Canadian Army teaching Ukrainians (and learning too)

March 6, 2016 by Adam Day

Lost in all the news about war in the Middle East is that there is still a simmering conflict in Ukraine’s east between loyalist Ukrainians and rebels allied with Russian interests. Much of Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia is still not under the control of the government in Kyiv and the entire region teeters between peace and war.

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance works to deter Russian aggression by moving troops and equipment eastward, Canada has also contributed by sending hundreds of military trainers to the Ukraine to help prepare its forces should the war heat up again.

There are roughly 200 Canadian trainers in the country, according to the Department of National Defence, teaching basic soldier skills such as how to shoot, move and communicate on the battlefield, apply first aid and defeat threats such as improvised explosive devices.

While Canada’s recent major combat experiences have been against an enemy with remarkably inferior capabilities to the Russians—think roadside bombs in plastic jugs, not unmanned aerial vehicles, guided missiles and cyber-attacks—the commander of the recently returned rotation was still optimistic in his assessment of the mission’s overall impact.

“This is not Afghanistan, it’s a much more hybrid war; a mixture of everything from insurgency, roadside bombs, conventional tactics and cyber-electronic warfare. So it’s a quite a formidable foe they are facing there,” Lieutenant-Colonel Jason Guiney told the CBC. He noted that Ukrainian officers were initially unsure how Canada’s experience in Afghanistan pertained to their war. “We really established our credibility as instructors, and I think that helped sort out any doubts they may have had about what the Canadian Army could offer them.”

Guiney recently returned to Canada with his troops, most of whom were drawn from Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in Ontario. They were replaced by soldiers from CFB Valcartier in Quebec. The training mission is in western Ukraine, well away from the front lines of the conflict.

The Canadian military is learning quite a bit during this training mission that challenges its own doctrine, according to Guiney. “They are quite open about the use of drones, radio jamming, modern tanks. These are lessons we didn’t learn in Afghanistan, and are very valuable lessons for our own army.”

Survey reveals bad news


Canada’s new Minister of National Defence, Harjit Sajjan, has repeatedly spoken about the need to understand the threats we face, to grasp where they come from and why they exist, so that we can predict what will happen. “We need to get better at identifying the warning signs early,” said Sajjan at the Halifax Security Forum in November. “We need to understand the real vulnerabilities.”


Frontlines 1

On that note, the Pew Global Research group conducts a survey every year to gauge what people across the world are thinking about important current topics. They call it the Global Attitudes Survey and in 2015 the Pew researchers discovered something that Sajjan might find interesting. However, there is more than one way to look at the data.

In 11 countries with significant Muslim populations, the Pew researchers asked about respondents’ opinions on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and labelled the resulting graph “Views of ISIS overwhelmingly negative.”

However, some quick back-of-the-napkin calculations show that while the heading is technically correct, there is some information in this survey of potentially greater importance. Due to the massive size of some of the countries surveyed, the potential number of ISIS supporters is frighteningly high.

More than 200 million people in those 11 countries say they don’t know if they have a favourable or unfavourable opinion of ISIS. And more than 50 million have a favourable opinion. If that isn’t an early warning sign, what is? 

New ships and planes coming­—soon


If there is one word that seems to universally make people sleepy, it’s ‘procurement.’ But considering the money involved, we really should be paying more attention. Canada is in the midst of its ongoing National Shipbuilding Strategy, which is worth more than $30 billion, while key decisions are being made about the where and how to spend billions on new fighter jets and other planes.

Meanwhile, there is evidence that the procurement system itself may be in disarray. A recent report by analyst David Perry of the University of Calgary sheds some light on the topic—and it’s actually kind of interesting stuff.

Perry notes that defence procurement is characterized by a lack of capacity and burdened by extensive delays. He looked at 59 procurement projects and found that 63 per cent of them are behind schedule. The late projects include the following key acquisitions: joint-support ships, fixed-wing search-and- rescue aircraft, lightweight towed howitzers, helicopters and tactical armoured patrol vehicles.

The long election period chosen by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have been a critical factor in delaying or jeopardizing a good number of these projects.

“Federal elections may be good for democracy, but the campaigns—particularly the lengthy one recently held in Canada—can be crippling for plans to better arm our military,” said Perry. “Just before the election was called, there were public signs of important progress being made in what has long been a frustratingly slow and bureaucratically complex procurement process. But then the campaign left the Department of National Defence unable to secure approvals from either a defence minister or the Treasury Board, until the election ended and the new prime minister appointed the current cabinet.

“I can’t imagine that calendar year 2015 is going to be anything other than a very bad year for defence procurement,” Perry told the Toronto Star. “You had the election and this huge turnover and it’s going to amount to another significant chunk of lost time.”

Meanwhile, conflicts around the world are heating up and  Canada’s military needs its new equipment. So while procurement may not be the most exciting military activity, it’s also likely the one to watch this year.


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