Friday, December 16, 2016

Canadian Special Forces to receive Ultra Light Combat Vehicles

By; David Pugliese, Defence Watch

Canada’s special forces are getting a fleet of new combat vehicles that resemble dune buggies on steroids.

The vehicles, designed with the help of NASCAR engineers, will each be able to carry up to nine commandos.

American company Polaris Industries has been awarded the $20 million contract to deliver 78 of what Canadian special forces are calling the Ultra Light Combat Vehicle, or ULCV.

Image result for DAGOR vehicle from Polaris Industries
Canadian special forces have bought the DAGOR vehicle from Polaris Industries

The first 52 vehicles will be purchased immediately and delivered in 2017, said Pierre-Alain Bujold, a spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada. Polaris will be providing its DAGOR vehicle to the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, or CANSOFCOM. The additional 26 vehicles will be delivered by early 2018, Bujold said.

A weapons turret will be installed on the vehicles, and they will be used by special forces mainly for off-road operations. They can be transported by a variety of Canadian military aircraft, including Chinook helicopters and C-17 and C-130 transport planes.

Canadian special forces currently operate a fleet of U.S. built High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles or Humvees. Those vehicles are located at Garrison Petawawa in the Ottawa Valley but can be used by various CANSOFCOM units, including the Ottawa-based Joint Task Force 2 counter-terrorism unit.

CANSOFCOM has upgraded the Humvees but wants eventually to buy replacement vehicles.

The contract with Polaris includes technical support services and integrated logistics support for two years, involving everything from spare parts to driver training.

Polaris Industries will be using the services of Black’s Corners Motorsports (BCM), from Carleton Place, Ont., for post-delivery support, Bujold said. That includes support for the life of the vehicles, repairs, the warehousing of spare parts and any warranty support as needed.

The DAGOR was designed with the help of a company that builds vehicles used in NASCAR events, and is also used by U.S. and Australian special forces.

John Olson, vice president and general manager of Polaris Government and Defence, said in a statement that the firm is “pleased to have been selected to provide our DAGOR vehicles to CANSOFCOM as this major international program award builds on our strong current domestic base.”

“We are proud to partner with Canadian government and industry to deliver this ground mobility capability and the lifecycle support to smartly sustain it,” he added.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Army bought another type of ultra-light vehicle from Polaris as well as trailers. Those vehicles are to be used by three light infantry battalions.

Sajjan: Aleppo is a Tragedy; But Canada Not Getting Involved in Syria

By: David Pugliese, National Post 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says that though what is happening in the city of Aleppo is a tragedy, Canada will not be getting involved militarily in the Syrian civil war.

Aleppo had been under siege by Syrian government troop with support from Russian forces, leading to massive casualties and widespread destruction of the once-bustling city.

Under the terms of a new deal, up to 4,000 rebel fighters and their families will be allowed to leave parts of the city Thursday, which is now mostly under control by Syrian government forces after a four-year battle.

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“What is happening in Aleppo is tragic and it needs to change,” Sajjan told journalists Thursday on a conference call from the London, where he attended a meeting of defence ministers from the nations contributing to the war against ISIL.

But when asked whether Canada would join other nations in training moderate Syrian forces, who are fighting both the Syrian government as well as troops from the extremist Islamic State, Sajjan said the Liberal government has no plans to get involved.

“Our focus has always been in Iraq and that is our focus now,” he said. “Right now we have no plans to be militarily involved in Syria.”

Canada is contributing surveillance aircraft and a refueling plane to the coalition fighting ISIL in Iraq. It also has around 200 Canadian special forces on the ground, advising Kurdish forces involved in advance on the ISIL-held city of Mosul. Canadian special forces have taken part in the fighting, firing anti-tank missiles at ISIL forces and engaging in gun battles.

Sajjan said Canada’s involvement in the Iraq mission will continue in 2017 but there could be changes to that contribution once Mosul is retaken.

Battle for Mosul will shape Canada's ground commitment in Iraq

Canadian special forces launch a mission from a base in Erbil, Iraq, on Nov. 14, 2016
Canadian special forces launch a mission from a base in Erbil, Iraq, on Nov. 14, 2016 (Murray Brewster/CBC)
By: Murray Brewster, CBC News 

Canada will continue to have a military mission in Iraq through 2017, but the size and scope of it have yet to be determined, the country's defence minister said in advance of an international meeting with allies battling ISIS.

