By: David Pugliese, National Post
Canada’s much-vaunted surveillance planes operating over Iraq were so limited in the information they could collect and share with allies, Canadian military personnel planning CF-18 attacks had to rely on the U.S. for data, according to documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen.
The briefing, produced last year on lessons learned from operations in Iraq in 2014, also pointed out efforts to set up ball hockey facilities and a Tim Hortons for personnel at a base in Kuwait should take a back seat to getting key components of the mission in place.
Canada initially contributed special forces, Aurora surveillance aircraft, a refuelling plane and CF-18 fighter jets to the international coalition battling Islamic extremists.
The Liberal government withdrew the jets, but expanded the number of special forces and kept the refuelling planes and Auroras.
Canadian military officers have claimed from the beginning of the mission the upgraded CP-140 Auroras are among the most advanced surveillance aircraft in the world.
But the “lessons learned” document, obtained through the Access to Information law, tells a different story.
“The CP140 deployed without the organic capability to share their data with coalition partners,” it notes.
In addition, the software needed to process some CP-140 surveillance data was not available and the air crews needed “greater experience operating over land.”
The Aurora is primarily a maritime surveillance plane, but the upgrades allow it to collect data on ground targets.
The problems didn’t stop with the Auroras. There were concerns about the overall lack of ability to share information Canada collected from various sources with its allies. In addition, the Canadian Forces had problems accessing coalition intelligence data without having to go through a U.S. military intermediary.
Gathering information about targets the CF-18s were to attack proved difficult. Problems with the planes’ targeting pods “severely” limited some information gathering, although the details were censored.
“Poor information” was provided to those deciding on targets. There is a need to increase the capability to “contribute to target discovery,” other comments in the briefing point out.
Military staff asked about the lessons learned said while ball hockey and a Tim Hortons trailer were “a nice boost,” these “projects must wait well into the sustainment phase after the mission’s essential components are all in place.”
Other issues included:
Significant delays in delivering communications equipment and having enough trained personnel.
Military communications personnel sent back to Canada within seven days of arriving in Kuwait, and before the systems were up and running.
Some military personnel, who travelled overseas on civilian flights, had to use their own credit cards to pay up front, then had trouble getting reimbursed. In some cases, they had to spend up to $1,000 just for baggage.
Civilian contractors supporting the refuelling aircraft detachment were not properly prepared for work in Kuwait or the type of accommodation they were given.
There should be a 24/7 duty desk to deal with problems encountered by those on overseas missions. “A list of people who can actually help with problems would be nice,” said one person. “Help accounts suck. They are rarely monitored. Real people with real contact lists only.”
Commanders back in Canada weren’t spared criticism either. Some of those serving in Kuwait questioned the abilities of the Ottawa-based Canadian Joint Operations Command, which co-ordinates military missions at home and around the world.
“Despite the best of intentions and a desire to do so, CJOC is incapable of conducting true 24/7 operations, at least as it concerns targeting,” said one critic.
Canadian Forces spokesman Capt. Vincent Bouchard said in an email many of the challenges outlined in the document are common when setting up a multinational operation abroad.
“The capabilities the Block III CP140s brought to theatre were new, both to the RCAF and our allies,” he said. “As it was expected, it took time to learn how to make the most of these new capabilities in the context of a multinational operation.”
Bouchard said the points raised in the documents were dealt with and the Aurora detachment continues to provide valuable surveillance information for the coalition.
He repeated the Canadian military’s statement the Auroras are “world-class intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft.”