August 5, 2015

The state of the Royal Canadian Navy

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

It’s worse than you might think:

HMCS Athabaskan

HMCS Athabaskan

Maclean's maritime chartThis October, NATO is launching Trident Juncture, its largest and most ambitious military exercise in a decade. The massive land, sea and air exercise will be held in the Mediterranean and will include 36,000 troops from 30 nations. Its goal will be to help the fictitious country of Sorotan, “a non-NATO member torn by internal strife and facing an armed threat from an opportunistic neighbour.” Not surprisingly, this is widely seen as an explicit response to Moscow’s increasingly belligerent pressure on the alliances’ eastern borders. The Canadian government, an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, had planned to send its flagship destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan, as “a strong signal to the Russians,” whose ships and aircraft have also been bumping up against Canada’s territorial claims in the Arctic.

But, last week, it was reported by the Ottawa Citizen that the 43-year-old Athabaskan was no longer seaworthy and is being sent back to Halifax for extensive repairs. Athabaskan is a fitting symbol of the overall state of the Navy: Its engines require an overhaul, the hull is cracked, the decks need replacing, and the weapon systems are questionable. Even Rear Admiral John Newton, commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic, describes his flagship as worn and tired.

In February, during a storm off the East Coast, Athabaskan was damaged and a number of engines failed. After that, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) decided it was no longer capable of weathering the heavy seas of the North Atlantic, so it was sent south for calmer seas. Nonetheless, its engines broke down in Florida, then again in placid Caribbean waters.

“It was garbage. Everything was always breaking,” says Jason Brown, who served as an electrician and technician on Athabaskan for seven years, ending in 2010. “We did 150 to 300 corrective maintenances a month.” Although Brown praises the ship’s crew, he often spent 20-hour days trying to fix equipment. “The two main engines didn’t like to play nice together. It was 4½ years before that issue got fixed.”


Compared to its allies, the Canadian Navy is now only one-third the size it should be, given our GDP, and can only play smaller and smaller roles. Stanley Weeks of the U.S. Naval War College, a former U.S. admiral who follows NATO closely, is dismayed at the decline of the RCN. “[Canadian politicians] need more seriousness. Canada is an inherently maritime nation, dependent on overseas markets, especially in Asia Pacific, and, therefore, it has to be a contributing stakeholder, militarily and diplomatically.” He believes American military leaders in the Pentagon have not yet grasped the serious implications of losing the Canadian destroyers. Regardless, “Canadians should worry more about this than Washington.”

April 22, 2015

Denmark’s Bornholm Island draws Russian attention

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

At Strategy Page, Austin Bay talks about the unusual attention paid to a Danish island in the Baltic Sea by Russian military forces:

Denmark’s Bornholm Island apparently troubles Vladimir Putin’s 21st-century Kremlin war planners as much as it vexed their Cold War Soviet-era predecessors.

More on Bornholm’s specifics in a moment, but first let’s cover one more example of Putin Russia’s aggressive wrong doing. According to an open-source Danish security assessment, in mid-June 2014, three months after Putin’s Kremlin attacked and annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Russian aircraft carrying live missiles bluffed an attack on Bornholm. Though the report doesn’t provide the exact date, the bomber “probe” occurred during the three-day period the island hosted a touchy-feely “peoples festival.” The festival’s 90,000 participants were unaware they were seeking peaceful solutions on a bulls-eye.

The Bornholm faux-attack reprised Soviet Cold War “tests” of Danish defenses and is but one of a score of serious Russian military probes since 2008 designed to rattle Northern Europe. These Kremlin air and naval probes, backed by harsh rhetoric, have led Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland to reassess their military defenses. “Nordic cooperation” with an emphasis on territorial defense was the first formulation. The Nordics, however, acknowledged ties to Baltic states (and NATO members) Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Since the Crimea invasion, Denmark and Norway (NATO members) want to reinvigorate NATO military capabilities. Continued Russian aggression in Ukraine has led a few habitually neutral Swedes to voice an interest in joining NATO.

