Friday, December 2, 2016

DND Pulls Fighter Jet Study Down from Webpage

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

The Department of National Defence is now figuring how to dig itself out of the problems it created when it pulled down from its website a study on fighter jets.

The study dismissed the option of buying “interim” fighter jets because of “significant additional costs.”

“The costs involved with bridging options make them unsuitable for filling capability gaps in the short term,” the DRDC study noted. It pointed out that 36 fighter jets were required to be operational at any time for North American air defence duties. Any more is in excess of the requirement, it added.

The study was embarrassing for the Liberal government which is moving ahead with buying 18 “interim” Super Hornets. So it had to go.

DND claims it was pulled down from its website because it was found to contain classified information and not because the department was doing damage control for the government.

But DND sources say there was no classified information in the study. It had already been carefully screened, and classified information was indeed removed before it had been posted on the DND website.

So what was the reason for the removal from the internet? It was embarrassing to the Liberal government.

But this attempt at limiting information has blown up in the government’s face.

Now DND senior officials are trying to figure out what to do next?

“We are reviewing whether a redacted version can be reposted,” the DND noted in a statement.

Majority of CF-18s will fly beyond 'certified safe life' date according to internal report

By: Murray Brewster, CBC News 

The Liberal government's plan to keep a number of its CF-18 fighters flying through the 2020s — possibly up to 2032 — is a "high-risk" and "costly" option, according to an internal government report obtained by CBC News.

Related image
RCAF CF-18 Fighter jets will undergo a 3rd life-extension program, to keep them flying as long as 2032...well beyond their "Certified Safe Date" acording to a new report by the CBC. 
The technical engineering assessment was written for the material group at National Defence in the run-up to the former Conservative government's decision two years ago to extend the life of the front-line jets until 2025.

It raises questions about the serviceability and survivability of the aging fighters at the crucial transition time when the Liberal government hopes to bring a replacement on line.

The report takes on fresh relevance in light of the government's decision last week to postpone holding an open and transparent competition for a new fighter. Bidding is not expected to start until next year after the new defence policy has been released and could take up to five years.

The analysis has the Opposition Conservatives wondering why the Liberal government is not proceeding directly to the competition it promised in the last election.

New Liberal policy means there aren't enough fighter jets to go around
Boeing met federal officials 7 times as often as Lockheed Martin in lead-up to fighter deal
Canada's fighter jets running out of airframe life, according to data tabled in Parliament

National Defence says it intends to buy up to 18 Boeing Super Hornets as a stopgap measure until a brand-new fleet arrives.

The analysis is also significant considering this week's fatal crash of a CF-18 at a training range near Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan last week said permanent replacements for the '80s-vintage jets "will be fully operational in the late 2020s."

That is further into the future than the former Conservative government had planned.

"That means we must continue to fly the legacy CF-18s throughout the 2020s, no matter what," Sajjan said during the news conference announcing the government's decision.
'A high-risk solution'

The Conservatives had planned to refurbish the fighters to keep them operational until 2025, something the internal analysis says results in "a reasonably low to moderate technical and operational risk" in light of the fact the U.S. navy intends to keep flying some of its F-18s and Super Hornets during the same timeframe.

It is after 2025 that the significant concern emerges.

The CF-18s would require a major overhaul — known as a Control Point 3 life extension — to remain operational after that date.

"This option is a high-risk solution, from both a technical and operational perspective," says the 13-page, unredacted evaluation.

"A majority of the fleet (50 aircraft) would need to be flown beyond the currently certified safe life."

The assessment goes on to list the components that would need replacing, and the list is extensive.

"A large and costly procurement of new wings and flight controls would be required to support this effort, as the structural lives of these components would expire for many of the fleet's aircraft."
Shortage of spare parts, weapons

The report also notes, among other things, that the fighter jets' transponders, which identify them as friend or foe to other aircraft, will have to be upgraded.

The avionics system will be considered outdated by the early 2020s and won't meet U.S. requirements for encrypted communications, which threatens operations with the Americans and the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad).

