers, and this is how it should be, however the "suck it up, Buttercup" attitude in relation to mental conditions must be pushed off the map forever so that no one suffers in silence, and thereby potentially bringing harm to careers and to the loved ones who supported the member while they served.

We know much has been done, and that this issue has come a long way, but the Ruxted Group feels that we still have a long way to go.

Victory – in Afghanistan we will have the requisite “victory conditions” when, as we reported to the Manley Commission “the people of Afghanistan can make their own decisions in their own way, even when they decide on policies with which we disagree – always bearing in mind that Canada, and the world, cannot accept a country's decision to turn itself into a base for aggressive war … [and] when the Afghans can elect a government – even if it is a government which we do not much like … [and] when the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police are able to contain insurgencies – home-grown and foreign.”

We have, already, met some of those victory conditions, others are on track, now. There is hope for a sensible ‘victory’ in Afghanistan if we stay the course a bit longer.

Wounded Warriors – all, regular and reservist , deserve equal care and benefits. It is bad policy and worse PR to discriminate – as current policy does – against some (reserve) members who are wounded while serving on less than a 180 day ‘contract.’ To paraphrase: if that’s the Treasury Board policy then the Treasury Board Secretariat is composed of asses.

X-ray Vision – it’s here, now along with a whole host of other technological marvels that can and should be made right here in Canada, for the Canadian Forces. This ‘stuff’ is not rocket science – it’s actually rather more complex than that – but it can and should be developed by Canadian defence scientists, in Canadians defence laboratories, using Canadian R&D money and then given to Canadian entrepreneurs to build and sell to Canada and our allies.

Yankee Bashing – needs to stop. The United States of America is a great country, imperfect, to be sure, but “better” than pretty much any of the other great powers that have strutted and fretted their hours upon the stage over the course of the past few thousand years.

For about a century the US has been a close friend, an ally in times of war and, latterly, our most important trading partner and, despite the irritants that must arise between trading partners, a good neighbour.

Canada has policy differences with the USA. Canadians often dislike the courses our American friends and neighbours decide, in their own democratic fashion, to pursue. Friends and neighbours can disagree but there is a constant nasty edge to the Canadian side of the discourse. It is an edge that speaks poorly about Canadians and our political maturity.

There is more to Canada than simple the fact that it is not the USA. Canadians would do better to learn more about why their country is “good” than to repeat (often untrue) canards about why the USA is “bad.”

It’s time to grow up, Canada!

Zimbabwe - may be a bellweather for the “Bottom Billion.” Recent unrest and associated spin-off problems in Zimbabwe, as well as more recent rumblings elsewhere, draws the eye to poor, beleagured Africa. Poverty, governance, AIDS, resource and ethic issues continue to fuel conflicts in Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, even Ethiopia/Eritrea (where a ceasefire following a 30-year-long civil war, as well as now-out-the-door United Nations mission, hasn't eased all areas of contention between the two countries), to list only the more obvious choices.  Ruxted hopes Canada's decision makers (both political and bureaucratic) remember the caveats we've laid out when considering what will likely be increasing calls to do something (especially something military) about Africa.

Prognostication: 2009

Prognostication: 2009

‘Tis the season for prognostication, and the Ruxted Group, after a long vacation, cannot resist.

Herewith, in alphabetical order, are a few disconnected thoughts on 2009, and beyond:
Afghanistan – will not go away. The 2011 ‘deadline’ for redeployment – which does not, necessarily, mean withdrawal – approaches quickly. So does a formal request from soon to be President Barack Obama’s new government. It will be impossible for the Government of Canada to not do something in that unfortunate country – if only because we must maintain friendly relations with the US and quid pro quo is still a normal process in international politics. Canadian politicians and opinion makers/leaders need to start discussing how and where, in Afghanistan, we are going to play a highly visible and valued role.

2011 is an arbitrary date and conditions – military and political, inside Afghanistan and in Ottawa - will change and the ‘decision’ may need to change with them.

By 2011 Canada ought to be able to offer about a brigade’s worth of (minimally) effective Afghan National Army units as proof that we have done a full and fair share in Kandahar. But even if we can shift our forces away from Kandahar, or perhaps just away from a combat mission in Kandahar, casualties will still be suffered.