Bornholm Island (via Google Maps)

Bornholm Island (via Google Maps)

Back to Bornholm: the island’s location and geology irritated Soviet-era Kremlin strategists. Located in the Baltic Sea east of peninsular Denmark, north of Poland’s coast and to the rear of what was East Germany, Bornholm gave the Free World outpost north of and behind Warsaw Pact lines.

Soviet communications security officers despised the place. Bornholm’s electronic intercept systems, quite literally, bugged them.

As for geology, unlike Jutland’s flat peninsula, Bornholm is rock. In the 1970s, while serving a U.S. Army tour in West Germany, I heard a senior officer describe Bornholm as “sort of a Gibraltar.” His exaggeration had a point. Dig tunnels and Bornholm became a hard target for Soviet conventional weapons.

February 28, 2015

How worried are Russia’s neighbours? Norway reacts to re-opened northern bases that have been shut down since the Cold War

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:18

In the Guardian, Julian Borger reports on restructuring in Norway’s defence establishment in reaction to Russian expansionism:

Norway’s defence minister has said her country’s armed forces will be restructured so they can respond faster to what she called increased Russian aggression.

Ine Eriksen Soreide said that Russia had recently re-opened military bases in its far north that had been shut down after the cold war, and that there had also been an increase in flights by Russian warplanes close to Norwegian airspace.

“We have seen in the first couple of months of this year a certain increase compared to the same period last year and … an increased complexity. We see they fly longer, they fly with more different kinds of airplanes and their patterns are different than they used to be,” Soreide told the Guardian during a visit to London.

“They have not breached our territory and that is different from what is happening in the Baltic Sea area. They are breaching territory there all the time and in the Baltic area they have also seen three times as many flights as normal or usual,” she added.

Soreide said Norway was stepping up military cooperation with the Baltic states — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — as a means of reassuring them that they were fully covered by Nato’s collective security umbrella. Furthermore, Norway was “absolutely” ready to expand training of Ukrainian soldiers, she said, predicting that more Nato states would follow the British example of dispatching trainers and non-lethal equipment to support Ukraine.

“On the political level I think it is important to define what we are seeing, that this is aggression — whether you see it as cyber threats or information campaign and conventional warfare, it is aggression what they are doing in Ukraine. And I think it’s important to say this, and that we do not accept this towards Nato countries,” the defence minister said.

Update: Re-worded the headline to reflect the fact that it was Russian bases being re-opened, not Norwegian facilities.

February 27, 2015

Muscle-flexing – Russia’s military exercises

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

Russian military exercises tend to dwarf those of their neighbours, especially in the number of troops involved (and the kind of troops). Ian J. Brzezinski and Nicholas Varangis report on the phenomenon:

Exercises are used by defense establishments to test their readiness, deployability, and logistical and combat proficiency. They can be used as demonstrations of force to underscore determination to defend national territory/interests and those of allies and partners. They can also be used to intimidate and to camouflage offensive operations. Regarding the latter, in February 2014 Russia mobilized 150,000 troops under the guise of an anti-terror simulation. Many of the units in this exercise were deployed along Ukraine’s border just as Russia invaded Crimea and then later eastern Ukraine.

While military exercises are not the sole indicator of military readiness and capability, they do reflect seriousness of intent. In this case, a comparison of exercises by NATO and those of Russia reveals a troubling disparity in magnitude. In short, there is a NATO-Russia “exercise gap” that is all the more glaring when one would think it would be easier for a group of nations to orchestrate larger exercises than those conducted by a single nation.

