Tuesday, 22 November 2016


It was announced today in Ottawa that the government intended to purchase 18 F-18 'Super Hornets' to augment Canada's fighter fleet. 

Canadian Defence Matters has argued for some time that one reasonable answer to Canada's fighter replacement problem was a mixed buy. 

A mixed fleet of approximately 60 F-18 Super Hornets along with about 20 F-35 'Lightnings' would meet Canada's need for continental defence as well as coalition warfare.

Given the published costs of procurement and sustainment of both aircraft, but without detailed financial analysis, it seems likely that such a force would not cost more then the sixty-five F-35's that were envisioned at one time.

A fleet like this would see the Super Hornets used mainly for NORAD duties while the F-35's would be co-located with 2 Wing for expeditionary tasks.

It should be noted at this point that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a mixed fleet. If the RCAF finds it possible to maintain mixed fleets of transport aircraft, mixed fleets of helicopters and even mixed fleets of training aircraft of mixed ownership, then it is not impossible for it to manage a mixed fleet of fighters.

It is also true that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the government "kicking the decision down the road" as some critics have characterized this recent announcement. The idea of decreasing the average age of Canada's fighter fleet is perfectly reasonable, as is the idea of hedging our bets against a still troubled F-35 program.

It has been argued that the governments contention that the current inventory of F-18's is in desperate need of renewal is not true. The claim that there is a need to immediately replace the CF-18s has been undercut by some Air Force officers who have pointed out the aircraft can keep flying until at least 2025.

In fact, both positions are correct. Our fighter jet fleet is aging and managing airframe hours is becoming a problem. At the same time, as any airshow patron can attest, in theory a war bird can be kept going indefinitely with enough care, attention, money, and a gentle life style.  It is also true that those RCAF officers who believe that Canada is capable of first running a competition, procuring new aircraft and having them in service inside nine years have not been paying attention.

What is not reasonable is the troubling idea that the government may be trying to find a way to avoid renewing the fleet entirely. 

Canadian Defence Matters advocates a mixed fleet of F-18 Super Hornets and F-35's as a way of maintaining a reasonable number of fighters in service, a way of 'future proofing' our decision and a hedge against the possible failure of the F-35 program. It is not a strategy guaranteed to achieve the lowest cost of ownership.

If it is the governments intention to start the process of renewing Canada's fighter fleet then this is a positive sign.  If the intention is to attempt to save money by maintaining an aging fleet of CF-18 Hornets for domestic tasks with a small increment of Super Hornets for all extra-national tasks then it is a recipe for failure.

The future of Canada's fighter force has started, as with all military decisions, the outcome will not necessarily be what is expected.

Canada says it will buy 18 Super Hornet fighter jets — but the cost of aircraft is unknown, David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen 

2 Wing - Air Expeditionary Wing

The U.S. Military Will Bring F-35s Into Service Without Finishing Them Program office cuts development short by DAN GRAZIER 

Wednesday, 16 November 2016


The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States has led to a certain degree of panic in the general population and the media in particular.  After a hard fought and bitter campaign south of the border it is difficult not to be caught up in the wave of anxiety which accompanies all discussions of a Trump presidency.

Many observers are making the same mistake which caused Mr. Trump’s victory to come as such a surprise to so many.  The president elect is such an overwhelming presence as to overwhelm a clear view of his policies, their support among the American public and their relative legitimacy.

By Canadian standards Donald Trump is not an electable figure. The tactics he uses and the chest-thumping braggadocio that accompany them are fortunately alien to the standards that Canadians expect of public figures in this country. Add to that the frankly reprehensible organizations that were allowed to align themselves unchecked with his campaign were enough to swamp all rational discussion of the forces and beliefs that he championed. 

The truth is that even though president-elect Donald Trump is such an unlikable figure does not change the fact that some of the causes he espouses have deep and reasonable roots in the American political scene. One of these causes is what might be sometimes called “isolationism” by those who oppose it, or a re-ordering of strategic priorities by those who favour it.