Defence planners have been spinning various scenarios for months, but the Liberal government committed — when it overhauled the mission against ISIS last February — to reviewing the deployment of special forces, helicopters, surveillance planes, an air-to-air refueling jet and a military field hospital.

The assessment is due by March of next year, but the last budget numbers put before Parliament have set aside only $41 million for the operation, less than one-third of what's being spent in the current budget year.

'We need to make sure that troops we have trained are up to the level where they can hold the gains they have [made].'
- Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan

Earlier in the fall, the country's operations commander, Lt.-Gen. Steve Bowes, said the military had been given orders, but its "posture is not oriented towards" an extended mission.

Asked on Wednesday whether the military commitment would continue, Sajjan told CBC News: "Absolutely."

Iraqi security forces are still involved in the battle to retake Mosul, the country's second-largest city, from deeply entrenched ISIS fighters. Iraqi forces are being aided by Canadian and allied special forces soldiers, who are providing not only advice, but covering fire.

"We need to make sure that troops we have trained are up to the level where they can hold the gains they have [made]," Sajjan told CBC News.

Whether the Kurds and the Iraqis can effectively provide security is a fundamental question and consideration, he said.

"We entered when Iraqi security forces couldn't hold the ground and do what they are supposed to do. So, the last thing you want to do is just leave without making sure you've answered that question."
Teaching new lessons

If you listen to the Kurds, whom Canadians have been training since the fall of 2014, the answer is they need a different kind of support once Mosul has been cleared of extremists.

One of the Kurdish Peshmerga commanders taking part in the battle, Brig. Adel Rash, recently made a pitch to Canada's deputy commander of special forces for specialized training in counter-insurgency warfare.

The training Canadian special forces have provided to the Kurds thus far involves traditional combat skills, not the intelligence-driven shadow warfare that characterized the decade-long combat commitment in Afghanistan.
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Most military planners, including many at the Pentagon, expect ISIS to revert to a guerrilla war once it has been driven out of Mosul.

"We are in need of training courses," Rash said in an interview with CBC News. "ISIS activity is changing towards an insurgency and we need to be prepared. We expect Canadians to play a good role."
A CH-146 Griffon lands in a field northwest of Erbil. The helicopter detachment is a recent addition to Canada's mission in Iraq. (Murray Brewster/CBC)
Government ministers from countries taking part in the campaign to defeat ISIS will get an update on where the fight could be headed at a meeting in London on Thursday.

Sajjan was asked whether he is laying groundwork within the Liberal government for an extended mission that would involve preparing the Kurds for a guerrilla war, in much the same fashion that Canada trained Afghan forces to take on the Taliban.

He left the door open to that possibility.

"The goal is always to eliminate the threat," Sajjan said. "That is the goal, but we will have to assess, at the time, what is needed."

A liberated Mosul will need police forces, reconstruction and development to get back on its feet, and those will be major considerations in the upcoming assessment, he added.

If it is any indication, military engineers recently put the finishing touches on a semi-permanent military camp in Erbil, which houses different elements of the mission.

Major construction only started in June and some barracks just opened last month at the $3.75-million centre.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

RCAF Trainign Contract Delayed until 2017

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

A $1.5 billion project to train Canada’s fighter pilots, touted by the Liberal government as an example of how it is improving defence procurement, has gone off the rails.

Discovery Air Defence aircraft training with RCAF CF-18s.
Discovery Air Defence aircraft training with RCAF CF-18s. (Photo courtesy Discovery Air)
A private company was to have been selected by the end of December to provide aircraft and pilots to act as adversaries in training for Canadian fighter pilots, as well as provide planes to act as the enemy for Canadian land and naval forces.

But the Liberal government has quietly pushed the contract award date to next year, an extension that could see the deal announced as late as October.

Sources say government procurement specialists don’t have the resources to review the information from the bids on the Contracted Airborne Training Services (CATS) project and the process is still limping along.

Earlier this year Liberal government officials, including Procurement Minister Judy Foote, highlighted how CATS and other projects were benefiting from a new “win-win evaluation process.” The process was supposed to streamline and simplify defence equipment purchases.

