Quotulatiousness

October 28, 2017

QotD: Special forces are not a “cheaper” alternative to large, conventional forces

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Special Forces are a good tool, and an old one … their origins go all the way back to colonial (mid 18th century) North America when units like Butler’s Rangers and Rogers’ Rangers were formed. The British kept skirmishing troops alive in the form of The Rifles (heirs to the traditions of numerous, famous “rifle” and “light infantry” regiments) and many 21st century Canadian regiments still bear similar titles. Special Forces had a rebirth of sort in World War II when the British made raiding and commando operations into an important tool ~ because they, the Brits, did not have the resources to take the fight to the Germans in Europe in 1941 and ’42. Modern history is full of raiding exploits from Entebbe to the killing of Osama bin Laden and it all encourages penny pinching politicians to believe, incorrectly, that a few Special Forces soldiers can replace battalions and brigades … they cannot, they do not: they are (relatively) narrow specialists who do a few, small things very, very well but cannot conduct major combat operations or even their own specialized tasks for anything like a sustained period.

Canada needs some Special Forces ~ maybe 2,500 is the right number, I do not know. But good Special Forces are always drawn from a large pool of tough, superbly disciplined, well trained sailors, soldiers and aviators. If the government wants to use more and more Special Forces in a variety of roles then it needs, above all, to maintain a large enough, high quality base from which to create and sustain them. Special Forces are part of a modern, combat capable (and, therefore, expensive) military … they are not a low cost replacement for it, no matter what the Liberal Party of Canada might want.

Ted Campbell, “Special Forces”, Ted Campbell’s Point of View, 2017-10-16.

October 12, 2017

That Time Canada Tried to Make a Literal “Gaydar”

Filed under: Cancon, Government, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Today I Found Out
Published on 10 Oct 2017

Never run out of things to say at the water cooler with TodayIFoundOut! Brand new videos 7 days a week!

In this video:

We are all familiar with the colloquialism “gaydar” which refers to a person’s intuitive, and often wildly inaccurate, ability to assess the sexual orientation of another person. In the 1960s, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) attempted to use a slightly more scientific, though equally flawed, approach- a machine to detect if a person was gay or not. This was in an attempt to eliminate homosexuals from the Canadian military, police and civil service. The specific machine, dubbed the “Fruit Machine”, was invented by Dr. Robert Wake, a Carelton University Psychology professor.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/06/when-the-canadian-government-used-gay-detectors-to-try-to-get-rid-of-homosexual-government-employees/

September 17, 2017

American military command and control, as adopted by the Canadian military

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ted Campbell explains why he feels the complex and cumbersome system used by the US Army (and derived from the US experience of raising, training, and running a vast army in WW2) is not well suited to the much smaller Canadian Army, yet has become the “way things are done” in Canada:

The problem, as I see it, with the American command and control system is that it is totally systematic. This is born, to some degree, out of the practical necessity that the US faced in the 1940s when it fielded a force of over 15 million men and women but it, systematic management, became something akin to a cult when Robert McNamara, who had been a pioneer of systems analysis in the US Army Air Corps in World War II and was recruited to be one of Henry Ford II’s Whiz Kids who would use those tools to help reshape American industry in early the post war years, became President John Kennedy’s Secretary of Defence (1961 to 1968). He reshaped the US military using systematic management as his main tool. It works for the administrative management of very, very large organizations … it, American style systematic management, may not work as well as many would hope, but it can, and did, bring order, to a very large enterprise. But it stifles individuality and initiative, which are essential for command ~ even, I have read, American unconventional forces are forced into a very conventional systematic matrix.

Systematic management requires a great deal of rote learning and adherence to doctrine. There is a “school solution’ to every problem and that is the one that second lieutenants and lieutenant generals, alike, are required to offer … there is little room for, say, a Robert Rogers, T.E. Lawrence, Orde Wingate or David Sterling … and, in fact, even the missions of the much discussed US Seal Team 6 seem carefully managed by check lists and risk analysis and other tool of the systems analysts. The notion, as one American special forces commander had, for example, of using local animal transport in Afghanistan in 2001, remains unpopular: systems analysis says that only the latest technology can be employed and officers who break the rules do not become generals because riding horses, rather then helicopters, is not the “school solution.” The fact that it worked didn’t really matter because it violated the process.

