Thursday, March 23, 2017

Canadian Forces, Security get Short Shrift in Budget 2017

By: Amanda Connolly, iPolitics 

Anyone hoping that Budget 2017 would provide insight into how the government plans to exercise soft or hard power abroad is going to be disappointed – as are any who hoped for a ballpark estimate of the costs of ambitious new programs like enhanced pre-clearance or the national security committee of parliamentarians.

This year’s budget offers little – and in many cases, nothing – in the way of plans to support the Canadian Forces or domestic security agencies. It also offers no insight into how, or if, the government plans to address pressure from the Trump administration to meet the two-per-cent of GDP target set by NATO allies for defence spending.

Budget 2017 includes no new money for the Department of National Defence, although the department is scheduled to get a bit of pocket money in the form of $134 million that kicks in this year under the escalator increase put in place by the former Conservative government in Budget 2015.

Until the long-awaited Defence Policy Review is completed, officials said Wednesday, the government will not be releasing any information about planned costing measures for the military.

The terms for the panel of experts advising Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan on the Defence Policy Review were extended last month to run until April 28. Although the listing on the Privy Council Office website stated the terms were extended so the panel could help finalize the report, a spokesperson for the minister said shouldn’t be taken as a timeline for the report’s release.

“We know how important it is to play our role internationally … we also know how important defence is to our economy,” said Finance Minister Bill Morneau in a press conference Wednesday, noting the pending release of the Defence Policy Review. “That will show our level of ambition.”

Budget 2017 does clarify the ongoing cost of renewing Canada’s military training mission in Ukraine, which decreases from $32 million per year in 2015 and 2016 to $29 million over the next two years.

Officials say that decrease reflects the start-up costs of the mission and not a reduction in the work Canadian soldiers are doing on the ground in Ukraine, given that the mission mandate is unchanged.

The government also adjusted the total amount of money allocated for large-scale capital projects – funding that was punted forward by about 30 years in Budget 2016.

While that budget set a total of $84.3 billion for deferred spending on military procurements the department isn’t ready to complete, Budget 2017 puts that figure closer to $83 billion.

The only new spending more-or-less related to defence is $13 million over five years to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, which Canada is set to join this year.

On the security front, the budget news is equally thin.

Despite suggestions that the government could have the planned new national security committee of parliamentarians in place by the end of the year, the budget allocates no new money for the committee’s secretariat, or for the reported $500,000 needed for renovations to upgrade existing meeting facilities to house the committee.

The same goes for plans to enhance pre-clearance efforts on both sides of the border under C-23.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority, Transport Canada and the RCMP will get an operational top-up of $125 million; CATSA and Transport Canada will get roughly $600,000 each from that envelope to support existing security screening measures for airport staff.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service will share $1.25 million with Public Safety Canada to keep screening foreign investors for potential threats to Canadian national security – but there is no new money for CSIS’s operating budget or oversight, or for its sister signals intelligence agency, the Communications Security Establishment.

However, the government is recognizing the unfailing creativity of those who would like to blow up public spaces by giving $8.7 million over five years to Natural Resources Canada to expand the list of regulated chemicals to include those that could be used to create homemade explosives.

That list has not yet been finalized, officials said.

Public Safety Canada will get $1.37 million this year for its Regional Resilience Assessment Program and the Virtual Risk Analysis Cell, which together work to conduct site assessments of critical infrastructure facilities and share that information with those who operate critical infrastructure.

Community organizations looking for help in setting up security equipment like cameras for their facilities will be able to access $5 million that will be rolled out over five years through Public Safety Canada’s Security Infrastructure Program.

The only area seeing substantial new money this year appears to be the asylum system, which will get $62.9 million over five years and $11.5 million each year after that to provide better legal aid to asylum seekers.

Budget 2017 also includes $29 million over five years, with $5.8 million each year after, to allow officials with Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to intervene in asylum hearings to verify the information being provided in the applicant’s claim.

Yazidi refugee resettlement efforts will also get $27.7 million over three years, although there is no indication of how the government may adjust the soon-to-be-reevaluated mission against ISIS in Iraq.

The $167 million over three years that was announced in Budget 2016 for that mission continues and does not appear to have been changed.

