Friday, February 24, 2017

Drones Expected to Operate from RCN Vessels Within Decade

By: Brett Ruskin, CBC News 

Canada's fleet of frigates will have new airborne assets in the next decade, according to a report listing the advantages of unmanned airborne drones.

An unmanned aircraft system, or UAS, could be deployed from the deck of a ship to identify targets, do reconnaissance and gather intelligence in areas where human-piloted helicopters could not.

In hostile environments, drones offer an "inherent operational advantage," the Royal Canadian Navy said in documents published online this month.
Double the flight hours of a helicopter

The details of the plans were found in a government request for information from industries, commonly sought prior to issuing tenders for goods or services.

"An embarked Maritime Helicopter on a typical six month deployment would fly approximately 500 hours," the document said.

"The UAS could fly closer to 1,000 hours in that same period."
The new unmanned aircraft will be stored alongside the Maritime Helicopter that is deployed with each Canadian frigate. Here, a diagram included in the request for information is superimposed on an aerial image of HMCS Charlottetown. (Cpl. Blaine Sewell / DND)
The document does not say which drone model will be purchased, but it does list its requirements:
  • Minimum flight time of six hours.
  • Minimum range of 50 nautical miles from the ship (92.6 km).
  • Ability to handle crosswind gusts up to 40 knots (74 km/h).
  • Not require any launch or recovery apparatus.
  • Vertical take-off and landing or rotary wing capability.
  • Won't hamper helicopter operations
The military is clear that the UAS should complement existing helicopter operations, not impede them.

"The embarked UAS must ensure that its launch and recovery has minimal interference with the deck cycle of the embarked Maritime Helicopter," the document says. 
The Schiebel S-100 unmanned aerial vehicle (Schiebel Group)
While the drones may see more flight time, helicopters with on-board pilots will remain the ship's aerial workhorses.

The drones will not be weaponized, carry personnel or heavy payloads and will have a much shorter range than the helicopters.
Other navies have already deployed drones

Earlier this month, the Royal Australian Navy announced it would purchase a number of Camcopter S-100 unmanned vehicles from Austria's Schiebel Group.
Add captionThe Northrop Grumman TERN is designed to take-off vertically like a helicopter, then rotate in midair to fly like a fixed-wing plane. (Northrop Grumman)
The drone helicopter can carry 34 kilograms — typically cameras and sensors — for more than six hours and has a range exceeding 200 kilometres, according to the manufacturer.

The same model has also been purchased by navies in Italy, Jordan, Libya, Russia and China.

The United States defense department is working with American company Northrop Grumman to develop another type of ship-based unmanned aircraft.

The Canadian military will continue gathering input from industry officials this year.

A request for proposals is scheduled to be issued in 2020 and a contract to supply the UAS awarded sometime in 2021.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Alenia C-27J Legally Challenges FWSAR Airbus C-295W Buy

By: Murray Brewster, CBC News 

The losing bidder in the race to replace Canada's fixed-wing search and rescue fleet is asking a Federal Court judge to toss out the multibillion-dollar contract, CBC News has learned.

Leonardo S.p.A., also know as Alenia, which offered its C-27J transport for the competition, filed notice of legal action in January, but only delivered supporting arguments and affidavits to the court on Tuesday.

The company is challenging the Liberal government's decision last fall to buy 16 new C-295W transports manufactured by rival Airbus Defence and Space.

The Italian aircraft-maker says the bid by Airbus should be disqualified and the court should cancel the contract.

The company cites a number of grounds, including a claim the C-295W does not meet the specifications originally set out by the Royal Canadian Air Force, notably the ability to "perform mandatory long-range missions stipulated" in the request for proposals.

Leonardo's court filing also raises alleged safety concerns related to the absence of a redundant power system in the aircraft.

"The necessary consequences of this inadequacy should have been the disqualification (if no modification was proposed) or rating penalization (if a modification was proposed) of the Airbus proposal," said the filing.
'A decision has been made and it's a really good thing for Canadians.'- Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan

Separately, Leonardo argues that the Airbus bid should have been disqualified at the outset because of cost.

In late November, the Liberal government announced it was buying the C-295 in a two-step procurement for a total price of $4.7 billion over the next two decades.

The first step — at a cost of $2.4 billion — involves the purchase of aircraft, simulators and 11 years of support.