For almost the first one hundred and fifty years of its existence the foreign policy goals of the United States were, at least as publicly articulated, to stand apart from foreign entanglements.  Their failure to achieve this goal, especially in modern times, does not make it any none the less a genuine part of the American ideal.

In her book, “American Umpire”, and the subsequent PBS documentary of the same name, Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman argues that “the United States acted not as an empire in modern foreign relations, but as a kind of umpire, to compel acquiescence as necessary with rules that had earned broad legitimacy.”

Her position is that although America is no angel, and while the nation’s lofty rhetoric often falls short, “this does not make it an empire, nor does it mean that America’s highest ideals are hollow illusion”.

It is true that her thesis that, although actions in countries such as the Philippines saw America “briefly embracing European-style imperialism”, in the end “unprecedented in all of human history, America soon gave up its principle colony and protectorates voluntarily. It backed into imperialism and then turned around and backed out.” appeals to the American ego. However the fact that this interpretation of events puts American actions in a positive light does not make her argument less valid.

In the same vein Hoffman argues that post 9/11, “calling the United States an empire has yielded no practical solutions because the nation and the world system in which it fits are simply not structured in that way.” Instead, Hoffman sees America as “the enforcer of what is, most of the time, the collective will: the maintenance of a world system with relatively open trade borders, in which arbitration and economic sanctions are the preferred method of keeping the peace and greater and greater numbers of people have at least some political rights.”

Taking this critique a step farther she makes the claim that “American diplomacy in the twentieth century has been far more triumphant than tragic.” America is not an Empire, but rather a “player-umpire.” This is “not completely fair to anyone, the umpire or the other players. But it is often better than having no ump at all”

Despite having said that “it is often better than having no ump at all” Hoffman goes on to explore the idea that being the “umpire” is no longer working for her country. While the United States has benefited, it has come at a cost. U.S. defence spending represents about 20% of the federal budget; they regularly spend more on defence than the next 28 countries combined. In 1947, the U.S. represented roughly half of the world's manufacturing capacity. Today it is less than 20%. Yet allies fail to meet their minimal commitments on defence spending confident that the U.S. will defend them. This is an argument that Canadians in particular will have difficulty disputing.

In the end, 95% of all military personnel around the world who are stationed outside their home counties are American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Their job is difficult, unpredictable, and often thankless. The question is, how long are they prepared to keep doing it?

Under a Trump presidency there is every possibility that these feelings, the desire to avoid foreign entanglements, long dormant but still alive in the American psyche, may come to have a greater influence on U.S. policies.  After we get over the shock of seeing Donald J. Trump in the White House Canadians are going to have to think of how they are going to react to the major changes happening with our most important ally.

American Umpire by Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman

Friday, 11 November 2016


School children in Canada are reminded every year of John McCrae's poem " In Flanders Fields" and the poppies that are worn for remembrance day. The poppies, and to a lesser extent the poem, are common on November the 11th all over the Commonwealth.

Those symbols and even the date, are not as commonly commemorated in the United States. This is unlikely because the wearing of the poppy and it's connection to "In Flanders Fields" are an American invention. 

The idea for the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy was conceived by Moina Michael in November of 1918 while she was working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries headquarters. While reading a magazine she came across a page that carried a vivid colour illustration for the poem "We Shall Not Sleep" (as the poem was miss-titled in the United States)

The lush illustration in the Ladies Home Journal, an advertisement for the surgical supply company Bauer and Black, featured a Philip Lyford painting of American doughboys rising to heaven. It was, by current standards, overly sentimental. Ms. Michael's reaction to it was also more in keeping with the attitudes of that time then with our own. She made a personal pledge to ‘keep the faith’ and vowed always to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance and as an emblem for “keeping the faith with all who died.”

After the war was over, Michael returned to the University of Georgia and taught a class of disabled servicemen. Realizing the need to provide financial and occupational support for these servicemen, she pursued the idea of selling silk poppies as a means of raising funds to assist disabled veterans. In 1921, her efforts resulted in the poppy being adopted as a symbol of remembrance for war veterans by the American Legion Auxillery, and by Earl Haig's British Legion Appeal Fund later that year.

