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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Minding the Capability "Gap"

BY HUDSON ON THE HILL
© 2017 FrontLine Defence (Vol 14, No 2)

The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence (SCND) recently went In Camera to start drafting its long-awaited report on “Canada and the Defence of North America”, an issue the Members of Parliament have been studying for the better part of a year.

The report, when it gets presented to the House, is virtually guaranteed to include more money for the Canadian Armed Forces in general, and the Royal Canadian Air Force in particular, given that continental defence is a top-dollar priority for the Department of National Defence. From a DND perspective, the Arctic (including the impact of global warming) is mainly an RCAF operational responsibility.

Some elements of the upcoming report can be found in an earlier report by the SCND, which is chaired by B.C. Liberal MP Stephen Fuhr, a former CF-18 Hornet pilot and one of several retired Canadian Armed Forces personnel who have repeatedly proved their mettle on defence policy despite being first-term MPs. That earlier report recommended better awareness of cyber attacks and emerging missile threats, among other things. But it focused heavily on NORAD and aerial readiness, and devoted most of its content to the RCAF.

Urging “a thorough review of Canada’s international and domestic capability requirements” for replacing the remaining “legacy” Hornets, the committee pushed for an aircraft that would satisfy all needs, including maintaining Canadian sovereignty in the North, and said the government should decide on a replacement by September 2017.

In a letter from Sajjan to Fuhr, the government’s response to the SCND noted that the DPR consultations over the past year had included not only the public through social media and other means but also experts through a series of roundtables, and more than 50 Members of Parliament had participated in constituency-level discussions.

Sajjan further highlighted the decision to acquire 18 Super Hornets from Boeing – to plug what he initially described as an RCAF “capability gap” until there’s a decision on replacing the already diminished legacy fighter fleet of CF-18s, which are set to be retired in the 2023-2025 timeframe, despite a pending $500-million upgrade program.

The notion of a “gap” arose when Sajjan announced last May that the government would work to acquire additional fighters to enable Canada to fulfill simultaneous commitments to both NORAD and NATO. The announcement seemed to come out of the blue because, only a few weeks earlier, the RCAF Commander Lieutenant-General Mike Hood never mentioned it when testifying before the SCND in April.

Pressed by Nova Scotia Liberal MP Darren Fisher, Hood noted that CAF readiness is budgeted annually. “I’m funded in my operations and maintenance budget to ensure that I can keep my NORAD commitments at a posture that’s ready.” He went on to say that finding resources “has not been a challenge under my watch at this time” and that “we have enough trained personnel, we have enough aircraft and enough maintenance people to keep them going, and we have the money, certainly, to operate.”

In other words, no “gap”, seen by some as a contradiction of the government’s position. While it might be splitting hairs, it should be noted that Hood did not include NATO, which obviously can be a volatile component, in the readiness/affordability mix. He did say, however, that if he faced “any challenges” in fulfilling commitments, he was confident that the additional resources would be endorsed by “the chief”, meaning General Jonathan Vance, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS).

Later, as the controversy continued to bubble, Sajjan’s spokesperson, Jordan Owens, sought to clear the air with a statement in which she defined the “capability gap” as being “an insufficient number of aircraft available on any given day to meet our existing NORAD obligations and NATO commitments combined, not to mention having the capacity to react to unforeseen and emerging threats.”

Owens also pointed out, rightly, that keeping the legacy Hornets flying longer was not the solution. “With the current availability rate what it is, even if the 77 airplanes could fly forever, there still wouldn’t be enough of them to simultaneously meet our NORAD and NATO commitments. The only way to address the capability gap is to improve the availability rate of our fighter fleet. This means we need more people and it means we need more planes.”

Note that this didn’t include domestic fighter requirements. With a serviceability rate of only about 50%, if all three became active missions simultaneously, the legacy fleet could not handle them all.

A few days later, Hood suggested to the Senate Standing Committee on National Security and Defence that a policy shift had resulted in the tactical shortfall. “The government has now directed that we be ready to meet our daily NATO and NORAD commitments simultaneously,” he said in his opening statement, adding later under questioning that he was “at present unable to do that with the present CF-18 fleet” because he doesn’t have enough aircraft (a status inherited from a series of RCAF commanders whose roles were constrained by various governments over the years).