The second step involves a future in-service support program that will have to be negotiated with Airbus, at an estimated cost of $2.3 billion.

However, in the request for proposals, which was filed in court as part of the supporting documents, all bidders were told their package could not exceed $3.4 billion, including in-service maintenance support.
Silence from Public Works

Officials with Leonardo have sought an explanation from Public Works, but have been met with silence, said a source familiar with the file, but who was not authorized to speak with the media.

"The applicant's proposal to supply Canada with FWSAR aircraft and related services … was evaluated as being fully compliant with the requirements of the (request for proposals) and substantially less costly than the aircraft and services proposed by Airbus," the court filing said.

Federal lawyers have indicated the government intends to fight the claim, but has not filed a statement of defence.

The announcement last December by Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Public Works Minister Judy Foote and the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lt.-Gen. Michael Hood, was supposed to end a frustrating 12-year procurement odyssey that spanned three governments.

Defence Minister Harjit Singh Sajjan says he is confident the appropriate steps were followed in the procurement process and doesn't see any need for further delay. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

It was former prime minister Paul Martin's Liberal government in 2004 that first proposed replacing the fleet.

The former Conservative government, which put the program on hold over allegations the air force had calibrated the specifications in favour of Leonardo's C-27J, eventually asked the National Research Council to evaluate the requirements.

The Air Bus C-295, which is in service in 15 countries, is supposed to speed along the retirement of the air force's nearly 50-year-old C-115 Buffalos and older model C-130 Hercules transports, which were assigned to search and rescue duties a number of years ago.

The government said last fall that the first C-295 is expected on the tarmac in 2019, with the final delivery slated for 2022.

It is unclear how the court challenge will affect that timetable.

Sajjan defended the government's choice late Wednesday, saying he's confident the appropriate steps were followed and doesn't see any need for a delay.

"A decision has been made and it's a really good thing for Canadians," Sajjan told CBC News. "If somebody has any concerns about that decision they have the right to be able to have a look at that decision and use the various processes within our court system."

He described the C-295 as a "game-changer" for the air force.

Canada is Considering its Next Military Deployments

By: Bruce Campion-Smith, The Toronto Star 

OTTAWA—Canada's military is facing a critical few weeks as the federal government weighs renewed deployments to Iraq and Ukraine, ponders the fate of a long-awaited peace mission, lays out a new vision for the armed forces and decides the budget to pay for it all.

It all sets the stage for what promises to be a busy year for Canadian soldiers — one that could leave supply lines stretched — as they continue ongoing deployments in eastern Europe, the Middle East, embark on a new mission to Latvia and finally move ahead on the peace mission that could take them to Africa.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan used his oft-repeated line Tuesday that the Liberal government is taking the time it needs.

“We want to make sure that we actually spend the time to get the analysis right and that it goes through the appropriate government process before we make any announcements,” Sajjan said after a cabinet meeting.

In the meantime though, the defence department hangs in limbo as it waits for announcements.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” said Dave Perry, a senior analyst with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Military deployments to Ukraine and Iraq are due to expire in March though observers expect both missions to be extended.

The former Conservative government dispatched 200 Canadian troops to Ukraine in 2015 in a non-combat role to train local soldiers, as part of efforts to bolster eastern European countries in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. It’s expected that a renewed mission in Ukraine will be announced soon.

“Canada is dedicated to the future good fortune of Ukraine. I am preparing options for the government to consider,” Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of defence staff, said last week.

Vance said the military has also laid the groundwork to continue its deployment in Iraq, where some 200 special forces soldiers are helping train and advise Peshmerga troops in their fight against Daesh near Mosul. The military operates a hospital near Erbil that has treated 100 patients since November while an air-to-air tanker and surveillance aircraft operate out of airfields in Kuwait.

“Canada is committed to this coalition and options will go before government on how to stay committed to it,” Vance said.

The big question mark continues to hang over the Liberals’ peace mission. After an announcement last August that the government could deploy up to 600 soldiers and 150 police officers on such a mission, a flurry of fact-finding trips to Africa by cabinet ministers, and promises of a decision by Christmas, the file has gone quiet since Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president.

Vance said the world has “changed a little bit” since planning for the mission began and said the government now needs to weigh those changes before deciding where troops are best deployed.

“The government has options before it but I think we’re finding that kind of set piece decision-making doesn’t work very well sometimes in a very, very fluid world where things are changing,” Vance told reporters.

