According to one of my regular readers, it is extremely rare that over the years I have written on defence related events in Canada. On checking I find that he is actually right but it certainly does not mean that, just as I do in relation to Australia, I do not keep abreast of issues impacting on both these large and important nations and particularly so in the course of the latter’s involvement as a member of AUKUS.
Given the importance of Canada and the nation being a vital member of Nato it is my intention to put this right. Given the size of Canada, the mistake would be in attempting to make comparisons between Canada to the US particularly is relation to strength of individual defence related capabilities. One may of course be critical that, just as the UK, Germany, France and other Nato member states had been, Canada had been slow to modernise its defence capabilities following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and theoretical ending of the long ‘cold war’ period.
Canada, a country that is not only large – it is actually the world’s second largest country by total area – but also the country that has the largest coastline in the world. It is a nation that has massive resources and yet it is one that has a population of less that 40m – maybe half as many as the United Kingdom. I had visited Canada on many occasions back in the early 1980’s but sadly, never since then. I might also add for sheer amusement purposes that back in 1959 when I was just ten years of age and was shipped off to the USA on an exchange visit, having never previously flown before and travelling on a British Airways Bristol Britannia, I can at least say that I made my very first landing as a passenger in any aircraft at Ganda, Newfoundland – albeit only in order for the aircraft to fill up with gas for the final part of the journey to the US.
Sad to say that when it comes to perception of defence and what it may or may not need, until more recently the Canadian message in relation to defence has often sounded like an echo of how British politicians have over the past thirty years viewed defence – a political choice that is no longer a priority.
Just as the UK has in effect had three full defence and security reviews plus a so-called refresh of the last one since 2010 so it is that Canada has, I believe, now had four defence reviews over the past in 17 years and is now engaged on a fifth. And while UK defence reviews are most often led by intentions to cut defence capability, Canada’s problem tends to be an inability to put through and complete what is, more often than not, well-thought through policy and strategy intention because it allows politics to often get in the way.
Even so, despite still being below the dreaded and in my view. ridiculous David Cameron legacy that in 2014 in Wales at the Nato summit called on all Nato members to work toward spending 2% of GDP on defence, the Canadian Department of National Defence budget is currently planned to be boosted by $533 billion over the next ten years. And by the way, if you are concerned that the UK is talking about further reductions to Army personnel, Canada is planning for a force size of just 71,500 regulars -albeit that when and if achieved, this would be the largest since the 1980’s – but in saying this don’t forget that Canada has only half the population that the UK does.
The former British Chancellor of the Exchequer and Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond would no doubt be very proud had similar circumstances occurred in the UK (in fact they did and the budget underspend of several billion pounds between 2012 and 2014 went straight back into the Treasury rather than being retained in Defence) but it is probably worth saying that Canada does appear to have had an unusual and somewhat consistent ability of spending far less on defence than funding allocated.
That Canada is today modernizing its defence capability at a much faster rate than it had been is extremely welcome. The Canada Surface Combatant that will replace two existing warship types with no fewer than 15 new frigates for the Royal Canadian Navy and that are using the UK designed Type 26 frigate as the basis of design is massive. And I suspect that over the next two years Canada will announce replacement of its ageing Victoria class diesel electric powered submarines, former Upholder class submarines that it acquired from the UK in 1998, with a state-of-the-art fleet modern sub-surface vessel that may possibly be nuclear powered?
Although perhaps not strictly defence, last month Canada announced that it would be spending $2.5bn on 61 new small vessels such as barges, work boats, patrol, science, search and rescue and lifeboats that can better travel in shallow waters and rivers. By my reckoning, the Canadian Coast Guard already has 51 larger vessels in service including fishery protection, ice breakers and a total fleet of small and large vessels close to 220. In addition, the service operates 23 helicopters.