If Canada leaves Afghanistan the Canadian Forces will, without question, end up in another combat mission somewhere else and they will kill and die there, too. See K, below.

Bullets and Beans – the military is a large and extraordinarily complex thing. Very often the public – including a too often disinterested commentariat – fails to understand that there is much, much more to the military than just the combat soldiers in the Forward Operating Bases, or just the men and women in Afghanistan, or at sea, or flying aircraft. The military also has a large infrastructure of its own – one that has, much like too many of Canada’s bridges and overpasses, been ignored and even abused over the past few “decades of darkness.” When, rather than if, the calls come for military belt tightening, DND must be ready to economize but that does not mean that the fuel tanks and spare parts bins can be emptied. Such ‘economies’ are usually false. 

Canadian Politics –  the world's situation has grown increasingly bleak in the 21st century. Terrorism has been joined by growing poverty, disease and despair – which breed more of the same. The problems of poverty, disease and despair are exacerbated by a global credit crisis and a consequential desire, in the developed world, to shut out the cries for help from what is called the “Bottom Billion”. We, in Canada, need a firm, stable government to meet the crises that are emerging, now.

Canadians are divided in their politics but, surely, not in their desire to do what is both right for the world and best for us. The Ruxted Group doubts that there is too much difference, on those fundamental issues, between most Conservatives and most Liberals. If the two parties cannot overcome their differences in approach and work together for the common good then we urge Canadians to elect one or the other to a majority.

Defence Policy – while we are happier now, after the publication of the Canada First Defence Strategy, than we were just a year ago, the five challenges we set out for the government (be brave, be honest with Canadians, offer a grand strategy, table a sound defence policy and commit enough money) remain, largely, unmet.

Economic Issues – while Ruxted welcomes the increase in spending set forth in the “Canada First Defence Strategy” it must be understood that it represents a long, slow decrease in defence capabilities unless the Government of Canada adjusts the way it funds major military operations. The money promised in “Canada First” is probably (barely) adequate if DND does not have to pay for major operations, like Afghanistan, out of its regular budget allocations. The money promised in “Canada First” is, probably, adequate to raise, equip, train and maintain an appropriate (for a G8 nation) military force but it is clearly too little to send any substantial parts of that force into sustained operations.

Federal Follies -  it is time for Canadian politicians to actually consider military requirements, rather just than local and regional political pork-barrelling, when defence projects are approved. Equally, it is time for the defence staffs (civilian and military) to consider the utility of spending 10% or even 20% of capital to get a wee tiny bit of Canadianization. Sometimes the old adage that “the best is the enemy of the good enough” is too true.

Guns and Butter – it is no secret that the Canadian economy, along with those of all the other rich, developed countries, is in recession. When times are tough Canadians, traditionally, want to tighten their belts and the government’s, too. Defence spending is, also traditionally, an early and popular target for cuts and amongst the last ‘spending envelopes’ to be refilled when times are good. Military planners and military members understand the need for prudence but brave men and women are fighting and dying as Canadians celebrate the holidays and a hopefully better New Year.

Helicopters – we are making progress (BZ to Prime Minister Harper’s government, with special thanks to former MND Gordon O’Connor who, faced with a hostile press and a divided military, pressed hard for strategic airlift and new helicopters) but there is still much to do. We need to recognize that aviation is a teeth arm along with the infantry, armour, artillery and engineers and fully ‘integrate’ both helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles into the ground combat system. As we have said before the Government of Canada needs to find and spend billions and billions of ‘new’ dollars to provide the Canadian Forces with enough aviation resources – for land and sea operations.