The following chart indicates that since 2013, Russia has conducted at least six military exercises involving 65,000 to 160,000 or more personnel. In contrast, during the same period, NATO’s most significant exercises included STEADFAST JAZZ, a collective defense exercise conducted in Poland and Latvia in November of 2013 involving 6,000 personnel (of which half were headquarters staff) and NOBLE LEDGER, a test of the NATO Response Force (NRF) that brought 6,500 troops to the field. Individual NATO allies have hosted larger multinational exercises in the North Atlantic Area. These include Norway’s COLD RESPONSE involving some 16,000 troops, the United States’ BOLD ALLIGATOR involving 15,000 personnel and Poland’s October 2014 ANAKONDA with 13,250 personnel.

NATO and Russian military exercises

February 15, 2015

A new rifle for the Canadian Armed Forces?

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

Popular Science has a brief overview of a proposed new small arm for the Canadian Armed Forces:

Maybe Canada’s Armed Forces are fighting a Wendigo infestation no one knows about. Perhaps they’re engaged in a secret war against Bigfoot and his moose army for control of the Northwest Passage. There’s also the reality that Canada is a NATO partner and fights regular wars overseas; Canadian troops fought alongside American ones in Afghanistan from 2001 until March 2014. Well, to make Canada ready to take on their next foe, Colt Canada just released a video demonstration of a new prototype gun for the Canadian military. And it looks ridiculous.

The gun is a “bullpup,” meaning the magazine is fed into the gun behind the trigger rather than in front. The main effect of the bullpup design is that rifles can be shorter without losing any effectiveness. The gun can install either a three-round grenade launcher or a shotgun. Shotguns are useful in close quarters, while grenade launchers give more range than just hand-tossing a small explosive. The main gun fires 5.56 ammo, a standard NATO round. Future plans for the gun include smart targeting systems, like those found in TrackingPoint rifles.

They also include a rather bland video of the proposed new weapon firing 5.56mm rifle rounds, 12-gauge shotgun shells, and 40mm grenades:

February 13, 2015

Feeling nostalgic for Cold War-era Soviet propaganda? Don’t worry … it’s back!

Filed under: Europe, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Strategy Page on the disturbing resurrection of Soviet style “news”:

Westerners in Russia, especially those who speak and read Russian, report that state controlled Russian media has seemingly reverted to stories and attitudes right out of the Cold War. It is, in short, unreal but actually happening. Russian media is full of stories of NATO aggression against Russia and anything that is going wrong in Russia is blamed on a NATO conspiracy to destroy Russia. The Russian aggression in Ukraine is described as largely a fable created by a NATO conspiracy to take over the Ukrainian government and institute a terror campaign against the ethnic Russian minority in Ukraine, especially eastern Ukraine. There, the Russian media described ethnic Russians leading a rebellion against this NATO puppet government running Ukraine and NATO soldiers pretending to be Ukrainians doing most of the fighting. No captured NATO agents are presented which Russian media describes as proof of how clever and dangerous this NATO aggression is.

The reality is that Russian soldiers are regularly captured (dead and alive) and presented on Ukrainian TV but this is ignored and dismissed by Russian media as more insidious NATO propaganda. Those Russians familiar with their own history who point out the current government propaganda in Russia is similar to what went on in 1939 and 1941 are condemned as traitors. But it is a fact that in 1939 the communist Soviet Union signed a peace treaty with Nazi government of Germany and overnight Germany went from threat to valued ally according to Soviet media. That switched again in mid-1941 when Germany broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union. But during the time the treaty was in force Russian invaded Poland, the Baltic States and Finland. Russia was defeated in Finland and only got control of some territory just across the border. But eastern Poland was seized (as part of the 1939 treaty, with Germany taking most of Poland) as were the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania)

February 10, 2015

The cautionary tale of the Kosovo intervention

Filed under: Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Michael Brendan Dougherty looks back at the UN’s intervention in Kosovo and the situation in Kosovo after more than a decade and a half:

It’s been almost 16 years since a NATO coalition banded together to defeat Serbia’s Slobodan Milošević in Kosovo. Ever since, it has been exhibit A in the case for “humanitarian intervention.” A swift short war, a thug removed from power, a series of oppressions redressed. After the hostilities ceased, Kosovo’s government was overseen by the United Nations, and declared full independence from Serbia in 2008.

