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The Canada First Defence Strategy: Expeditionary Capabilities under the Conservative Government

By David S. McDonough

An earlier version of this paper appeared in The Canada First Defence Strategy: Expeditionary Capabilities under a Conservative Government, SITREP, 67, 1 (January/February 2007).

Introduction The Canadian Forces (CF) remains fixated with an ambitious transformation agenda that seeks, in the short-term, to streamline its command structure by creating various operational commands. This endeavour was largely completed in early 2006, when four new commands were assigned operational command responsibilities. The redesign of the command structure is meant to expand the flexibility and efficiency of CF operations in both North America and abroad, and perhaps more implicitly eliminate some of the bureaucratic impediments to this model of transformation at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ). The initial component of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Rick Hilliers vision would be a fait accompli for the newly elected Conservative minority government that took power in February 6, 2006. Yet these changes are only the first tentative steps to a larger redesign of the CF. The strategic goal of the current CDS vision remains the gradual development and prioritization of expeditionary capabilities, including strategic and tactical lift and other intervention-enablers, that could be used for forward defence operations on the scale of the current Afghan mission. This vision has largely transcended two minority governments, with even the current Conservative government embracing expeditionary forces within its Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS). It is, however, more uncertain whether this expeditionary Afghanistan model of transformation will be compromised by the Conservative promise of sovereignty protection and homeland defence, alongside the immediate short-term requirements for the mission in Afghanistan. Even more importantly, one should also understand that the current emphasis on expeditionary forces could come at the expense of Canadas traditional capabilities, much of which has been deteriorating as a result of the rust-out platform crisis.1 Current efforts

For more on this issue, see Brian S. MacDonald, The Capital and Future Force Crisis, in Douglas Bland, ed., Canada without Armed Forces? Claxton Papers IV (Kingston: Queens University Press, 2003).

at transformation might entail a more specialized and robust CF, but it could also lead to a more limited niche role than was initially intended.

The Strategic Vision of the DPS The 2005 Defence Policy Statement (DPS) is the most recent document to offer strategic guidance to the CF. Despite being written by a short-lived Liberal minority government, this strategic blueprint for the reinvigoration of Canadas military assets remains one of the few components of the International Policy Statement (IPS) that has been effectively maintained by the current government as much a result of the Conservative agreement with the main thrust of the DPS recommendations as with the continuity provided by the current CDS. The Conservative government may have introduced a sovereignty-oriented Canada First approach to defence strategy, which will likely be reflected in the upcoming Defence Capabilities Plan (DCP). But this will likely represent an important corollary or addendum to the DPS, rather than a fundamental reassessment of the document itself. The DPS acknowledges the problems with the countrys long-standing capabilitycommitment gap. Indeed, the document goes on to advocate a significant reinvestment in CF capabilities that, while still limited in allocated resources, would be redesigned for an important expeditionary role in future coalition operations. The first step towards this CF transformation was the redesign of the military command structure, which would lead to operationally-focused commands that are more conducive to joint missions. This was perhaps the most easily accomplished task advocated by the CDS. Structural changes were largely an internal military matter that did not entail a significant infusion of resources, while executive authority to create operational commands was already invested with the Minister of National Defence (MND) and

did not require Cabinet approval.2 Moreover, the close relationship between then MND Bill Graham and the CDS General Hillier would make this change relatively free of controversy. Four operational commands stood-up on February 6, 2006, and replaced the previously structure where operational command was assigned on an ad hoc basis to the Deputy Chief of Defence Staff (DCDS). Canada Command (CANCOM) is a single national command structure, subdivided into more manageable Regional Joint Task Forces (RJTFs) that would be able to rapidly respond to domestic contingencies, though CANCOMs area of responsibility would in fact extend to the North American continent. While this represents Canadas belated response to the US decision to stand-up Northern Command (NORTHCOM), it still has an ambiguous relationship not only to the other operational commands, some of which have domestic and international responsibilities, but also to the long-standing bi-national North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) structure. Canada Special Operations Command (CANSOFCOM) has operational command over CF special forces, either directly in the event of a special operations mission abroad, or in a support role in the event that special forces are used domestically (under CANCOM) or as part of a larger conventional mission. Canada Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM) is an operationally focused command and was created to integrate global CF operations and achieve a strategic, focused, decisive effect.3 The fourth command is represented by Canada Operational Support Command (CANOSCOM), which plays a direct supporting role (e.g. logistics, food, equipment maintenance) for the other three operational commands.

Daniel Gosselin and Craig Stone, From Minister Hellyer to General Hillier: Understanding the Fundamental Differences between the Unification of the Canadian Forces and Its Present Transformation, Canadian Military Journal, 6, 4 (Winter 2005-2006), 11.