Bad News for Defence: Budget 2017

By: David Perry, CGAI Senior Analyst

On March 22, the Government of Canada published a federal budget with nothing but bad news for Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND). This budget, the second for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has removed a massive amount of money - $8.48 billion - set aside to buy Capital equipment and build infrastructure over the next twenty years. This shift, the largest ever re-profiling of the money earmarked to buy new kit and buildings for the military, is bad news for three reasons. First, the budget indicates that either the defence procurement system the Liberals inherited has not improved over the last year, or that the Trudeau government is choosing to remove the funding. Second, while defence funding has been shifted before, never have defence dollars been removed more than six years into the future. This budget removes defence funding allocated out through 2035-36, taking away future procurement funding that was scarce to start with. Third, the budget signals that Canadians should expect their new defence policy to reflect a military with significantly less money than it had prior to March 22, 2017.

Budget 2017 And Defence – Disappearing Capital Funds

The only statement of major significance for DND in Budget 2017 relates to a major shift in procurement funds. This is the fourth such shift of procurement money announced since 2012, but the first to announce a reallocation spanning more than six years (these shifts are outlined in Table 1 below). As the budget states:

The reallocation of $8.48 billion of funding from the 2015 – 16 to 2035 – 36 period to future years is required to accommodate two key capital projects: the procurement of fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, and the modernization of light armoured vehicles that were originally scheduled to receive only partial upgrades. While there is sufficient funding available for these projects, the expected profile of large-scale capital funding does not align with the timing of expenditures associated with these projects.1

Aside from the two projects identified in the budget plan itself, finance officials in the budget lock-up were unable to identify any other projects implicated in the shift of funds. This leaves the move largely unexplained. The contract for the Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue Aircraft was signed late last fall and the one for the most recent tranche of Light Armoured Vehicle Upgrades announced in February 2017. The contract for the former is worth $2.4 billion in the acquisition stage, while the one for the latter only $440 million. Even if both projects were cancelled completely or delayed in their entirety beyond 2036 (and there is no indication that they were cancelled or delayed at all) they could account for at most $2.84 billion of the funding that is being shifted. This leaves another $5.6 billion worth of shifted funds totally unaccounted for, and the overall move effectively un-explained.

Procurement Problems or Reductions by Choice?

The Trudeau government inherited a procurement system chronically unable to spend all of the funding allocated for DND to buy new equipment and build infrastructure. In his first budget in 2016, Finance Minister Bill Morneau reprofiled $3.7 billion in Capital funds, citing an inability to spend the money. Having been in office for only five months at the time of the 2016 Budget, the Liberals cannot not be faulted for having shifted money that the previous government was unable to spend.

Twelve months later, however, responsibility for the shift of Capital funding outlined in the 2017 Budget, more than twice as large as any that preceded it, falls squarely on the Liberal government. Either $8.48 billion worth of procurement delays have developed since March 2016, or the money was reprofiled for other reasons.

Table 1: Budgetary Reprofiling of DND Capital Funds ($B)
Budget 2012*-0.400-0.500-1.300-0.700-0.300-0.100     -3.540
Budget 2014**  -0.592-0.575-0.900-1.075     -3.142
Budget 2016***    -0.205-0.090-1.319-0.911-0.684-0.507 -3.716
Budget 2017****     -0.197-0.017-0.102-0.014-0.091-0.512-8.480
*A total impact of $3.54 billion was announced in Budget 2012, Table 6.3, p. 236. The annual reductions depicted are those shown in Budget 2012, Table 6.3, p. 236, and do not sum to $3.54 billion
** Budget 2014 Table 4.1.1, p. 260.
***Budget 2016 Table 6.1, p. 204 and Information provided by Government of Canada Officials
**** Budget 2017 Table 3.2, p. 204 and p. 186. Only $933 million was accounted for in the budget document - leaving the total depicted well short of the $8.48 billion that was indicated to have been shifted.

A Long-Term Capital Crunch

All three of the previous shifts of budgeted procurement funds have occurred citing procurement problems and an inability to actually spend the money available. This budget defers funding over the next two decades. This is especially surprising because prior to Budget 2017, DND was facing an acute shortage of funds needed to buy new equipment and rebuild infrastructure in the future. Public documents indicated that before the changes made in Budget 2017, DND needed roughly another $2 billion a year annually, on average, in additional Capital money to acquire all of its planned projects and that was before the Liberals announced plans to buy not one, but two fleets of fighter jets. Budget 2017 indicates that after 2021-22, DND will have $7.5 billion less funding through 2035-36 to buy new kit and build new buildings, just when it needed the money the most.