In the meantime, the U.N. bungled possibly the easiest show-trial in world history, letting Milošević score a lot of points from the stand as the trial dragged on longer than it took F.D.R. to declare war on Germany, mobilize a few million men, and beat Hitler. Milošević died of a heart attack in prison before his trial finished. NATO troops are in Kosovo, a decade and a half after the “short” 78-day campaign.

What’s the political scene like in liberated Kosovo? Well, here’s a story. Last week Aleksandar Jablanovic, an ethnic Serb who served in the cabinet as minister of communities, was sacked by Prime Minister Isa Mustafa, in order to appease ethnic Albanians who were planning riotous protests against him. Kosovars threw rocks at government buildings. About 170 people were injured in the clash between protesters and police.

What did Jablanovic do to cause the unrest? He had described a group of Albanians as “savages” in January. Why? Because they had blocked (with the threat of violence) the route of Serbian Christians making a traditional pilgrimage to a monastery in Western Kosovo.

Sounds unpleasant, right? It gets worse. Unemployment in Kosovo is around 45 percent. (That’s not a typo.) The electricity is very unreliable, and Kosovars often don’t pay their electricity bills to the state. The government is considering canceling all debts that citizens owe to the government, to rebuild trust (and popularity) and start putting services on a firmer footing. About a third of Kosovars live on less than $2 a day.


But there’s also no doubt that Kosovo should serve as a permanent warning against the idea that humanitarian interventions are easy. The bombing was a perfect example of the moral hazard involved in “Responsibility to Protect” interventions. The roar of NATO jets so raised the stakes for Serbian forces and for Milošević, that Serbians killed five times as many people after the intervention became a fait accompli than they had before that time, under the theory that rubble makes less trouble.

December 18, 2014

The Tsar’s new clothes

Filed under: Europe, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

At Samizdata, Johnathan Pearce suspects that the folks at NATO headquarters are not getting as much sleep these days as they used to:

… it appears that the image of Putin as this ruthless, chess-playing genius wrongfooting silly old Cameron, Merkel, and the chap with the funny moonface from France is not quite standing up to scrutiny. Here’s a report by Bloomberg:

    “The foundations on which Vladimir Putin built his 15 years in charge of Russia are giving way. The meltdown of the ruble, which has plunged 18 percent against the dollar in the last two days alone, is endangering the mantra of stability around which Putin has based his rule. While his approval rating is near an all-time high on the back of his stance over Ukraine, the currency crisis risks eroding it and undermining his authority, Moscow-based analysts said.

    In a surprise move today, the Russian central bank raised interest rates by the most in 16 years, taking its benchmark to 17 percent. That failed to halt the rout in the ruble, which has plummeted to about 70 rubles a dollar from 34 as oil prices dived by almost half to below $60 a barrel. Russia relies on the energy industry for as much as a quarter of economic output, Moody’s Investors Service said in a Dec. 9 report.

Now might also be a good time to remind ourselves of the “curse of natural resources”.

It would be worth wondering what are the odds that Putin can last a lot longer in power. That said, a sobering thought is that when regimes are in deep trouble, they can do desperate, crazy things, as Argentina did in 1982 by invading the Falklands. If I were a planner for NATO right now, I’d be having a nervous Christmas and New Year ahead of me.

October 29, 2014

Singing the praises of the FN FAL

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:13

Paul Huard looks at the brief moment that the United States was poised to adopt the same rifle as almost everyone else in NATO:

FN C1 A1 as used by the Canadian Armed Forces throughout the Cold War (via South Manitoba Rifles)

FN C1 A1 as used by the Canadian Armed Forces throughout the Cold War (via South Manitoba Rifles)

With the formation of the new NATO alliance in 1949, generals and civilian planners both talked of the necessity to standardize equipment, weapons and supplies.