Chris MacLean, Expeditionary Force Command an overview, Frontline Magazine (March/April 2006), 23.

The DPS also advocates the creation of joint military formations, which requires not only some organizational changes but also more controversial capability and procurement modifications. The Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) constitutes the new military formation designed for unconventional missions in Canada and abroad, including counter-terrorism and rapid evacuation operations as well as combat and intelligence support for more conventional operations. The SOTF will be the primary formation under CANSOFCOM, and consists of an expanded Joint Task Force 2 (JTF-2) contingent and Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Company. A critical component of the SOTF is the newly created second-tier Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), which will be a 750-strong regiment that is modelled on the US Army Rangers and fully capable of using helicopter assets for tactical deployment in order to secure an area and enable JTF-2 units to conduct more surgical operations.4 The SOTF is expected to be joined by a Standing Contingency Force (SCF) consisting of designated land, air, maritime and special operations forces, and capable of amphibious land and sea operations within the littoral regions of any given military theatre. According to the CDS Action Report 3 (CAT 3), the SCF is envisioned to be up to a 2,800-strong force, with a land force component of approximately 500-600, that can be pre-positioned in various locations and held at 10 days readiness for urgent deployments.5 The critical capability for the SCF is envisioned to be provided by the colloquially termed big honking ship (BHS) an amphibious strategic sealift platform that would be capable of carrying the land-force component of the SCF, alongside equipment and other supplies. The exact BHS has yet to be determined, and planning for its procurement will likely only proceed once the SCF concept has been fully examined. Yet
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See Adam Day, Canadas New Special Ops, Legion Magazine: Defence Today (November/December 2006).

The Chief of Defence Staff established 4 CDS Action Teams (CATs) in 2005 to examine various aspects of transformation within the DPS framework. CAT 3 examined the emerging operational capabilities, such as the SCF, that would be required. See Executive Summary, CDS Action Team 3 Report, available at:

the realization of the SCF will likely have a strong impact on Navy transformation, as various other naval platforms from the current Victoria-class submarines and Kingston-class frigates to the planned acquisition of Joint Supply Ships (JSS) would likely be geared towards providing key support and force protection roles during these amphibious littoral operations. The DPS strategic vision reflects a strong emphasis on long-range, rapid reaction expeditionary forces. The SOTF will be designed for high-intensity intervention operations, while the SCF is intended for more flexible full spectrum operations that range from stability activities to limited war-fighting.6 The development of strategic lift capability by the Air Force and Navy would enable the projection of ground forces into various theatres an Army-centred vision of power projection that seeks to obtain influence with boots on the ground rather than the relatively safe deployment of interoperable naval or air force platforms. The CF would be redesigned to primarily undertake robust stability operations in partnership with the interoperable military forces of Canadas allies. As Canadas recent combat experience in Afghanistan has shown, stability campaigns require robust combat capabilities that would be useful though perhaps not sufficient in and of itself for high-intensity war-fighting operations against conventional adversaries. This model of transformation appears to be a strategically savvy measure to prevent the further erosion of our expeditionary capability at a time of limited strategic resources. By doing so, Canada would maintain sufficiently robust and self-contained forces to play leadership roles in coalition operations like Afghanistan, and thereby reinforce Canadas already limited political capital among the power brokers in Washington. The Canada First Corollary to the DPS

R. D. Bradford, An Amphibious Task Group for the SCTF, Canadian Naval Review, 2, 2 (Summer 2006), 16.

The current Conservative minority government, while not entirely dismissive of the DPS proposal to reinvigorate the CF, was keen to put its own stamp on the issue of defence. The Canada First Defence Strategy was introduced as a means to strengthen Canadas national sovereignty at home and abroad, and it certainly expands upon the DPSs prioritization of the domestic defence role for the CF. Not surprisingly, there is a renewed attention on the protection of this countrys territorial sovereignty, especially in the vast northern reaches of Canadas Arctic region. It would, however, be a mistake to assume that expeditionary capabilities a critical component of the DPS vision are no longer a priority in the CFDS. The Conservative government has taken a more holistic definition, which entails not only territorial independence (sovereignty at home) but also the capability to undertake independent action (sovereignty abroad). In this formulation, the need to rely on allies for critical operational capabilities, such as tactical and strategic lift, is considered an infringement in sovereign independence that should be rectified. It is perhaps telling that the major platform acquisitions that the Conservatives have promised in 2006 are primarily expeditionary-oriented. Specifically, the government has announced the planned procurement of a strategic and tactical airlift fleet, likely in the forms of 4 C-17 aircraft and 17 C-130J Hercules aircraft, which will cost an estimated total of $11.5-billion; an in-theatre troop transport capability to be provided by 14 medium-to-heavy lift helicopters, likely the CH-47 Chinook, that will cost an estimated $4.7-billion; 2,000 medium transport trucks at the cost of $1.2-billion; and the $2.9-billion JSS project to provide three multi-role ships capable of at-sea support and modest sealift operations. With the exception of the JSS and the C-17s, much of these platforms are designed to fulfill immediate operational needs in the

