By: Anthony Furey, Sun Media
The Canadian Forces should develop a new brigade that can take on sea, land and air roles all in one, a new paper recommends.
A tri-service rapid response brigade, as it’s called, would be a groundbreaking endeavour that rolls in all the current and traditional capabilities of the Canadian Forces as well as new measures like attack helicopters, drones (both armed and unarmed), cyber warfare specialists and more.
It would be built upon the current training models and performance levels of the Joint Task Force Two and the Special Operations Regiment.
“Canada neither needs nor can afford a large general service military,” the paper, Canada’s Defence Policy: Now Taking Off, argues in one section of a broader study of the latest defence policy review. “What it can develop and maintain are smaller units consisting of highly-trained personnel with multi-modal capability.”
The idea for the rapid response brigade came from speaking with senior NATO figures who said Canada’s allies would really benefit from us having such a capability, explained the report’s co-author Brian Hay, a retired major in the reserves and current vice-chair of the Mackenzie Institute, a national security think-tank.
“Many military conflicts today are going to be fought on a smaller unit basis,” Hay said in a phone interview. “We’ve got to have the capability of standing alone if they have to do so.”
While other countries have similar initiatives, the closest comparison is the U.S. Marine Corps. This new brigade could do a range of activities from disaster relief to fighting terrorism. “We’re trying to encourage broader thinking and outside-the-box approaches,” Hay added.
Canada’s defence policy review, announced by the government in June, pledged to increase defence spending to inch towards our NATO commitments as well as increase the head count of both the regular and reserve forces by the thousands.
But there was no plan that came close to this one. The current and former Canadian Forces members I spoke to were all supportive of the general idea.
One veteran who served tours in Afghanistan stressed we need to break away from the regimented system and move to more blended training and battleground operations.
A former platoon commander was enthusiastic but skeptical about the implementation due to what he called the Canadian military’s “institutional lethargy” and “lack of inertia that is profound even by federal government standards.”
This notion, that change at the military, when it even happens, does so at a snail’s pace is nothing new but an even bigger stumbling block for an ambitious project like this.
Spencer Fraser, a former military officer and defence industry executive who is currently CEO of Federal Fleet Services, said “the challenge we’ve always had in Canada is the elements have been piecemeal deployed.” One example he cites is when the army is deployed abroad but becomes part of a U.K. brigade.
“Canada can cobble together high readiness units ready to go — and very professional ones — but if we were told to put together a fighting brigade to go to the Korean Peninsula, we’d have a difficult time,” said Fraser.
The paper, also authored by Honorary Lt.-Col. Matthew Gaasenbeek III, acknowledged the logistical challenges — predicting it would take a decade to get this up and running in a non-wartime environment. That’s certainly no reason not to try, though. It’s an idea that should be seriously considered.
“We have an air force that’s an air force. An army that’s an army. A navy that’s a navy. And they support each other when they can,” said Hay. “But when you’re in a conflict, you’re in it together.”