Why does Canada follow along, uncritically?

First: we, our military, has long had a “colonial” mindset. Until the 1950s we were, for most intents, a sub-set of the British military. It went beyond “buttons and bows” (scarlet mess jackets and the same rank badges, and so on) and included important traditions, like the regimental system, tactical doctrine and equipment. Canadian officers, especially, served, often, in the British Army, in jobs up to and including (during my service) a Canadian major general serving as commander of a British division that was “on the front line” in West Germany, and attended British training courses. In the 1970s we began to shift, more and more, to be a sub-set of the American military and many Canadian generals have served in senior (but generally powerless) “exchange” postings as deputy commanders of large American formations. They come home deeply influenced by the “American way.” The same things happen to Australian and British generals. The American aim is to have all its allies adopt its systematic approach which will make interoperability (by which the US means doing what they want their way) simpler. Exchange postings, as they are called, with other forces are never bad things, not even when the lessons we learn are the wrong ones … IF we understand what we are learning. My complaint with Canadians serving in senior “exchange” posts with the US military is that the post are less about exchanging information and ideas (learning from each other) and more about indoctrinating Canadians (and Australians and Brits) with US ideas about command and control and organization and management which, to my mind, anyway, are less than useful.

July 23, 2017

In military training, “similar” is not the same as “identical”

Filed under: Cancon, Education, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Ted Campbell looks at one of the legacies of the 1968 integration of the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Airforce as the unified Canadian Armed Forces:

Our problem, in Canada, goes back to a fairly simple mistake that former Defence Minister Paul Hellyer and his minions made in the mid 1960s. First I must declare that a lot of what Mr Hellyer proposed was good ~ the unification of the armed forces, creating proper joint commands in which Navy, Army and Air Force units and formations served together, under one single commander, just as history taught they they would fight together in war, made excellent sense. Some of what he introduced ~ like the integration of the military into a single service and introducing common occupation and training systems ~ made less, little or no sense at all.

The logical trap into which Mr Hellyer and his team fell and the consequential problem which still infects the Canadian Armed Forces today is that they failed to grasp that similar ≠ identical. Consider, for example, a Navy helicopter pilot and an Army attack helicopter pilot ~ both must fly rotary wing aircraft at a basic level, in that they are almost certainly identical, but, after that, the differences between landing a very big helicopter on the heaving deck of a very small warship and flying a small helicopter at high speeds at near treetop level are very large and the two pilots are very, very dissimilar. Does it make sense to train them together at the primary flying school level? Yes! Does it make sense to mix them together into one pool of “pilots” on the grounds that they are very much the same? No! The same applies to cooks and radar technicians and pay clerks and, and, and … they are, very often, similar but rarely nearly enough identical to merit having them in a single “trade” or group. But, Mr Hellyer was, valiantly, trying to solve a funding crisis and savings in personnel and training were seen as the equivalent of the brass ring on the old fashioned carnival carousel. For almost fifty years Mr Hellyer’s deeply flawed notion of integration has been sacrosanct even as his very good ideas about unification were pushed aside by empire building careerists in the most senior ranks of the Canadian Forces and by lazy superiors, including disengaged ministers and bureaucrats.

We can start the fix by recognizing that some things do work: there should be, just as an example, one, single, integrated primary flying school, where all helicopter pilots learn to fly a basic rotary wing aircraft. But Navy, Army and RCAF pilots (and, yes, each service should have its own) should, then, be trained in their specific specialities by their own service specialists. Similar things should apply to many skills ~ integrate the education and training when the similarities outweigh the differences, but train, usually, in single service, specialist centres, when the differences are dominant. Some training ~ staff training, for example, to produce officers who can serve in joint HQs ~ must be integrated, however, if we ever want to have a proper unified force.

Will it cost more? Yes … superficially. But the savings for which Mr Hellyer so fervently hoped, in 1968, never really materialized; instead the training system used, as it was directed to do, minimum common standards to achieve economies and, thereby, financially “burdened” the other commands with special to function training: teaching Army cooks to drive trucks and use field (gas) stoves, for example, and teaching Navy supply people how to work in a ship. It is possible, even likely, in my opinion, that Canadian military education and training could be reformed at low cost. Some education and training can be contracted out or done, as is the case now, using a kind of public-private partnership (P3) arrangement. I will return to this later with a thought on the the Royal Military College, the Staff Colleges and so on.