Afghanistan theatre though the slow acquisition process will likely mean that these capability platforms will only be available long after the end of the Afghan deployments. The continuity between the Liberal DPS and the Conservative CFDS is embodied, not only in the planned acquisition of primarily expeditionary capabilities, but also in the continued use of the DPS as the primary guidance document for the CF. The CFDS has, it should be noted, only been articulated in the electoral platform of the Conservative Party, as well as in the speeches of the key ministers. This is expected to change in the upcoming DCP, which will provide a statement of the CFDS and a strategic plan for the CF capability acquisitions in the near- to medium-term. Yet there remains continuing uncertainty on the expected release date of this critical document and, judging by the recent leaks of its contents, even greater uncertainty over the Conservative governments commitment to the long-term rearmament of the CF. In the short- to medium-term, the CFDS apparently advocates a general curtailment in key CF platforms that will have a disproportionately large impact on the operational capabilities of the Air Force and Navy.7 Indeed, the Conservatives appear to have acquiesced to the continued delay of major recapitalization projects several years into the future, which raises questions of its commitment to provide the necessary funding for such expensive platforms as future surface carriers to replace the navys ageing destroyer and frigate fleet, a direct-fire platform to replace the armys Leopard tanks and now cancelled Mobile Gun System (MGS), and a fighter aircraft replacement for the air forces CF-18s. 8

This includes the elimination of six Aurora maritime patrol aircraft, 25 percent of the Griffon helicopter fleet, one Iroquois-class destroyer and two Protecteur-class refuelling and supply ships. See David Pugliese, Forces want to scrap gear, save for new, Ottawa Citizen, 31 January 2007. For further information on the service life of these platforms, see the major platform aging tables in Statement by Richard Evraire, Lieutenant-General (retd), Chairman, The Conference of Defence Associations, to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance, 17 October 2006, available at

The Conservatives de facto emphasis on expeditionary capabilities has coincided with its publicly articulated inclination to expand Canadas homeland defence and sovereignty protection capabilities. A Canada First policy, in its domestic sovereignty formulation, will likely become increasingly poignant given that climate change will open the Arctic to international shipping and could result in further challenges to the countrys sovereign jurisdiction in the Canadian North. Yet this domestic orientation will likely be superseded, at least in the near-term, by the urgent requirement for operational capabilities for Afghanistan. The current mission to Kandahar creates significant pressure on the government to fulfill its publicly stated promises to revitalize the CF and prevent unnecessary combat casualties. It is therefore not surprising that the major capital replacements have, irrespective of the significant delay in the completion of the procurement process, primarily been focused on the immediate short-term operational needs of the CF. Indeed, while the Conservatives have been keen to highlight its five major capital reinvestment projects, the government has also been noticeably silent on the electoral promise to acquire three armed heavy icebreakers (and a deep-water docking facility) for the Navy. Given the growing cost of the Afghanistan mission, it is not surprising that this project has according to the leaked CFDS been replaced by a more modest (and perhaps sensible) effort to acquire a new fleet of Arctic patrol ships.9 Of course, the current governments clear willingness to continue delaying much needed recapitalization projects does not make one sanguine on the long-term viability of this acquisition project. To be sure, the Conservative government should be commended for providing its own five-year defence budget increase on top of its predecessors five-year increase, which means that the CF will feel the immediate effect of these budgetary increases sooner rather than later.

See David Pugliese, Canada to better monitor Arctic territory,, 2 February 2007, available at

For example, the expected increase of $2.5-billion in the next two years promises to make the 2007-2008 defence budget $16.5-billion. While this is unfortunately not a permanent baseline increase, it does represent an important expansion of the often atrophied capital component of the defence budget. Indeed, if the 2009-2011 budgetary promises actually take place, the CF will be infused with an additional $15-billion. Moreover, the acceptance of accrual accounting procedures for capital acquisitions means that the platform cost will be spread throughout the entire procurement process, rather than taken immediately from the years budget (and therefore potentially delay other needed acquisitions) this will allow for a more effective means of recapitalization, in so far as it more easily allows for the simultaneous acquisition of multiple platforms that Canada so sorely requires.10 Yet it remains to be seen whether these consecutive budgetary increases, despite the apparent consensus among military and political leaders, will be sustained into the future. The mission in Afghanistan represents a significant gamble that if it fails could irrevocably damage the realization of the DPS/CFDS vision for the CF. The internal destabilization of Pakistan could lead to a reinvigorated neo-Taliban insurgency, while the deterioration of Iraq could be followed by the disengagement of both American and British forces from Afghanistan. In either case, Canada would be mired in an increasingly dangerous and expansive counterinsurgency operation with increasing risk of significant CF casualties, and the possibility of a hasty and premature withdrawal from Afghanistan. NATOs pretensions of an out-of-area role would be devastated, and Canada would likely embark on a more regional and continental approach to its international security policy the Canada First policy would, in this scenario, drift towards neo-isolationism.

