Thursday, April 12, 2012

Whither the Canadian Forces? Your view!

There's a much larger conversation implicit in some of my recent F-35 that Christina Montgomery highlighted in comments back here.

That is, what exactly do we, as Canadians, want our military to do? At the military and political level, there's lots of talk about "capability" and equipment rationales are filled with buzzwords like that, or "interoperability". But these don't describe context in which things are purchased. Terms like "uncertainty" about the geopolitical context get tossed in and used to justify buying things like the F-35 which are argued to be the most 'capable' toys on the market. But capable is not the same as usable. The F-35, if it even works, might able to evade radar, super-cruise, and track 800 targets and an amoeba at 40 000 feet, whilst providing a latte and back massage for the skypilot, but that doesn't mean anything unless there's as strategic rationale for having it. Right now our armed forces doesn't have much a strategic rationale for existing other than to be 'interoperable'. Being full of 'readiness', 'multi-purpose combat capable', and able to 'deploy and support allies' is tactical capacity but doesn't reflect a strategic purpose to the armed forces other than being politically and practically secondable to NATO and other allies for whatever they get up to. Tasks, these are, that remain little different than what the military has been doing for decades and are too often governed by political (and sometimes military) egos, not, IMHO, absolute military necessity.

Defending Canada and North America (as long as the US remains sane-ish and intact) are strategic mandates and the first two highlighted in the Canada Second First policy leaflet. The second one is NORAD and has been NORAD for a while, and the present government is all about deep integration perimeter security agreements that seem to confirm even further the role of the Canadian Forces as some sort of local militia on the US northern flank [Is this why F-35, Mr. Harper?]. As Alison and Chris point out, it's not like Canadians ever get asked what they think about any of this. This reninvigorated integration policy is a political decision and not objectively something the CF gets to decide, but it is reasonable to think it influences how the military equips and plans for itself.

There are some indications that people in the CF are concerned about thinking, period and how it relates to how the armed forces problem solves.

For example, the RCAF, as the key bit of Canada in NORAD is at least is thinking about this. They've established a think unit on aerospace warfare in order to carve out some intellectual space for independent Canadian military thinking. Interesting enough a recent paper in the house RCAF Journal describes the early Cold War subordination of RCAF purposes to USAF strategic planning and the associated Americanization of its outlook (Goette 2012). In a recent piece in the the Canadian Military Journal, the RMC professor and soldier Col. Bernd Horn (2011) articulates exactly why reflective and creative thinking on the part of military members is important for competence (one wonders what trends he sees in his student-officers' thinking).
And so, if experience once again becomes the primary discriminator for advancement, and higher education is again deemed inconsequential, the CF will return to a system where emphasis is placed upon progression in a series of key appoint- ments and geographic postings, most notably Afghanistan. As such, successful completion of these tours once again becomes perceived as sufficient to prepare an individual for the next higher rank and responsibilities.
Unfortunately, this type of myopic outlook and inward focused mind-set fails to see the inherent flaw of this model. Experience in itself is valuable and irreplaceable. But it is also constrained by time, geography, and memory. One person’s experience, particularly at a specific time and place, does not necessarily represent the knowledge or abilities that are needed for an institution to advance into the future. Moreover, the perspective from a shell-hole, turret, or command post is very limited. Service needs become defined in and of themselves without    being rooted in their proper societal context. But, most of all, a system that values experience as the only true arbitrator of reality suffers from human arrogance and frailty. “We see,” wrote Major Seiberg in the mid- 1930s, “that the Spanish Civil War has up to now demonstrated  nothing really new, and also that men only regard experience as valid when it is their own experience. Otherwise, it would not be possible for the same errors that led to failure in the Great War to be repeated.”22 Simply put, those who refuse to open their minds are doomed to suffer the limitations of their narrow, restricted, and outdated beliefs.
Dave also said as much when he chided the RCAF for their cockpit-only view of the F-35.

Let us flip this around a little. Like the military with its experience-based and potentially limited thinking about itself, most of us are civilians without a great amount of awareness or experience of things military. The civilian public and ultimate paymasters of the armed forces see what? Scandals, parades, the odd natural disaster or search and rescue drama, and Remembrance Day? Uncritical soundbites about supporting the troops and getting the best equipment? Fluff pieces about hockey rinks in Kandahar or how much the troops love Timmies? The dead and wounded and veterans' care? That's how it appears to me at least and while some of these matters are important, they also serve to camouflage the fact that the military does have several key roles and purposes, the ultimate of which is or ought to be, in my view, ensuring the safety and security of Canadians and Canada.

So Beaver-readers, let's open the floor and drawing on Chris Montgomery's call in my previous post, ask ourselves what the Canadian Forces, our Canadian Forces, need to be in the 21st century.
  • What do you want the CF to do?
  • What are the challenges it might be asked to meet? 
  • What limitations might it face? 
  • What resources might it need or not need? 
Right now the Conservatives and their public enablers dominate this conversation and it centres largely on denying reality and going faster and blowing(-up)harder in more places with the slickest kit your money can by, and only listening the voices feeding that desire.