“Where will coalition efforts occur next? What are our allies doing? What do they think?” Vance said.

Since taking over, Trump’s administration has turned up the heat on NATO member nations to pony up more for defence. The Liberal government has made the case that it matters more what Canada — which ranks near the bottom of the spending list — does with its military rather than simply measuring the bottom line. But that dynamic could be forcing the government to reframe its peace mission to account for U.S. concerns.

“I guess it’s understandable that the government wants to wait and see how the security environment unfolds given the U.S. election,” Perry said.

“They may be looking to make sure that any kind of operation we do is connected as much as it possibly could be to a broader alliance,” he said.

Still, the delay in an announcement has likely meant that plans conceived last fall will have to be updated,” Perry said.

“The mission doesn’t sit static, frozen in time while Canada decides whether or not we’re going to participate,” he said.

The other two big pieces of the defence puzzle are the upcoming budget — expected in the coming weeks — and the defence policy review which will lay out a new blueprint for the Canadian Armed Forces for the next 20 years.

According to the government, that strategy will deliver “a modern, more agile and better-equipped military.” It’s expected to touch on everything from procurement process, to whether the navy should have subs, what kind of fighter jets are required for the air force to how the military looks after its personnel.

“What are the capabilities that are required for this and what investment is going to be needed,” Sajjan said during a visit to NATO headquarters earlier this month. “Yes, we will be investing.”

But Perry said the military — which has a budget of $18.6 billion in 2016-17 — needs more money just to maintain the status quo.

“Unless the government directs them to do fewer things than it’s done before, they can’t make do with the existing funding,” he said.

Retired Air Chiefs Urge Liberals to Ditch Super Hornet Buy

By: John Ivison

OTTAWA — Former chief of the defence staff Paul Manson and 12 other retired senior air force commanders have written to the prime minister asking the government to abandon the $5-7 billion interim purchase of Super Hornet fighter jets.

An F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on Oct. 23, 2016 in the Gulf.
An F/A-18E Super Hornet on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower on Oct. 23, 2016 in the Gulf. AFP/US NAVY/PETTY OFFICER 3RD CLASS NATHAN T. BEARD
Gen. Manson, who held Canada’s top military role between 1986 and 1989, said the government’s plan to buy an interim fleet to replace the current CF-18 fighters is “ill-advised, costly and unnecessary.”

“I’m 82 years old and I may not see the outcome of all this but I want the facts put before the public,” he said in an interview.

“The main point right now is that the government seems determined to go ahead with a plan that those of us with countless decades of experience running the air force think would take decades to correct. It makes no sense.”

Manson and the 12 former air force lieutenant-generals say they have serious misgivings about the government’s claim that a “capability gap” exists, justifying the need for an interim fleet of 18 Super Hornets.

“Your government’s newly created policy calling for the Royal Canadian Air Force to meet its NATO and NORAD treaty commitments concurrently does not reflect a real and sudden change in the strategic situation. In our experience, it has been decades since Canada had sufficient aircraft to meet all our commitments simultaneously. Over the years, the air force, by judiciously balancing strategic risks and available resources, has managed its operational contributions reasonably well,” the letter states.

Rather than increasing fighter availability, the air force commanders claim the interim fleet would tax resources, because it would require training for pilots and technicians, plus new flight simulators, logistics support and maintenance operations.

Even that would not be enough, the authors say. “It would be necessary to recruit, train and qualify several hundred new technicians and dozens of pilots. Recent experience suggests the RCAF would face difficulty in achieving this … We forsee that bringing in an interim flight would create serious practical problems of this kind.”

If the government is intent on an interim purchase, the letter says, it should examine the prospect of buying so-called legacy Hornets, which are similar to the existing CF-18 and are increasingly becoming available as such partner nations as Australia and the United States replace their Hornet fleets with the F-35 fighter.

“The acquisition cost would be a fraction of a Super Hornet buy,” the air commanders say, pointing out that all the training, logistics and infrastructure needs are already in place.

Liberals admit ‘interim’ Super Hornet jets may only fly for 12 years, despite costing billions
Government decides report that questions purchase of interim fighter jets will remain secret
Retired RCAF commanders say not enough pilots to fly ‘interim’ fighter jets Liberals plan to buy
John Ivison: Liberals’ jet purchase a political solution to political problem of their own making

The letter also urges the government to proceed to the open and fair competition for a permanent replacement for the CF-18s promised by the Liberals during the past election.