But the Liberals have now delayed the CATS contract. Bids were submitted from various aerospace firms in February 2016 and were valid for a one-year period. That period has now been extended to Oct. 31, 2017 although there is the possibility the contract could be awarded sooner, sources say.

“We are not in a position to provide an announcement date for the awarding of the CATS contract, as we are still in the evaluation phase,” noted a statement from Public Services and Procurement Canada to the Ottawa Citizen. “The Request for Proposals, as it was initially posted in 2015, did not include a commitment to have a contract in place by December 2016.”

The Citizen, however, has obtained the tender documents from both 2015 and 2016 and they clearly state the contract is to be awarded by Dec. 2016. In addition, the Department of National Defence acquisition guide states the contract would be awarded by the end of 2016.

Earlier this year, Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesman Pierre-Alain Bujold released the following statement about CATS to the Citizen: “The evaluation, which includes aircraft inspection, is expected to take up to five months. The contract is expected to be awarded by the end of 2016.”

It is unclear why the department now claims that is not the case.

Discovery Air Defence from Montreal, Que., has been providing such services for the Canadian military since 2005. It has also expanded its operations internationally and was recently hired to do the same thing for Germany’s armed forces.

But the Canadian government wanted to open the competition up to other firms.

Two firms have publicly acknowledged they submitted bids; one from Discovery Air, the other from CAE, also from Quebec, who has allied itself with Draken, a U.S. firm.

Garry Venman, vice president of business development and government relations at Discovery Air Defence, said the company looks forward to the announcement of the winning bid and working with the Canadian government in the future. He said the firm pioneered the concept in Canada of such airborne services and is now considered a leader in the industry throughout the world.

Chris Stellwag, spokesman of CAE, said the firm is also eying potential international business for such services. “We have a bid in and we await the Canadian government’s decision,” he said.

CATS will provide aircraft to the Canadian Forces to simulate hostile threats for ground and naval forces as well as fighter pilots. The winning firm also provides aircraft to tow targets and carry electronic warfare systems for various training scenarios, according to the information supplied by Public Services and Procurement Canada to industry.

CATS will run over an initial 10-year period, followed by the option to continue for another five years.

The winning bidder is required not only to provide planes and pilots but also maintenance crews and engineering support. The Canadian government estimates that aircraft operated by the winning bidder will have to fly between 2,500 and 3,500 hours a year.

The majority of services will be provided in Victoria, BC; Cold Lake, Alta; Bagotville, Que; and Halifax, NS. Other training flights could take place outside Canada, including in the U.S. and Mexico.

Ottawa delays decision on overseas military deployment


OTTAWA—An announcement on the deployment of Canadian soldiers on an overseas peace mission has been postponed until after the holidays as Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says the government wants to take the time to “get this right.”

Sajjan said the decision — originally expected before Christmas — is taking time because of the complexity in organizing a mission that involves more than just the Defence Department but foreign affairs and development, too.

“This is a whole-of-government effort in terms of where we’re going to be doing peace operations,” he told reporters on Parliament Hill Tuesday.

“A lot of work has been done. But you know, there’s still work that needs to be done in terms of making sure that we co-ordinate and synchronize our efforts within as a government, and also within international partners as well,” Sajjan said.

The Liberal government is weighing options for the deployment of up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers.

The Star has reported that the Canadian mission is likely headed to Mali in West Africa, where French forces and a United Nations mission are already on the ground. That mission ranks as the most deadly for the UN as peacekeepers have found themselves targeted by insurgent fighters.

“We want to make sure that we get this right. It’s a very big decision as a country when we send troops anywhere in the world. I also want to make sure that we can have the right impact,” Sajjan said.

In the Commons Tuesday, Conservative MPs pressed the Liberals to follow the example of the Dutch government, which presented its Parliament with a detailed outline of its proposed mission to Mali in 2013.

The 14-page letter given to Dutch lawmakers outlined the strategy, cost, risks, goals and challenges for that mission.

In a recent report, the Senate defence committee cited the Dutch letter and said the federal government should table a “statement of justification” containing similar facts about the upcoming Canadian mission.

On Tuesday, that call was echoed by Conservative MPs, who pressed the Liberals to be forthcoming about the deployment.

“In the Netherlands the government is open and transparent about missions of this nature. A letter explaining the minute details of the mission are shared with Parliament, and there is a debate,” said Pierre Paul-Hus.