"From an operational perspective, the fleet will be exposed to a more lethal threat environment," says the analysis. "In addition there will be decreased interoperability with newer aircraft flown by Canada's allies."

The further into the decade the fighters operate, the more concern there will be about access to weapons and spare parts, the report adds.
$400-million upgrade needed

In an interview with CBC News, Sajjan downplayed the analysis, saying the Liberals have conducted their own, more recent studies that give them comfort.

"The engineers have assured us the life extension can be done in high confidence and we can meet our needs," he said, adding that concern about the overall condition of the fleet is one of the things that drove the Liberals to recommend the interim purchase of Super Hornets.

"Yes, we can extend our fighters to 2025. After that time they will be slowly graduated out."

Conservative defence critic James Bezan said the Liberals are stalling.

"We know Denmark just did a competition in 11 months. Norway did theirs in about a year and a half. Japan did theirs in a year and 11 months," he said. The Liberals "could do an open and fair competition right now and get a plane faster than they can in five years' time."

The refurbishment to 2025 is estimated to cost $400 million, but Sajjan was unable to say how much more it will be to keep the fighters flying beyond that date.

Unpublished, internal defence estimates shown to CBC News suggest the total overhaul cost could rise to $1.3 billion depending on the upgrades selected by air force planners.

In the last election campaign, the Liberals promised to buy a cheaper fighter in an open competition and plow the savings back into rebuilding the navy.

With an interim purchase of Super Hornets and a life extension program, the government will be hard-pressed to find savings.

"Yes, we are investing more. This option costs more money, but this is the situation we were dealt with," said Sajjan.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Den Tandt: Super Hornet purchase leaves CAF Members last on the list of priorities

By: Michael Den Tandt, National Post 

It’s truly remarkable, given how Liberal and Conservative MPs speak so often and sincerely of their sacred covenant with the “brave men and women in uniform,” that this country’s air force is obsolete and decrepit, and has been so for as long as anyone now living can remember.

You’d think, given the volume of talk in the House of Commons over the past decade on their behalf, that RCAF pilots – one of whom died Monday, tragically, in a training accident in Cold Lake, Alta. – would be flying X-wing fighters out of Star Wars by now, and not a ragtag fleet of 1980s-vintage refurbs that were new when many members of the current parliament were children.

The Liberal government, with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan leading the charge, has pledged redress with a sole-source purchases of 18 Boeing Super Hornets – the updated version of Canada’s CF-18. So grievous is the “capability gap,” of the Royal Canadian Air Force, we’re told, there’s no time for competitive bids. That’s for later, perhaps as many as five years hence when, with due deference to best practices and Treasury Board guidelines and other such guff that means a lot until cabinet decides it means nothing, the actual next RCAF fighter will be chosen.

Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II fighter-bomber will be among the competitors at this pageant, gainsaying the Liberals’ 2015 election pledge to nix the vaunted “fifth generation” stealth fighter entirely. But never mind: Five years from now is another term, another cabinet, possibly another government. In political terms it may as well be another universe on another planet.

Politically, it is all quite clever – which is why the howls of outrage have been muted to non-existent, unlike the state of affairs in late 2012, when the former Conservative government got mauled over its own sole-source plan to buy 65 F-35s, and later shelved it. The reason for the soft landing is twofold.

First, the RCAF really does badly need new fighters. In an increasingly uncertain geopolitical climate, the opposition Conservatives are in no position to argue forcefully against any purchase that makes the Canadian military more capable in the short-term. Second is the aerospace contracts, tied to Canada’s continuing membership in the F-35 consortium.

Those contracts, held by more than 30 Canadian companies that contribute to Lockheed-Martin’s supply chain, are worth more than $600-million. Any final decision to ditch the F-35 would put them at risk – particularly now, we have to assume, with a protectionist U.S. Congress and a protectionist U.S. president on the ascendant.

Kicking this can further down the road keeps Lockheed in the game, at least technically: Since last year, the U.S. weapons manufacturer has lobbied simply for inclusion in an eventual competition, a guarantee it now apparently has.

Political cleverness aside, this is egregiously dishonest, on several fronts.