During the campaign, Justin Trudeau said the Liberals would not buy the F-35, a statement Manson called “outrageous.”

He said he remains a strong proponent of the F-35, even if that is not the focus of the letter sent to the Trudeau government. He is a former chairman of Lockheed Martin Canada, manufacturer of the F-35, but said he left the company 20 years ago and today has no commercial interest in Lockheed.

Manson admitted that with the Liberals having just backed down on their electoral reform proposal, the prospect of a reversal on the interim purchase is slim.

“There is not an awful lot of hope they’ll do the right thing,” he said.

But, he added that if the interim purchase is being made by the Liberals to ingratiate the government with the incoming Trump administration, it is a superficial solution.

“The point needs to be made that it may add to the one per cent of GDP (spent on defence) but if it doesn’t improve operational effectiveness, it won’t fool our NATO allies,” he said.

According to Jordan Owens, spokesman for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, the government has no intention of reversing its decision on the interim purchase.

“The Royal Canadian Air Force faces a significant challenge because it does not have the number of fighter aircraft available to meet Canada’s NORAD and NATO obligations if called to do so simultaneously,” Owens said.

“Our government believes that we owe it to our women and men in uniform to provide them with the equipment needed to do their jobs. By acquiring an interim fighter fleet and proceeding to an open and transparent competition to procure the full replacement fleet, we will be providing the Royal Canadian Air Force with the resources necessary to meet this challenge.

“We have full confidence in their ability to do so.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Canadian Generals Defend Strategy for Defeating ISIL

By: The Canadian Press

PERSIAN GULF — Two senior Canadian generals have defended the current strategy for defeating Daesh (also known as ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, which U.S. officials have put under review following scathing criticism by President Donald Trump.

U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis was in Iraq this week after Trump gave the retired Marine Corps general until the end of the month to come up with a plan for speeding up the campaign.

During last year’s presidential election, Trump repeatedly criticized the slow pace of progress and promised to introduce a new approach that would hasten Daesh’s defeat.

But Brig.-Gen. David Anderson and Brig.-Gen. Stephen Kelsey say they are hard-pressed to think of ways to improve the existing strategy, which they have watched unfold firsthand for the better part of a year.

And they worry that rushing to destroy Daesh could in fact undermine the progress that has been made in dealing with the root causes that led to the extremist group’s rise in the first place.

“I can’t think of a different way to do this that doesn’t create all the problems that have been there from the past,” Anderson said Monday, before Mattis’s unannounced arrival in Iraq. “I think we’ve got it right.”

Anderson and Kelsey are both based in Baghdad. And while they’re Canadian, each holds a key position within the larger international coalition for defeating Daesh.

Since last spring, Anderson has led a multinational team of military advisers posted inside the Iraqi defence ministry in Baghdad, where they have helped formulate and implement the current campaign strategy.

Kelsey has helped oversee the actual fighting on the ground, which is being largely conducted by Iraqi forces with significant assistance from Canada and other countries.

Mattis hasn’t said what changes he wants to see in the campaign plan, but reports suggest the options under discussion include putting more U.S. troops on the ground and having them do more of the fighting.

American troops, like the roughly 200 Canadian special forces in northern Iraq, have largely stayed out of the fight and instead provided training, advice and some battlefield support from behind.

Anderson and Kelsey insisted it is up to the U.S. to decide its own approach to defeating Daesh; but any change would affect all countries involved in the effort.

That includes Iraq itself, which has been the scene of more than a decade of violence and strife after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 tore the country apart along ethnic and religious lines.

Kelsey said what’s different in Iraq this time around, and what he believes will end the cycle of violence, is that Iraqi troops are the ones doing the fighting and dying for their own country.

“What’s happening now with the strategy . . . is we are enabling our (Iraqi) partners to defeat Daesh,” he said. “We’re also creating capacity for the longer term.

“And in trying to accelerate that or do it for them, we then start owning the problem and affect their ability to create their own capacity, which is the key to long-term stability in the region.”

The two generals heaped praise on the Iraqi government and military for the progress they have made over the past two years in fighting Daesh while also dealing with various economic and political challenges.