Similarly, the Royal Canadian Air Force will, by 2033/4, have a fleet of 88 Lockheed Martin F-35A jets in service – these eventually replacing the existing fleet of Boeing CF-18 Hornets. RCAF is also replacing its tanker transport aircraft with Airbus A330 aircraft and will likely acquire a fleet of 16 P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft. RCAF also operates 5 x Boeing C-17 Globemaster, 17 C-130J Hercules acquired in 2010, 15 Boeing Chinook Helicopters, 16 BAE Systems Hawk and 13 Augusta Westland EH101/AW101 Search and Rescue helicopters. Helicopters. Also, on order are 16 Airbus C-295 propeller aircraft for Search and Rescue.
Looking back and having had no small personal involvement providing support for the AgustaWestland CH-149 Cormorant (this is the Canadian Armed Forces designation for the joint British/Italian manufactured Merlin EH101 (now referred to as the AW101) in a fascinating and very long campaign designed to replace the superb but by then very aged CH-124 Sea King helicopters and that eventually resulted in orders followed by change of government, followed by cancellation or orders, followed by change of government, followed by new orders and so on that had begun as far back as 1983, it wasn’t until 2001 that the CH-149 finally became the Royal Canadian Air Force’s primary all-weather helicopter dedicated to the Anti-submarine and Search and Rescue (SARS) role.
Having myself flown over one hundred hours in UK EH101’s mainly due to my close involvement in attempting to sell the US101 variant for the Presidential Helicopter campaign for the US and also for SARS replacement, I can vouch for the excellence of this fine helicopter capability and which, as far as I am aware, is still under construction at the AW factory in Somerset.
For the record, since the original 15 AW101’s entered service in Canada they have amassed the highest number of flying hours achieved by any military or other user of the type. One AW101 Cormorant was subsequently lost due to pilot error and lack of training in heavy fog. The current RCAF fleet of 13 CH-149’s is, I believe, currently undergoing mid-life update by Leonardo UK.
So, the bottom line is that, unlike in the UK, Canadian defence capability is evolving and expanding. They get the message of importance – sadly Britain does not.
There is of course still a long way to go and the Canadian defence authorities clearly still have work to do. What follows are a few interesting press pickups which I cannot vouch for in relation to Canadian Defence:
This from Murray Brewster CBC News (June 6th)
Soldiers also have been purchasing rain gear and equipment belts. There’s a phrase soldiers use to describe equipment they’ve bought themselves to augment what the army gives them. They call it Gucci gear, after the luxury fashion designer. For Canadian troops deployed in Latvia, those private purchases have been decidedly more practical than luxurious — given the fact that they’re taking part in more live fire training exercises meant to deter Russia from setting foot in the Baltic country.
They’ve been buying their own modern ballistic helmets equipped with built-in hearing protection that doubles as a headset. They’ve also personally purchased rain gear and vests and belts to carry water and ammunition. And the number of complaints about the ill-fitting body amour issued to female soldiers has been growing. Canadian troops in Latvia are grappling with more urgent equipment shortages as well. The battlegroup of roughly 1,500 soldiers, including more than 700 Canadians, lacks modern anti-tank weapons, systems to counter drones and a dedicated short-range air defence system to guard against helicopters and attack jets. Those frustrations have only been compounded by the arrival of more allied troops — among them Danish soldiers who are in some cases arriving with Canadian-purchased gear that makes them better equipped than Canadian soldiers. Acquiring better hearing protection for soldiers has been a long-term struggle for the army. Right now, many troops use yellow foam earplugs to protect their hearing from the din of artillery and heavy weapons fire. The absence of appropriate ear protection was flagged to senior commanders in a 2019 capability deficiency report written by the army’s infantry school, DND acknowledged.
in a written statement, DND spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said procurement projects are underway to provide soldiers with more modern tactical helmets, vests, boots, “converged rain suits, sunhats and hybrid combat shirts.” The department said the clothing is expected to be delivered next year. DND awarded a contract in February for better helmets with ear protection for so-called “light forces” (special forces). It says it will leverage what it learned from that contract when it comes time to replace all general-purpose helmets across the army. The department also said it’s working on buying new handguns for soldiers, new general-purpose machine guns and sniper rifles. The DND statement did not directly address the complaints of soldiers or explain why it has taken more than three years to address concerns about hearing loss — which is accounting for an increasing number of disability claims coming before the Department of Veterans Affairs.