SURELY, we can come up with a more nuanced set of ideas. Feel free to leave them in the comments section. Don't be shy, we're not a milblog and you don't have to be mil-type to comment on YOUR military.


Steve said...

Our model should be Switzerland. Give everyone a second thought about invading. We should have the capabilities to join missions like Bosina and Libya, but lets make those bombers/drone patrol craft out of modified Dash 8 at about $27 million a copy. If we wanted it we could make a heck of an export biz with this plane. There should be many more youth trained in basic guierlla warfare. Keep the C17 and have a strong humanitarian response team. For the navy I would design some modern sail patrol craft, and of course the traditional destroyer. A couple of those should be able to handle summer ice.

Boris said...

OK, Steve, but what are the social, political, economic, and environmental contexts that drive your recommendations?

Chris said...

First, a massive boost to our diplomatic missions worldwide. Backed up by big increase in humanitarian type aid.

Back to peacekeeping work bigtime. Paralleled in civilian society by lots of work-abroad, build-abroad type programs that get kids out and around the world and in touch with something beyond our borders. A population that understands world affairs and has experienced life outside of Canada is better at thinking about what we need to do in the world.

Train and equip for the emergency preparedness stuff.

Disengage ourselves from the US as much as possible, outside of, say, North American type commond defence. Insist on a say in those things where we are signed on. But step away from the border perimeter-type efforts, the push to redesign the coast guard on the US model, all of the integration stuff. Act like the independent country we are. Be a good, confident, self-respecting partner that acts in the interest of its own citizens.

Step ourselves up at places like the UN, and UN-related agencies like the IMO and the ILO, to give us a credible international voice on something other that the guns and bombs front.

Big move into the Arctic, with whatever workhorse type equipment that involves.

Be a strong presence on our other two coasts.

Homegrow the plane and shipbuilding where we can, without handing massive wads of cash to industries that don't feel the need to modernize on their own. Lay some people into government and procurement who understand those industries and can figure out the carrot and stick thing effectively, so that we have a strong, functioning production line of our own.

Offer as many practical trades and other training for kids who sign on to the military, and a full educational ride if they do. Move them all around the country, let them see the place and understand what they belong to.

Teach them our real military history.

Start treating our resources like the valuable assets they are, and build value added, and boost industrial strength where possible, to allow for the financial muscle we need to be the grown ups that we are.

Military action as a very last resort. In concert with UN agreed missions where possible, or other similar international efforts.

And ... if the defence minister could arrange for all that, I'd be totally cool with him hopping a big yellow rescue chopper whenever he had a fishing-lodge emergency. Totally cool with that.

Boris said...

Offer as many practical trades and other training for kids who sign on to the military, and a full educational ride if they do. Move them all around the country, let them see the place and understand what they belong to.

I'm all over stuff like this. Part of the reason I left the military because my brain was rotting out of my skull when I had nothing to do. This was the budget-cut 1990s, and a lot of troops had a lot of down-time and nothing productive to do with themselves. They'd visit HMCS/CFS Acrossthestreet and drink themselves stupid or find other trouble with their spouse or someone else's, the MPs, Hell's Angels, or wherever. Afghanistan is winding down and there's likely going to be more down-time for the troops just as the social impacts (like PTSD, delayed symptom brain injuries from IED blasts etc) of that war start show up in garrison life. Not a good mix. There's a therapeutic to giving people something productive (i.e. not busy work) to do while they recalibrate themselves.

Chris said...

Boris, I worked my way out west from Toronto with stops along the way in several places, including Cold Lake, where I worked for the little paper there in order to see the oil sands (or tar sands, as they were known then) up close. The bombing range and the base were right there, that was an unexpected surprise.
I spent a lot of time talking to kids, and even older guys, serving there.
It always stuck in my mind that if you were going to sign up for duty, there ought to be something for you when you got out. So I think trades training, or whatever, should be built into the deal. So should some engagement with the place you're stationed, although that may just be because I have very little idea what all these folks are kept busy with while on duty. I might be naive about that one, I'm not sure.
(As an aside, one of the funniest things I heard in Cold Lake came from the guy who was stationed on the base. I met him one night in one of the beer halls. He said he joined the military because he didn't have money for an education and they offered to teach him a trade he could use later.
I asked him what trade he was training up in.
His answer: Bomb packing.

harebell said...