First, the “capability gap.” It emerged this week that the cabinet, not the RCAF, had arbitrarily changed the definition of how many planes it needed in order to fulfill its basic mandate of protecting Canadian air space and meeting NATO commitments.

Political cleverness aside, this is egregiously dishonest, on several fronts

This makes sense when you consider the 77 functioning CF-18s are up for another refurb, price tag about $500-milion, that will keep them flying until 2025. There may indeed be a looming emergency that requires Canada to have 95 working fighters (77 plus 18) heading into the next decade. If so, what emergency? And at what budgetary cost?

Had the Conservatives dared to quietly grow the RCAF fighter fleet by 23 per cent, at a cost of $65-$70-milion per plane, the Liberals would have called them warmongers and spendthrifts. To be sure, the Liberals may be embarrassed by the very mention of the CF-18 – having made such a to-do about withdrawing them last spring from the war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Having beaten swords into ploughshares, they’re now buying more swords. How awkward.

More disingenuous still is the claim that a proper, open fighter competition is impossible in short order. The five possible selections are the F-35, Boeing’s Super Hornet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab’s Gripen, and Dassault’s Rafale. The specs, per-unit and operating costs of all these aircraft are known. Given an abridged new statement of requirements, a competition could have been run and a new fighter selected in 2017, industry sources tell me.

Follow the Liberal strategy to its conclusion and you end up with this: A mixed fleet, comprising some CF-18s, 18 newish Super Hornets, and years hence, long after the punters have forgotten Campaign 2015, the F-35 – by which time it, too, will likely be obsolete.

It boils down to this: The “brave men and women in uniform” will get the barest minimum the government can get away with providing, until another military crisis on the scale of the Afghan war forces its hand, after which it will buy whatever equipment it can find, in a panic. It’s how we roll, here in Canada.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Name of Royal Canadian Air Force pilot killed in CF-188 crash released

RCAF Press Release

A head and shoulders photo of a man wearing a tan flight suit and a blue air force “wedge”-style hat.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, on November 28, 2016, a CF-188 Hornet from 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, crashed inside the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in Saskatchewan, not far from the Primrose Lake Evaluation Range.

Emergency services from 4 Wing, including 417 Combat Support Squadron, responded to the crash. Tragically, the pilot, Captain Thomas McQueen of Hamilton, Ontario, did not survive.

“We are deeply saddened by this incident and express our deepest sympathies to the family, friends and loved ones of Captain Thomas McQueen,” said Colonel Paul Doyle, the commander 4 Wing / Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake.”We now turn our attention to providing whatever support we can to his family and to our men and women here in Cold Lake, who are deeply saddened by the loss of Captain McQueen.”

The thoughts and prayers of 4 Wing, the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Canadian Armed Forces are with the family, loved ones and friends of Captain McQueen during this difficult time.

“On behalf of the men and women of 1 Canadian Air Division, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Captain McQueen,” said Brigadier-General David Lowthian, the acting commander of 1 Canadian Air Division. “The Royal Canadian Air Force is a tight-knit community and we are all mourning the loss of one of our own today.”

"‎We have lost a member of our RCAF family, and it hurts,” said the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant-General Mike Hood. “We will support the family of Captain McQueen, and his squadron, to the fullest. And while the investigation determines the cause of this incident, I commend our men and women who through their grief will continue to serve Canada to their fullest.

“Thomas, we will miss you."

A flight safety investigation will be conducted to determine the cause of the accident.

Canada's New Super Hornet Plans Possibly Illegal say Critics

By: David Pugliese, Defense News 

RCAF CF-18's (Globe and Mail File Photo)
VICTORIA, British Columbia – The Canadian government’s proposal to buy 18 Super Hornet aircraft as a stopgap measure before proceeding to a full competition for a new fighter jet is not only a waste of time and money but illegal, say political and industry critics of the plan.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced Nov. 22 that Canada would enter into negotiations with Boeing for the purchase of the 18 aircraft. Sajjan noted the government had been forced to proceed with the urgent acquisition because a capability gap had emerged with the current fleet of CF-18 fighters. Canada cannot meet its NORAD, NATO and other defense commitments with those aging aircraft, he added.

