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Friday, January 11, 2019

Disappointment Emerges as Canada’s Peacekeeping mission in Mali nears Halfway Mark

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press 

Canadian soldiers watch as a helicopter provides air security during a demonstration on the United Nations base in Gao, Mali, on Dec. 22, 2018.
ADRIAN WYLD/THE CANADIAN PRESS
Nearly halfway through Canada’s 12-month mission in Mali, questions and disappointment are emerging over what some experts see as the Trudeau government’s lack of interest in the country – and peacekeeping in general.

Mali has been racked by violence and instability since a rebellion and coup in 2012, and there are fears that Islamic extremists and criminal organizations will run wild there and across the wide expanse of Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

Canada has had about 250 military personnel and eight helicopters in Gao, Mali, to provide medical evacuations and logistical support since August, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says is helping make a difference.

“The peace process is unfolding in Mali,” Mr. Trudeau said during a whirlwind visit to Gao on Dec. 23. “Certainly our presence here is allowing it to unfold more quickly than it otherwise would be, but it is a difficult situation.”

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The United Nations is reporting limited signs of progress there over the past three months, as slight improvements in the political and humanitarian situation have been marred by a dramatic spike in violence.

That includes a marked increase in the number of improvised explosive devices targeting peacekeepers and officials, as well as several co-ordinated attacks on UN bases and staff.

Yet several experts say they were hoping the peacekeeping mission would serve as a way for the Trudeau government to deepen its engagement in the UN, Mali and the Sahel region, none of which has happened.

Rather, they argue the government appears to have little actual interest in Mali or peacekeeping, in spite of spending millions of dollars on both.

“The Canadian contribution to MINUSMA [the UN mission in Mali] will be forgotten quickly,” said Bruno Charbonneau, an expert on Mali at Laurentian University in Sudbury.

“It’s a quick in-and-out that … changes nothing to UN peacekeeping in Mali or in general, and certainly changes nothing to the situation in Mali and the larger Sahel.”

The country has been one of the top recipients of Canadian foreign aid for the past several years, which experts say is helping. It has also received some of the $450-million set aside in 2016 for peace programs.

Yet the Trudeau government has repeatedly rejected the prospect of extending the Mali mission by several months to minimize a gap between when the Canadians stop flying in July and the arrival of Romanian replacements in the fall.

That stands in sharp contrast to the repeated extensions of Canada’s military missions in Latvia, Ukraine and Iraq, none of which falls under the auspices of the UN.

“I have to wonder: Why not the UN? Why not Mali?” said Walter Dorn, an expert on peacekeeping at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto.

There were suggestions in July that Canada would step up its presence and involvement in Mali, when officials revealed plans to send up to 20 police officers and spend millions of dollars to help the UN train local security forces.

While Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office said Tuesday that two police officers have undergone pre-deployment training and will arrive in Mali later this month, it did not provide a timeline for when the rest would be deployed.

Meanwhile, experts say the government’s overall long-term plans for Mali remain shrouded in mystery – including its plan for aid funding.

“My colleagues and I are trying to make the case for more involvement [in Mali], but have the impression of speaking to a relatively disinterested audience,” said Jonathan Sears, an expert on Mali at the University of Winnipeg.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s spokeswoman, Byrne Furlong, on Tuesday commended the Canadian military’s work in Mali, even as she asserted the government’s commitment to “promoting peace and stability in the world.”

“We are proud of the important work the women and men of our Canadian Armed Forces are doing to help set conditions for durable peace, development, and prosperity in Mali,” Ms. Furlong said in a statement.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Canada Finalizes Deal for 25 Australian F-18s; RCAF will fly used jets Summer 2019

By: David Pugliese, The National Post 

Canada has finalized a deal to buy 25 used fighter jets from Australia, the first of which are expected to be operating by this summer, says the top procurement official at the Department of National Defence.

Royal Australian Air Force F-18 Hornet pilots wave to the crowd as they taxi down the runway after performing during the Australian International Airshow at the Avalon Airfield near Lara southwest of Melbourne on February 24, 2015.PAUL CROCK/AFP/Getty Images
“The first two aircraft will be here this spring,” Pat Finn, assistant deputy minister for materiel at DND, told Postmedia in an interview. “I would say it could be by the summer the first couple are on the flight line and painted with the maple leaf.”

A second group of planes would arrive later this year. Eighteen of the Australian F-18 aircraft will eventually be flying for the Canadian Forces, while another seven will be used for testing and spare parts.

Canada is paying Australia $90 million for the aircraft. The federal government originally estimated the purchase of the Australian jets would cost around $500 million, but Finn said that price reflected every aspect of the associated deal, not just the cost of purchasing the jets. Canada is also acquiring extra spare parts, the Australian jets will have to be outfitted with specific Canadian equipment and software and testing will be needed.