A Less Ambitious Defence Policy

The 2017 federal budget is particularly important for DND because it sets the fiscal framework for the Liberal’s new defence policy. This budget is a crucial indicator of the type of defence policy the Trudeau government will publish because, in Canada, defence policy has historically followed defence dollars, not the other way around.

In an interview during the budget lock-up, Finance Minister Bill Morneau indicated that the Defence Policy Review will indicate the Liberal government’s level of ambition for Canadian defence policy. Budget 2017, by removing funding over the next two decades, suggests quite strongly that the forthcoming defence policy will lower Canada’s level of defence ambition.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ottawa Appears Likely to Extend Military Mission in Iraq

By: Bruce Campion-Smith, Toronto Star

Ottawa appears likely to extend Canada’s military deployment in Iraq by several months as the fight for Mosul continues and then consider a longer-term plan for the counter-Daesh mission, the Star has learned.

The mission, which includes some 200 special forces soldiers on the ground near Erbil, plus air force crews operating reconnaissance and refuelling aircraft, was due to wrap up at the end of March.

Ottawa will consider what kind of military contribution is needed if Canada decides to recommit to the counter-Daesh coalition in Iraq.
Ottawa will consider what kind of military contribution is needed if Canada decides to recommit to the counter-Daesh coalition in Iraq. (RYAN REMIORZ /THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)
But with Iraqi and peshmerga forces still fighting to reclaim Mosul and surrounding territory from Daesh insurgents, the federal government now seems likely to extend the mission by several months, a source told the Star. A final decision is expected shortly.

During the extension, the government will consider what kind of military contribution is needed if Canada decides to recommit to the counter-Daesh coalition.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan declined Tuesday to say what the government may do next but did say that consultations are ongoing with allies.

“That’s what we’re doing now is making sure that we’re talking to our coalition partners, looking at the situation on the ground. It is very fluid, and we just want to make sure that we have the right resources,” Sajjan told reporters on Parliament Hill.

“We will continue to look at any type of adjustments so that we are a responsible coalition partner,” he said.

The mission was originally launched by former prime minister Stephen Harper in the fall of 2014 and included deploying troops to northern Iraq in an advise-and-assist role to train peshmerga troops and dispatching an air-to-air refueller, reconnaissance aircraft and six CF-18 fighters that join in coalition bombing campaigns.

After taking power, the Liberals ended the bombings by the CF-18s but boosted the number of troops on the ground. More recently, Canada has taken over command of a military hospital in Erbil to treat casualties from the ongoing offensive launched by local forces to beat back Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL).

Though it’s ostensibly a non-combat mission, Canadian troops have several times engaged in firefights with Daesh insurgents to protect themselves or the Kurdish troops they are with.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Peacekeeping Under Fire - Cyprus: A Warning for Mali

As Canada prepares for what has been called "our return to peacekeeping"; this falsely paints a picture of limited risk for Canadian soldiers stationed abroad. This is not true. Below is a remembrance post by Steven Fouchard, from the Canadian Army Office of Public Affairs, to remind many that Canadian soldiers have lost their lives on Peace Support operations before (specifically in Cyprus). If Canada deploys to Mali as anticipated, the potential for loss of life exists, and this cannot be forgotten. 

Canada’s military history is filled with courage and sacrifice. Since Confederation, two million Canadian sailors, soldiers, airmen and airwomen of many backgrounds have served Canada with distinction overseas. More than 100,000 of them have made the ultimate sacrifice. To help commemorate that heritage and mark Canada’s 150th year as a nation, we are presenting a series of stories to salute the bravery of our military predecessors who fought to defend Canadian values at home and abroad. In this instalment, we look back at the Cyprus peacekeeping mission.

By Steven Fouchard, Army Public Affairs

Ottawa, Ontario — More than 25,000 Canadian military personnel have served on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus since United Nations peacekeeping operations began there in 1964. While Canada’s role has been reduced since 1993, when its battalion-scale contingent withdrew, it continues to support the ongoing mission to ease tensions between the Greek and Turkish ethnic groups that call Cyprus home.