And they said despite the fact Daesh remains a threat in Iraq and Syria more than two years after Canada and other countries intervened militarily, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“We are closer than we think,” Kelsey said. “And that’s the adult discussion that’s going to play out here in the next little bit.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

HMCS Moncton and Summerside Sail toward West Africa for NEPTUNE TRIDENT

DND Press Release 

Slide -
HMCS Moncton at Sea (DND File Photo)
Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships (HMCS) Summerside and Moncton, both Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDV), sailed for West Africa today to participate in Neptune Trident 17-01. Neptune Trident 17-01 is the overarching Royal Canadian Navy deployment to West Africa, and includes engagements with West African nations to support joint training and foster relationships in the Gulf of Guinea region.

While deployed, the Kingston Class Coastal Defence Vessels HMCS Summerside and Moncton, and a detachment of personnel from the Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG) will also participate in Obangame Express 2017, an at-sea maritime training event led by U.S. Naval Forces Africa. MTOG will work with regional partners to support joint training for maritime interdiction which aims to delay, disrupt, or destroy criminal or enemy forces or supplies en route at sea. Obangame Express 2017 is designed to improve cooperation among participating nations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the region.

“The Royal Canadian Navy’s participation in Neptune Trident 17-01 demonstrates Canada’s ongoing commitment to conduct international multi-ship readiness training with like-minded nations. This is an exceptional opportunity for the RCN to work in cooperation with global partners in joint training activities to promote Canada’s ability to successfully work together with partners and allies on multinational operations and missions.” said  Harjit Singh Sajjan, Minister of National Defence

“The officers and sailors of HMC Ships Summerside and Moncton will be exceptional ambassadors of Canada during this important work in West Africa. Neptune Trident is an exceptional opportunity for the operational competencies of the Royal Canadian Navy to be used in a capacity building undertaking in an area of stated interest by the Government of Canada. Already, we have learned so much from the planning of this deployment and through staff visits with African counterparts and look forward to building on the lessons learned from the deployment. I wish the ship’s companies of Summerside and Moncton a most rewarding and memorable deployment.” said Rear Admiral John Newton, Commander Joint Task Force Atlantic and Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic

Previous RCN engagements in the vicinity of the Gulf of Guinea include:
  • HMCS Toronto – Circumnavigated Africa as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1, 2007
  • HMCS Fredericton – Op Chabanal. Assistance to RCMP counter-drug interdiction off Angola, April-May 2006
  • HMCS Halifax – Demo of Canadian Patrol Frigate to South Africa, with port visits enroute, 1997
  • HMCS Quebec (cruiser) – Circumnavigation of Africa. A training cruise that constituted first RCN port visits anywhere outside of the Med-Suez-Red Sea route, January-April 1955

MTOG includes specially trained teams prepared to confront a variety of threats in high-risk maritime environments. They deploy onboard Halifax-class frigates and Kingston-class maritime coastal defence vessels and can also deploy ashore on operations. Teams are prepared for inspections and searches for illegal cargo but are also trained in hand-to-hand combat, improvised explosive device identification, close quarters fighting, and tactical shooting.

Port Visits by HMCS Summerside and HMCS Moncton during Neptune Trident 17-01 aim to improve cooperation among participating nations in order to increase maritime safety and security in the Gulf of Guinea. They include:
  • Canary Islands
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Liberia
  • Côte d'Ivoire
Obangame Express takes place in the Gulf of Guinea with signatory nations of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct and involves numerous African partners, including Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Cabo Verde, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo.

Obangame, which means “togetherness,” comes from the Fang language of southern Cameroon and other parts of Central Africa.

CAF Special Forces Monitor ISIL Near Syrian border

By:  Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

ERBIL, Iraq — Canadian special forces have shifted their operations in northern Iraq to put pressure on ISIL in places outside the strategic city of Mosul — including along the border with Syria.

The objective: To figure out the good guys from the bad so Iraqi military forces and coalition aircraft can attack.

Canadian special forces look over a Peshmerga observation post, Monday, February 20, 2017 in northern Iraq. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
High atop a rocky hilltop Monday, two Canadian soldiers sat in a makeshift bunker located more than a kilometre behind the frontline between Kurdish forces and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

One bearded soldier looked through a high-powered viewfinder, scanning the small community that lay below, while the other took notes. A camera sat between them in case something interesting appeared.

When the first Canadian soldiers arrived in the country in September 2014, their mission was to help train the Peshmerga to stop and hold back a confident and, until then, undefeated ISIL hoard.