June 20, 2017

The Guardian turns on Justin

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Last week, Martin Lukacs savaged Justin Trudeau by way of contrast with British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the pages of The Guardian, which must count as one of the most unexpected sources of criticism for our mediagenic PM:

Their depiction in the international media couldn’t be more different.

You know Justin Trudeau from the Buzzfeed photo-spread or the BBC viral video: the feminist prime minister of Canada who hugs refugees, pandas, and his yoga-mat. He looks like he canoed straight from the lake to the stage of the nearest TED Talk – an inclusive, nature-loving do-gooder who must assuredly be loved by his people.

Then there’s what the columns of trans-Atlantic punditry told you about Jeremy Corbyn: the rumpled, charmless leader of UK’s Labour party whose supporters are fringe lunatics and his stances out-of-date utopianism. If he dared run an election with his political program, he would just as assuredly be rejected by the electorate.

So far, so conventional … and then the gloves come off:

Trudeau’s coronation as a champion of everything fair and decent, after all, has much to do with shrewd and calculated public relations. I call it the Trudeau two-step.

First, he makes a sweeping proclamation pitched abroad – a bold pledge to tackle austerity or climate change, or to ensure the rights of refugees or Indigenous peoples. The fawning international coverage bolsters his domestic credibility.

What follows next are not policies to ambitiously fulfill these pledges: it is ploys to quietly evacuate them of any meaning. The success of this maneuver – as well as its sheer cynicism – has been astonishing.

In this manner, Trudeau has basically continued, and in some cases exceeded, the economic agenda of Conservative Stephen Harper: approved mega fossil fuel projects, sought parliamentary power grabs, cut-back healthcare funding and attacked public pensions, kept up the dispossession of Indigenous peoples, undermined the prospect of universal childcare, maintained tax loopholes for the richest, and detained and deported thousands of migrants.

Out of breath? He has also broken an electoral reform promise, initiated a privatization scheme that is a massive corporate handout, left un-repealed a Tory political spy bill, launched air strikes in Iraq and Syria despite pledging a withdrawal, and inked the largest-ever weapons deal with the brutal, misogynistic Saudi Arabian regime.

Not exactly what those who voted for “real change” were expecting? Before you answer, here’s something titillating to distract and disarm you: Justin and Barack Obama rekindling their progressive bromance at an uber-cool Montreal diner. Jeremy Corbyn has shown us the meaning of a politics of genuine hope: what Trudeau has deployed has only ever been a politics of hype.

Trudeau’s latest progressive posturing is over foreign policy. Last week his government announced, to wide-spread acclaim, a brave course for their military that is independent of the reviled US administration. Except they will boost wasteful military spending by more than $60bn, a shocking seventy percent budgetary increase, and are already entertaining new Nato missions — exactly as Donald Trump has demanded. The doublespeak seems to have escaped the navel-gazing pundits: this is utter deference masquerading as defiance.

I don’t think Justin’s fans on the left need to be too worried about all that mucho-macho military posturing … until the promised spending is actually in the budget, it’s just politico-military theatre for our American allies than anything that will make a material difference to the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. Once Trump is satisfied that Justin is doing his bidding, it can all be allowed to quietly go away (like the last government’s promises to beef up the armed forces and live up to our NATO commitments).

H/T to Ted Campbell for the link.

June 10, 2017

Canadian Special Operations Forces Command

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While we hear a lot about the special forces of some of our allies — US Navy SEALs, US Army Rangers and Delta Force, the British SAS and SBS — we generally hear very little about our own special forces. Some of that is natural: maintaining operational secrecy is very important, but long after the event, we still hear very little from official sources. A few years back, I posted a quick crib on the organization of Canada’s special forces, based on what was available at the time. Here, cribbed directly from the pages of Strong, Secure, Engaged [PDF], the new Canadian Defence Policy document, is a description of the role of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command:

Special Operations Forces are small, highly skilled, adaptable, multi-purpose forces held at very high readiness levels. Special Operations Forces are employed in situations that pose an imminent threat to national interests, where the use of larger military forces is inappropriate or undesirable, in operational environments where access is limited, and against high-value targets.