The $500-million project estimate also included $50 million in contingency funds to cover any problems and another $35 million for the salaries of all civilian and military personnel involved over the life of the project. An additional $30 million will be spent on new infrastructure needed to accommodate the aircraft.

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornet jets from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta are refuelled by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron on October 30, 2014, over Iraq during the first combat mission in the area of operations, supporting Operation Inherent Resolve. U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Perry Aston

Those costs add up to $360 million, Finn said. But DND also plans to upgrade its existing fleet of CF-18s with new communications gear and equipment required to meet regulations to operate in civilian airspace, improvements which the Australian jets will also eventually receive at a cost of around $110 million, an amount that brought the original estimate to nearly $500 million.

The Liberal government had planned to buy 18 new Super Hornet fighter jets from U.S. aerospace giant Boeing to augment the Royal Canadian Air Force’s CF-18s until new aircraft can be purchased in the coming years.

But in 2017 Boeing complained to the U.S. Commerce Department that Canadian subsidies for Quebec-based Bombardier allowed it to sell its C-series civilian passenger aircraft in the U.S. at cut-rate prices. As a result, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump enacted a tariff of almost 300 per cent against the Bombardier aircraft sold in the U.S. In retaliation, Canada cancelled the deal to buy the 18 Super Hornets, which would have cost more than US$5 billion.

Instead of buying the new Super Hornets, the Liberals decided to acquire the used Australian jets.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has said the extra jets are needed to deal with a “capability gap,” as Canada does not have enough fighters to handle its commitments to NATO as well as protecting North America.

But Conservative MPs say the capability gap doesn’t exist and was concocted by the government to delay a larger project to buy new jets, a competition that might end up selecting the F-35 stealth fighter that during the 2015 election campaign the Liberals vowed never to purchase.

In the fall of 2016, then-Royal Canadian Air Force commander Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood told senators that the Liberal government brought in a policy change which required the RCAF to be able to meet both its NATO and North American air defence commitments at the same time. That, in turn, created the capability gap, he said. Hood said he was not told about the reasons for the policy change.

In November 2018 Auditor General Michael Ferguson issued a report noting that the purchase of the extra aircraft would not fix the fundamental weaknesses with the CF-18 fleet which is the aircraft’s declining combat capability and a shortage of pilots and maintenance personnel.

“The Australian F/A-18s will need modifications and upgrades to allow them to fly until 2032,” the report said. “These modifications will bring the F/A-18s to the same level as the CF-18s but will not improve the CF-18’s combat capability.”

“In our opinion, purchasing interim aircraft does not bring National Defence closer to consistently meeting the new operational requirement introduced in 2016,” Ferguson’s report added.

The Canadian Forces says it is bringing in new initiatives to boost the numbers of pilots and maintenance staff.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Second iAOR Supply Ship Not Needed: Trudeau

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch

As the legal battle over the fate of Vice Admiral Mark Norman was being played out in an Ottawa court Wednesday just a short distance away in the House of Commons the country’s political leaders were dealing with a related issue.
Image result for Asterix iAOR
MV Asterix, accompanying Royal Canadian Navy ships, replenished two US Navy vessels at the same time in the North Atlantic this week. The USN ships are USS Bainbridge and USS Mitscher. March 2018
Norman is charged with one count of breach of trust for allegedly providing information to Davie Shipbuilding which had entered into a deal with the previous Conservative government to provide a supply ship to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer questioned the Liberal government why it was not moving ahead with having Davie provide a second supply ship – the Obelix – to the navy. Scheer said the navy needed the second ship. “The Prime Minister has to stop playing political games and before Christmas should award that contract to Davie,” he told the Commons. “What’s he waiting for?”

But Trudeau accused Scheer of playing “petty politics.”

“The armed forces did an assessment,” Trudeau explained. “They don’t need the Obelix and for him to suggest that we should buy it anyway is pure base politics, the worst politics. We make our decisions based on facts. We recognize the quality of work done by Davie shipyard and we do want them to get good jobs but we are not going to make up work for political reasons.” Trudeau's comments follow the same line as comments made by Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau in December of 2017.

Reports from the Royal Canadian Navy indicate that there is a need for a second supply ship on the West Coast - but for now, the Asterix will be shared between both coasts until the new Protecteur-Class AORs are built by Seaspan and in service around 2026.

Image result for mv obelix
M/V A.Obelix is a container ship which is available for immediate purchase and conversion into a second interim-auxiliary oil replenishment ship for the Royal Canadian Navy. Davie Shipbuilding and Federal Fleet Services is offering this to the Government of Canada, and says it could have the Obleix operational as an iAOR by early 2020; six years before the Protecteur-Class AORs are available. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

New RCAF Aircraft to be Operational in 2026; but No Decision on Replacement Yet

By: David Puligese,

The Royal Canadian Air Force will be operating the first nine aircraft from its new fleet of fighter jets starting in 2026, Department of National Defence officials say.

