Tuesday, January 3, 2017

RCAF Sets-Aside CF-18 for Airshow...but can't meet NATO-NORAD Commitments?

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

The Canadian military is assigning a CF-18 fighter jet to the airshow circuit for next year, despite Liberal government claims it does not have enough aircraft to meet its defence commitments.

Each year, the Royal Canadian Air Force assigns a CF-18, painted to highlight a specific theme, to fly at airshows across North America.

But the decision to assign a jet for next year’s airshow circuit comes just after Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance warned that Canada doesn’t have enough of the jets to meet its military commitments to defend North America and contribute to NATO.

The plane, known as the CF-18 demonstration aircraft, will perform at 35 different locations in the U.S. and Canada from April to October.

In November, Sajjan announced the government needed to purchase 18 Boeing Super Hornet jets as a stop-gap measure since Canada didn’t have enough CF-18 fighters to perform military missions. The Liberals plan to buy a replacement fleet for the aging CF-18s at a much later date.

But critics have questioned Sajjan’s claim there are not enough jets, instead arguing the Super Hornet deal is designed to allow the Liberals to push off the replacement of the CF-18 fleet until well after the next election.

Conservative MP James Bezan, the party’s defence critic, said the assignment of the CF-18 demonstration jet to the airshow circuit undercuts the Liberal government’s claim there are not enough of the fighter jets to go around.

“I understand that we like to go out there and fly the colours and that it’s part of promoting our Canadian Armed Forces but at the same time it just shows this capability gap doesn’t exist,” Bezan said Thursday. “This has been completely manufactured by the Prime Minister’s Office to make the argument that there is a need for a sole-source purchase of the Super Hornets.”

RCAF spokesman David Lavallee said the CF-18 demonstration team aircraft is part of the operational CF-18 fleet. But he added that, “the assignment of a single CF-18 for the purpose of air demonstration is not affecting current operational tasks.”

The aircraft also serves a valuable role as part of the RCAF’s recruiting campaign, Lavallee noted.

If the aircraft, to be painted in 2017 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the confederation of Canada, is needed for a mission, then it would be redirected for operations. “While the CF-18 Demo Team is an important tool to support outreach and recruiting, it is in fact also included in our mission-ready aircraft availability,” Lavallee added.

Sajjan and Vance have raised the spectre of the military not having enough planes to deal with a terrorist attack. Sajjan said the Liberal government “will not risk-manage this gap.”

“We’re going to make sure that we have enough aircraft to do this and that’s what our (Super Hornet) announcement was about,” he added.

But in November, the head of the RCAF acknowledged the capability gap issue was created by the Liberal government’s recent rejigging of defence policy. Lt.-Gen. Mike Hood said he wasn’t privy to why the policy changed. Hood said the gap was created earlier in 2016 when the Liberals changed defence policy, requiring the RCAF to meet both its NATO and North American air defence commitments at the same time.

“That demands a certain number of aircraft that our present CF-18 fleet is unable to meet on its day-to-day serviceability rate,” Hood told senators at a committee hearing. “They’ve (the Liberals) changed the policy of the number of aircraft I have to have.”

Delaying the eventual replacement of the CF-18 fleet would allow the Liberal government to avoid, for the time being, the potential of the F-35 stealth fighter winning any such competition. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has campaigned against the purchase of that plane, claiming it does not work and is too costly.

Bezan also pointed out that the CF-18s are being used more to do fly-overs for sporting events, including a number of flights throughout the fall. “They seem to be available for all sorts of public relations work but at the same time we aren’t seeing them doing military air policing or combat missions which the RCAF has done with pride in the past,” he said.

Liberals courting risk with upcoming peace mission

By: Bruce Champion-Smith, Toronto Star

The Peacekeeping Monument in Ottawa honours the more than 110,000 Canadian soldiers who have served in peacekeeping operations around the world since 1948.

OTTAWA—The stark monument, titled “Reconciliation,” features the statues of two men and a woman on a parapet, their gazes fixed in the distance.

This depiction of three peacekeepers is unique in the world, the federal government says. Set near Ottawa’s ByWard Market, the monument is meant to honour the more than 110,000 Canadian soldiers who have served on peace missions since 1948.