But Canada’s former procurement chief says the Super Hornet deal is illegal and can be challenged if Lockheed Martin or other aircraft firms wanted to do so. Existing trade agreements allow for Canada to proceed with a purchase without competition if there is an urgent and unforeseeable need for goods and services required by the military, said Alan Williams, the former assistant deputy minister for materiel at Canada’s Department of National Defence.

“A capability gap that was allowed to grow over many years is hardly unforeseeable," said Williams. “Bad planning is not an excuse for sole-sourcing.”

Williams noted the Liberal Party government has been in power for a year and already had enough information to launch a full competition for a permanent fighter replacement.

Lockheed Martin officials have expressed their disappointment in the government’s decision to buy Super Hornets but the firm has not indicated its next course of action.

Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed his government would hold a competition for a new jet. But he also made an election promise last year that Canada would not buy the F-35 as it was too expensive and didn’t meet the country’s needs.

James Bezan, the defense critic for the Conservative Party, said the CF-18 capability gap issue was concocted to support the sole-source purchase of the Super Hornet. The country’s 77 CF-18 fighter jets are capable of doing the job until a full competition can be held to buy a new plane, he added.

Bezan said the decision to buy Super Hornets as a stopgap solution will end up wasting billions of dollars and valuable time needed to replace the CF-18 fleet.

Sajjan has said it will take at least another five years to run a competition to buy a fleet of jets to replace the CF-18s on a permanent basis. The government has said Lockheed Martin is welcome to enter the F-35 in that competition when it is held.

Questions have also been raised about the validity of the Sajjan’s claim that the CF-18s can’t defend the country.

When Lt. Gen. Michael Hood, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, testified in April before the Commons defence committee, he didn’t mention a capability gap. Instead he told lawmakers the CF-18s could continue operating until 2025 or beyond.

Concern has also been voiced about how the Super Hornet purchase will affect Canadian industry participation in the F-35 program.
Canada has said it intends to continue as a partner in the program but Lockheed Martin suggested several months ago it could reconsider participation by Canadian companies if the F-35 is not purchased.

Brian Pallister, the Conservative Party premier of the province of Manitoba, said the Super Hornet acquisition is not only a waste of tax dollars but could jeopardize aerospace firms involved in the F-35 program.

Pallister said he was particularly concerned about Magellan Aerospace in Winnipeg, a company that makes the tail assemblies for the F-35 as well as other components.

But Navdeep Bains, the government minister in charge of industry and innovation, said any deal for the Super Hornets would bring with it the equivalent amount of work for Canadian firms.

Liberals Manufactured Fighter Gap says RCAF Commander

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Opposition critics accused the Liberal government of trying to manufacture a crisis Monday after the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force pulled back the curtain on Canada's apparent fighter-jet shortage.

Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood told the Senate defence committee the Liberals recently changed the number of jet fighters he is required to have ready at any given time for NATO missions and to defend North America.

The change was made after he testified in April that he was "comfortable" with the air force's current fleet of CF-18s, Hood said.

As a result, the current number of CF-18s available is now insufficient, Hood said, while Canada will also need to buy more new planes than originally expected.

The previous Conservative government had planned to purchase 65 F-35 stealth fighters.

"Certainly the policy of the government of Canada would mean that 65 is not sufficient," Hood said, later adding: "They've changed the policy of the number of aircraft I have to have."

The fatal crash of a CF-18 fighter jet near Canadian Forces Base Cold Lake in Alberta cast a shadow over Hood's appearance before the committee, with the meeting cut short after he confirmed the pilot had died.

But while expressing condolences for the family of the pilot, who had not yet been identified, the air force commander said he didn't see any link between the crash and the debate over the fighter jet fleet.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan pointed to the policy change on aircraft numbers when he announced last week that Canada planned to buy 18 Super Hornet jets as an "interim" solution to the air force's "capability gap" until a competition to replace the CF-18s could be held.

