Looking At The Future Canadian Forces

September 1, 2007 by David J. Bercuson

PHOTOS: AIRMAN NATHAN ALLEN, U.S. AIR FORCE; LOCKHEED MARTIN

PHOTOS: AIRMAN NATHAN ALLEN, U.S. AIR FORCE; LOCKHEED MARTIN

Canadian Forces Warrant Officer Blair Smith examines the flight instruments of a Hercules C-130J medium-lift aircraft (above) at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, the Conservative government quashed the military’s draft of a new Canadian defence policy statement sometime in the late fall of 2006 or early winter of 2007. As of the end of June, no new policy statement has emerged. Nor is it likely to, given the government’s growing list of defence problems.

First, opposition to the mission to Afghanistan continues to grow with every casualty–there are now more than 60 soldiers and one diplomat–and every alleged revelation of the largely manufactured “detainee” issue by certain Canadian newspapers and interest groups.

Second, there is growing opposition to sole-source procurement, in whatever form, even to the point where a manufacturer trying to sell a tactical transport that won’t even be test-flown for at least another year is challenging the government’s decision to buy tactical transports that are already in service with a number of allied air forces.

It is fairly simple to forecast what the Canadian air force of 2017 is going to look like from orders already made, projects already entered into, commitments that have been backed up by lots of cash and active planning for and testing of equipment that will come into use well within the next decade.

It will deploy an off-the-shelf variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Close to a billion dollars has now been committed towards that purchase. There will likely be at least two squadrons of attack helicopters to escort the new Chinook transport helicopters and to back up the army. There will be two aerial tankers for the F-35s and four heavy lift C-17s for the army. There will be medium-lift transports, likely Hercules C-130Js, to fly a Canadian battalion virtually anywhere at very short notice. There will also be new fleets of maritime helicopters (which are about to arrive) and fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft to go with the Cormorants already flying. There will be both strategic unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for long range surveillance of our coasts and the Arctic, and tactical UAVs for the troops.

Such an air force will be capable of both joint operations with Canada’s army and navy and also fully capable of interoperable missions with other national air forces such as was the case with the Kosovo/Serbia bombings of 1999.

Similarly with the navy, there will be three Joint Support Ships to back up at least two sea-going task groups and to transport soldiers, land them, and support them ashore. There will be refurbished Halifax-class frigates or new single-surface combatants with full sea-going command and control capabilities, guns, cruise missiles and modern anti-aircraft protection. There will be a small fleet of armed corvette-type arctic patrol vessels, a coastal defence fleet of some sort to replace the current Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels, and the new Orca-class coastal-training vessels. The navy will be capable of joint operations with the army and air force and interoperable with both United States and friendly Pacific naval forces. It will have both “blue” and “brown” water capabilities. It may or may not have submarines but it ought to have subs with air-independent propulsion capabilities.

The only service whose future is not clear right now is the army, which, ironically, is currently getting most of the public’s attention. The army is embroiled in an old-fashioned insurgency of the type that could have confronted Roman soldiers of old. It is, understandably, rushing to equip and train itself for this type of war. This is, after all, the first real insurgency that the Canadian army has ever fought, let alone trained for, and under the circumstances of actual war, there is going to be an understandable tendency in the army to turn itself into an anti-insurgency force.

If so, that would be a great mistake. Not only is war between states not obsolete, but there are literally dozens of flash points around the world where the threat of force, as best symbolized by “boots on the ground,” might be sufficient to maintain peace. The U.S., in its post-unilateralist phase under the next administration, will want and need allies who can deploy ground forces if necessary. So will the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations. A modern army, with a mix of tracked and wheeled vehicles, of three mechanized brigades–one at home, one deployable by air, one deployable by sea, all interoperable and capable of joint operations with the navy and air force–would fit that bill the best.

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