That was the first phase of the now nearly two-and-a-half-year-old mission, before ISIL lost the upper hand.

Now, flying by helicopter from Erbil, the Kurds' capital in Iraq, to the Mosul Dam, one can see the barricades of dirt and defensive positions that helped the Peshmerga stop ISIL from overwhelming northern Iraq.

The trenches and stone buildings hastily constructed during that period two years ago lie abandoned today, as the war — and Canada's role in it — shifted from defence to offence.

Kurdish forces, supported by the Canadians, kicked off a long-anticipated attack to free Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, from ISIL in October.

But the Kurds and their Canadian comrades stopped short of Mosul, as planned. Instead, they shifted to fighting the extremist group in other ways and let the Iraqi military enter and clear ISIL from the city.

Briefing reporters on Monday at Camp Erable, the Canadian military camp in Erbil, a special forces officer said the mission has turned toward identifying and monitoring potential ISIL targets in the region.

That includes keeping tabs through optical sights and other means, on "key enemy movement corridors" between Iraq and Syria as well as areas inside and immediately outside Kurdish territory.

The officer said such monitoring helped locate ISIL forces inside a large town that was sidestepped during the early parts of the Mosul offensive and needed cleaning up.

It also means a decline in the number of times Canadian soldiers have actually fired their weapons in recent months, the officer said, as potential targets are relayed to the Iraqis and coalition for destruction.
Canadian special forces man an observation bunker, Monday, February 20, 2017 in northern Iraq. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
The special forces officer, who asked not to be identified for security reasons, said the nature of the Mosul offensive had meant Canadian troops often found themselves in situations where they were required to fire.

That isn't the case now, he said, adding that Canadian soldiers are specifically told to set up in locations where such circumstances are unlikely.

The Canadians continue to work with the Peshmerga. At the hilltop encampment, a number of fighters from the Kurds' elite Zeravani stood guard on the perimeter while others relaxed inside.

In fact, the special forces officer said his soldiers have started working on a program that will train some Kurds to take on the role of instructors themselves.

Capt. Dhyab Mohammed Omar, commander of the Peshmerga fighters, praised his Canadian comrades and the contribution they had made in helping the Kurds fight ISIL.

"We are always honoured to have them at our positions," he said. "It was my wildest dream to work with the Canadians. Having them show up and help us, we would die for them."

While much of the attention surrounding Canada's mission in northern Iraq has been focused on the role being played by the special forces, they aren't operating alone.

Roughly 150 Canadian troops are stationed in Erbil, including a helicopter squadron, logistical staff, and medical personnel, all in support of the special forces mission and broader coalition fight against ISIL.

Four Griffon helicopters from Canadian Forces Base Valcartier ferry troops and equipment from Camp Erable to the special forces troops in the field every day, zipping low like dragonflies over fields, around hills and past isolated communities to avoid enemy fire.

"The challenge here is the more (power) wires and the weather during winter," said Maj. Mathieu Bertrand, commander of the helicopter squadron. "We had some fog. But generally, the weather is good."

A Canadian Forces Griffon helicopter flies over a Internal Displaced persons camp near Erbil, Iraq, February 20, 2017.
Meanwhile, a Canadian military hospital located within Camp Erable's small footprint, which itself is part of a larger coalition base dominated by the U.S., stands ready to provide aid to those wounded in battle.

While the hospital, whose personnel hail from CFB Petawawa, has treated more than 100 patients for various injuries, Lt.-Col. Richard Morin said only 13 had received battlefield wounds. None were Canadian.

"The predominance of cases we're getting are emergency department-type casualties or patients that you would get when you get over 5,000 military troops all in one place," he said.

The hospital has also treated a handful of ISIL fighters who were wounded and detained by coalition forces, which Morin said falls in line with the laws governing war.

"We actually understand even in conflict, there are rules that you need to follow that … respects the dignity of life," he said. "That's what makes us different."

The entire effort is underpinned by logistical personnel, led by Lt.-Col. Dominique Dagenais, who are responsible for Camp Erable and ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

Dagenais said the biggest challenge he faces is ensuring new personnel get their Iraqi visas in time to replace those who are nearing the end of their deployments.

The Iraqi government has in the past dragged its feet when it comes to Canada's mission against ISIL, including delaying deployment of the military hospital and signing off on a plan to arm the Kurds.