Hood shed some more light on it on Monday, saying the Liberals increased the number of jets the air force is required to have available at a moment's notice.

Asked the reason for the change after the committee meeting, Hood said: "I'm not privy to the decisions behind the policy change."

The minister previously said the Liberals are not comfortable with the same level of "risk" as the previous government because Canada was not capable of meeting both NORAD demands and NATO demands at the same time.

Critics immediately latched onto Hood's comments as proof the Liberal decision to buy Hornets now and delay a competition to replace the CF-18s for five years is part of a larger plan to avoid buying the F-35.

"He's confirmed the numbers required was a political decision," said Conservative defence critic James Bezan. "This is a hoax and completely politically driven."

Hood revealed to reporters that the change implemented by the government since April relates to Canada's relationship with NATO.

Until recently, Canada committed a certain number of fighter jets as well as ships, troops and other military equipment on a voluntary basis each year. Any fighter jets committed were drawn from the stock providing defence of North America, Hood said.

But under the new policy, Canada will have what Hood described as a "firm" commitment to NATO in terms of the number of aircraft that it must provide. While he did not reveal specifics, Hood said the result is that he can't draw upon those defending the continent.

Defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute questioned why the government would change the policy when it was still in the midst of a comprehensive defence review.

"The change in policy makes what they're doing on fighters seem a lot more rational," he said.

"But it's interesting that change happened outside of the defence policy review, which is looking at all of our defence policies."

Perry also asked whether the Liberal government would shore up Canada's other commitments to NATO, notably to increase defence spending to two per cent of gross domestic product.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Senators issue warning over potential Mali peacekeeping mission

By: Murray Brewster, CBC News

A Senate committee has tossed political hurdles in front of the Trudeau government's plan to rejoin the ranks of peacekeeping nations, demanding more funding for the military and a clear end-date to whatever United Nations mission is undertaken.

Senators are also demanding the Liberal government seek the approval of Parliament before a deployment takes place.

The report, with eight recommendations, by the committee on national security and defence comes as the federal cabinet is set to debate, next month, where in Africa to contribute peacekeepers.

The Liberals made peacekeeping a cornerstone of their defence plan in the last election campaign and last summer committed up to 600 soldiers, 150 police officers and $450 million over three years towards a yet-to-be-defined series of missions.

A lot of detailed planning, including two trips to Africa by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, have gone into the pending cabinet decision.
Meeting current needs

But the Senate, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has encouraged to be independent, is laying down its own political markers, which could give opponents of the mission something to rally around.

"The military has needs of its own that are not being fully met," said Conservative Senator Dan Lang, the head of the committee.

He noted there are recruitment, training and equipment needs that are pressing and those should be dealt with before the army is committed to another overseas deployment.
Malian and MINUSMA soldiers carry the flag-draped coffins of two UN soldiers killed in a 2013 bomb attack in Kidal, during their funeral in Bamako, the capital of Mali. (Reuters)
"These are essential requirements that must be met," he said following the release of 55-page report.

"The committee believes (that) before the government increases our commitments to UN peace support operations, they must ensure adequate funding is available to meet the current needs of our Armed Forces."

Lang also questioned whether a deployment to Africa would be in Canada's national interest and said the most often discussed destination — Mali — has been described by international officials as a quagmire.
Avoid another Afghanistan

If Mali is the government's choice, he said the committee is worried the mission may slide into a counter-terrorism operation given the presence of jihadist elements, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

We don't want to get involved "in a situation somewhat similar to Afghanistan," said Lang.

"If we're getting involved in a commitment, and say it's Mali, I don't think we want to to led into a situation where all of a sudden we have a 10-year commitment."
Canadian soldiers patrol southwest of Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2010. (Anja Niedringhaus/Canadian Press)
Consideration of a peacekeeping mission should take a back seat given that the country's commitments to NATO and North American defence — through Norad — are not being met, said Lang.

As an example, he pointed to the fact Canada does not meet NATO's benchmark spending requirement of two per cent of the country's gross domestic product — something no Canadian government has done in decades.