Moina Michael's response to " In Flanders Fields" is in stark contrast to the ideals which inform our own, more enlightened, age. It is widely understood now that the correct attitude to the current generation of  veterans is to wear a poppy for a week or so around the beginning of November and take a minute or two of silence on the eleventh. 

This is the most that can, or should, be expected of the general public. The government is in charge of caring for veterans, although to be fair it is not considered to be a particularly important issue during elections. As long as the whole subject is kept out of mind for the rest of the year, the government is seen to be doing it's duty and as for the rest of us, we wear a poppy in November.

Not content with "keeping faith" Moina Michaels was moved to write a poem in response to Capt. McCrae's ode. 

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red

We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016


Image result for french stealth frigate  As James Parker observes at Frontline Defence, it is hard to procure warships. As he points out complexity and costs will only increase in the future. Factors driving these costs include: last minute contract and design changes requested by the purchasing governments; system integration complexities due to emerging technologies; strained relationships between civilian and government work forces; and variations in resource cost between the time of requirement identification and contract signing.

In designing the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) the government of the day was trying, among other things, to maintain in-depth and in-house expertise in war vessel design and construction by avoiding the need to ramp-up an idle naval industry every few decades to build a couple of complex warships.

This is an admirable goal which it was hoped could be achieved by combining the construction of all government fleets so as to reach a ‘steady state’ of building which delivered a new warship, or Coastguard vessel, every year or so. What the current government is discovering is that the cost of following this model is an aging navy in which warships, which were purchased in a block buy over a shorter period of time, are not being replaced as they reach the end of their design lives.

In fact the Liberals have promised to streamline building of navy frigates, but are not clear on the number of ships to be acquired or how much they will cost. As unlikely as it sounds, the government says that they are committed to purchasing an undetermined number of warships for a price, which will include designing and eventually building the new warships, that will be negotiated through the prime contractor, Irving Shipbuilding of Nova Scotia, at a later date.

It seems unlikely that any entity other than a government would agree to purchase an unknown number of anything for an unknown price, but perhaps it is necessary to move the process along.

As Parker notes, certain obstacles to timely warship procurement are common. Some of the more frequent include last minute contract and design changes requested by the purchasing governments as well as system integration complexities due to emerging technologies. Add to this the fact that the period of time from the decision to construct a ship to actually having a ship can take years making it impossible to keep up with technological advances, let alone integrate them, during that time period.

Given these factors it is imperative that any warships that Canada does build include provisions for modality, a suitable growth margin and enough flexibility built in to them to allow for the demands of evolving technology and political requirements.

One way to try to increase the speed at which warships could be procured would be to build the hulls of the flexible warships describe above equipped with an existing sensor and weapons suite. Such a system is available in the Halifax-class Modernization / Frigate Life Extension program.

The HCM/FELEX project, along with other separately-funded projects within the Halifax-Class Modernization program, brings enhanced capabilities which the Navy believes will meet the needs required by new threats and changing operating environments. These include systems include:

A new command and control system;
New radar suite;
Interrogator Friend or Foe Mode S/5;
Internal communications system upgrade;
Harpoon missile system upgrade (surface to surface); and
Electronic warfare system upgrade;
Long-range infrared search and track system (SIRIUS); and
Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (surface to air).

By using these proven and in service systems as the basis for a ‘first flight’ of new Canadian warships many of the delays inherent in acquiring all new systems and their subsequent integration could be avoided.

Modern warships have a life-span that often exceeds thirty years. In that time they can expect to be updated and refitted on a regular basis. New Canadian frigates equipped in the same manner as our current Halifax class could be updated with newer systems over the course of their service, but in the meantime they would be available in a timely manner.