“The laudable aim was one that had been much in the minds of many forward-looking military thinkers for a long time,” writes David Westwood, author of Rifles: An Illustrated History of their Impact. “For experience had shown that the United States and Britain often fought side by side, and commonality would be to the benefit of all including soldiers in the field.”

One thing was certain. The British were impressed with the FAL. They deemed the superior firearm to competitors because it was easy to maintain, field strip and clean. It reassembled without special tools and it was a select-fire weapon — but it fired the lighter round.

The “gravel belly” U.S. generals would accept nothing but a .30-caliber weapon, insisting on the superiority of a prototype called the T25, a forerunner of the M14 that was nothing more than a glorified Garand.

Soon, there was a “Battle of the Bullets” that went as high as the White House and 10 Downing Street. Pres. Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill even held a mini-summit, where rumor has it they struck a quid pro quo — the U.S. would adopt the FAL as its main battle rifle if Britain backed NATO adopting the 7.62 x 51-millimeter round.

NATO adopted the round. However, the U.S. reneged, developed the M14 — which fired the NATO 7.62-millimeter cartridge — and adopted it as the American military’s main rifle. In the end, it didn’t matter to FN because NATO countries, including Britain, began snapping up the FAL chambered for the NATO round.

Many consider that combination of weapon and cartridge the quintessential pairing of battle-rifle and bullet during the 20th century — the FAL went into production in 1953 and FN continued to produce the rifle until 1988. The M-14 fell by the wayside as the main U.S. battle rifle within a few years, replaced by the M-16.

“Regardless of the political activity that went on before its adoption, the 7.62 x 51-millimeter NATO turned out to be an excellent, powerful military cartridge,” writes Robert Cashner, author of The FN FAL Battle Rifle. “With millions of FALs manufactured and internationally distributed, the rifle played a large part in making the 7.62 x 51-millimeter NATO the success that it was.”

October 17, 2014

Germany’s arms procurement plight

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:22

Peter Dörrie explains the German government’s current embarrassment due to the revelations about the desperate straits of all German military branches. The combination of delivery delays, cost overruns, technical faults, and low equipment availability mean that Germany could not come to the aid of NATO allies in a crisis:

The German armed forces have come clean. They’ve admitted they’re incapable of managing arms procurement — and have systematically neglected the hardware that’s already in service.

Military procurement and management in Germany have been under heightened scrutiny ever since Berlin’s attempt to buy an European version of America’s Global Hawk drone ended in miserable failure in mid-2013.

In late September, the German military sent an explosive report to parliament, confessing that half of the armed forces’ heavy equipment is unserviceable and can’t deploy in a crisis.

The German navy, for example, possesses 15 Sea King helicopters, but 12 of them are grounded. The situation is similar with respect to the naval Sea Lynx helicopter — just four out of 18 can fly — and the heavy-lifting CH-53 helicopter. Sixteen out of 43 CH-53s are functional.

The Luftwaffe can field only 80 Typhoon and Tornado fighters, out of 140 on the books. So short of equipment, at present Germany would be powerless to respond if a fellow NATO member were to ask for military assistance.

And the bad news doesn’t stop there. On Oct. 6, Defense Minister Ursula Von Der Leyen released a report by an outside consultancy analyzing the military’s nine biggest weapons purchases.

The report is damning. Every single procurement effort suffers some combination of cost overruns, delays and technical shortfalls. And owing to the ministry’s unwillingness or inability to negotiate proper contracts, the government has had to pay for the overruns itself. The arms manufacturers waltz away with their full fees.

This is sounding disturbingly similar to Canada’s military procurement problems.

October 16, 2014

Finland is concerned about recent Russian actions, but not enough to join NATO

Filed under: Europe, History — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 15:12

In the Christian Science Monitor, Gordon F. Sander reviews the state of Finnish-Russian relations and the unusually uncomfortable situation Finland finds itself in now:

Seven months ago, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Finns seemed relatively unconcerned. The world’s northernmost country shares some 800 miles of border with its huge neighbor, but just a quarter of Finns said they felt threatened by Moscow. And a similar number told pollsters their country should consider joining NATO in interest of self-defense.

