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Monday, June 13, 2016

Canadian Pathfinders Did Submarine Jump First...10 years ago

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

The Canadian special forces public relations machine is in full drive these days.

Witness the latest media report about what is being termed a “daring parachute drop” of Canadian special forces soldiers into the ocean, so the commandos could link up with the submarine, HMCS Windsor.

It happened last fall during a NATO exercise and is now being touted by Canadian Special Operations Forces Command or CANSOFCOM.

“Well beyond swimming distance to the coast, it seemed like an act of dangerous derring-do, even for special forces soldiers,” the Toronto Star reported Sunday.

Canadian special forces jumped from a C-130, landed in the water, and then clambered on board HMCS Windsor. In another drill they launched their inflatable rafts off HMCS Windsor.

In addition, special forces personnel conducted similar trials off the coast of Nova Scotia last year, according to CANSOFCOM. “It takes a lot of courage to jump out the back of an airplane when all you see is water around you and just trust that something will pop up. It was pretty amazing,” Maj.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, commander of Canadian Special Operations Forces Command told the Toronto Star.

Indeed, it is pretty amazing.

And it was also pretty amazing when Canadian Army Pathfinders first did exactly the same drills with the same submarine….in 2006.

Actually the Pathfinders did Canadian special forces one better. They not only repeated the drills over and over but did the same parachute jumps at night.

I was on HMCS Windsor at the time photographing the exercise off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Strange, CANSOFCOM officers didn’t mention that exercise to the Toronto Star.

In 2006 the Army Pathfinders told me they had tried to interest Canadian special forces in their pioneering development of these skillsets with Canadian submarines but they were dismissed outright. (the Pathfinders didn’t talk about courage or how amazing they were….they viewed the skills they were developing as just another method of inserting behind enemy territory).

The CANSOF-submarine story comes after the recent series of articles and TV broadcasts about Canadian special forces on the front lines of Iraq. Just as interesting was another article as part of that series in the Toronto Star which claimed Canadian special forces were for the first time since World War 1 preparing for a chemical weapons attack (the article was about CANSOFCOM’s preparations to deal with the potential of gas/chemical attack from the Islamic State in northern Iraq…and the dangers special forces faced).

Maybe CANSOFCOM officers hadn’t heard of the Second World War? Or the Cold War? Or the first Persian Gulf War?

During all these conflicts, Canadian troops prepared for the threat of chemical attack on the battlefield. In fact, Canada was a leader in chemical and biological warfare research and weaponry during the Second World War.

CANSOFCOM’s “quiet professionals” have become “chatty narcissists,” one military officer explained to Defence Watch.

But another observer at National Defence headquarters says that claim is too simplistic – there is more to the CANSOFCOM back-slapping and self-congratulation.

So what exactly is happening here?

Military sources say the Liberal government’s defence review has the various services scrambling to highlight their abilities and protect their piece of the budget and capability pie. Special forces are costly and CANSOFCOM wants not only to protect their turf but to position itself for playing more of a role in Canadian defence.

Ten years ago it dismissed the idea put forward by the Pathfinders about using submarines for insertion and extraction. Now Canadian special forces embraces that and highlights the success of its personnel involved in that skill-set.

Much of the work being done by CANSOFCOM with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq – instruction in driver training, first aid, military planning, mortar training, calling in airstrikes – could easily by done by the regular Canadian army. But it’s high profile and continued involvement will ensure CANSOFCOM’s budget will stay intact, if not grow, observers say.

CANSOFCOM has the support of Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance for these efforts,Defence Watch has been told.

But in an era of limited financial resources will the army, navy and air force suffer as a result?