"The government must fulfil our current national obligations before committing new resources — military or otherwise — to a dangerous and costly UN mission in Africa," Lang said.
Justify mission

Recognizing the government is plowing ahead regardless, the Senate committee attempted to set limits by demanding the Liberals table a "statement of justification" for the mission in both the House of Commons and the Senate.

It would include the size, scope, risks and objectives of the mission to ensure "bipartisan support" for troops going out the door.

Also, the committee says the public deserves to know the rules of engagement under which the troops will be operating, specifically what action they'll take to protect themselves and civilians.

Establishing a clear end-date is something the Netherlands did with its UN involvement, and the lesson should not be lost on Canada, said deputy committee chair Mobina Jaffer.

"They had a very, very clear exit strategy," said Jaffer. "We as a committee believe that is very important."

She also encouraged Canada to be more like the Dutch in setting out its strategy objectives for missions.

CF-18 Crashes near Cold Lake: Pilot Killed

CTV News

A Canadian fighter jet has crashed in the Cold Lake, Alta. area, CTV News has learned.

It's not clear yet why the CF-18 went down or whether the pilot survived.

Cold Lake is the site of a major Canadian air force base on the border between Alberta and Saskatchewan.

A spokesman for the Canadian Armed Forces said the crash happened Monday morning inside the Cold Lake Air Weapons Range in Saskatchewan.

"4 Wing emergency services, including 417 Combat Support Squadron, are currently en route to secure the area of the crash," Capt. Mat Strong wrote in an email.

"Our primary concern at this time is the status and safety of the aircraft's occupant and any impact to the immediate area. It is far too early in the situation to determine the cause of this incident. As more details become available, they will be provided."

The commander of the RCAF has confirmed the Pilot of the aircraft was killed.

More details as they become available. 

DND Confirms: RCAF Not Looking to Acquire EA-18G Growlers

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

As the dust settles after last week’s announcement that Canada would buy 18 Super Hornet fighter jets, Defence Watch readers have raised an interesting question.

Will any of those 18 aircraft be EA-18G Growlers?

A variant of the Super Hornet, the EA-18G Growler provides tactical jamming and electronic protection. If Canada were to acquire those type of aircraft – or at least some to be part of that 18-plane order – then that would be a truly game-changing development.

The Royal Australia Air Force has gone that route. Boeing was awarded the contract for 12 Growlers to be acquired by the RAAF under a foreign military sales agreement with the U.S. Navy. In July of 2015, Boeing and the U.S. Navy turned over the first EA-18G Growler to Australia. (Australia is the first country other than the U.S. to obtain this aircraft, Boeing noted.)

The Growlers are to enhance the RAAF’s current fleet, which includes 24 Super Hornets, Boeing pointed out.

Image result for ea-18g
EA-18G at Whidbey April 2007
So will Canada take the plunge?

The official word from the Department of National Defence is no. None of the 18 Super Hornets will be a Growler variant; just the “vanilla” type of Super Hornet aircraft.

An opportunity wasted perhaps?

RCAF’s Lt.-Gen. Hood throws a monkey wrench into Liberal claims about CF-18s

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

On Tuesday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan claimed that the government had to proceed immediately with the purchase of 18 Super Hornets from Boeing. Negotiations would begin soon. Sajjin said the reason was that a “capability gap” had materialized. It was serious, he warned. It meant that there were not enough CF-18s around to meet Canada’s defence needs. Both Sajjan and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance warned that Canada could be vulnerable to a 911-type attack because of the lack of fighter jets.

It looks like that memo didn’t reach the desk of Lt. Gen. Mike Hood, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Testifying back in April to a Commons defence committee, Hood never mentioned anything about a capability gap. In fact, he said he was comfortable that the CF-18s could continue operating until 2025 – or even beyond. That was more than enough time for a full replacement of the fleet, he suggested.

So the committee went back for clarification on that point. The RCAF obliged with an answer this week.

“The Commander of the RCAF is confident that, based on the latest information available, there is sufficient capacity to support a transition to a replacement fighter capability based on the ongoing projects and planned life extension to 2025 for the CF-18,” it noted in a statement provided to the defence committee this week.