These situations benefit from small, well-planned or precision tactical operations. Such activities include: domestic and international counter-terrorist response, discrete intelligence collection, surveillance and reconnaissance activities, specialized capacity building to assist allied host nation forces, and immediate reaction in response to emergent or imminent threats. Flexible, scaleable Special Operations Task Forces often play a role in longer-term military missions but the limited numbers of highly skilled individuals at the heart of such forces typically deploy for limited durations of time.

Canada’s Special Operations Forces structure is lean. It consists of a headquarters commanding Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2) – Canada’s military counter-terrorism unit; the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit (CJIRU) – Canada’s military Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear detection and response unit; the Canadian Special Operations Regiment; the Special Operations Aviation Squadron; and the Canadian Special Operations Training Centre.

At its core, Canada’s Special Operations Forces are focused on a cooperative joint, inter-agency, and multi-national approach to operations. In order to meet future challenges, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command will continue this cooperation to support government decision-making in security situations, including counter-terrorism efforts. Additionally, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command will support international peace and security missions, and contribute to and harness the ‘Global Special Operations Forces Network’ consisting of allied Special Operations Forces.

The lean nature and unique characteristics of Canada’s Special Operations Forces require sustained and tailored investment to ensure continuity and effectiveness over the long-term

June 9, 2017

The new Canadian defence policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Unlike all the other issues that might have moved the Canadian government to finally address the weaknesses of the Canadian Armed Forces (including the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the high-tempo troop deployments to Afghanistan, escalating tensions in Ukraine and eastern Europe, and the rather embarrassing ongoing rusting-out of the RCN’s ships), Donald Trump appears to have been the trigger … and the first visible result (after Chrystia Freeland’s rather … muscular speech the other day) is the publication of Strong, Secure, Engaged [PDF].

It certainly says a lot of the right things, from personnel to equipment to training and deployment, but as always with a big government announcement, the devil will be in the details. From Defence minister Harjit Sajjan’s introduction:

The pages that follow detail a new vision for the Defence team for the coming decades. It is about our contribution to a Canada that is strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world. In a rapidly changing and less predictable world, we recognize that the distinction between domestic and international threats is becoming less relevant. Therefore, we cannot be strong at home unless we are also engaged in the world.

The policy also includes a new framework for how we will implement that vision. “Anticipate, Adapt and Act,” sets out a way of operating that addresses the challenges we face today, and the ones that will emerge tomorrow.

Canadians take pride in their Armed Forces, and its members serve their country admirably every day. Whether it is responding to natural disasters, providing expert search and rescue, defending our sovereignty, or contributing to greater peace and security in the world, our military answers the call wherever and whenever it occurs

So, along with all the verbiage, what is the new policy going to mean for the Canadian Forces?

This is the most rigorously costed Canadian defence policy ever developed. It is transparent and fully funded. To meet Canada’s defence needs at home and abroad, the Government will grow defence spending over the next 10 years from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27.

(more…)

June 7, 2017

“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state”

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:56

That’s Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland with a statement that would cause the late Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau to throw her out of cabinet … because Canada has been relying solely on the US security umbrella since shortly after the elder Trudeau became Prime Minister in 1968. The interesting thing is that the federal government is reportedly going to announce significant new funds for the Canadian Forces in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency:

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Ottawa will forge its own path on the world stage because Canada can no longer rely on Washington for global leadership.

In a major speech setting the stage for Wednesday’s release of a new multibillion-dollar blueprint for the Canadian Armed Forces, Ms. Freeland rejected Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy and its dismissal of free trade, global warming and the value of Western alliances in countering Russian adventurism and the Islamic State.

While she did not mention the U.S. President by name, Ms. Freeland expressed deep concern about the desire of many American voters to “shrug off the burden of world leadership.”

[…]

Ms. Freeland said Canada has been able to count on the powerful U.S. military to provide a protective shield since the end of the Second World War, but the United States’ turn inwards requires a new Canadian approach to defend liberal democracies.

“To rely solely on the U.S. security umbrella would make us a client state,” she said. “To put it plainly: Canadian diplomacy and development sometimes require the backing of hard power.”