Since then, Russia’s behavior has become more provocative, and not just in eastern Ukraine. During one week in August, Russian military aircraft conducted three unauthorized overflights of Finnish airspace. The Finnish public reacted accordingly. A poll last month by Finnish daily Aamulehti showed that 43 percent of those polled perceived Russia as a danger, an increase of nearly 20 percent from March.

But support for Finland joining NATO remained almost unchanged: a mere two percent higher, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (YLE) found. Why hasn’t Finnish wariness translated into stronger support for NATO membership? And what, if anything, would persuade Finns to join the defense pact?

Defense Minister Carl Haglund says that the foundation for the Finnish public’s aversion to NATO membership stems from its complicated, and oft-misunderstood relationship with Russia. “This [reluctance] goes back to [our] history,” he says, “especially the end of the Second World War and the cold war.”

“Put it this way,” says Pekka Ervasti, political editor of YLE. “Finnish neutrality dies hard.”

October 10, 2014

Russian Mistral-class ships still on schedule for delivery from French shipyard

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:24

In the Guardian, Ariane Chemin reports from the Saint Nazaire dockyard where the Mistral-class helicopter assault ships Vladivostok and Sebastopol are still being readied for transfer to Russian control:

The contract to built the ships was signed by President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2011, long before Putin showed any signs of attacking Ukraine, annexing Crimea or encouraging secession by the predominantly Russian-speaking self-styled republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, well before a ground-to-air missile brought down a Malaysia Airlines plane in July. But Hollande has no wish to go back on a contract worth €1.2bn ($1.5bn). At the beginning of September, on the eve of the Nato summit in Wales, Hollande announced France could not go ahead with the Vladivostok’s delivery to Russia, citing Moscow’s actions in eastern Ukraine. However the partial ceasefire in mid-September meant the French permitted the ship to begin its sea trials.

At the Nato headquarters in Brussels, member states are flabbergasted that France should be selling warships to a country that is threatening their security. In Washington Barack Obama is furious too.

Only in Saint Nazaire, Brittany, do they seem happy about the presence of the “Sebass” and “Vladi”, nicknames that reflect the locals’ attachment to their cumbersome guests. Russian sailors arrived at the end of June. They boarded the Smolny, their training ship, at Kronstadt, and it remains moored near the lock gates. Prefabricated huts on the quayside serve as classrooms for the cadets. Nets have been strung along the port side of the Smolny, to stop divers coming too close to the old ship, built in Szczecin, Poland, in 1976. “That thing wouldn’t be seaworthy in a gale,” says a naval veteran on the port.


In town, the cadets stand out on account of their extreme youth, blond hair and unbranded T-shirts. They buy cigarettes, have a couple of beers in a bar, pick up a six-pack at the supermarket near the shipyard, but avoid anything stronger. “Vodka here is an outrageous price,” says Mykola, a Ukrainian boilermaker building a cruise liner. At Le Skipper, the nearest brasserie, the sailors go online and Skype their girlfriends back home. Krystof, the Polish proprietor, speaks Russian. He acts friendly but there is “never any mention of the boats”. Even over a drink the Sebass and the Vladi are no-go areas when talk in Saint Nazaire turns to politics. The priority is jobs. “Without the shipyard, Saint Nazaire would just be a dilapidated suburb of [nearby seaside resort] La Baule,” says Jean Rolin, a local writer.

One Sunday in September, a small crowd of about 50 demonstrators gathered on the quay at the stern of the Vladivostok, waving Ukrainian flags and sporting badges marked “#No Mistral for Putin”. They were led by Bernard Grua, a businessman from Nantes, who has been campaigning, almost single-handed, against the sale of the assault ships to Moscow. His supporters know the capabilities of the vessel off by heart. A Mistral can carry 750 soldiers, 16 helicopters, Leclerc tanks, amphibious assault and landing craft, they recite. With Google maps they explore, one by one, Ukraine’s strategic ports. “The Germans flattened your town,” says Grua, for the benefit of the people of Saint Nazaire. “But when the Mistrals attack Mariupol, with Made in France written all over them, the people who didn’t protest will count as collaborators.”