Cyprus had been part of the Ottoman Empire, also known as the Turkish Empire, for centuries but fell under British control following the First World War. Cyprus officially became a British colony in 1925 and was granted independence in 1960. Tensions began to develop at this time between Greek Cypriots, wanting closer political ties to Greece, and their Turkish counterparts, as well as the nation of Turkey itself, whose officials kept a close eye on the island.

By 1963, violence had erupted across the island and Cypriot lawmakers requested assistance from the UN. A fragile peace was reached but undone in 1974 following a coup by Greek Cypriots and the reaction of the Turkish government, which sent troops in and seized control of the island’s northern region.

Canada’s response to the invasion was dubbed Operation SNOWGOOSE. The initial Canadian contingent of 1 Commando, Canadian Airborne Regiment, and the Airborne Field Squadron (the combat engineer element of the Canadian Airborne Regiment) was reinforced by 2 Commando and 3 Commando.

Canadians distinguished themselves during the invasion by successfully defending the airport in the Cypriot capital of Nicosia. With only a few heavy machine guns and anti-tank weapons between them, they moved quickly around the airport by night to create the illusion of a heavily-defended position.

Corporal Joseph Whelan and Privates Joseph Plouffe, Joseph Belley and Joseph Pelletier were all decorated for braving enemy fire to rescue wounded comrades.

Another ceasefire was reached after several weeks of fighting, which claimed the lives of three Canadians. The UN established a 180 kilometre-long buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish factions known as the “Green Line.”

Canada and its allies on the island patrolled the Green Line and often came under fire as they worked to keep the uneasy peace. By the time Canada’s part in the Cyprus mission had wound down, 28 Canadians had lost their lives and every infantry battalion of the Canadian Army’s Regular Force had served there.

Operation IMPACT Long Range Patrol surpasses 700 missions

By: Major Paul Doucette, Joint Task Force- Iraq Public Affairs Officer

Joint Task Force Iraq’s Long Range Patrol Detachment reached a major milestone last month when it carried out its 700th mission since beginning operations in the region in late 2014.
Man in front of plane
A CP-140 M Aurora taxis to a parking spot at its base in Kuwait, following the successful completion of the Operation IMPACT Long Range Patrol Detachment’s 700th mission on February 28, 2017. This photo has been modified for OPSEC purposes. (Photo Credit: Corporal PJ L├ętourneau, JTF-I Image Technician)
The detachment has two CP-140 Aurora long range patrol aircraft that conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions over points of interest in Iraq and Syria. A point of interest is a specific location that may be assessed as useful or of interest in the identification of a potential legitimate military target and which may or not become a target itself.

While all possible measures to mitigate risk are taken, any mission over enemy territory is not without risks. For the CP-140 crews, their missions take them over a variety of potential Daesh targets. The work is meticulous and can be painstaking with each mission lasting for hours as information on particular points of interest is collected for further analysis. The end state comes when an enemy target is clearly identified and, after all due process is followed, then engaged by coalition assets.

“These flights show the resilience and versatility of the CP-140 and its crews,” said Colonel Luc Guillette, Commander of Operation IMPACT’s Air Task Force. “By flying these demanding missions on a daily basis, we have denied Daesh freedom of movement and helped to wear them down to the point where they are today.”

Since October 30, 2014, the coalition has employed two CP-140 Aurora aircraft. Flying within the area of operations, the aircraft employs Electro Optic sensors, as well as various other sensors to provide ISR imagery for coalition strike assets and target development. The CP-140 aircraft and crews generally fly six or seven days a week.

The Canadian North is the Least Defended Territory on Earth

By: Scott Gilmore, Macleans Magazine 

Never mind the Amazon, or even the Antarctic. Northern Canada is the global epitome of undefended territory.

There is no place on earth as poorly defended as the Canadian Arctic. But maybe that’s a good thing. We do enjoy pretending to be a nation of “peacekeepers” (in spite of the fact we currently do less peacekeeping than say, El Salvador or Gambia). Vimy Ridge, Juno Beach, Kapyong, Panjwaii: these are places typically not mentioned in polite company, and almost never spoken aloud by a Liberal government. When we talk about arming our military, we don’t even like to use the word “arm”—we say “procurement.”