Giving Canada’s military “hard power” will allow it to meet global challenges, she said, listing North Korea, the civil war in Syria, the Islamic State, Russian aggression in the Ukraine and Baltic states and climate change as major threats to the world order.

“We will make the necessary investments in our military, to not only address years of neglect and underfunding, but also to place the Canadian Armed Forces on a new footing – with new equipment, training, resources and consistent and predictable funding,” she said.

Wednesday’s defence-policy review is expected to lay out the military’s priorities for future overseas deployments, and outline Ottawa’s 20-year plan for spending billions of dollars to upgrade warships and fighter jets, among other things.

Amazing. I didn’t think it would fall to Freeland to announce that we’re planning to stop being freeloaders on the US military…

May 27, 2017

Canada’s hollow army

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Thanks to a post at Army.ca, here is the rough outline of the NATO battle group that Canada will be leading in Latvia later this summer (oddly lacking in attached artillery support):

… the Canadian-led battalion level battle group will be composed of about 1,138 soldiers, as well as armor, armored transport and combat support. Of that number, 450 will be Canadian mechanized infantry bringing with them armored vehicles and various support elements. A specialized Canadian reconnaissance platoon will also be on the ground. Albania will send 18 combat (explosive ordnance disposal) engineers. Italy will send a mechanized infantry company consisting of 160 soldiers plus armored fighting vehicles. Poland will send a tank company with 160 troops. Slovenia will send 50 soldiers specializing in defense against weapons of mass destruction, (chemical, biological and nuclear weapon defense, decontamination operations etc). Spain will send the second-largest contingent: 300 soldiers from a mechanized infantry company and armored vehicles, combat engineers and support elements.

As Ted Campbell points out, this is an odd and unwieldy formation and seems unnecessarily multi-national for such a small tasking. Why isn’t the Canadian Army just sending a full battalion with the necessary supporting troops (artillery, armour, engineers, medical and logistics, etc.) to minimize operational and linguistic friction? It’s because we don’t have enough troops to do that successfully:

There is an old, tried and true, military expression to describe this: “it’s a dog’s bloody breakfast!” Can you imagine trying to command and control that organization? Especially under NATO’s rules that, as we saw in Afghanistan, allow each country to impose caveats on what where when and how its forces may be told asked to do anything at all.

So how did we, Canada, get to this? How is it that we cannot, it appears, deploy a complete battle group without Albanian, Italian, Polish, Solvenian and Spanish troops? After all, we had a full battle group in Afghanistan just five years ago, didn’t we?

Well, yes, but …

First, a “battle group” is rarely a formed unit (never in the Canadian Army). It is, usually, either a full up armoured (tank) regiment or infantry battalion with add-ons: tanks or infantry, artillery in direct support, engineers and so on and so forth. Our battle group in Afghanistan was always based on one of Canada’s nine infantry battalions with attachments from a tank regiment, an artillery regiment and so on. But even the infantry battalion, the “base” of the battle group had to be augmented. Canada has not had one, single, full strength, properly organized and equipped infantry battalion for more than a decade. A battalion ought to have 950± soldiers and its own, organic, mortars, heavy machine guns, anti-tank or assault weapons, and, and , and … but many years ago, in an effort to “balance” the army the infantry was (stupidly) stripped of its mortars ~ the artillery will take care of it, it was said … and, bless ’em, the gunners have not let the infantry down, but that doesn’t mean the decision to strip the mortars, especially, from the infantry made any military sense at all. It didn’t; it was a dumb decision ~ the wrong thing for all the wrong reasons. But, a good friend tells, me, the prevailing view in the Army, especially, is that nothing must ever be cut because it will never, ever be gotten back. Thus we strip the battalions but leave the empty shells ~ a Canadian battalions circa 2017 has 500+ soldiers, not the 1,000- it needs. Even at the height of the Afghan campaign, when Major General (then Lieutenant Colonel) Omer Lavoie led Operation Medusa (you know, the one which Harjit Sajan said he conceived as “the architect”) his battalion, the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment 1RCR) had to be augmented with a company from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry because there were not enough companies in all three of the RCR battalions that had not been deployed within the last 18 months … the Army, in other words, had been hollowed out for years, even decades.