Why is it So Hard to Procure a Warship? By James Parker

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy: A Five-Year Assessment

Cost and Canadian content concerns hover over warship plans By Murray Brewster


Halifax-class Modernization / Frigate Life Extension

Wednesday, 26 October 2016


On July 8th of this year, while in Warsaw, Prime Minister Trudeau announced Canada’s largest sustained military presence in Europe in more than a decade. Canada plans to lead what is described as ‘a robust multinational NATO battlegroup’ in Latvia, Canada will provide 450 troops to the 1,000 strong battlegroup slated to defend Latvia.

Although Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan said recently that Canada’s military role in Eastern Europe has shifted from reassurance to deterrence the mission in Latvia is not a classic deterrent posture and it is widely believed that the message being sent by this deployment is aimed at both Russia and at NATO itself.

One of the issues that throw the deterrent aspect of this force into doubt is a key finding of a Rand Report war gaming the defence of the Baltics.  That report found that across multiple games using a wide range of expert participants playing both sides, the longest it took Russian forces to reach the outskirts of Tallinn and Riga was 60 hours.

It is in that context that it should be understood that the Canadian Forces that will be deployed, and in fact the entire NATO brigade, lack the numbers and equipment to realistically combat potential Russian aggression. Advocates of the deployment know this. That is why they argue that the force’s presence will serve as a tripwire that will deter Russian aggression, since Russia will fear a broader confrontation with NATO.

A more cynical, if probably more accurate interpretation of this deployment, is that as Stephen Saideman a professor at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs has pointed out, Canada and its battle-group allies are there to be sacrificed in order to ensure that NATO members don’t back down from their collective obligations.

However, there is more than a conventional military threat from Russia. NATO must seek to deter any application of Russia’s so-called “hybrid warfare” capabilities to its Baltic members. Hybrid warfare refers to the combination of conventional military power, irregular tactics, political and information warfare, and economic and diplomatic pressure by a foreign power to interfere in a country’s affairs. Russia has used these tactics to occupy Crimea in Ukraine and provoke and support a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.

Writing at OpenCanada.org Misha Boutilier and Shahryar Pasandideh Gholamali have pointed out that this mission poses significant political and legal complexities. It is unclear what role NATO forces would play in peacetime, during crises or even during conflict. Will Canadian infantry conduct foot patrols along the Russian border? If so, what will be the rules of engagement during peacetime, crises and war? What restrictions will the Baltic States place on these forces?

Has anyone asked what caveats our NATO allies will place on their troops should a serious crisis with Russia or armed local proxies, a very real threat, are encountered? Will all the elements of ‘our’ battlegroup be able to respond in the same way to complex events? Will national elements need to contact their respective governments for instructions before advising their nominal commander of their ability to carry out orders?

These are not theoretical questions. National caveats on personnel participating in NATO-led operations are not a new challenge. Lessons learned from operations in a number of NATO missions have emphasized the impact of caveats on those missions. There is no reason to believe that the problems of constraints (i.e. caveats), which are tied directly to the level of national interests a country has in a particular mission and the level of risk it is willing to take, have been solved.

It can be assumed that a large part of the reason for Canada’s participation in this latest phase of Operation REASSURANCE is to insure for itself a ‘place at the table’ during NATO deliberations.  It is a traditional Canadian strategy to take leadership positions with our allies based on the calculated use of forces available.

But what of those forces themselves?  Canadian Defence Matters has pointed out in the past that if our forces are not there simply to act as ‘speed bumps” for passing Russian armoured forces then there must be a plan to reinforce or extract them in the event deterrence fails and major hostilities occur.

The same questions should be asked about what our intentions are concerning the likelihood of hybrid warfare. How will we, and our allies, react to the very real likelihood of non-traditional conflict?  If it is true that Canada and its battle-group allies are there to be sacrificed in order to ensure that NATO members don’t back down from their collective obligations, then how does Canada plan to live up to those obligations?

Canada must answer the question for itself, before Moscow asks it for us. How far we are prepared to go to defend our Eastern European allies and what measures are we willing to put in place to deal with the responsibility of putting Canadian soldiers in harm’s way?