When it comes to acquiring heavier weapons, Lamirande said the department has embarked on “a rigorous and systematic process” with a request for proposals going out this summer. A new portable anti-tank system likely will be delivered next year, the department said, while the anti-drone and anti-aircraft systems are still in the “options analysis phase” and contracts for them are not expected to be awarded until next winter at the earliest. NDP defence critic MP Lindsay Mathyssen said it’s deeply troubling that Canadian troops in Latvia are not equipped to do their jobs. These purchases — usually made through online retailers — involve brand-name tactical gear or weapon accessories that make soldiers’ existing gear more personal or more comfortable to wear.
This from Scot Taylor, The Hill Times
The Canadian Armed Forces are presently facing a personnel crisis, which threatens to hamstring the entire institution. Out of a combined regular force and reserve strength of 105,000, the CAF are currently short some 16,500 personnel. The problem is twofold in that the military is challenged to recruit sufficient numbers, while at the same time the CAF is having difficulty in retaining those already in uniform. As the overall numbers dwindle, it becomes that much more difficult to maintain the staffing of foreign commitments—like Canada’s forward-deployed battle group in Latvia—and simultaneously finding the necessary trainers to create the next generation of soldiers, sailors, and aircrew. Throw into this mix the constant interruption of training cycles to deploy military personnel to assist with climate-change-related natural disasters such as floods and fires, and it becomes readily apparent that Canada’s military is very close to the tipping point. Thus far, the solutions proposed by the senior leadership of the CAF have been little more than cosmetic tinkering to existing policies. In order to attract more recruits, the Canadian military has loosened restrictions on dress and deportment, radical hairstyles, facial hair, tattoos, and piercings. They are now allowed without restrictions and while service members still wear uniforms, they are no longer gender specific. It is also no longer necessary for recruits to be citizens of Canada. Applicants need only have their permanent residency. As for retention, the military hopes to make alterations to the pay and benefits package as an incentive to keep trained personnel in uniform.
And This Fascinating and Worrying Story from Global News (please allow me to say a very clear thank you to the Royal Canadian Navy for their part in resolving this and protecting war graves.)
(Inside the Navy’s search for war grave robbers in the South East China Seas)
More than 80,000 vessels travel through the South China Sea every year — but the Royal Canadian Navy HMCS Montreal has been on the hunt for just one. Global News has a team on board the ship. HMCS Montreal is on a six-month deployment from its home base in Halifax and over the last 10 days, Global News documented the work of the ship’s crew and the realities of leaving their families behind for a mission on the other side of the world. And this week, that work included trying to thwart suspected grave robbers.
The HMS Prince of Wales was a British ship sunk by Japanese torpedoes in 1941. While the British navy ship currently bearing the same name is an aircraft carrier, the ship in question was a battleship. Its sinking happened just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and killed 327 on board. Combined with the sinking of the HMS Repulse on the same day nearby, which killed more than 500, the attacks marked one of the “worst disasters in British naval history,” according to the U.K.’s National Museum of the Royal Navy.
And the crew of the HMCS Montreal was searching for a Chinese boat allegedly willing to disturb those graves for a shot at Second World War memorabilia. To find it, the Cyclone helicopter on board the Montreal has been dispatched. But after more than an hour’s worth of flying, no luck. An unsuccessful mission — but with a positive twist.
The next day, Malaysian authorities seized the Chinese boat and on board, found scrap metal and cannon balls believed to be from the HMS Prince of Wales. According to Reuters, officials from the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) pounced on the Chinese vessel when it anchored in Malaysian waters in east Johor without permission on May 29. In a statement, Johor Maritime Director First Admiral Nurul Hizam Zakaria said the vessel was manned by 32 men including the captain. The crew comprised 21 Chinese nationals, 10 Bangladeshi nationals and a local. They were aged between 23 and 57 years. The British High Commission has condemned the “deplorable” salvors who they said were unlawfully desecrating the war graves. Malaysian authorities have also launched an investigation.
To Be Continued…….
CHW (London – 13th June 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785