March 15, 2017

Sensible reasons to reject a Canadian peacekeeping mission in Africa

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Ted Campbell explains why it would not be a good thing for Canada to send a peacekeeping force to Mali (or to anywhere else in Africa right now):

The Globe and Mail, in an editorial, asks the key question:

“Is there a Canadian national interest in sending troops to Mali?”

I suggest that unless and until the Trudeau government can say, “yes,” and can explain that vital interest to most Canadians that sending Canadian soldiers off to Africa on a United Nations operation is problematical. “The Canadian Armed Forces shed blood and lost lives during the decade-long mission in Afghanistan,” the Globe‘s editorial says, “Sending them into a similar campaign in Mali may further Liberal political interests. But does it serve the national interest?

Now, I believe that I can make a sensible, mid to long term case for Canada to be “engaged,” politically, economically and militarily in Africa:

  • Africa will be, after Asia, the “next big deal” for economic growth, trade and, therefore, profits;
  • Canada will want to be involved as a trusted friend when Africa is ready to “blossom” and have an economic “boom” of its own; and
  • Despite Chinese and French incursions there are still plenty of opportunities for Canadian engagement.

In other words, we have interests in Africa; even, perhaps, in the mid to long term, we have vital interests, at that.

I cannot make a case for getting involved in any United Nations mission in Africa. I cannot, even with rose coloured glasses, see one single United Nations mission in Africa that is working, much less succeeding and doing some good.

I’m not opposed to the UN. In fact, I’m one of those who says that if it didn’t exist we’d have to invent it. The current UN is better than the old League of Nations, and some UN agencies, like the International Telecommunications Union, for example, do good work for the whole world and are, alone, worth our entire UN contribution, but we ask too much of the UN and it is neither well enough designed or led or organized or funded to do even a small percentage of what is asked of it. Peacekeeping is one of the things that the UN cannot do well in the 21st century. Peacekeeping was fine when it was ‘invented’ (circa 1948, by Ralph Bunche, and American and Brian Urquhart, a Brit, not by Lester Pearson in 1957, no matter what your ill-educated professors may have told you) but it could not be adapted to situations in which there is:

  • No peace to be kept;
  • A plethora of non-state actors who are not amenable to UN sanctions.

A few days ago I wrote about the risks involved in sending soldiers to Africa. The Globe and Mail‘s editorial just adds some more fuel to that fire.

February 25, 2017

Updating the junior rank structure of the Canadian Army

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Earlier this week, Ted Campbell offered his suggestions on how to address some issues he notes in the lower ranks of the Canadian Army, based on both Canadian and allied armies’ experiences:

There was always a problem with the old (1850s to 1960s) Army rank structure: there was some need to tie rank to trade, but not as tightly, many military people believe, as […] in the Canadian Armed Forces today. Some branches (corps) used to have fairly strict rules; in the old (1960s) Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, for example, the technicians, amongst the very highest paid soldiers in the whole army, could not attend the long, difficult and expensive, advanced (3rd of 4 levels) technician course until they had passed the junior leadership course and they could not attempt the senior leadership course until they had passed the advanced technician’s course, and so on. But that system always excluded some good people. There were, and still are today, many people who can be excellent, even outstanding technicians but cannot lead or manage soldiers. The United States Army addressed this same issue by creating the “specialist” grouping which allowed soldiers to “advance” through part of the pay system ~ higher salaries for technical skills ~ but not the other ~ even higher salaries for leadership. In past years there were many different (paid) grades of specialist but now it is a “rank” equivalent to the US Army corporal for soldiers who have not yet or cannot pass the first level junior leader course. The British Royal Air Force has a similar and, in my opinion, better system …

… which recognizes both technical skill and leadership requirements.

In my opinion we should undo much of what Mr Hellyer did, while thanking him for addressing the pay problem, and restore the junior leadership positions, especially the tank and rifle section commanders, to the real, and younger, junior leaders: those in the rank of master corporal. This will restore the senior leaders to their traditional roles as “guides” and mentors to the junior leaders: both to the corporals and the lieutenants. The ranks of sergeant ~ in several “grades” and warrant officer are often, and very correctly, referred to as the backbone or even the “heart and soul” of the army. That is partly because, traditionally, they stood ever so slightly “aloof” from the rank and file. The lieutenants gave orders, advised, coached and mentored by the sergeants, to the corporals who, then, directly led the riflemen but were also mentored by the sergeants. It was, to repeat the words I used to describe the US constitution, “a fine and finely balanced system;” we upset the balance 50 years ago to solve a pay problem. We should, also, adapt the RAF’s aircraftman/technician to our own needs to allow some soldiers to advance “up” in their technical field (and be paid more) without becoming leaders (and being paid more for that, too).

