National Defence Anyone? A Case for Strategic Airlift.

By Lieutenant-General David Adamson, CD (Retired)
(written prior to Canadian involvement in Op Apollo)

Candidates of all stripes ranted on during the last federal election in glowing terms about Canada`s continuing responsibilities on the world scene and our annual rating by the United Nations as the best country in the world in which to live. So much for a reputation that has been attained over four decades through our humanitarian and foreign aid programs and our military support of United Nations peace keeping efforts around the world. Those were the golden years when our Airforce and our Army filled valued and essential roles in Europe and our Navy and Airforce made a major contribution to insulating North America from the threat from the air and the seas. During that time we had the flexibility in numbers, personnel, budget, and equipment, to meet our military commitments and to respond to humanitarian emergencies. As the song goes, “we thought it would never end” – but it did.

It ended for a number of reasons, first on the success of the Marshall Plan which rebuilt central Europe and in so doing relegated Canada to a world economic position subordinate to Germany and France. Second, a major adjustment came with the rising tide of technology and all that has followed to bring about the obscelesence of policies that no longer meet either the economic or the military equation. In some measure both the governments of the day and the military ourselves failed to recognize the degree to which this world economic power change would impact our national policies. In essence a united Europe became strong enough to defend European interests while the collapse of communist doctrine brought credible advances in disarmament and a substantial de-escalation in the level of nuclear confrontation.

How then should Canada structure our military forces to ensure national security, while enabling a credible response to international requirements for humanitarian assistance and peace keeping. This is the conundrum that successive governments have failed to resolve despite sweeping adjustments and morale shaking cultural reorganizations of our military forces. The generally accepted political term that best describes Canada’s military requirements seems to be “a force that is lightly equipped and highly mobile”.

Mobility implies the ability to move the full range of DND equipment over intercontinental distances in severely constrained periods of time. It is apparent that the quality and capability of our airlift resources is insufficient to meet those criteria. While Canada has a sizeable force of C-130 Hercules aircraft the C-130 can not accommodate the full range of Army equipment. It is an undersized tactical intra-theatre aircraft that we are utilizing as a strategic resource capability. By present day standards it is slow, and inefficient over the intercontinental ranges over which Canada is required to react.

A second mobility requirement is to maintain national control over the resources we utilize to deploy our personnel and equipment. The spectre of chartering heavy lift aircraft and ships too, that may be operated and maintained at levels that do not necessarily meet our standards is a derogation of our responsibilities to our personnel. Moreover it compromises our sovereign right to act independently in accordance with national policies and leaves our intentions dependent on outside agencies and/or governments. A further consideration in mobility operations is interoperability – that is the ability to enjoy common support of our equipment with like-minded allies. In Canada’s case that suggests NATO aircraft, particularly those of the United States.

From an airlift point of view the Boeing/ MDC-17 aircraft is the type that could redress the shortfall in our airlift force. Doing so would provide an opportunity to rationalize the size of the C-130 Hercules fleet while offering the possibility of personnel savings. The MDC-17 has the full range of capabilities needed to lift personnel, para-troops, personnel carriers, reconnaissance vehicles, helicopters etc. into austere destinations. A rule of thumb is that, on a ton/mile basis, one MDC -17 has the deployment capability of seven or eight C-130 Hercules and it could move the full range of DND equipment.

Hopefully therefore, now that the election “emergency” is behind us, the Minister and his government will settle down to rectifying the distressing shortcomings of Canada’s military forces including the acquisition of a viable national strategic heavy airlift capability. By doing so the government would considerably enhance its political “bragging rights”.

Dave Adamson of North Saanich, BC., was a WWII bomber pilot who held a variety of senior command and staff appointments in the post war RCAF and CAF culminating in that of Deputy Commander-in-Chief of NORAD. After retirement from the Canadian Forces, he was Vice President of Marketing and Sales at de Havilland Canada. During his more than 35 years in military service, he accumulated over 12,000 flying hours, a significant portion of which were on domestic and international air transport operations.

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