A short walk away stands the National War Memorial, which pays tribute to Canadian soldiers killed in conflicts dating back to the Boer War. This site serves as the heart of the country’s commemoration on Remembrance Day.

The fact there are two monuments suggests that peacekeeping is not combat, that the two roles are distinct and easily separated. Except that’s not reality. Not today. Not, in fact, for many decades.

And not, one expert says, in Mali, where Canadian soldiers could soon be headed, deployed by a Liberal government keen to underscore its claim that Canada is back on the world stage.

The looming deployment promises to stir debate not only on the merits of the mission but how the operation should be even characterized.

“What’s clear is that peacekeeping is no longer the appropriate term,” said noted military historian Jack Granatstein.

Yet he cautions that deep-seated nostalgia for the blue beret peacekeeping role risks blinding Canadians to the real dangers of peace deployments.

“That’s the problem. You have a public that believes that you put on a blue beret and you go out and everybody sings ‘hallelujah’ and it’s all fine,” Granatstein, a fellow with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said in an interview.

“These are really wars we are getting into and we’re pretending it’s peacekeeping. That’s a bad mindset for the public. Soldiers know what they are doing. . . . They know it’s dangerous but the public is still 40 years in the past in its thinking.”

There’s good reason for the nostalgia. The notion of peacekeeping is deeply ingrained in Canadians’ sense of country and their place in the world, said Walter Dorn, a professor of defence studies at the Royal Military College of Canada and the Canadian Forces College.

“The image of the peacekeeper is key to the Canadian identity. . . . . It’s not just rose-coloured. It speaks to a reality about this country,” Dorn said.

It is a concept that Canada helped pioneer, thanks to Lester B. Pearson, who served as external affairs minister and prime minister. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957 for his efforts to persuade the UN to deploy a large force to defuse the Suez crisis the previous year.

“That was a major achievement, one of Canada’s greatest achievements in its foreign affairs history,” Dorn said.

Canada remained a significant contributor to UN peacekeeping forces, with upward of 2,000 soldiers deployed overseas. But in recent decades under both Liberal and Conservative governments, Canada’s presence on UN peace operations has declined. Today, Canada has just 112 personnel serving with the UN, including 84 police officers and 19 troops.

The Liberals pledged in the 2015 election to “recommit” to supporting UN peace operations and make specialized capabilities, such as medical teams and aircraft, available on a “case-by-case basis.”

Now the Liberal government is weighing the deployment of up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers to make good on that pledge.

The Star has reported that the mission is probably headed to Mali, where a multinational force of 10,579 troops currently serves under a UN umbrella to help stabilize the country threatened by militants with links to Al Qaeda.

The Canadian contingent could be split up and dispatched to more than one location. The government is expected to make a decision at a cabinet retreat in January.

Yet Granatstein said there are no good locales for a Canadian mission in Africa.

“The reality is if we’re going to Mali, we’re going into what is effectively a war zone against a well-armed Islamist group of rebels,” he said.

The Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan are also in the midst of civil wars. “Wherever we go in Africa is not where we should be going and is dangerous. We will have dead Canadians and frankly achieve nothing,” he said.

Granatstein said a peace mission requires a “credible” chance of success, a firm end date, the ability for people to get in and out easily, right weapons for the job and “orders that let us use them.”

Yet the conflicts across Africa are “jumbled, messy, confusing” and Canada’s contribution will not “matter a damn,” he said.

But Dorn argues that Mali is exactly the kind of place where Canadian troops need to be. “It’s these places in the world that require attention so they don’t blow up and become big problems for us,” he said.

“These so-called forgotten areas of the world are key to establishing longer-term peace. I would also add that we deploy troops not just for national interest but also for our national values and peacekeepers can make a big difference in showing that Canada has national values that aren’t purely selfish.

“What’s our identity and what could be more important to a nation’s identity, it’s what we are on a world stage. Are we a selfish nation or are we a generous one?”

He said a mission to Mali would fulfil a number of objectives for the government, helping the United Nations, Africa and Mali itself, a place where he said “there is some peace to keep.