Canada makes commitment to NATO Defence and deterrence measures

Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank
War gaming the Defense of the Baltics
David A. Shlapak and Michael W. Johnson

Canadian soldiers are the new deterrents in the Baltics

When it comes to deterring Russia, will Canada’s Latvia deployment do the trick?

Looking to the Future: NATO Training Mission-Iraq



Wednesday, 5 October 2016


Writing in the "The Dispatch" Stephen Saideman  has reviewed the defence review and noted that there is a split between the academic defence community which has been advocating hard choices and those who speak for the retired military community whom he believes wish to avoid those decisions.

It is his belief that many retired military speakers think that "combat capable" means the same as “full spectrum” or "flexible" and that they assume that any choice to have less of one kind of capability would mean that the Canadian Armed Forces would not be able to do combat.

No matter what the conclusions of the Defence Review, the missions will not change nor, it seems likely, will spending patterns. The Defence Minister has already indicated that there will be no major changes on the issues of personnel and bases.

So the DND and the CAF will need to make decisions about where and how funds available are going to be spent and hard choices will have to be made and, as Saideman points out, there are no advocacy groups for spending money on readiness, exercising, and maintenance.  Yet these are the areas that will get cut, if no hard decisions are made, and getting those choices wrong  will get people killed.

Examples are not hard to find. As Paul J.Doyle makes clear in a paper entitled "Canada’s Air Force Kinetic Capability for the 21st Century: What Is Needed?" published in "Canadian Aerospace and Joint Studies, the Curtis papers  Vol. 1 • Book 1: 2009 | 2010 – Select Masters in Defence Studies"the Canadian Army was not prepared for combat in Afghanistan.

The stand-up of 1 Canadian Air Division, along with the dissolution of the air groups in 1997, started  the disengagement of the fighter force from the Canadian Army which accelerated through the 1990s. The end of the brigade-level Exercise RENDEZVOUS in 1997 also limited the large event training exercises for CF-18s with Army brigades. As the fighter force concentrated on independent missions  the number of fighter pilots qualified as FACs (Forward Air Controllers) steadily decreased.

The unintended consequences of these incidents led to the tragic events in September 2006 where a USAF A-10 mistakenly fired on Canadian troops, killing one soldier and wounding over 30 in a single strafing pass. As detailed in the DND inquiry into the incident there were many individual occurrences that led to this tragic event, from obscured visibility to fatigue, but one key contribution was the lack of a tactical air control party (TACP) with the Canadians at the brigade or battle group level.

As subsequent investigations discovered, by 2006 the Canadian Forces was not following doctrine, and TACPs had not been formed or deployed into the theatre of operations In the end it took this accident to bring this deficiency to light.

This is not just a case of each service following it's own path with no attempt at 'jointness". It is not enough to mandate cross-service cooperation in all stages of the military processes, from research, through procurement and into operations and hope that it works. Hard choices have to be made about priorities, The events of September 2006 show what happens when the hard choices are not made.

There is no constituency in the DND or the CAF for "jointness" any more then there is for  readiness, exercising, and maintenance. This has to provided by civilian and military leadership. If the Defence Review concludes that 'business as usual' results in more then political embarrassment, that the consequences are combat deaths, then it will not have been a waste of effort.

Reviewing the Summer of the Defence Review by STEPHEN SAIDEMAN

Canadian Aerospace and Joint Studies, the Curtis papers  Vol. 1 • Book 1: 2009 | 2010 – Select Masters in Defence Studies Paper
Chapter 5 –  Canada’s Air Force Kinetic Capability for the 21st Century: What Is Needed? Major Paul J. Doyle

Inquiry: A-10A Friendly Fire Incident 4 September 2006, Panjwayi District, Afghanistan Department of National Defence, Board of Inquiry Minutes of Proceeding  http://milnewstbay.pbworks.com/f/A10_BOI_Report_e.pdf

Friday, 16 September 2016


It has been reported that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has stated that the navy's submarines are “play a critical role for sovereignty”, but that the government has not decided whether to spend more money to keep them for the long term.