Just spitballing here:
We need to be able to defend ourselves and our resources at home in the air, on land and at sea.
That starts with being a world partner and gaining people's trust and getting them thinking positively about us.
But boots need to be on the ground throughout our entire country. We will need regional combined operations bases. These bases will be occupied by full time regular troops supplemented by part timers and local volunteers.
It's the local militia and volunteers that I would like to see empowered to a greater degree. The regulars would provide support, training and guidance but operations in the field will be decided by local commanders These commanders would work within a strategic framework of general aims supplied by their regular liaison officers. The commander would train numerous sub commanders and so on down the line until small discreet units can command themselves without the need for a central command organisation. In peace time focus and discipline will be maintained using the command structure. While at war, units because self commanding general task oriented teams whose individual strategy is within the framework they learned during their training.
A country is hard to defeat if the entire population is it's fighting force and if there is no command structure outside of general strategy. Modern guerrilla organisations who have roots in the community are hard to defeat and they maintain the support of the local population, because they are the local population.
If any overseas duties are determined to be necessary then they will be drawn from the regulars and part timers and as a final resort from the local volunteers.
The regulars and part timers will focus on the technology intensive disciplines (Flying, Armour, warships/subs) and liaison with the volunteers. Section tactics and weapons and demolitions expertise would be passed to the volunteers. All three levels would take part in combined operations in training and learn to co-operate. As the volunteers become more integrated then expertise into other more complex areas could be attempted.
The limitations are that it is a very lean set-up relying on not so modern technology, but that is one of it's strengths too. It also relies on a huge degree of community involvement.
My first real super weapon suggestion would be an direction or general emp gun to supplement our self commanding cells. If we can knock out some of the modern weapons and intelligence gathering capabilities that a modern state has and reduce them to fighting at the individual level; then having trained that way we should have the advantage.
We would be creating a kind of Viet Cong to suppliment the NVA but with a modern technological twist to level the playing field a bit.

Boris said...

Chris & harebell,
Trades training, university, maybe a spectrum of options made available. I have a couple of immediate thoughts. One being the difficulty someone who joins the military in their teens can have reintegrating into the civilian world when they leave. Even without coming through the intensity of war, there's an overall institutionalization that leaves them with difficulty navigating civvie life. Lotsa cracks to fall through.

There's another thing, which ties into harebell's comment: The community engagement bit. I've often wondered about doing a comparative study of members' attitudes and perceptions on some indicator issues between those stationed in geographically isolated locations like Petawawa or Wainwright, and those in urban centres like Esquimalt or Trenton. The social environment of the major army bases reminded me a lot of mining and forestry towns.

This reminds me of a comment I heard not long ago from a regular RCN rating leaving the service who preferred to hang around the reservists because they were 'normal' she didn't get the misogynistic comments from then that she got from her regular counterparts and their lives didn't involve quite so much drinking and general idiocy.

Graydon said...

The problem with this sort of analysis is that what I'd want the CF to do, what I think most Canadians want the CF to do -- sovereignty, succor in disaster, and in peacetime function as a class laundry, educational mechanism, and instrument of political cohesion -- are potentially really expensive.

If we take sovereignty seriously, we should be planning for the year the US sends a 4 carrier task force to assert control over the western Arctic; if we take succor in disaster seriously we should be planning for the year Yellowstone goes or the Canaries have that slump or there's effectively no Prairie wheat crop.

I think we can do a lot better with those things than we are. Certainly we can give up the generations-old tripwire/cadre for the mass army expectation lurking in the CF's cultural assumptions about itself.

The modern officer/enlisted distinction dates from (depending on branch) Cromwell's New Model Army or the navy of George the Third. I think it's obviously and drastically socially out of date, and could do with replacing. (Despite a variety of "I'm just a dumb (master) corporal" acts, most of those I've met have been pretty sharp. They should get to make real decisions about stuff, but that level of re-org is beyond the scope of a comment.)

If the Forces mostly did their own equipment integration -- not manufacturing, but if instead of buying complete systems bought major parts (eg., tank engines) via open (really open; public, on the net) competitive bid and did the installation and maintenance themselves, you've got an opportunity for a lot of education, experience, and class-laundering. (This would be in some ways more expensive, but in other ways it's much better value.)

In terms of air, well, the reason to have an air force is fundamentally so you can tell what the other guy is doing. Our reconnaissance assets are really limited, and they shouldn't be; we should be getting near-real-time views of all three coasts at a minimum.

After that you look at the ability to keep the other guy from seeing what you're doing, and only after that strike and last of all fighter aircraft as such. We need a much, much better reconnaissance ability at the tactical level, too.

Both succor in disaster and sovereignty imply being able to move lots of stuff fast; 50 billion dollars would buy a *lot* of transport, and it would be much, much better spent on transport than F-35s. (You could get a Churchill-Mackenzie Bay rail line for that, and Shefferville-Ungava Bay in the bargain.)

I think the force structure that comes out of that is a lot more maritime strike and reconnaissance; permanent arctic bases; lots more transport capability; cached equipment on a "instant housing and services for 100,000" level; a general assumption that service is not on an "up or out" basis, it's "keep getting better if you want to stay" basis; and a view that while military spending is an economic dead loss it's not a social loss, and here's a way to make Canada seem like a better deal to people not in the upper middle class.

the regina mom said...

I want Canadian Forces to be Peacekeepers, not Peacemakers, like we used to be back when, before this patriarchal obsession with war took such a strong hold on our country.

I want our forces to be able to assist in responses to disasters worldwide and at home.

I want our Forces to be respected, the world over and at home, for being respectful, mindful and fair.