“New upgrades to F/A-18 (CF-18) systems are being developed and implemented by Allies, which would reduce operational, technical and cost risks to Canada’s CF-18 fleet if additional capability improvements are required.”

UPDATE – Defence Minister Sajjan’s spokeswoman Jordan Owens has responded to this Defence Watch article. Here is what she has to say:

“The capability gap is about there being an insufficient number of aircraft available on any given day to meet our existing NORAD obligations and NATO commitments combined, not to mention having the capacity to react to unforeseen and emerging threats. Keeping old planes flying longer won’t address the capability gap. With the current availability rate of Canada’s 77 CF-18s, there is a capability gap that the Air Force has to risk manage. With the current availability rate what it is, even if the 77 airplanes could fly forever, there still wouldn’t be enough of them to simultaneously meet our NORAD and NATO commitments. The only way to address the capability gap is to improve the availability rate of our fighter fleet. This means we need more people and it means we need more planes. The situation the previous government left us in absolutely means we will need to extend the life of the fleet, in order to make up for the time they wasted not procuring a replacement for the CF-18s.”

Canadian soldiers Appear headed to Mali


OTTAWA—The federal cabinet will decide soon where to send Canadian soldiers in Africa, with Mali emerging the most likely prospect for the military peace support operation, the Star has learned.

The range of options, prepared by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Global Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion, may be brought to cabinet by as early as Tuesday or the following week, sources said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who campaigned on a promise to re-engage Canadian soldiers in United Nations peacekeeping, is said not to have made up his mind yet, despite obvious pressure building from French and UN diplomats to choose Mali.

Any military mission to Mali in West Africa is expected to engage Canadian ground and air forces along with an intensive Canadian development effort to support the ongoing UN mission headquartered in the capital, Bamako.

The government has pledged up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers for its Africa peace mission. The options being prepared for cabinet suggest that a deployment at the upper range of those numbers would have the greatest impact and offer the best chance of success, sources said.

It’s likely the government will also deploy helicopters as part of the mission — the air force has Griffons and larger Chinook transport choppers. That would respond to a direct appeal by the United Nations for the Mali mission.

It would also help ensure that deployed troops have their own means of moving around and a dedicated lifeline in the event of an emergency.

The Canadian deployment would support a separate French-led military operation across the broader region, known as the Sahel, which is targeting Islamist terrorist groups operating in the northern part of Mali. Known as Operation Barkhane, the French-led counter-insurgency mission is on front lines that span the borders of Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad and Niger.

Canadian soldiers could well face the very grim prospect of dealing with determined and hardened fighters, including child soldiers, in a way that could become challenging for the military and for a Canadian public.

Children, while often recruited by armies across Africa to act as fighters, intelligence gatherers, sex slaves or domestic labour, have been used by Islamist groups in Mali as suicide bombers, said Shelly Whitman, executive director of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative.

“It’s a huge issue for Mali,” Whitman said in an interview. “One of the things we’ve been saying to the minister of national defence, as well as to Dion, is (that) if you are going to send the guys in there you better make sure they’re prepared for this issue.”

It could mean engaging in firefights with children, trying to remove them from conflict zones in order to demobilize them, and working to prevent radicalization and recruitment in the first place.

The Dallaire Initiative, a global partnership housed at Dalhousie University, works to prevent the use of child soldiers worldwide. It has developed a handbook and training resources to help military forces deal with the moral dilemmas associated with confronting a child soldier, the risks associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, and teaches ways to improve how they deal with child soldiers in “non-lethal interactions.”

Its advisers have consulted closely with the Canadian Forces, and retired Lt.-Gen. Roméo Dallaire, a former senator, travelled in August to Africa with Sajjan on the minister’s five-country tour, to Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Kenya.

Whitman said she advised the government against going to Mali, saying it must weigh the impact on Canadian soldiers “and the ability of us to have success.” She believes Canadian troops could make a greater and more tangible difference if they went instead to Central African Republic, the Congo or South Sudan, and played a larger mentorship role with African troops already on the ground.