To do that the Army will have to reform itself.

First, it will have to repose trust in its junior leaders; that’s something that will be hard to do, even after the Army, of absolute necessity, makes junior leader training ~ making privates into corporals and civilians into second lieutenants ~ its highest priority and the job it assigns to its very, very best senior leaders.

Second, it will have to restore the “sergeant’s mess” to its traditional pride of place in the Army by giving the sergeants and warrant officers back the senior supervisory and management duties that have, in far too many cases, migrated “upwards” until they are now done by captains and even majors. Once again, it is a trust issue and we live in a world where many of the most senior leaders are timid because they have been “burned” too often, by their own superiors, when a subordinate makes a mistake. Mistakes are part of human nature; they have to be corrected, forgiven, in most cases, and, very often, used as teaching aids.

Third, the government will need to revise the pay system so that junior leaders are paid more and, meanwhile, the gap between corporal and master corporal and sergeant is maintained.

Fourth, promotions, in the Army, at least, to corporal and to captain must not be automatic. Promotion to corporal must require that one pass a very tough junior leaders course; promotion from lieutenant to captain should be by examination.

But, doing these four things will, in my opinion, give the Army a firm foundation upon which to build and fight.

January 17, 2017

Vice Chief of the Defence Staff relieved of duty

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Vice Admiral Mark Norman, former head of the Royal Canadian Navy, was relieved of duty as Vice Chief of the Defence Staff on Monday. Details are sketchy, but Robert Fife and Steven Chase report on the highly unusual activity for the Globe and Mail:

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was relieved of his duties as the Canadian military’s second-highest-ranking officer over alleged leaks of highly classified information, The Globe and Mail has learned.

A source said General Jonathan Vance, chief of the defence staff, ordered Mr. Norman’s removal after an investigation of “pretty high-level secret documents” that had allegedly been leaked.

The source would not provide further information on the nature of the sensitive leaks. It is unknown whether the alleged leaks were to journalists, business interests or another country.

The military is offering no explanation for this extreme measure which took place Monday morning.

Vice-Adm. Norman has served in the Forces for 36 years and was previously in charge of the Royal Canadian Navy. He commanded the Royal Canadian Navy for more than four-and-a-half years until General Vance appointed him as vice-chief in January 2016.

The use of the term “temporary” to describe Admiral Norman’s relief may indicate that further investigation is required (my speculation), but no official explanation has been provided yet.

November 26, 2016

Using anecdata to paint a picture of PTSD-plagued veterans

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh on the way Canadian Forces veterans have been portrayed in the media:

Yesterday the Surgeon General of Canada issued the latest in a series of annual technical reports on Canada’s great soldier suicide crisis. If you occasionally read the newspapers, and particularly if you ever pick up the Globe and Mail, you have probably been left with the impression that it is astonishing anyone who fought in Afghanistan in a Canadian uniform is still alive and sane. There is a tradition in newspapering, admittedly a recent one, of being very cautious and elliptical in reporting on suicides for fear of encouraging imitators. The Globe observed the run-up to Remembrance Day this year by blowing out the sphincter of that tradition, offering intimate details of suicides by a sequence of Canadian Armed Forces veterans left to struggle with the psychic aftereffects of witnessing combat.

The idea was to point an accusing finger at an unfeeling, ignorant state and to awaken the consciences of those who elect representatives to it. We are all to blame, you see: Canadian soldiers come home with nerves shattered by conflicts to which we have dispatched them, and yet at election time we overlook a lengthening trail of dead and a choir of the emotionally tormented. Veterans scarcely ever turn up in the newspaper, as veterans, without the words “suicide” or “PTSD” nipping at their heels. They are stalked by drink, painkillers, nightmares, uncontrollable outbursts of violence, homelessness. Only by the wildest of chances will one turn up in the news as a successful, well-adjusted individual.