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

HMCS Saskatoon sets sail on OP CARIBBE

DND Press Release

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Saskatoon left Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt Monday to participate in the counter-drug mission, Operation CARIBBE. In 2016 alone, the Royal Canadian Navy “contributed to seizing or disrupting 5,750 kg of cocaine and 1,520 kg of marijuana,” the RCN noted in a news release.

In its last 10 years of participation in Operation CARIBBE, the RCN has contributed to seizing or disrupting over 66 metric tonnes of cocaine and almost 4 metric tonnes of marijuana.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Saskatoon patrols the eastern Pacific Ocean during Operation CARIBBE on April 12, 2016. 

Photo: Public Affairs Officer, Op CARIBBE
Le Navire canadien de Sa Majesté (NCSM) Saskatoon patrouille l’est de l’océan Pacifique au cours de l’opération CARIBBE, le 12 avril 2016. 

Photo : Officier des affaires publiques, Op CARIBBE

Canada set to Renew OP UNIFIER in Ukraine


Canada is set to renew a military mission training Ukrainian troops to confront Russia-backed separatists in the east of Ukraine, despite concerns in Kiev over delays in announcing the extension of the program.

The Trudeau cabinet has not yet announced the extension of the two-year-old non-combat mission, dubbed Operation Unifier, which expires on March 31. The silence has sparked worries in Kiev, where the Ukrainian government is anxious for Western reassurance following the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has expressed interest in striking some kind of bargain with Russian President Vladimir Putin that could include lowering U.S. sanctions imposed over Moscow’s role in Ukraine.

“The longer it takes to [extend] the mission, the more our concern is rising,” Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Vadym Prystaiko, told The Globe and Mail in an interview at his office in Kiev.

But a senior Canadian government official said Ukraine didn’t need to worry about the future of Operation Unifier, which has seen a rotating contingent of 200 Canadian troops train more than 3,100 Ukrainian soldiers since arriving in the country two years ago.

“Canada understands that Ukraine, and everybody who is a stakeholder and supporter, really wants mission renewal,” the senior official said. “There is nothing unique about going through a mission renewal process and there is absolutely nothing unique about how this one is being done. It is a routine renewal from a government that has been making positive signs.”

Mr. Prystaiko said Ukraine was broadly concerned by the Liberal government’s efforts to rebuild relations between Ottawa and Moscow, which were in a deep freeze under former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, who famously told Mr. Putin to his face that he needed to “get out of Ukraine.”

The efforts of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to restart contacts with Russia via forums such as the Arctic Council have rung alarm bells in Kiev, which is concerned that Canada’s previously unwavering support for Ukraine may be weakening.

“Each and every thing – even if it’s not connected [to the war in Ukraine] – will be used by Russia back home to say, ‘Look, these bloody Westerners, they realize they were wrong, they are looking for ways to reconnect with us,’” Mr. Prystaiko said.

But the senior Canadian government official noted that as recently as Friday, Chief of the Defence Staff General Jonathan Vance reiterated Canada’s support for Ukraine at a conference in Ottawa. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has also repeatedly expressed Canada’s support for Ukraine, as has Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Ms. Freeland, in particular, is seen in Kiev and Moscow as a staunch backer of Ukraine, having opposed many of her predecessor Stéphane Dion’s efforts to reach out to Russia during his 14-month stint as foreign minister. Ms. Freeland is among 13 Canadians who are barred from entering Russia under sanctions imposed by Moscow in retaliation for Canada’s own measures targeting Russian and Ukrainian politicians over the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine’s Donbass.

Canada, Britain and the United States have had military trainers in Ukraine since the summer of 2015, arriving one year after Moscow – furious over a pro-Western revolution in Kiev – annexed the Crimean Peninsula and helped stir up a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

More than 10,000 people have been killed in three years of fighting, which has spiked again in recent weeks after a relative lull during the second half of 2016. Alexander Hug, deputy head of a monitoring mission deployed by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, told The Globe and Mail that the situation around the front line is currently “very unstable” and that a serious escalation is possible.

While Russia has helped the separatists build a formidable army – the self-declared “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk are estimated to possess some 700 tanks, more than the combined German, French and Italian armies – Ukraine has been reliant on Western military training and other non-lethal aid to help it combat a foe that at times has had the support of regular Russian soldiers.