September 22, 2014

A Canadian Mistral? What’s the maritime equivalent of “pie in the sky”?

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 17:30

A few months back, the French amphibious assault ship Mistral took part in joint exercises with Canadian troops from the Royal 22e Régiment (the “Van Doos”). I wondered at the time if it might be an opportunity for the RCN to “kick the tires” of the Mistral with an eye to eventually adding that to their theoretical shopping list (if they ever manage to get anything built this decade). At USNI News an opinion piece by Jim Dorschner looks at the benefits to NATO if the RCN leased one of the Mistrals being built for Russia while NATO itself took on the other one:

The September decision by France to withhold delivery of two Mistral-class Landing Platforms Helicopter (LPH) building for Russia is an opportunity for NATO, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and for the French shipbuilding industry and economy. France should not suffer economically for taking a stand against Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. Rather, NATO, France and Canada can benefit if a little mutually beneficial creativity is applied.

While France desperately wants to complete the two amphibious warships — and get paid for them — NATO and Canada need the capabilities these ships can provide.

For Canada, an LPH would help buttress logistic support for the upcoming Canadian Joint Support Ship (JSS). The replacement to Canada’s fleet oilers originally required a level of expeditionary capabilities which were ultimately not included in the final ship design.

Furthermore, while one of the Russian Mistrals is already undertaking sea trials and the second is scheduled for completion in 2016, the first of three new Queenston-class JSS for the RCN will not even begin building in Vancouver until 2017 or 2018 at best, with delivery by 2019 or 2020.

It was just announced that one of the two the current support ships HMCS Protecteur and the three Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Algonquin, HMCS Athabaskan, and HMCS Iroquois will be withdrawn from service immediately, and the Queenston-class are not going to be built any sooner.

Mistral-class ship, ‘Sevastopol’ configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

Mistral-class ship, Sevastopol configured as a NATO/Canadian Navy ship. CASR Image

A RCN Mistral could operate the full range Canadian helicopters, including CH-148 Cyclones and CH-147F Chinooks. Ideally, Canada should obtain 6-8 additional Cyclones configured for the Commando Helicopter role as part of a financial settlement with Sikorsky over the Maritime Helicopter Program (MHP). Commando Cyclones would be optimized for Special Operations, tactical assault, medical evacuation and utility missions, with troop seats in place of maritime sensors, though retaining the CH-148’s FLIR system.

The make-up of a Tailored Air Group (TAG) for the RCN LPH would depend on the mission. A mix of Commando Cyclones, Griffons and Chinooks for amphibious, SOF, Arctic support and humanitarian operations. Cyclones for maritime security and ASW task forces. Exchange aircrew from the US Marine Corps, the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force and the Royal Danish and Norwegian Air Forces should be embedded within the Cyclone squadron forming the core of the TAG. This is critical for building expertise and interoperability among Arctic and NATO partners. By way of building a more direct partnership, Resolute could regularly embark RDAF EH-101 Merlin tactical helicopters and MH-60S Seahawk maritime helicopters.

Not least of the challenges facing the RCN would be manning. Fortunately, Mistral was designed from the beginning to operate with a small crew – just 20 officers, 80 petty officers and 60 sailors.

The foremost challenge for Canada may be convincing the government and the public that obtaining a Mistral LPH for the RCN is sensible and affordable, despite being outside the NSPS construct. Given the challenges now emerging for NATO member states and for Canada itself, the answer is surely a resounding ‘Yes’.

Given the current government’s allergy to spending actual money on military priorities (as opposed to nice-but-cheap uniform changes for photo ops), this grand notion is probably dead in the water with no hopes of success … but it’d be a nice boost for the RCN, and nearly as useful for the Canadian Army and RCAF. But it wouldn’t win key voting blocks in Halifax or Vancouver.