Asked by Senator Colin Kenny how many aircraft the RCAF might need, given that it has been talking about a next-generation fleet of 65 compared with the 1980s buy of 138 CF-18s. Hood wasn’t prepared to reveal that: “the numbers behind the commitments with respect to NORAD and NATO are classified,” he said. “Suffice it to say,” he added, “the 77 we presently have are incapable of delivering that number.”

Judy Foote, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement (who has since taken an indefinite leave of absence for unspecified personal reasons), also involved herself in the debate, suggesting that the CDS was was in a better position to explain things. “I think if you ask General Vance, he’d have a different view on that and I have a lot of faith in the Minister of Defence, who of course has been on the ground and knows only too well what the need is," she said, adding that a capability gap has “existed for some time” but had been ignored by the previous government.

Foote also disagreed with Hood’s assertion to the Senate committee that keeping the legacy Hornets operational until 2025 would negate any urgency to sole-source FA/18 Super Hornets as the RCAF’s next frontline fighter.

On numerous occasions, Sajjan has reiterated the notion that providing the CAF with resources they need to do their job had been a “key component” of the DPR consultations. “Capability requirements for operations at home and abroad, situational awareness, and intelligence are all being considered. Our goal is to ensure the CAF have the tools they need to safely and effectively perform the missions set by our Government. Your conclusions and recommendations have informed and will be reflected in Canada’s new defence policy.”

That said, Sajjan’s latest statement on the DPR, after an April 11 cabinet meeting, was to repeat that “we are coming very close to making the decisions,” but deflected questions about when that might be.

“We want to make sure that we get this right,” he told reporters, repeating what has become a ministerial mantra. “We want to make sure that it’s not just about the missions and what we do here in Canada and abroad; it’s about how we look after our troops as well. It’s extremely thorough, and I look forward to presenting this to Canadians on behalf of the government, and […] to having the discussion with parliamentarians as well […] in the coming months.”

Could that mean the DPR isn’t released until after Parliament begins its summer recess? That’s currently set to begin June 23 and run until Sept. 18. That’s 12 weeks in which the government couldn’t be held accountable in Parliament. The optics of that scenario would be poor at best.

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Hudson on the Hill
The role of Hudson is being filled by contributing editor Ken Pole.

Ivison: CAF Budget hits Post-War Low

By: John Ivison, The Globe and Mail

Justin Trudeau will head to Sicily next month for a NATO meeting with Donald Trump and other allies. The defence department hopes to release its major policy review before then, but perhaps it would be just as well if the Prime Minister goes empty-handed.

The Americans want Canada to live up to its commitment to spend 2 per cent of GDP on defence, but new figures suggest this year the country will hit a post-war spending low of just 0.88 per cent. Last month’s federal budget said the defence policy review will put the Armed Forces on a “sustainable footing,” but there was no money in that budget — in fact, $933 million earmarked for capital spending was pulled out of the defence budget over a six-year period.

This is a bad omen for the prospects of a major cash infusion. In previous reviews, DND got the money first and then published a policy outlining how it would be used.

Multiple sources say that the military submitted its plan to the federal cabinet only to have it sent back to the department for some pruning.

One particular thorny issue is ballistic missile defence, the cost of which is almost impossible to gauge since the Americans won’t talk hard numbers until Canada agrees to sign on. Nobody in defence minister Harjit Sajjan’s office would talk about cabinet discussions but sources expect the review will fudge on the subject by simply asking the military to examine the issue more closely.


David Perry, a senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said he doesn’t believe the defence policy review is likely to assuage American concerns that Canada is a free-rider when it comes to defence.

“I’m not hearing they are dealing with a ton of money,” he said.

Before the federal budget, Perry wrote a paper suggesting the budget would establish the fiscal framework for the defence policy review. Ahead of similar exercises in 2005 and 2008, spending increases were included in the budget.

“If the outcome of the Defence Policy Review is an expansionist defence policy, and the minister of National Defence has indicated it will be, its short-term success depends on getting the needed funding put into the fiscal framework in the 2017 budget,” he wrote.

That didn’t happen — in fact, the government withdrew $8.48 billion from the fiscal framework over the next 20 years, to help pay for other priorities.