Infantry – Field Marshal Lord Wavell, one of the 20th centuries most thoughtful soldiers, said, in 1945, in a letter to the editor, “… all battles and all wars are won in the end by the infantryman … the infantryman always bears the brunt. His casualties are heavier, he suffers greater extremes of discomfort and fatigue than the other{s} … the art of the infantryman is less stereotyped and far harder to acquire in modern war than that of any other arm … the infantryman has to use initiative and intelligence in almost every step he moves, every action he takes on the battle-field … we ought therefore to put our men of best intelligence and endurance into the Infantry … yet the Infantry in peace or war receives the lowest rates of pay, the drabbest uniforms, sometimes even the least promising of recruits; most important of all, it ranks lowest in the public estimation and prestige. This is all wrong and should be set right by methods more important than a capital I … in all the long history of war on land the front-line fighting man, whose role is to close with the enemy and force him to flee, surrender, or be killed—the only method by which battles are ever won—has two categories only—those who fight mounted—once the Knights-at-arms, then the Cavalry, now the Armoured Corps—and those who fight on their feet—the inevitable, enduring, despised, long-suffering Infantry (with a very capital I)”. Everyone in government and in DND, too, must remember that the ‘point’ consists of sailors on ships, soldiers in their forward operating bases and aircrew in aircraft.

The rest, including the Chief of the Defence Staff and all the admirals and generals and bureaucrats and, yes, politicians, too, are ”in support” in one way or the other. And so are all the rest of us. When asked, we all pay lip service to this basic fact. Too often, however, our actions speak louder than words. When it is inconvenient to make the extra effort so that somebody at the sharp end gets new boots or a hot meal or spare parts today instead of tomorrow, the "we can't be expected to do everything" attitude applies.

Junk Science Policy – it is time to discard some ‘junk policies,’ especially those related to the slow, cumbersome, bureaucratic nightmare called defence procurement. The Government of Canada needs to be a smart, efficient, effective consumer. We need to buy the right kit in sufficient quantities when it is needed by the sailor in ships, soldiers in the field, aircrew in the air and supporting people in their dockyards, workshops and hangers and we need to buy it without unnecessary frills and at the lowest possible cost consistent with timely delivery, proper quality control and life cycle maintenance.

The Ruxted Group is convinced, based upon the experiences of other countries, that there are better policy models than ones used in Canada and the USA. Let’s get rid of the gas money guzzling behemoth of a defence procurement system – which involves too many government departments, each with competing goals and priorities, and build a sleek, nimble, cost effective one in its place – reporting to one, 100% responsible, minister, within the Department of National Defence.

Above all, DND must manage a continuing dichotomy: It must be prepared to pay a little more for a greater breadth or depth of capability (flexibility), yet it must remain vigilant against paying a premium for only marginal capability gains.

Defence procurement is a mess because the Government of Canada allowed the process (the bureaucracy) to become more important than the product (timely delivery of the right product). The mess can be fixed so that the CF gets the right equipment, on time and at a fair and reasonable price.

Kilometres Miles to go before I sleep – we have “promises to keep” (based on decades of words without deeds in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s) to Afghanistan and the world. Canada led the charge for the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ (R2P) Doctrine in the UN. More and more and more peoples, concentrated in the “Bottom Billion” need, indeed are begging for our protection – will we exercise our self proclaimed ‘responsibility’ to offer effective help or will we just convene yet another meeting of overfed politicians, bureaucrats, ‘activists’ and celebrities in another five star resort? Effective, responsible help is going to require a robust military (combat) capability – force which can be projected and maintained far, far from Canada in some of the most difficult and dangerous places on earth.

Limited Resources to Meet Limitless Requirements – the calls for help, and the promises we need to keep appear limitless, and in practical terms that is the case.

“Canada,” many of us will cry – repeating Pierre Trudeau’s lie in the 1970 White paper A Foreign Policy for Canadians – “is a small, poor country with too many problems of its own. We have huge problems of our own and we cannot be expected to bail out everyone else.” The Ruxted Group repeats: that’s a lie. It was poppycock in 1970 and it is still poppycock now. Canada is, by any fair and sensible measure, one of the ‘top’ (richest) dozen or so nations in the world. Our GDP (nearly $1.5 Trillion) is nearly double than of the bottom 100 countries recognized by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. We are beyond just rich. We are stable, democratic, sophisticated, law abiding and so on – all the things the ‘Bottom Billion” want to become. If we cannot help then we cannot, possibly, call on others to do the heavy lifting. If we cannot help it will be because –and only because – we chose not to help, because we chose to close our eyes and our minds and our hearts to the plight of others, because we are a small, greedy people. Yes, there is an economic crisis; yes, we have serious domestic social problems; yes, we are far from being the richest or most powerful country in the world and yes, we can help.