This is, on the face of it, an astonishing statement. There is a naval capability that our Minister of Nation Defence has defined as “critical for sovereignty” but the government is not sure if it wants to spend the money necessary to maintain that capability. Is it possible that this government does not understand what it is constituted for? Or is it possible that the minister is engaging in hyperbole for the sake of increasing his department’s budget?

So just how ‘critical’ is our submarine service?

In press reports, Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd described the vessels as “essential” to the navy’s ability to protect the country and help NATO, an assessment that was echoed by defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance. “As Canadians, I think we want to know who’s operating on, above and below our water from a sovereignty perspective,” Lloyd was reported as sayings. “The one strategic asset that allows you to understand what’s operating below the water is a submarine. Nothing else can replace that.”

It is true that according to internal Defence Department  documents that the navy’s submarine fleet will have to be withdrawn in the next few years unless the federal government opts to spend billions to upgrade the ships.

The documents show that the first submarine, HMCS Victoria, is scheduled to reach its end of service life in 2022. The other three vessels will follow until the last, HMCS Windsor, retires in 2027. The navy estimates that extending their usefulness would cost between $1.5 billion and $3 billion, depending on the upgrades that are made and how long they are to remain in service.

To put this in context it should be noted that Canada has the longest coastline in the world, 202,080 km (125,567 miles) altogether. It is also true that International trade makes up a large part of the Canadian economy and that a huge part of that trade moves by sea. In fact at the end of 2015, Canada’s exports of goods and services were 31% as large as GDP and amounted to $611 billion.

Maritime transport is essential to the entire world's economy as over 90% of the world's trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move mass goods and raw materials around the world.

It is estimated that foreign trade sustains one out of every four Canadian jobs and one out of five jobs in Canada depends on exports, either directly or indirectly. Even our trade with the United States is dependent on marine transportation, which accounted for almost a fifth of the volume of Canada’s exports to the United States and over 95 percent of the approximately 180 million tonnes of commodities and processed goods Canada exports to other countries annually.

What all this means is that what Canada must have, like most of the other nations on earth, is “a stable, rules-based global order which supports the peaceful resolution of disputes, facilitates free and open trade and enables unfettered access to the global commons to support economic development”, to quote from the most recent  Australian DefenceWhite Paper

That same paper also notes that “the framework of the rulesbased global order is under increasing pressure and has shown signs of fragility. Rules for the global commons of the high seas (emphasis added), cyberspace and space will continue to be challenged by states and nonstate actors, leading to uncertainty and tension.”

What part do submarines play in supporting this hoped for stable, rules based global order? According to the Department of National Defence Canada uses submarines for:
  •  Fisheries patrols
  • Surveillance of all three Canadian coastlines
  • Support to maritime law enforcement and other governmental departments
  • Maintenance of fleet skills
  • Bilateral engagement with continental defence partners
  • Participation in multinational exercises
  • Deterrence of would-be terrorists, smugglers and polluters
That department also maintains that Victoria-class submarines represent the Royal Canadian Navy’s “key contribution to Canada’s deployable strategic military assets.”

So it would appear that Minister Sajjan’s statement may not be an exaggeration. Given the shrinking nature of the RCN it may well be that our submarine fleet does indeed play a critical role in Canada's’ sovereignty.

If this is this is indeed the case then there are two alternative explanations for the Minister’s comment. Either he is attempting to publicly back the Prime Minister and the rest of the cabinet into a position from which they have no alternative but to fund the submarine program, or this government believes that sovereignty, and economic well being, are negotiable and can be disposed of on the altar of political necessity.

It is also possible that the current government has correctly concluded that Canadians have become so indifferent to questions of sovereignty and national responsibility that they do not care what the government does on these issues unless it impacts them personally, in the form of jobs or taxes.

 So is this really about maintaining a Canadian submarine capability or is it about maintaining the kind of government Canada has and wants?

Submarines critical for defence, but no decision on upgrades – Sajjan

Sunk without subs

Submarine Equipment Life Extension


Industry Information —Canadian Port Industry

Royal Canadian Navy Submarines: Fleet Status – Overview