How to engage with child soldiers is just one challenge among many that await the Canadians in country beset by violence and a breakdown in government institutions.

The UN mission in Mali was established in April 2013 after Islamist groups and extremist elements overran towns in the north. French forces deployed to assist Malian troops regain control and the UN force was brought in later to help stabilize the situation.

But the violence has continued to take a toll on daily life, with delayed elections, the displacement of some 130,000 Malians and violations of the 2015 ceasefire agreement meant to bring peace between warring factions.

The UN mission in Mali, known as MINUSMA — which includes troops from Burkina Faso, Bangladesh, Niger, Togo and Chad — has been assisting Malian forces with training, logistics, intelligence and co-ordinating operations.

But the operation, with 10,635 military personnel and another 1,264 police officers on the ground, is short of troops, police and equipment.

“We do have very pressing needs in Mali,” Hervé Ladsous, the UN’s undersecretary general for Peacekeeping Operations said in an interview with CBC’s The House.

He said Canada could bring many assets to a Mali mission, citing its “professional” army with a francophone background, making it able to communicate with local residents, and one that has integrated women throughout its ranks.

He singled out the UN’s request for additional helicopters, saying the aircraft are “absolutely critical” in northern Mali.

In 2014 report Amnesty International said children as young as 16 were being recruited by armed groups in Mali. It raised concerns after finding child soldiers locked up in adult jails, denied access to family members and legal advice.

“At the same time there were pro-government militias who were recruiting child soldiers,” said Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s researcher for West Africa.

In the north, there has been a breakdown of civil society with no one to run the schools, leaving children susceptible to be pulled into the ranks of the armed groups, he said.

“The kids are on their own,” Mootoo told the Star in an interview from Paris, where he is based.

“When the state fails to look after the population, including the kids, there is the risk of an increase in the recruitment of child soldiers,” he said.

Mootoo said the training and discipline of Canadian soldiers would bring an important contribution to Mali, in the wake of abuses catalogued by the UN by troops already on the ground, including illegal detentions and excessive use of force.

Jake Bell, a retired Canadian forces colonel previously posted to Bosnia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Congo who does consulting work for the Dallaire Initiative, said wherever it deploys, the Canadian mission should take a broad and long-term approach.

“The reality is prevention is the key, and that is dealing with the long-term development issues that create the conditions that are ripe for the recruitment of children,” he said.

“I think you’ll find — and most of the people that I know that ever wore a uniform, that were ever involved in conflict zones, will tell you — that violence will never solve anything. The best you can hope for with violence, with force, is to create the conditions that will get the people to solve the problem on their own.”

The latest UN assessment of Mali paints a picture of the dire situation in the country and the violence that puts peacekeepers in the crosshairs of “complex” attacks involving rockets, mortars, mines and even remote-controlled bombs.

Over the summer, there was a “significant” increase in attacks aimed at Malian troops and the UN forces that now often accompany them on patrols — 66 in total in the three months leading up to the end of September. Those attacks left 13 peacekeepers dead and 32 injured.

“The attacks have become increasingly frequent, bold and well co-ordinated,” the UN report states.

In one July incident, attackers used 18 vehicles and several motorbikes to assault a Malian military camp, killing 15 soldiers and injuring 34 others. In May, an attack on a UN military convoy left five peacekeepers dead.

In response, the UN mission has become more “proactive and robust,” launching operations in concert with Malian troops and French forces to root out terrorists, the report says.

But Ladsous says that the UN mission is not meant to be a counter-insurgency operation, saying that role is filled by the French in Mali.

He said the UN mission aims to support the political process, the disarmament of combatants, training local forces and protecting local civilians.

“Very clearly, we are not designed and cannot be the anti-terrorist tool of choice,” he told CBC.

The UN in Mali

The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has been in Mali since April 2013, and boasts 13,083 personnel in total, including:

Uniformed personnel: 11,883

Troops: 10,579

Military observers: 40

Police: 1,264

Civilian personnel: 1,246

International civilians: 585

Local civilians: 661

UN Volunteers: 146

Fatalities: 106

Approved 2016-17: $933,411,000