Trudeau — and his predecessor Stephen Harper — have long argued that share of GDP devoted to defence is not a good measure of Canada’s commitment to NATO.

“While the argument has merit, it would likely carry more weight if the share of our GDP devoted to defence were not in decline,” said Perry.

At $18.7 billion, defence spending is also at a new low in terms of share of total program expenditures at 6.11 per cent.

The same Senate defence committee report that found Canada is approaching a post-war low point in spending concluded that the Canadian military is “chronically underfunded,” pointing out that the Forces need more than $2 billion in new money, just to maintain current operations.


Support in cabinet for a major increase in defence spending is clearly tepid

“As the world becomes a more complex place, especially with rogue regimes and non-state actors seeking and acquiring biological, nuclear and chemical weapons, and mobile missile launch capability, Canada should not rely on others to protect our national interests and defend our sovereignty,” the report said, as it recommended Canada sign up for BMD and double defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP over the next 11 years.

There are no signs that the defence policy review will reflect similar thinking.

Canada has committed to some 600 soldiers for a still-undefined peacekeeping mission in Africa; 450 troops are already in Latvia; a further 830 personnel are contributing to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Gen. Jonathan Vance, Chief of the Defence Staff, said the Canadian Forces are fully capable of doing what has already been announced. But it would be a career-limiting move for a general to suggest otherwise.

Support in cabinet for a major increase in defence spending is clearly tepid, and closing the funding gap does not appear to be a priority for the Prime Minister.

Yet his most important foreign policy task is to have a close working relationship with the President of the United States.

If Trudeau turns up in Sicily with a defence plan that indicates Canada is not serious about paying its own way, he will be greeted by a turbulent President Trump, one in transition between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Russia Conducting Aerial Surveillance of CAF Bases via Post-Cold War Treaty

By: Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press 

OTTAWA – Russia is using a post-Cold War agreement to conduct an aerial surveillance mission over Canadian military facilities this week, even as relations between the two countries remain frosty.

The five-day mission started Tuesday and involves an unarmed Russian aircraft flying to different parts of the country to take photos of Canadian Forces bases and other military installations.

It is being conducted under the terms of the Treaty on Open Skies, which Canada, Russia and 32 other countries signed in 1992 to encourage trust and openness about each country’s military capabilities and activities.

National Defence spokesman Patricia Brunelle said in an email that the Canadian military will escort the Russians across the country to ensure they don’t stray beyond what is allowed in the treaty.

Canadian personnel will be aboard the plane during actual observation flights to, in part, “monitor imaging equipment, ensure adherence to the agreed flight route and profile, and provide oversight, guidance and assistance.”

National Defence would not say exactly which bases or installations the Russians would be flying over for security reasons, referring questions to the Russian Embassy in Ottawa.

READ MORE: Russia navy activity in Europe exceeds Cold War levels, says U.S. admiral

The embassy did not immediately return requests for comment.

Such flights aren’t uncommon, with Canada having conducted its own monitoring mission over Russia this past November.

But this mission comes at a time when relations between Moscow and the West, including Canada, have reached what U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently called “a low point.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called out the Kremlin earlier this month for supporting the Syrian government, which has been blamed for a chemical attack that killed more than 80 people on April 7.

WATCH: Canada sends strong message to Russia by extending Ukraine mission

More than 450 Canadian troops are also preparing to head to Latvia in the next few weeks, where they will lead a NATO force intended to check Russian aggression in eastern Europe.

And Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland remains on a list of individuals banned from visiting Russia, after Canada slapped the country with sanctions for annexing Crimea in 2014.

Brunelle said signatories are legally obligated to allow surveillance flights under the terms of the treaty, meaning the Russians don’t have to ask permission to undertake such a mission.

“The treaty is designed to enhance mutual understanding and confidence by providing all participants with the legal mechanism and technical means of acquiring, through direct observation, information about military forces and activities of concern to them,” Brunelle said.

“This is done as part of the confidence and security-building measures that are designed as a mechanism to reduce hostilities and tensions between nations.”

A number of agreements between Russia and the U.S. have been broken in recent months or are in danger of being broken, including a ban on cruise missiles in Europe and one treaty on nuclear disarmament.