September 10, 2014

NATO’s “aim” problem

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:35

James Holmes explains why “aim” isn’t good enough for NATO members:

The Naval Diplomat is not from Missouri, America’s Show-Me State. But I’m in a show-me state of mind following last week’s NATO summit in another Newport — Newport, Wales. Lofty words were said. The summit communiqué pledges, for instance, to restore some sanity to defense spending.

NATO long ago fixed the standard for defense spending at 2 percent of GDP. Few meet the standard, but at Newport the NATO-European powers put everyone on notice that they’re really, truly serious about it. The small minority that already comply — Great Britain (for the moment) and Greece, alongside the United States — will “aim to continue to do so.” The majority that don’t vow to arrest further slippage. And they will “aim to increase defense expenditure in real terms as GDP grows,” and “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade,” helping field viable forces.

Aim being the keyword — or, more accurately, the key diplomatic weasel word — in these passages. How many European allies will fulfill their commitment, and how many will avail themselves of the escape clause? Barry Pavel of the Atlantic Council observes charitably that the uptick in budgets is “not going to happen across the entire alliance, but it’s useful for framing incentives for some nations to start to contribute more.” And that tepid prediction comes from someone who’s presumably a NATO enthusiast.

So let me get this straight. NATO-Europe resolutely promises to try … to build up to a level that barely qualifies as peacetime defense spending … over the next decade … if GDPs expand to permit it. Wow. As a matter of alliance management, think about the message the Newport communiqué telegraphs. To us in North America, it indicates that Europe sees itself inhabiting entirely tranquil surroundings, untroubled by anything like, say, Russian aggression against an Eastern European neighbor.

September 9, 2014

This is why NATO countries are not supplying weapons to Ukraine

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:48

It’s not about a sudden sensitivity to Russian feelings: NATO is not providing up-to-date weapons and ammunition for excellent practical reasons:

The Ukrainian armed forces use Soviet weapons systems. These are well-designed, solid, easy to use for a conscript army, and although the Ukrainian inventory may be aging, Soviet arms production was never geared to high-tech generational obsolescence. They build simple, solid and cheap because they have to. NATO countries are casualty-averse and never commit a platoon where a Hellfire missile is available. On the other hand, Soviet doctrine never varied much from the World War II stories of tank attacks shoving the flaming hulks of the first wave out of the way, for the second wave to be destroyed in turn, until the Germans ran out of ammunition. Almost anything NATO could supply would be very hard to employ on the battlefield without training, and time for training is what the Ukrainians do not have.

In this sense, “training” doesn’t just mean “here’s the operator’s manual.” It means that the whole operational and tactical doctrine of the army has to be redesigned around the new weapons systems.

It’s not just the actual weapons, training and doctrine, either. Not to be unkind about it but Ukraine’s armed forces are almost completely hollowed out by official neglect, underfunding, and corruption. Back in May, Sarah Chayes reported on the pitiful state of Ukrainian military preparedness:

In a 2012 analysis Leonid Polyakov, another senior defense official, detailed the corrupt workings with remarkable candor. Chronic underfunding “enhanced the role of the human factor” in choosing among operational priorities. Ostensibly outdated equipment was sold “at unreasonably understated prices” in return for kickbacks. Officers even auctioned off defense ministry land. Gradually, Kyiv began requiring the military to cover more of its own costs, forcing senior officers into business, “which is…inconsistent with the armed forces’ mission,” and opened multiple avenues for corruption. Commanders took to “using military equipment, infrastructure, and…personnel [to] build private houses, [or] make repairs in their apartments.” Procurement fraud was rife, as were bribes to get into and through military academies, and for desirable assignments.

So even if Ukraine had taken advantage of NATO equipment, training, and support, much of the new kit would have disappeared into the same criminal enterprises which sold off so much of the old kit.

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