So, perhaps it is fitting that the Canadian North is essentially the largest military-free zone in the world. To be fair, it is not utterly bereft of Canadian Forces. We have three very small bases. There are some radar installations (that use 1980s technology). There are the Rangers, of course, local volunteers who are given Second World War rifles, a hoodie, a ball cap and an annual photo op with whichever politician is shameless enough to fly north for 24 hours to emote about the Canadian North from the depths of his or her $1,200 Canada Goose parka. Our largest icebreaker— built in 1969—is currently undergoing it’s seventh refit. And, we have approximately 120 armed forces personnel, just enough to fill a Tim Hortons. All of this, of course, is spread over an area the size of Europe (except the icebreaker—it’s in Halifax).

The list of what we don’t have is considerably longer. There is no port, military or civilian. The closing of Churchill last year ended the fatuous notion that Canada has a third coast. No airbase. No search-and-rescue hub. No four-season ice-breakers. No ice-strengthened war-ships. In fact, our fleet is now so small and so rusted out it has lost the designation of being a “blue-water navy”, it is a coastal defence force—on calm days—if everything is working.

If you ask around Ottawa why this is, the answer is and always has been, “Because it’s hard.” Which is true. The Canadian North is remote, wild, undeveloped, like the Russian North for example. Facing a similar climate and geography, Moscow has only managed to build two infantry bases; nine naval ports; and seventeen airbases along its Arctic coast over the last 60 years.

RELATED: Putin, Trudeau and Canada’s Arctic problem

But the Canadian Arctic is more remote and difficult to access than Russia’s. It is more like the Amazonian rainforest—an expanse of jungle and swamp 25 per cent larger than the Canadian North. The Brazilians have almost nothing there, other than the Manaus Air Base, home to four air squadrons, and an airborne army battalion. And there are several naval facilities, including the Rio Negro naval base, 1,300km up the Amazonian river. That base has nine satellite facilities, as well as a helicopter squad and marines. The Brazilians also have a fleet of large riverine hospital ships that ply the remote backwoods of the jungle. But that’s it.

But the Brazilians spend 2.6 per cent of their GDP on the military. The economic choices of our political leaders have always been less guns and more butter (supply-managed, thank you). Regardless of our formal obligations to NATO that we spend two per cent on the Canadian Forces, our defence budget comes in at half that.

We have much more in common with Australia, a commonwealth democracy, managing a constant political struggle to maintain social services and infrastructure spending. It makes sense that we would be careful about our military deployments, frugal even. Consider how the Australian’s have chosen to defend the Outback. Other than a huge naval base in Darwin, and several air squadrons at the RAAF Tindal, another couple of air bases, a dozen training bases, an infantry battalion, and large radar installations at Alice Springs and elsewhere, the place is empty.

Even in Antarctica, at the bottom of the world, owned by no country, needing no defence, and subject to a treaty prohibiting military activity, there are dozens of research bases run by the armed forces of countries like Chile, Uruguay and even Pakistan. The search and rescue capabilities of McMurdo Station alone are greater than all of Canada’s north of the 60th parallel.

No, if you want to get away from it all, to go somewhere on the planet where no one will be able to rescue you—or stop you, or even know you’re there—you want Canada’s North.

But try to keep this quiet. We don’t want it overrun by adventure tourists. Or cruise ships like the Crystal Serenity, which went through last summer bringing its own rescue ship because Canada didn’t have one. Or resource companies, now free to roam over ice-free waters. Or the Chinese, who want to start sending cargo ships and oil tankers through on their way to Europe. Or the Russians, who are increasingly overflying NATO territory. Or our American allies, who announced in Congress this week they will not recognize Canada’s sovereignty over the Northwest Passage.

No, let’s follow the leadership of Prime Minister Trudeau, who made sure the Arctic was only mentioned twice in the 360 priorities he gave his ministers, and who has bravely avoided drawing any attention to the North—visiting only once since taking office—and who has still not published an Arctic strategy. Let’s just not draw any attention to the fact we’ve utterly abandoned the Canadian North. What could possibly go wrong?

CAF Working to Iron Out Challenges Ahead of Latvia Deployment

By: Murray Brewster, CBC News 

Some NATO allies are calling it "Noah's Ark."

The description of the Canadian-led battle group being assembled in Latvia this summer is more than just a cheeky reference to the disparate collection of nations that make up the force of 1,500 heavily-armoured troops.

It underlines some of the very real challenges military planners face, including how much intelligence data Canadians can share with their partners on the ground and what restrictions — known as caveats — the other nations will impose on the use of their troops.

The constraints some European NATO members placed on their soldiers during the Afghan war, notably forbidding them from operating in southern provinces where the Taliban were present, were a major source of tension among the allies.

Nations operating alongside Canada in Latvia will also be coming with caveats, some of which have raised eyebrows at alliance headquarters in Brussels, said defence officials, who were only authorized to only speak with the media on background.

They would not be specific about the restrictions, other than to say officials are working through the matter.

The Trudeau government agreed to the open-ended deployment at last summer's NATO summit in Warsaw, where the western military alliance announced it would place four battalion-sized formations in the three Baltic States and eastern Europe to act as deterrent against a resurgent Russia.
Diverse team
Canada will deploy 450 soldiers, including a headquarters team and a company of infantry soldiers driving the army's new (light armoured vehicle) LAV 6 fighting vehicle, a larger more powerful version of the troop carrier used in Afghanistan. They will be joined by: A troop of tanks from Poland; Two companies of mechanized soldiers travelling in armoured vehicles — one each from Spain and Italy; and infantry soldiers from Slovenia, Albania and Latvia.

"We are certainly recognized as taking on a diverse team," said Brig.-Simon Hetherington, commander of the 3rd Canadian Division, which is training the first rotation of Canadians for deployment in a few weeks.

One of the important preoccupations for commanders will be deciding what intelligence can and cannot be shared.

"Nobody is in the Five-Eyes there so we've got to be careful about what we do there in that regard," said Hetherington, referring to the long-standing intelligence-sharing network among Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

It's not your grandfather's Cold War, Canadian and NATO officials insist

What also makes this deployment different is the cyber threat posed by Russia and the expectation that so-called fake news will be used to drive a wedge between the NATO troops and the Latvian population.

To that end, Hetherington says soldiers are being schooled and reminded to be careful what they post online and where they post it.

"We need to educate our soldiers. What do they say on social media? How do they say it? That's a direct link to the cyber threat," he said.
Cyber vs. 'fake news'

Karlis Eihenbaums, Latvia's ambassador to Canada, says public opinion in his country overwhelmingly supports the NATO deployment.

His country has not faced the same kind of cyberattacks as neighbouring Estonia, but has struggled against disinformation campaigns.

A military unit from Canada marches during a 2014 military parade marking Polish Armed Forces Day, in Warsaw, Poland, where Canadian soldiers were taking part in military exercises. Canada is preparing to lead a multinational battle group in Latvia that will include Polish tanks, as part of NATO's deterrence measures against Russia. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP Photo)

"What is good is our Western allies understand the urgency to do something about this," he said.

There are other more pedantic details for the Canadian-led force to consider.

"The language issue: That's always a challenge, particularly at the junior level," Hetherington told CBC News in an interview. "Our Polish isn't that good and I doubt the young (non-commissioned officer) from Poland's English is going to be that great."

Mechanics is another issue: "How do we communicate? We've all got different radio sets, different comms systems, digital and analogue. We have to work through that."
Tripwire battalions

A study by the Rand Corporation, a U.S.-based think-tank, estimated it would take less than 60 hours for Russian troops to overrun Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania in the event of a full-blown crisis.

The NATO battalions have been loosely described as a "tripwire" to guard against any interference similar to what to has unfolded in Ukraine over the last three years.
Troops from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team parachute from a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during a NATO-led exercise in May 2014 that including parachuting, airborne operations and infantry skills. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)
The sobering scenarios are on the minds of soldiers, particularly as tensions with Moscow remain high in the aftermath of allegations of tampering in the U.S. election.

"We need to be prepared for the worst case," said Hetherington.

"This is about showing the solidarity of our alliance. The willingness of Canada to be prepared to defend one of NATO's allies."

In theory, the battle groups would be expected to hold out until NATO could muster its high-readiness rapid reaction force — something that could take days.

Privately, Latvian officials don't believe help would arrive in time, an assessment Hetherington, as a professional military officer, shares.

"It would be over very quickly," he said.

"Are we a tripwire? I've never liked that term. We are a show of assurance. We are a show of deterrence. We hope that everything, like every other war that's happened out there; that diplomacy and other means of national power are going to be the way we avoid the worst case scenario."