“Will the Liberals commit to as much transparency,” said the Conservative MP (Charlesbourg — Haute-Saint-Charles).

James Bezan (Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman) demanded to know whether the Liberals will submit the proposed deployment to Parliament for debate and vote. In his response, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion didn’t rule it out.

“It is a very serious decision. The government is considering it very seriously. We are working with our allies to see in which way Canada will fulfill its responsibility for peace in the world, and we are also considering in which way we will engage Parliament about it,” Dion told MPs.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Surge of Afghanistan veterans to test Canadian mental-health care resource

By: LES PERREAUX, Globe and Mail 

For the first time since Canada went to war in Afghanistan, the number of soldiers who served there and retired will outnumber those still in the military, a tipping point that will shift a significant mental-health care burden from the army to overstretched provinces and Veterans Affairs.

A Canadian soldier walks during a patrol at the village of Bazaar e Panjwai in Kandahar May 29, 2009. (JORGE SILVA/REUTERS)
A Canadian soldier walks during a patrol at the village of Bazaar e Panjwai in Kandahar May 29, 2009.
As of late November, 22,059 of the 40,026 military personnel who served in Afghanistan remained in the Canadian Armed Forces, according to the military. At the recent rate of retirement, the number will slip below half in 2017 and fall rapidly from there.

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr says his department is ready for the sudden increase in volume of former soldiers with recent combat experience. Advocates and mental-health experts doubt the department’s preparedness, noting civilian patients already face long waits for mental-health treatment.

A Globe and Mail investigation into suicide by men and women who served in the Afghanistan war confirmed 71 cases up until November. Among those people, 15 had been released from the military, but advocates like Mr. Harding say many more than 15 have died this way and gone undocumented. A study of Canadian veterans using data from a 2010 survey found 6 per cent had suicidal thoughts. Other surveys have found 25 per cent have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or drug and alcohol abuse.

The Canadian Armed Forces invest heavily in the well-being of its personnel and has made progress screening, tracking and studying mental-health issues in the ranks – particularly suicide rates that seem to be growing among soldiers who fought in Afghanistan. But care shifts to overburdened provincial and territorial health-care providers as people leave the military and are no longer CAF’s responsibility. Meanwhile, Veterans Affairs still has no comprehensive system for monitoring veterans’ health.

“The day a soldier takes off the uniform, they cease to be systematically tracked,” said Brian Harding, a veterans’ advocate who is a member of Mr. Hehr’s mental-health advisory group. For several years, Mr. Harding and others have been pushing Veterans Affairs to produce data on the scope of the suicides. “Canada did not previously have a reckoning of mental-health issues among veterans in any sizable cohort in modern history. We didn’t have Vietnam. We had to deal with this fresh,” Mr. Harding said.

Veterans Affairs officials say they are in contact with 250,000 of Canada’s 600,000 military veterans, most of whom never served in Afghanistan. Under current legislation, veterans must initiate contact with the department. Veterans Affairs is setting up a system to collect statistical data on suicide among veterans from outside agencies. Details have not been released, and the first annual report is not expected until late 2017.

Veterans Affairs’ share of caring for Afghanistan combat veterans has accelerated rapidly in recent years. In 2013, only 21 per cent of soldiers who served in Afghanistan had been released. In 2016, that figure reached 45 per cent, and will pass 50 per cent by the fall of 2017.

Mr. Hehr said his department is ready. “I believe we are,” he said in a recent interview. “We understand that the people who served in Afghanistan will be coming out. We started mapping this out, that many will need mental-health support and physical support when they leave their service.”

While Veterans Affairs cannot force veterans to get help or submit to public-health tracking, he said the department must continue to improve communications. “What we have to do as Veterans Affairs Canada is say we’re open for business,” he said. “We’re here for support. But we can’t force anybody to come through our doors.”

Soldiers have a host of health advantages over veterans and other civilians, Mr. Harding said. “They have easy access to health care, better access to mental-health resources than civilians, and ready access to peer support,” he said. “They get specific training in mental resilience. Leadership is trained to watch for signs of struggle. Sick-leave benefits are excellent.”

Five veteran suicide cases examined in detail in The Globe investigation bolster the point that access to services drops when soldiers retire. The parents of retired private Tyler Hulme described how he overdosed on medication about a month after his release. He had been told it would be a four-month wait for a civilian psychiatrist in Ontario. Retired sergeant Raynald Côté did seek and receive treatment, but fell into isolation and despair with little of the peer support he had in the army.

