Sunday, February 04, 2007

The BS from the Harper-O'Connor bivouac

I had been meaning to do this post earlier but I was busy keeping my eyes open for terrorists and black-ice on the Coquihalla highway, then some irritating insurgent microbe got through my defences reducing me to one sniffling throw away post.

Anyway, this has caused a bit of hand wringing in some quarters, outrage in others and an unwarranted amount of cheering in still others. First, the headline:
Military wants more troops in cities
That's what happens when an editor assigns the headline to a report that actually says something completely different; an editor who isn't smart enough to make the distinction between organizational bodies. The military hasn't asked for this at all. This is a Harper/O'Connor campaign and comes out of the "Canada First" defence strategy of the Conservative government. It does not originate with the Canadian Armed Forces.
The Harper government plans to increase the Canadian Forces presence across the country with new units in 14 cities as well as shifting 5,000 regular force personnel from support and desk jobs to training and front-line missions.
This has led people to suggest that the Liberal attack ads of the last election campaign were, in fact, accurate. They were not. This "territorial" concept to the Canadian Forces, particularly at the reserve component level, is as old as the militia itself. It's not new and it's not innovative. This doesn't mean putting troops on the street at all. It means increasing the size of the army and navy reserves and, while that may translate in the minds of the CPoC to a greater military presence in major cities, it means more people training evenings and weekends. The numbers of uniforms visible on a daily basis would hardly change particularly since O'Connor is proposing to put these units in larger Canadian cities.
During the election campaign, the Conservatives promised their government would create territorial battalions. At the time, Stephen Harper said each unit would be composed of 100 regular troops and 400 or more reservists. The strategy paper, however, does not contain details on how big the units will actually be.
I'll bet the strategy paper doesn't contain details. I know why too. This concept has been tried before and was a spectacular failure.

In the early 1990s during a force reduction and base closure program some major army units were shifted to reserve status and designated 90/10 battalions or regiments. The concept was to man a unit with 10 percent regular force and 90 percent reserve force, giving those units a higher level of combat readiness and training than most reserve units which had a small regular support staff. The whole idea lasted about a year as the reality of recruiting and staffing took hold. The regular force had difficulty manning their portion and the volunteers for the reserve element simply weren't there, leaving the unit chronically understrength.
Between now and 2016, the army will establish "territorial response battalions" in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Winnipeg, Niagara-Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Saint John, Halifax and St. John's. The units would be designed to react to domestic emergencies such as natural disasters or a terrorist attack.
The concept of having the reserve force respond to natural disasters and terrorist attacks is commendable. They do the natural disaster response now. There have never been any terrorist attacks in Canada from which to gauge how they might respond to that, but it needs to be understood, the duty would be post-event response and probably along the lines of an organized crew providing emergency infrastructure services. The presence of a military does not prevent terrorist attacks, lest we have all forgotten that the bulk of the US military was at home the day those planes flew into the World Trade Center. But, there is another point here.

There are 184 naval, army and air force reserve units (excluding regimental bands) in 87 cities and towns across Canada. Many are in smaller cities giving, particularly the army, a true territorial footprint. In the cities mentioned in the strategy paper the military presence by numbers of naval divisions, army battalions and air reserve formations, not even considering the regular force units in those centres, is provided by the reserve component of the CF as follows:
Victoria: 6
Vancouver: 8 (includes North Vancouver)
Calgary: 6
Edmonton: 9
Regina: 4
Winnipeg: 8
Niagara-Windsor: 30 (depending on boundary)
Toronto: 12
Ottawa: 9
Montreal: 12 (includes Westmount)
Quebec City: 6
Saint John: 3
Halifax: 8
St. John's: 5

Now consider for a moment that these established CF reserve units suffer from a continuing lack of recruits. Most never achieve full effective strength. The Conservatives are proposing to add yet another battalion-strength unit of anywhere from 500 to 1000 people in each of those cities. Where are the people going to come from?

This "leak" has little or nothing to do with the Canadian Forces actual strength. This is an attempt to secure a military vote and offer a bone to the cities where the Conservatives are hoping to gather a few more votes by suggesting they are providing something. However, given the concentration of reserve units in those cities and regions now, you can bet that they will point at existing units, renamed or adjunctly identified (territorial battalion), and declare that they fulfilled their promise. In short, they're lying now and they're going to lie in the future.

As for the rest of the report, the idea of moving JTF2 to Trenton is stupid beyond belief. JTF2 is in Dyer Hill for a reason. I'm sure if O'Connor stopped to listen to people who are actually in the service instead of his own voice, he'd be able to figure it out.

The Marine Commando Regiment in Comox is interesting. If it's "marine" then it is sea deployable. Comox is the worst possible location for any such unit. A more rational location would be on southern Vancouver Island. This is yet another attempt at vote-buying.

The single most important factor to consider however, it that none of this is going to actually happen. It's a pipe-dream. The troops in the cities is more smoke and mirrors from Harper's PR machine. Those cheering the idea will be disappointed. Those questioning the plan can safely ignore it.

It's not a plan; it's an advertising campaign.

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