M to Z will follow soon in a few days.

Helicopters and Money

Helicopters and Money

In a recent article The Ruxted Group said: “At a minimum The Ruxted Group believes we need four brigades – that’s 35-50 armoured (tank), reconnaissance, artillery, engineer, signals/electronic warfare, infantry, aviation, medical, intelligence and logistic support units.” Another recent article, in the mainstream media, highlights one critical aspect of the current capability deficiencies: a transformed Canadian military needs more and different helicopters.

Canadians appear, from the polling we have seen, to want the Canadian Forces to go to some of the world’s most difficult places, like Sudan, and, once there, do some very difficult things.

While there is considerable room for debate re: what kind of units might we need- and, once again, we remind readers of some words of wisdom from a former US Secretary of Defence: “ go to war with the Army you have.  They’re not the Army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” - Donald Rumsfeld, 8 Dec 04 - it is quite clear to us that, for nearly all of the possibilities we can imagine, we will need to have dedicated rotary-wing aviation in support of deployed land forces: helicopters – lots of them.

The Government of Canada has already recognized this and is negotiating to buy some new CH-47 Chinook transport helicopters. That’s a good first step.

Even with the best pilots, whom Canada has, transport helicopters are vulnerable. They, rather like the merchant ships in the Battle of the Atlantic, need protection – armed helicopters of some sort. Such helicopters can do much more than defend the transport helicopters – they can recconoitre and surveille, bring highly accurate direct fire to bear on a wide range of targets, even heavy tanks, and they can use their instrinsic manoeuverability to get to the fight faster in support of our troops when other ground units may be challenged by unforgiving terrain.

There are some tasks for which a large helicopter is ill suited, at least, inefficient. Canada also needs lighter, agile, general-purpose, utility type helicopters suitable for tactical troop and cargo movement, casualty evacuation, and various other tasks. Canada has the CH-146 Griffon helicopter but it currently has limitations regarding unrestricted operations in hot climates and at high altitudes – just the sort of conditions where some strategic problems are likely to occur.

One of the important characteristics of aviation is flexibility. Helicopters are not much limited by terrain and they move relatively quickly. That means that they can accomplish different tasks in far away places. A utility helicopter, for example, can rapidly switch between delivering troops, evacuating casualties, and delivering cargo, often within the same mission. Similarly, helicopter units are multi-functional:  supporting combat operations overseas they can fly Search and Rescue missions in Canada or peacekeeping and disaster relief operations anywhere in the world.

In Ruxted’s view, Canada needs a holistic helicopter replacement programme to acquire, operate and maintain:

•   New shipborne helicopters for the navy – this is underway, at long last; and
•   New helicopters, of several types (cargo, utility, fire support) -- armed as required to support the army in combat operations – this part of the programme is just beginning and must continue the development of a balanced, capable rotary-wing force.

The key element is, as always, money.

We expended $790 Million to buy 15 Cormorant Search and Rescue helicopters. We are going to pay:

•   $5,000 Million to buy 28 CH-148 Cyclone shipborne helicopters; and

•   $4,700 Million to buy 16 Chinook helicopters.

What we can see is that, at current price/inflation rates, it costs about $225 Million to buy (both aircraft and necessary support infrastructure) and maintain/sustain each large, complex helicopter. According to the authoritative Federation of American Scientists, for a Chinook, these “total cost of ownership” figures are consistent with (10 year old) US data. The same source says that the total cost of ownership of a UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter or an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter is likely to be higher.  There are, to be sure, alternatives to those two ultra-modern and costly machines. The United States Marine Corps, for example, flies the less expensive, but also less capable, UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Cobra helicopters – updated versions of proven but Vietnam war era machines.

The Ruxted Group does not advocate one aircraft or another, but it does call for billions and billions – a few tens of billions – of new money to be spent sooner rather than later on new army aviation capabilities – armed/attack and utility helicopters, at least. Without that new money to buy those new capabilities the Canadian Forces will be unable to do many of the good things Canadians want them to do. To that end we repeat our call for a budget boost: a big boost and soon, please.