So it is with trepidation and nausea that one turns to the Surgeon General’s report, hoping for a careful epidemiological documentation of the crisis. What one quickly finds is that when the overwhelmingly male Canadian Forces are compared to the ordinary male population… there is no crisis. Until very recently, CAF members have had significantly lower rates of suicide than male civilians in the same age brackets. The rates are statistically indistinguishable for the most recent time period in the table, 2010-12, owing to a transitory spike in CAF suicides in 2011.

Soldiers are, by this measure, healthier if anything than the average chap. This is not really surprising if you do not read the newspaper, and you merely hold to the old-fashioned idea that the military is pretty good at taking man-children and giving them purpose, abilities, structure, and a social network.

September 25, 2016

The Lorne Scots 150th anniversary

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Personal — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Yesterday I drove out to the wilds of Brampton to attend the Trooping of the Colours for the Lorne Scots (Peel, Dufferin and Halton Regiment). Given how hot this summer has been, they had a great day for the event. I’m sporting a bit of a sunburn on the right side of my head, but the temperatures were much more comfortable than they’d have been on pretty much any weekend since June. Elizabeth and I sat in the second row of seats, which meant that a lot of my photos were constrained (or even bookended) by the heads and shoulders of the folks sitting immediately in front of us. It was still a great trip down memory lane.

lorne-scots-trooping-of-the-colours-2016

If you’re on Facebook, you can see a selection of photos from the event here (unless Facebook is making it awkward for non-members to see albums posted as “public”, which is always a consideration). If you can’t see ’em, let me know in the comments and I’ll repost at least a few of them here.

August 13, 2016

Harjit Sajjan: “Even using the terminology of peacekeeping is not valid at this time”

Filed under: Africa, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Our minister of national defence is on a tour of several African countries, looking at potential deployments for Canadian troops in troubled areas. A positive sign that the government is moving away from their long-standing infatuation with 70s-style “blue beret” peacekeeping missions is the message the minister communicated at the first stop of his tour, as reported in the Globe and Mail by Steven Chase:

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan says what Canada will ask its soldiers to do in Africa can no longer be called peacekeeping because the term doesn’t reflect modern demands of stabilizing a conflict zone – something experts say could run the gamut from training other countries’ troops to counterterrorism.

Mr. Sajjan spoke from Ethiopia, the first stop in an eight-day fact-finding mission to Africa, as Ottawa tries to narrow where to deploy soldiers in what it promises will be a return to a major peacekeeping role for Canada.

The Defence Minister acknowledges the job in conflict-ravaged countries is potentially more dangerous these days and said he prefers the phrase “peace support operations” to describe the task Canada is preparing to embrace in one or more places in Africa.

“I think we can definitely say what we used to have as peacekeeping, before, is no longer. We don’t have two parties that have agreed on peace and there’s a peacekeeping force in between,” he told The Globe and Mail in an interview.

“Even using the terminology of peacekeeping is not valid at this time,” he said. “Those peacekeeping days, those realities, do not exist now and we need to understand the reality of today.”

Mr. Sajjan has been directed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to “renew Canada’s commitment to United Nations peace operations” – a campaign pledge made by the Liberals, who had accused the Harper government of turning its back on peacekeeping.

I strongly suspect that the Canadian Forces do not currently have the ability to engage in a significant role in Africa, given existing commitments to our NATO allies and the long list of equipment that needs to be replaced to maintain the Forces’ current capabilities. Aside from the big-ticket items for the RCN (replacing the current frigates, destroyers, and logistical support ships), the RCAF (the CF-18 is coming to the end of its service life so a new fighter aircraft is needed soon and we are still flying 1960s-era Sea King helicopters on our ships), there is a long list of boring, everyday equipment that also needs to be budgeted and ordered. The federal government is looking for economies in the defence budget, rather than looking to spend more. Foreign expeditions are very expensive, and Canadians are particularly sensitive to the risk of casualties in distant lands. Minister Sajjan may find a role that Canada can fill that would satisfy the PM’s desire to be seen to be doing more, yet does not run the risk of higher military spending and disproportional danger to our troops, but I don’t expect it to happen.

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress