Paper promises or real defence purchases?

Politique étrangère et Militarisation du Canada

This equipment is genuinely needed, says historian J.L. GRANATSTEIN, and the Conservatives appear intent on doing what they say
Hallelujah and hosannas. That seems to be the response of the supporters of the Canadian Forces to last week's extraordinary string of announcements. On Monday, it was $2.9-billion for three Joint Support Ships for the navy. On Tuesday, the army got the news that it would get 2,300 medium trucks at a cost of $1.2-billion. The next day, it was medium- to heavy-lift helicopters, at least 16 of them, for $4.7-billion, and on Thursday $8.3-billion worth of strategic and tactical lift aircraft. The total is $17.1-billion, a good week's work for the military, and extraordinarily quick work by the Conservative government. In fewer than five months in office, the Harper government has moved decisively to meet the most pressing requirements of the Canadian Forces.
The equipment is genuinely needed. The army's trucks, for example, are more than 20 years old and cost, most sources agree, more in ongoing maintenance than they are worth. The new vehicles, besides creating jobs in Canada, will save the Canadian Forces money that can be used for other purposes than trying to keep old clunkers on the road.
The Air Force's 32 C-130 Hercules are also overused and costly to keep flying. Getting 17 new C-130Js will provide tactical lift into the future and, with the four C-17s also being purchased, give Canada at last a capacity to respond to major domestic crises (an earthquake in British Columbia or an ice storm in Montreal, to cite only two possibilities) without needing to beg the United States for heavy lift. The C-17s will add capabilities to the Canadian Forces as well, giving the military a strategic flexibility it has never before had.
Similarly, the helicopters and the Joint Support Ships meet pressing needs. Canada stupidly sold its Chinook helicopters to the Dutch a decade ago, and we have paid the price ever since. The JSS will replace the navy's two ancient replenishment ships and add a roll on/roll off capacity and the ability to transport a company and a half of soldiers.
But the Canadian Forces still have requirements that must be met if Canada is to truly rebuild its military capacity. Word from Ottawa suggests the government is backing away from its plan to purchase Stryker Mobile Gun Systems, a wheeled artillery platform in an armoured hull. Instead, the old Leopard tanks are apparently to be kept in service until 2015. The artillery will require new guns now, and consideration will need to be given to acquiring a newer main battle tank. (The decision to scrap the Stryker purchase, some say, will come about because the "black hats," the armoured corps, rule at National Defence Headquarters - the Minister, the Chief of the Defence Staff, and the Vice-Chief are all tank drivers by trade). And the Joint Support Ships, while a huge improvement over the present, cannot transport the personnel or the equipment required to deploy a task force abroad. Only what General Rick Hillier called "a big honking ship" can do that, and ideally the navy should have two or three of those.
Above all, the services need more soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women. With a nominal strength of just above 60,000 and an effective strength of 53,000, the Canadian Forces need the government to meet its pledges to quickly add 13,000 regulars, as well as another 10,000 reservists. In an era of nearly full employment and an aging population, this will not be easy. The problem will be made even worse by the pending retirement or resignation of at least 10,000 members of the military in the next several years. These are the technicians, the warrant officers and the majors, who make the military function. How they can be replaced is problematic at best.
Still, it's good news tonight. The one caveat is that Canadians have been promised military goodies in the past and seen contracts ripped up before. The infamous EH-101 Cormorant helicopter deal, tossed aside by Jean Chrétien in his first days in office in 1993, is the most recent example of partisanship trumping defence needs. Paper promises do not always translate into boots on the ground, ships at sea, or aircraft overhead. It could happen again, not least because the Conservative government is in a minority position with all three opposition parties soft on defence. Former defence minister Bill Graham would likely say that he isn't, and there is some justice in that. In his tenure much of the planning for the present purchases was done, and he deserves credit for his work in pressing the Martin government to begin to repair the wreckage of the Canadian Forces. It is equally true, however, that not one contract was let by the Liberals for any of the equipment the Conservatives announced plans to buy. Every indication suggests this government actually intends to do what it says.
So hallelujah and hosannas. There will be a long wait for even the first elements of new equipment to come into service, but Canadian Forces' morale will rise simply as a result of the announcements. Within five years, the military will be able to respond better to domestic and international crises than at any time in the past half-century.
J. L. Granatstein writes on behalf of the Council for Canadian Security in the 21st Century ( ).

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