Face to Face

Face to Face: Is the North Warning System obsolete?
Face to Face

Face to Face: Is the North Warning System obsolete?

ANDREA CHARRON is associate professor and director of the Centre for Defence and Security Studies at the University of Manitoba. The North Warning System (NWS) is a series of ground-based, unmanned (but contractor-maintained), short- and long-range radar stations arrayed from Alaska to Greenland.  The system has always suffered from an identity crisis. Its ability to provide adequate warning—restricted to the air domain only—has long been an issue. And its 1980s-era communications system is modest. It remains, however, Norad’s main early-warning radar system for the air defence of North America. It is now inadequate, given its location, growing geopolitical tensions, new technologies and multi-domain threats, not to mention environmental concerns. The system’s capability must be reima...
Is war inevitable?
Face to Face

Is war inevitable?

The word ‘inevitable’ sets me off. It suggests that wars simply happen. Wars become abstractions, beyond human control, explanation and history. That is nonsense. A century on, the notion that the First World War was inevitable still lingers. Many children (including my own) pass their Grade 10 history classes with lofty ideas about how the war started. My own students remember the acronym they spewed out for the exam. MAIN was the culprit: Militarism; Alliances; Imperialism; Nationalism. Such ‘isms’ suggest no single cause; the responsibility for the war had to be shared. Long-term forces were to blame. These ideas have a history. They emerged in strength after 1919, partly in response to Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, which legally compelled Germany to pay reparations for ...
Should Canada have gone to war in September 1939?
Face to Face

Should Canada have gone to war in September 1939?

In 1939, Canada was the only independent nation in North America to declare war on Germany. A member of the British Commonwealth, Canada was nonetheless independent in foreign and defence policy and had been so since the Statute of Westminster in 1931. The British colonies in the Caribbean and in South America were not independent, and they went to war automatically as soon as Britain did on Sept. 3. But Canada waited until Sept. 10 to declare war. It should not have done so. Why? Because Canada’s national interests were not directly threatened by Germany. It was protected by the vast distances of the Atlantic Ocean from any attempts at major landings by German forces; no aircraft yet developed could attack Canada from Europe and there were no missiles that could do so. If such attacks ...
Face to Face: Should space be weaponized?
Face to Face

Face to Face: Should space be weaponized?

In late March, India announced that it had successfully shot down one of its own satellites using an interceptor fired from the ground. In doing so, India became only the fourth nation to gain this capacity after the United States, Russia and China. The move brought the weaponization of space even closer, adding to steps that have been taken ever since the launch of the first military communications and reconnaissance satellites in the 1960s. As much as any of us may have wished this would not happen, it was almost inevitable. Few human inventions have been brought to fruition without military purposes in mind. Whatever new technologies humans invent and for whatever purpose, military applications and weapons are not far behind. Take the weaponization of the airplane as an example. Fol...
Was D-Day perfectly timed?
Face to Face

Was D-Day perfectly timed?

  On the eve of the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, prepared two statements about Operation Overlord, the assault on Fortress Europe. Despite the horrendous weather, Eisenhower gave the go-ahead, delaying the landings for one day. We know the eventual result, but it is worth remembering how Eisenhower pondered the real possibility that Overlord would fail, and that he would have to withdraw his forces. In the message he wrote but never used, Eisenhower said, “My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available.” “Time and place.” A crucial phrase, for only in 1944 did Eisenhower have operational and strategic control over the many elements that would make Overlord a success. Th...
Face to face: Is the Spitfire the most elegant aircraft ever built?
Face to Face

Face to face: Is the Spitfire the most elegant aircraft ever built?

Elegance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder and highly subjective. One could ask the same question about scotch, wine or cars. And superlatives are dangerously inflexible words: terms like ‘most,’ ‘always’ and ‘forever’ should be avoided (especially in matters of the heart). Moreover, pilots (like sailors) are notoriously romantic; why else are ships and aircraft referred to as ‘she’? The Spitfire was undoubtedly an attractive aircraft, especially before its wings were mutilated by 20-millimetre cannon and its wingtips shortened and squared off in the low-altitude versions. Yet was it the “most” of anything? It was certainly not the most comfortable. Many pilots, having flown in the cramped quarters of a Spitfire, expressed delight at the roominess of American fighter aircraft....