Major General (Ret) Roy Sturgess, CMM, CD, AFCASI
December 23, 2002
According to a recent announcement by the Minister of National Defence (which we can hope was developed based upon that excellent Senate principle of sober second thought) the Department is now going to seek tenders from a single source for the Sea King replacement program. The politically contrived proposal to seek two bidders, one for the airframe and one for the mission systems, was a ploy by the Cabinet to delay the program as long as possible and to try and ensure that the company that collected more than half a billion dollars for delivering nothing in 1993 did not have a chance of winning the contract again. Our Prime Minister would certainly not want to be embarrassed by such a possibility after canceling the program at great expense following his election in 1993 just to fulfill a very poorly thought out election promise. Whatever, the saddest aspect of this botched affair is that nearly ten years later the Department is politically bent on going after this same program, which will cost four or five times the amount spent on the gun registry, and that has little relationship to Canadian military and security requirements in 2003.
As we have watched the security challenges evolve since the collapse of the Soviet Union and most of the communist dictatorships in the world, it is clear that the defence practices and strategies of the last century are now totally outdated. September 11, 2001 has made the reality of the threat very clear! There are indeed submarines in the oceans of the world that could under some remote circumstances pose a threat to Canada, its exports, and its Allies. However, for Canada to maintain the very expensive and demanding capability to locate, track, and sink submarines is clearly a waste of limited resources that are urgently needed to conduct military operations against the real and immediate threat that exists today, the terrorist threat at home and abroad. Our army is in pitiful condition with respect to numbers of trained soldiers available to participate in anti-terror operations overseas, and is certainly incapable of conducting National operations in this regard on any scale whatsoever. We completely lack the air transport capability to move our pitifully few combat troops and their equipment to any hotspot, having had to ask the Russians and the Americans to do that for us during the last two major offshore deployments! And our current “deepwater ASW” navy cannot provide proper surveillance and protection of our huge and exposed coastlines. While it would be a bitter pill for the traditionalists in the Department to swallow, it is surely time we realigned our thinking, our priorities, and our military capabilities to meet today’s threat, not that of the Cold War!
A starting point would be to withdraw from the task of deep ocean anti-submarine warfare, and let the US with its massive resources attend that challenge, even in Canadian waters. We should use the funds saved from that withdrawal to procure a number of well-armed coastal patrol vessels to monitor and defend, in conjunction with the US, the entire North American coastline. We should develop an army of about 25,000 soldiers formed into six brigade groups, not laden with heavy armour to fight the battle of the European plains, but equipped with air transportable equipment and weapons of the most modern type. Half that force should be garrisoned across Canada to provide for internal security, attend any terrorist incursions into out country, and to assist the civil power when necessary. The remainder should be trained and ready for immediate commitment world wide in support of peace making and anti terrorist operations in conjunction with the United Nations and our allies. These formations could be rotated every three or four years to ensure that the individual soldiers are not burned out on overseas deployments. We should procure large, modern, high-speed air transport aircraft to move this combat force anywhere in the world on short notice. And finally we should form about four squadrons of say 18 modernized CF18 aircraft each, to provide for homeland defence in conjunction with our US allies, and to be deployable on short notice to provide combat air patrol support and air/ground attack capabilities to our army units that are sent to conduct anti-terrorist and peacemaking operations anywhere in the World. The remaining CF18 aircraft should be held as attrition reserve. To support this lean and operationally effective force should be a National Headquarters that is far smaller than that which exists in Ottawa today.
Such a restructuring of Canada’s military forces would probably require no more money than is now being spent in the Department, and would result in a far more realistic and effective military force than we have today. Unfortunately, our current force has become a vehicle for social change and ethnic and gender based employment opportunities more than a fighting machine; as that distinguished British soldier, General Pike, said several years ago during his Canadian visit, “the Canadian military has given up all claim to be a fighting force.”
To even consider the concept outlined in this article would require such a fundamental change in the attitudes of our senior bureaucrats and military officers (unfortunately now indistinguishable from each other) that it is probably too much to expect. However, if Canadians wish to increase their security level in this most dangerous era, and wish to obtain a reasonably effective return from the tax dollars being spent on “defence,” then this type of fundamental reorientation of defence priorities and restructuring of Canada’s military organization is essential. And that implies, first and foremost a rational foreign policy that objectively addresses today’s threat and the need to meet our commitments of not only Canada but also for the safety of all citizens in the so-called “free” world. And to those that say we should spend nothing on defence but rather direct all that money to social programs, they forget that the single most important social service a government can provide its people is to keep them alive and free! Our Canadian politicians seem to have forgotten (if they ever knew) that armed forces are the ultima ratio Regis of the state – the final power of coercion for protecting its sovereignty and its people.
The last thing we need is another five billion dollar program that does nothing to address the real threat to our citizens, to our nation, and to our allies!
Major General Sturgess served as a squadron and base commander, as Commander of Maritime Air Group, and as Deputy Commander of Air Command. Following retirement he was the chief operating officer of a major Canadian corporation. He was made a Commander of the Order of Military Merit by the Governor General in 1981, and is an Associate Fellow of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute.