COVID-19/Natural Disaster Response, or, Canada’s Coming Constabulary/Militia Armed Forces?

Whither, indeed whether, three serious combat-capable armed services for this country? Further to these excerpts from posts in 2020,

COVID-19 may well be the End of the Canadian Armed Forces as we have Known them…and of our Effective Sovereignty

…It is not improbable that the Canadian military, if the Liberals win the next election, will effectively end up as a constabulary/militia force with domestic response to natural disasters of various sorts as its primary function along with very token commitments to UN peacekeeping missions…

COVID-19 Facing the Canadian Government and Military with Major Decisions on Force Structures, Employment and Equipment–how Radical a Re-Shape?

I fear the CAF may over time be turned into services whose main mission is domestic response to emergencies of various sorts (cf. RCAF SAR [search and rescue]) with actual mlitary/defence capabilities a distant concern…

the following excerpts from an opinion piece at the Globe and Mail give one furiously to think in view of the generally warm and fuzzy predilections, and progressive political preferences, of many of our politicians:

Military efforts at home are increasingly the norm. A Joint Task Force Canada is the next logical step

Christian Leuprecht is Class of 1965 Professor in Leadership at the Royal Military College, cross-appointed to Queen’s University and senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute.

Two years ago, few could have imagined that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) would end up managing a global supply chain for national vaccine distribution and backstopping the provincial mismanagement of 54 long-term care homes. The pandemic also showed that no one in government fully understands national supply chains across Canada. Still, no part of the country ran out of personal protective equipment even when supply was critically short, because CAF logisticians had the managerial savvy to locate it, CAF planners executed without having to rely on other partners or equipment, and the Royal Canadian Air Force transported it where it needed to go.

Time and again, the Department of National Defence has been called on as the only federal organization with the highly trained, well-educated and experienced roster of specialists and assets to plan and execute complex and large-scale operations in short order. Under Operation Laser, the CAF had a COVID-19 plan that it was able to execute while coming to the assistance of other government departments…

Over the past decade, Canada has become more reliant on the CAF to respond to domestic emergencies: the number of CAF’s domestic taskings has doubled and tripled over the two previous decades. These operations have proven well within the capabilities of the CAF. But in the event of floods, forest fires, or a grave international crisis, CAF assets currently dedicated to the pandemic may have been unavailable. Climate change is bound to multiply the frequency of crises such as wildfires and floods in the coming years, and that will increase demand for CAF resources. The pandemic is a harbinger of future CAF domestic operations that are more frequent and complex, longer and larger without the ability to rely on help from allies. Although the CAF has been able to deliver, after 15 years of efforts focused on counterinsurgency and building partner capacity, Canada’s military still has much to learn and re-learn about large-scale operations.

For decades, the CAF has prioritized a strategic culture premised on Army expeditionary operations despite the fact that Afghanistan represented the only such mission in the past 60 years [but see just below this paragraph, Prof. Leuprecht is being rather selective]. Since the late 1950s, CAF leaders have vehemently resisted anything seen as diluting the combat role: they argue that it is easier to “scale down” from combat than to “scale up” from domestic operations. But that is a false dichotomy, and politicians are looking for a broader contribution to national security from their annual defence investment of $22-billion…

[Afghanistan has been the Army’s only combat expeditionary mission since 1960 and then only from 2006-11. But there have also been several major and sometimes dangerous Army “peacekeeping” missions with both the UN and NATO, e.g. in Somalia, in former Yugoslavia, in Kosovo and Macedonia (a hybrid operation: the RCAF engaged in bombing and then the Army in peacekeeping) and in Afghanistan itself 2003-05. Plus a major army contribution to NATO in West Germany from the 1950s through the 1980s, and since 2017 a significant Army presence leading the forward NATO multinational force in Latvia. And substantial numbers of Canadian special forces have been engaged in a variety of activities in Iraq since 2014.]

Evidently, domestic operations are no longer a part-time sideshow, yet the CAF still responds to emergencies with pick-up teams. CJOC [Canadian Joint Operations Command] needs a dedicated Joint Task Force (JTF) for domestic operations, composed of regular and reserve forces. The newly appointed Chief of the Defence Staff, Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, is experienced at conducting domestic operations: he was the commander of JTF Pacific from 2016 to 2018 and ran humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as maritime component commander of JTF Haiti in 2010. That background should come in handy as the CAF ponders how to optimize its force structure in response to growing domestic, continental and international demands on its limited assets.

Guess where most governments, the populace and the media will favour putting Canada’s future “defence” priorities and efforts. Especially given almost everybody’s intense aversion to taking fatal casualties in anything beyond the most minimal numbers, see:

Afghanistan, Canadians’ Self-Obsession and Blood

Now the Navy is the armed service least relevant to domestic activities. And all parties love shipbuilding’s jobs to buy votes. Moreover Canada hasn’t had a naval combat fatality since three sailors were killed during the Korean War. So maybe the remaining major combat-capable service of the Canadian Armed Forces will become the Royal Canadian Navy. Which could perform a very important and major anti-submarine role in the North Atlantic vs Russkie subs–‘twould be nice if the Navy and government actually talked about this NATO mission (see 3) near the end of this post).

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

4 thoughts on “COVID-19/Natural Disaster Response, or, Canada’s Coming Constabulary/Militia Armed Forces?”

  1. A friend with experience in defense-related matters replies:

    “As Sleepy Joe likes to say, ‘C’mon man!’

    This is too much an exercise in hyperbole. We often laud Australia’s defence policy and military but let’s recall the Australian forces’ roles in fighting the fires last year and–from published photos–enforcing the quarantine in Melbourne. And warring against Emus (large flightless birds) in the 1930s; the army lost. Most countries’ militaries support the civil power for the simple reason that in most countries the military is the best trained and largest competent public institution.

    As to NORAD, the outfit is deep into complex studies about what technologies are best suited to replace the North Warning System. We will buy a fighter, probably the poor choice of the Super Hornet, and the Government keeps insisting on 88 aircraft as necessary to meet NORAD and NATO contingencies simultaneously. (You cannot “manage” the fighter fleet in crisis; if there is a problem in NATO, there most certainly will be one in NORAD.)

    If anything, the reliance on the CAF reveals the incompetence and unpreparedness of all too many governments and their departments and agencies, right across the country.”

    Hope he’s right.

    Mark Collins


  2. This boilerplate article “by” Minister of National Defence Sajjan in major US defence media outlet “Defense News” (along with other pieces from many foreign big-wigs) is unlikely to impress the Americans–or anyone else–about the serious of Canada’s military efforts going forward:

    “Canada’s defense minister: Our investment in defense is an investment in North American security

    For any military force, maintaining an advantage requires innovation and investment. It is why Canada is modernizing our Army, Navy and Air Force while putting our serving members in the Canadian Armed Forces at its core. To ensure our people have the most advanced capabilities and tools for the future, Canada is putting a greater focus on research and development, supporting innovators in industry and in government, and building a closer relationship between these two worlds.

    Since 2017, when we published our fully funded 20-year defense policy “Strong, Secure, Engaged,” we have seen significant changes in the global security environment. These new challenges underscore the need to invest in defense as a matter of national security and economic vitality. “Strong, Secure, Engaged” was released at a time when the dominant forces of the current security environment were just beginning to take shape. Today, Canada faces a world defined by great power conflict, rapid military modernization by states set on upending the international rules-based order, and advances against disruptive technologies in which North American geography no longer affords the protection it once did.

    While we have traditionally been able to address threats abroad before they reach our shores, our security requires reinforcement. While this new space has many unknowns, we know that multilateralism and supporting the rules-based international order is critical to our success and our safety. Since 2017, Canada has increased our support to NATO partners through Operation Reassurance — which has seen Royal Canadian Navy ships deployed in the Black Sea region, the Royal Canadian Air Force supporting air policing in Romania, and Canadian Armed Forces members leading the Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup in Latvia — as well as through our work leading NATO Mission Iraq and our support for the coalition.

    We also know that this changing security landscape means we need to take a thorough look at how we can secure North America against the threats of today and the future. It is why Canada continues to work with our American partners on the modernization of North American Aerospace Defense Command to build continental resiliency. This critical work will ensure that Canada and the United States of America have the ability to detect, deter and respond to threats, and that the only binational command in the world can meet the challenges of the 21st century.

    For many years now, the Department of National Defence has worked hard to keep defense industries informed of future investment opportunities that will continue generating jobs and improving Canada’s capacity for innovation. It is one reason that we have a forward-looking, 10-year defense investment plan that is updated every three years. This engagement with industry has become an integral part of the procurement process, providing critical insights while showing industry that we are a predicable partner.

    Despite the unexpected challenges during 2020, Canada reached important milestones for key defense projects. In July 2020, the first Arctic and offshore patrol ship was delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy, followed in the fall by delivery of the first new fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft to the Royal Canadian Air Force. Construction of armored combat support vehicles for the Canadian Army began in May 2020, with the first vehicle delivered to the Armed Forces in December 2020. We also continue to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into equipping members of our armed forces.

    We now see unprecedented innovation in all corners of the world, which militaries can harness to quickly understand and respond to potential threats before they cause harm. It is why new and emerging technologies in cyber and artificial intelligence are becoming an integral part of defense projects. Canada is growing its defense industry by leveraging research and development from both industry and government to achieve the best results. By working together, we can come up with innovative solutions to increase Canada’s operational effectiveness while showing that defense is forging a path to the future.

    In addition to embracing innovation within defense institutions and industry, more work is needed to support our people. The Canadian Armed Forces is a diverse institution, and our equipment needs to recognize that. It is why the Gender-based Analysis Plus process looks at factors such as gender, race, religion and ethnicity so that our defense projects better meet the needs of armed forces members.

    These changes help get the best out of our people, producing meaningful results. For example, changes made to the brake pedal assembly in the new armor-protected cab of the Standard Military Pattern vehicle ensure all soldiers, no matter their size, can safely operate these vehicles.

    By building an agile, well-educated, flexible, diverse, combat-ready military, we will be able to deal with threats abroad to protect stability at home. This historic investment through “Strong, Secure, Engaged” allows Canada to modernize our military by putting our people at its core as we continue to step up our contribution to North American and global security. When our partners and allies call upon Canada, we will be there for them.

    Harjit Sajjan is Canada’s minister of national defense.”

    Mark Collins


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