But at least one member of parliament questions whether the federal government will be able to meet its timetable to replace the CF-18 fighter fleet with advanced aircraft.

MPs on the Standing Committee on Public Accounts received more details on Monday about the Liberal government’s plan to buy 88 new fighter jets. Aircraft expected in the competition include Lockheed Martin’s F-35, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen and the Boeing Super Hornet.

Pat Finn, assistant deputy minister for material at the DND, told MPS that the formal request for proposals will go out in the spring of 2019. Negotiations would be held in 2021 and a contract awarded in 2022.

“We have tried to be very judicious and not have too risky a schedule to try to achieve some of that,” Finn explained to MPs. “But from the bids until the signing of the contract is where we’ve given ourselves two years for the competitive dialogue, the final negotiations and the various approvals we need to get, signing the contract in 2022.”

The first aircraft would be delivered in 2025. Finn said this schedule has been shared with all the potential bidders and “they’re comfortable with that approach.”

Jody Thomas, the DND deputy minister, told MPs that the plan is to “achieve initial operating capability by 2026 with nine advanced fighters ready to fulfill the NORAD mission.”

But one committee member, Conservative MP Pat Kelly, was wary of whether the aircraft acquisition would proceed as scheduled.

The plan, he told Finn, doesn’t leave a lot of margin for error. Everything would have to run like clockwork to meet the timetable and Kelly questioned if that would even be possible given the track record of defence procurement over the years. “We just don’t have time in this for the kinds of delays and the kinds of failures of procurement that we have seen in other programs,” Kelly said. “I shudder to think of what many Canadians listening to this hearing might think about. What has the potential to go wrong to get to 2025? I’m going to leave it at that.”

HMCS Calgary Witnesses Possible Violations of North Korean Sanctions on Patrol in Pacific

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- The crew of a Canadian warship in the Pacific had front-row seats to potential violations of UN sanctions against North Korea during a recent patrol in the East China Sea -- but was under orders not to intercept any suspicious vessels, the ship's commander says.

Image result for hmcs calgary
HMCS Calgary - Halifax Class Frigate 
Crew members on HMCS Calgary instead took photos and collected other information, Cmdr. Blair Saltel said Tuesday.

"We saw several ship-to-ship transfers at sea and by the markings -- based on the intelligence that we had -- some of those were associated with ... potential violators of those sanctions," Saltel said.

"We maintained a (distance), and that's in (accordance) with the entire approach to the operation. We took pictures, we passed that information to the higher authorities and the expectation is that could be used for legal sanctions."

HMCS Calgary is the first Canadian military vessel to deploy to the area after the federal government agreed earlier this year to help the U.S. and other allies crack down on smuggling designed to subvert sanctions against North Korea.

Western security officials have previously accused Russia and China of exporting oil to North Korea -- or at least turning a blind eye as their companies do -- which would be a violation of sanctions. Both countries have denied the charge.

While the Canadian frigate did not intercept any vessels, Saltel said the mere presence of a Western warship was enough in some cases to cause the other vessels to turn tail and run.

"We noted in a few instances that the transfers would wrap up quite quickly and they would have to escape. So our presence disrupted several of the transfers. But we had no intention of actually doing something as forceful as boarding or blocking a ship."

The Calgary and the navy's interim support ship, MV Asterix, are wrapping up a six-month deployment in the Pacific off Asia, during which they also participated in several multinational military exercises and visited several countries.

One of the main objectives was to demonstrate Canada's naval presence in a part of the world that is growing increasingly important to Canadian prosperity and international security.

Saltel said the deployment has included being shadowed by Chinese naval vessels in the South and East China Seas, which has become routine for Western military ships operating in the area amid growing tensions over competing territorial claims.

The U.S., the United Kingdom and other allies have made a point of sailing close to disputed islands and through disputed waters claimed by China, prompting several close calls and tense moments as the latter flexes its muscles.

The situation in the South China Sea, in particular, has been compared to a powder keg, as Chinese and U.S. naval vessels have almost collided as the U.S. navy has conducted "freedom of navigation" operations.

Saltel said he was not directed to do anything like that, and while HMCS Calgary did sail near the disputed Spratly Islands, its course was intended to save fuel and not to send a message to China.

The Canadian officer said his Chinese "shadows" acted professionally and "never really came within a distance that I would have considered unsafe."

HMCS Calgary's recent deployment was also unique for being the first to involve the Asterix, a converted civilian vessel that the federal government is leasing from Quebec-based Davie Shipbuilding until permanent support ships can be built.

The Asterix is captained and crewed by civilians except for a small contingent of military personnel who are responsible for providing fuel and other supplies at sea. Saltel said it has conducted about 50 such replenishments with the Calgary and allies.