Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Canadian State of Affairs

While Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party tries to stave off a no-confidence vote in the wake of the AdScam revelations that showed how former Liberal Prime Minister Chretien's government looted national coffers for private purposes, the state of Canadian military preparedness continues to wither amidst the political upheaval.

Just a few months ago, the Canadian Parliament voted for an outlay of over $13billion to modernize the Canadian military over five years. Among the wish list items were new airlifters to replace the half strength fleet of Hercules transports. Now it has grown to a possible $12billion deal for new airlifters, new [medium or heavy lift - definition in Canadian press is a bit squishy on this though US sources call the CH-47 a medium lift helicopter] helicopter, and new fixed-wing SAR craft. It seems the UK MoD offer to the Canadian DND to lease ten C-130J Hercules is still stalled while Canadian industry like Bombardier are screaming that General Hillier's new proposals are going too fast and leaving Canadian aerospace behind.

"It's all on the basis of the ferocious lobbying by industry. It's all Toronto-Montreal-Bombardier politics."

Even this sounds a bit thin since the builder of the Hercules transport, Lockheed-Martin has Canadian facilities that are modernising the CP-140 Auroras so it could be possible for Lockheed-Martin to ship kit C-130s to Canada for final assembly, though if the desire is only fifteen airframes it probably would not be economically viable to do such.

The debacle over the Hercules fleet pales in comparison to the lack of Canadian medium-lift helicopters. During Brian Mulrooney's administration in 1991, Canada sold off its CH-47 Chinook fleet to Holland. A country the size of Canada lacking the capabilities of the CH-47 is pretty weird since a CH-47 can haul 12,000Kg of cargo or 45 troops, a big chopper for a big country. As a result of this lack, Canadian forces deployed to Afghanistan need to borrow CH-47 lift from countries like the US, the UK, and even Holland. Unfortunately for General Hillier there are no surplus CH-47s to be found prior to the impending redeployment to Afghanistan this spring; all CH-47s in AMARC have already been converted to CH-47D standards and other countries like Holland, who is ordering five more to compensate for the two lost in Afghanistan, have already placed orders with Boeing. Which leaves committing the EH.101/CF-149 Comerants, 15 dedicated SAR helicopters which are still busily chewing through the spare parts inventory at a fast clip, to Afghanistan. Or leasing ex-Soviet helicopters like the Mil-17 with civilian crews in the hope these crews are willing to risk their lives in a very hazardous environment amidst hostile gunfire to support Canadian troops. The final option would be for the DND to ask buyers of Chinooks if they could purchase from these countries the CH-47s they already ordered that have early delivery dates; though even this may not work if there are no crews trained up to carry out missions and CH-47s require four or five man crews. So it is looking like Canadian troops will be going back to Afghanistan depending upon excess airlift capabilities of their allies unless a miracle happens. Some are castigating General Hillier on being too little too late in this matter, but I have to ask his critics how could he have pushed for them, if before the $13billion modernisation five year plan, the DND lacked the money to get any?

The $13billion package that was run through parliament was sold with the promise of streamlining the purchase process while boosting the robustness of the military. General Hillier is trying to deliver on that; but politicians, national aerospace companies, and the lobbyists are now screaming he is going too fast.

"Prime Minister Paul Martin has repeatedly vowed to "get the troops the equipment they need." Sources said that until last week, both he and Mr. Graham had tacitly approved Gen. Hillier's proposal"

Now with Martin's government seeming to be in dire straits, even the government is putting a halt on going forward with these purchases until these election matters are resolved while hanging General Hillier out to dry. Since it seems the current government of Canada does not want to be tarred with buying foreign products before an election.

"A spokesman for Mr. Martin said yesterday that he knew nothing about the procurement plan and pointedly referred all media queries to the Defense Department."

Which suggests one thing to me, Canada better get these elections done before Christmas or the Canadian military will have to soldier on with inadequate equipment for a bit longer. And it will not be politicians or lobbyist who will pay the ultimate price for this short-sightedness.


Anonymous said...

Anna, why do Canada and Mexico have to worry about a military? They both know that if push comes to shove, the "Big Brother" U.S.A. would come in and fight the fight. And Canada used to be such an excellent fighting force way back when.


Anna said...

Because it is good to know that there are couple of good strong neighbors when there bad guys about.

Some of the Canadians are still excellent fighters, just for over a decade Liberal governments have ignored it and suddenly all their equipment is breaking at once.