“It’s a place where there is a terrorist threat, where the French are trying to fight and the Americans are trying to fight the terrorist threat in the Sahel region and this will make a major contribution,” Dorn said.

Dorn makes a distinction between a peace mission and combat operation. A peace mission implies that soldiers use force only in a defensive role, not offensive, he said. He cited the “trinity” of peacekeeping principles — consent for the deployment, impartiality in their actions, and defensive use of force.

“It implies that you don’t have enemies but that like a police officer you use force when there is an imminent threat,” Dorn said.

But he, too, acknowledges that peace missions carry real risks.

More than 3,500 soldiers have been killed on UN missions over the years, including 122 Canadians.

Pollster Frank Graves expects there will be public backing for the mission, partly because of that nostalgia Canadians have for peace missions and a desire to see Canada play a role in the world.

But he said Canadians are wary about military deployments in the wake of the long mission in Afghanistan, where doubts linger whether it produced lasting differences.

Canadian Hockey Boards Removed from KAF

By: Matthew Fisher, The National Post 

The iconic Canadian ball hockey rink at Kandahar Airfield, its boards adorned with faded Maple Leaf flags, has been dismantled.

A dozen Canadian embassy staff, including Ambassador Ken Neufeld and a few soldiers, played a final game of shinny last week on the concrete slab in the infield of the airfield’s boardwalk before U.S. army engineers helped take down the boards.

Image result for The faded boards from the Kandahar Airfield
The faded boards from the Kandahar Airfield hockey rink are headed to the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa and possibly the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
“I gotta say, it was a lot of fun,” Neufeld said. “But it was emotional, too.”

A Canadian soldier on his fourth tour in Afghanistan, who asked that his name not be published because of the sensitive nature of his current work, said that “to be part of the ceremony and bring those boards back, it felt like a healthy closing of a chapter.

“Strange to think we were playing hockey in the desert but there we were. It was a very positive experience. We sweated blood and tears for that place. It will always be part of me.”

The boards of the rink are to be flown to CFB Trenton to eventually be put on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. There have also been discussions about exhibiting some of the mementos at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

At the peak of the Kandahar mission, the rink was home to a highly competitive ball hockey league comprising 24 teams. Two of them were from Slovakia, one was from the U.S. and the other 21 teams were from Canada.

The rink also hosted visits from such hockey stars as Jarome Iginla, Guy Lafleur and Tiger Williams as well as the Stanley Cup.

“I am not aware of a single Canadian soldier who did not stop at the rink when they passed through Kandahar on their way to and from the battlefield. It was a touchstone,” said Howard Coombs, a Royal Military College professor who visited Kandahar in 2004 and spent nearly a year there in 2010-11 as an adviser to the last rotation of troops in Task Force Afghanistan.

Canadians served in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014. During the years in Kandahar, the ball hockey rink became a social focal point and a cathartic oasis for Canadian troops fighting in the Taliban heartland.

The rink was completed in late 2006, and was mostly the work of Canadian engineers volunteering days off or evenings to build it.

Kandahar was not the first place where Canadian soldiers fighting overseas have found time to indulge the national passion. Soldiers from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry and the Royal 22nd Regiment (the Van Doos) played on the frozen Imjin River during the Korean War. Before that Canadian troops played hockey in Europe during both world wars.

“The men and women who played hockey in Afghanistan represent the continuation of this tradition,” said Stephen Quick, director general of the Canadian War Museum. “The boards from the rink at the Kandahar Airfield will help tell that story.”

The Canadian troops and their gear were hauled out of Kandahar when the combat mission ended in July, 2011. Since then, the U.S. has sharply reduced the number of forces that it has in Afghanistan. The rink has not been used for hockey for some time. With a net set up at centre ice, it had been converted into a makeshift tennis court.

As well as repatriating the hockey boards from Kandahar, Ambassador Neufeld was in the city to meet the provincial governor and to check on Canadian-funded training for Afghan female police officers.

The Trudeau government pledged to spend $465 million in Afghanistan between 2017 and 2020. About $90 million of that money will go to Afghan security forces.

The Taliban has retaken much of the territory that it lost to NATO forces since Canadian combat forces left Afghanistan five years ago, but Kandahar remains relatively calm.