“So the fact that we are still buying into these overflights is a good thing,” said Steve Saideman, a political scientist at Carleton University`s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

“And given our relations with the Russians today, we should be trying to support all the opportunities you can to address the lack of confidence and trust between the two sides.”

RCAF CF-18s intercept Russian bombers for first time in 2 years

The Canadian Press 

OTTAWA—Canadian fighter jets have intercepted Russian bombers off Canada’s northern coast for the first time in more than two years, as relations between Moscow and the West continue to worsen.

A Canadian Forces CF-18 makes a highspeed afterburner turn at the Great Lakes International Air Show.
A Canadian Forces CF-18 makes a highspeed afterburner turn at the Great Lakes International Air Show
Two CF-18s were scrambled on Thursday after North American early-warning air defences spotted two TU-95 Bear bombers approaching Alaskan and Canadian airspace from the west around 7 p.m.

The long-range bombers, which can carry nuclear weapons, were also tracked by U.S. F-22 jets based out of Alaska, said North American Aerospace Defence Command spokeswoman Maj. Jennifer Stadnyk.

Stadnyk said the Russians never entered Canadian or American airspace, and acted “professionally and safely” before returning to their home base.

The incident marked the first time since December 2014 that Canadian fighter jets have been scrambled to intercept Russian military aircraft flying in the Far North.


It was also the fourth time in as many days that Russian aircraft have been spotted approaching North American airspace. Norad also dispatched F-22s on Monday to track Bear bombers that were flying near Alaska.

Two TU-95s were also spotted near Alaskan airspace on Tuesday while two IL-38 maritime patrol aircraft were tracked on Wednesday, though Norad opted not to scramble fighters in either case.

“We haven’t seen this level of activity since July 2015,” Stadnyk said, though she added: “It’s not unprecedented. What they’re doing this week is very similar to what they used to do.”



Such Russian bomber flights over the Far North were a regular occurrence between 2012-14, Stadnyk said, before the TU-95s were grounded over safety concerns.

One of the bombers skidded off a runway on June 8, 2015, and caught fire, killing a crew member and injuring several more.

The resumption of Russian flights over the Arctic this week comes at a key moment for Russia and the West, whose relationship has reached what U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently called “a low point.”

Ties between Moscow and Washington have been particularly strained ever since the U.S. launched a cruise-missile strike against Syria, which it blamed for a chemical attack that killed more than 80 people earlier this month.

Relations between Ottawa and Moscow have not been spared, despite the Liberal government’s initial plan to re-engage Russia.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called out the Kremlin earlier this month for supporting the Syrian government of president Bashar Assad, who is widely seen by the West as being responsible for the attack.

More than 450 Canadian troops are also preparing to head to Latvia in the next few weeks, where they will lead a NATO force intended to check Russian aggression in eastern Europe.

And Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland remains on a list of individuals banned from visiting Russia, after Canada slapped the country with sanctions for annexing Crimea in 2014.

Steve Saideman, a political science professor at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said the Russians could be trying to send a signal to the Trump administration.

But he noted the Russians have been conducting such military flights throughout Europe and Asia for years, “so if it’s a message to Trump, what’s the message?”

Sajjan invites India to take part in Canada's Maple Flag

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he hopes the Indian military will eventually take part in the annual Maple Flag exercise.

Exercise Maple Flag is an international air combat exercise held at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta.

“They’ve (India) had officials come attend some of our cold weather training exercises,” Sajjan told journalists. They have sent observers to Maple Flag and I made an invite and asked them to even participate in Maple Flag. I’m hoping they’ll be able to consider this request.”

Exercise MAPLE FLAG 50 is being held from May 29 to June 23 this year.

Split between two periods of two weeks each, this year’s exercise will bring together almost 2000 Canadian Armed Forces personnel in participant or supporting roles, along with hundreds of personnel from six allied and partner nations along with multiple aircraft.

Participating International and Partner aircraft, confirmed so far:
  • United States Air Force E-3 AWACS
  • United States Air Force F-16 Falcon fighter aircraft
  • French Air Force E-3 AWACS
  • French Air Force A400M transport aircraft
  • Royal Air Force E-3 AWACS
  • Republic of Singapore Air Force F-16 Falcon fighter aircraft
  • Discovery Air Defence Services Dornier Alpha Jet