Retired sergeant Claude Emond had a civilian psychiatrist and massage therapist. “He had services, but when he’d come back from sessions, he felt it was superficial. They didn’t understand his military background and seemed to just be checking boxes,” said his wife, Sylvie Duchesne.

Veterans Affairs provides an array of services from 1-800 crisis hotlines to education funding and mental-health treatment. The department started funding new clinics for operational stress injury in major centres in 2007. They have slowly spread across the country and are operated by provincial health authorities.

Most front-line services are provided by insurance companies, private contractors, service groups and the health ministries and social services of the provinces and territories. The system can be a bewildering tangle for vets.

Alexandra Heber, the newly appointed chief psychiatrist for Veterans Affairs, said untangling that web is one of the keys to planning for the biggest cohort of combat vets since the Korean War in the 1950s. “Over the years, we’ve had one service added on top of something else and something else. We are creating more organization for all of those services,” she said.

But Deborah Harrison, a psychologist and retired professor, has studied the effects of deployment on military families and recently co-wrote a book on military children called Growing up in Armyville. She says Canada is unprepared for the mental-health burden the war will place on provinces already short of psychiatrists, psychologists and other providers.

“We don’t always grasp how historically significant the Afghanistan deployment was,” Dr. Harrison said. “It was the longest military engagement in Canadian history. It was a very dangerous deployment and much more stressful for soldiers and families than previous deployments.

“It was known there would be casualties, but nobody was prepared for the unmeetable demands on Canada’s mental-health care system from that deployment.”

National Shipbuilding Behind Schedule

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

Reports reveal construction of supply ships, polar icebreaker is behind schedule.

OTTAWA—The federal shipbuilding program has hit another setback, as government documents show more delays in the construction of the navy’s new supply ships and the Canadian Coast Guard’s highly anticipated polar icebreaker.

The delays, revealed in departmental reports recently tabled in the House of Commons, are expected to cost taxpayers as the navy and coast guard are forced to rely even more heavily on stop-gap measures to address their needs.

The two supply ships, which together will cost $2.6 billion, and the $1.3-billion polar icebreaker, dubbed the John G. Diefenbaker, are to be constructed one after the other in Vancouver by shipbuilding company Seaspan.
A replacement for the 50-year-old  icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent will be delayed until at least 2022.
A replacement for the 50-year-old icebreaker Louis S. St-Laurent will be delayed until at least 2022. (JONATHAN HAYWARD / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
All three vessels are desperately needed as technical problems recently forced the navy’s two existing supply ships into early retirement, while the coast guard’s 50-year-old Louis St-Laurent heavy icebreaker was supposed to retire next year.

National Defence and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans reported last year that the first new supply ship would enter the water in 2020, while the Diefenbaker would arrive in 2021 or 2022.

But the departments’ most recent timetable says construction of the first supply ship won’t be finished until at least 2021, with completion of the Diefenbaker similarly delayed until 2022 or 2023.

When the federal government’s $35-billion national shipbuilding plan, which includes construction of new Arctic patrol vessels and a fleet of warships in Halifax, was first announced in 2010, it was expected the supply ships and icebreaker would all be finished by 2018.

National Defence spokesman Evan Koronewski blamed “challenges associated with completing the detailed design and organizing the entire supply chain” for the delay in the supply ship schedule.

Those challenges were also responsible for pushing back construction of the Diefenbaker, as work on the icebreaker can’t start until the supply ships are finished.

The federal government has already committed millions of dollars in recent years to extend the lives of the current icebreaker fleet.

But the new delays help explain why the coast guard started looking last month at whether it can lease between one and five icebreakers from the private sector for the foreseeable future.

They also mean that the navy will be forced to rely more on allies as well as a converted civilian cargo ship to provide fuel, food and other supplies to Canadian naval ships at sea.

There have been questions over the years about Seaspan’s ability to construct complex military vessels, given that its previous shipbuilding experience has largely revolved around ferries and tugboats.

The company referred questions to the government.

But defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute suggested bad planning is to blame, as government officials were overly optimistic — or wholly unrealistic — about the shipbuilding plan’s various timelines.

“The whole enterprise is very behind schedule,” he said.