In addition to basic infantry tactics, the Canadian troops taking part in Operation Unifier have given crash courses to Ukrainian soldiers in subjects ranging from combat first aid to the handling and disposal of explosives.

The training is done at a former Soviet military base in the western Ukrainian town of Yavoriv, some 1,200 kilometres from the front line. The current rotation of Canadian troops are drawn primarily from the 3rd Canadian Division, while 200 members of the 1st Battalion of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry are currently training in Edmonton for an expected March 1 deployment.

Britain announced in January that it would renew its own training mission in Ukraine. U.S. military trainers are committed until 2020.

The recent surge in fighting around Donetsk and Lugansk comes amid confusion about the depth of U.S. political support for Ukraine under the new Trump administration.

Russia, meanwhile, hasn’t wavered in its backing of the separatists. Mr. Putin announced on Saturday that his government would begin recognizing passports and other documents issued by the Donetsk and Lugansk “people’s republics.”

The move was condemned as “alarming” by the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, but the Ukrainian government is worried by the lack of public support from Mr. Trump, who has repeatedly said he wants to see a better relationship between Washington and Moscow. The Kremlin, in turn, has been forced to repeatedly deny accusations it aided Mr. Trump’s run to the White House by hacking e-mail accounts and spreading disinformation.

RCAF Active over Syria; Canada Waiting on US before Extending OP IMPACT

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

PERSIAN GULF – Canadian military personnel involved in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant are waiting to see what shape their mission will take in the coming months – a decision that could be heavily influenced by U.S. President Donald Trump.

More than 800 service members are currently deployed in half-a-dozen locations across the Persian Gulf region, after the Liberal government revamped Canada’s contribution to the American-led war against ISIL last year.

Two Canadian surveillance planes have flown hundreds of sorties to identify potential targets for coalition airstrikes.

While the majority of those missions have been over Iraq, a senior Canadian commander revealed Sunday that the aircraft have also flown dozens of times over Syria in recent months.

“We have done work in Syria,” Brig.-Gen. Shane Brennan, commander of Canada’s Joint Task Force-Iraq, told reporters during a media tour of the mission, though he added: “There’s lots of work to do in Iraq. We are looking at all of the areas.”

The flights over Syria have also included a different Canadian plane that has been refuelling coalition aircraft directly responsible for bombing or otherwise destroying ISIL forces and other targets.

The increased Canadian military activity over Syria, which Brennan described as between 20 and 30 missions in the past few months, is only one indication that the war against ISIL is shifting into a new phase.

As Brennan was speaking at an airfield, the location of which the military didn’t want revealed for security reasons, Iraqi forces were launching their long-awaited assault on western Mosul.

READ MORE: Mosul civilians trapped indoors as Iraqi forces bombard ISIS targets

The battle, which comes about a month after Iraqi forces declared the eastern part of the city free of ISIL, has been billed as a defining moment in eventually freeing Iraq from the extremist group’s grip.

While the fight for the city’s western half is expected to be much harder than what came before, Brennan was adamant that victory was a certainty.

“There is a battle that is ongoing and will be won,” Brennan said. “It’s an inevitable event.”

Less certain is what role Canadian troops will play when the current mandate, which also includes a military hospital, special forces troops and a helicopter detachment in northern Iraq, expires in March.

Military commanders are drawing up options based on a number of factors, including the expectation that ISIL will become a traditional insurgency in Iraq, which would require more police and counter-terrorism forces.

Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Anderson, who is leading an international team of military advisers in Iraq’s defence ministry, said his group recently submitted a two-year plan focused on exactly that.

There are also concerns that the group will try to spread outside Iraq and Syria, which is why Canada helping strengthen border security in Jordan and Lebanon.

The military will present three options for the government to choose from in the coming weeks in deciding the future of the mission.

Yet one big wild card is what direction the U.S. military will go, after President Trump blasted the slow progress of the fight against ISIL and ordered a 30-day review to consider new options.

U.S. Defence Secretary James Mattis is expected to visit Iraq in the next week or so before presenting his recommendations later this month.

Exactly what Mattis will recommend, both in Iraq and Syria, is wide open for speculation.

But Brennan said the results could have a big impact on what Canada decides to do given the need to ensure a unified and co-ordinated international effort in the fight against ISIL.

“It does depend what happens,” Brennan said. “We are waiting as well. I think the question is: What else needs to be done or could be done?”