For more on accrual accounting, see Brian S. MacDonald, Accrual Accounting, the National Security Exception, and Defence Production, Amiens Paper, 1 (2006), available at

That being said, even the success of the mission does not necessarily bode well for the development of a reinvigorated expeditionary CF. The high operational tempo, with its increasing personnel and operations and maintenance (O&M) costs, will consistently drain funds that could otherwise be spent on recapitalization, especially given the harsh operating environment for soldiers and vehicles in Afghanistan. Equipment burnout will accelerate the rust-out problem with existing (and recently acquired) capabilities, while incidents of posttraumatic syndrome (PTS) among returning soldiers will likely increase in frequency in the near future, and endanger the current attempt to expand the CF regular personnel to 75,000 and incorporate an additional 10,000 reservists. The mission also appears to have prioritized urgent short-term capital acquisitions that could come at the expense of long-term recapitalization projects. The Conservatives proposed procurements, while providing some much needed strategic and tactical airlift capability for the CF, does little to fix the growing rust-out crisis that afflicts many of the CFs most critical capability platforms that are close to or at the end of their service life. The CF also appears to be wrestling with a growing list of acquisition projects to expand its existing capabilities, whether sovereignty protection for the Arctic or strategic lift for expeditionary operations. Yet the government, as noted earlier, has yet to announce high-cost capital replacements for the majority of its increasingly dilapidated platforms among all three services. Indeed, it remains to be seen whether the government has sufficient funds to undertake significant recapitalization of the CFs existing capabilities at a time when it is equally keen to expand the size of the CF and undertake an operationally challenging combat mission in Afghanistan, both of which will require increasing personnel, O&M and short-term capital acquisition costs for several years in the future. It should therefore not be surprising that new capabilities for sovereignty protection have

been downgraded in ambition, while such a critical capability platform as the BHS appears to be relegated to a study project for the foreseeable future. Moreover, it is uncertain whether there will be any long-term, sustained infusion of resources for CF re-armament. After all, the most optimistic scenarios from the draft CFDS only expects the CF budget to increase to $36.5 billion in 2025, which represents a negligible increase if one incorporates inflation and the growth in the Canadian economy during that period.11 While these concerns may be addressed in the official version of the CFDS, the current length of the acquisition process cycle currently at 15 years means that Canada would undergo at least a temporary period of structural disarmament by rustout even if the increased defence budget is sufficient to eventually undertake full recapitalization of the CF.

CF Transformation or De Facto Retrenchment? If the expected budgetary increases are upheld, the CF is poised to undergo a massive rearmament program the likes of which has not been seen since the time that Brooke Claxton and CD Howe held the Defence and Defence Production portfolios.12 It may be more questionable whether this re-armament is sufficient to fully transform the Canadian Forces, but it certainly is a significant step after decades of neglect by successive Canadian governments since the late 1960s. The requirement for expeditionary forces has been prominently displayed in Afghanistan, and has been highlighted in the recent Conservative governments announcement of a number of capital acquisitions, including some much needed strategic and tactical airlift capability. Expeditionary forces seem destined to form a critical component in the upcoming DCP/CFDS addition to the previous governments DPS.
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Colin Kenny, Defending Canada on the cheap, Ottawa Citizen, 5 February 2007. MacDonald, Accrual Accounting, the National Security Exception, and Defence Production, 1.

Yet one should not be totally sanguine on the future state of the CF. The maintenance and expansion of CF expeditionary capabilities may be an important means of preventing the further erosion of Canadas defence assets, but it could also represent a far more limited niche role than its proponents are likely willing to admit. Robust expeditionary forces require a variety of capability platforms, which would be used for support and force protection as well as effectsbased force application. The proposed acquisition of a strategic and tactical airlift fleet is a critical component of this vision. However, this must be joined by the acquisition or replacement of various other capabilities. Failure to undertake serious recapitalization of Canadas slowly rusting military platforms, while spending limited resources on new capabilities, would be disastrous. Much depends on whether the promised budgetary resources in the coming several years are both available and sufficient for recapitalization. Yet a critical factor remains the current mission in Kandahar. Indeed, Afghanistan represents both a blessing and a curse to the CF, as it highlights the need for a reinvigorated CF but appears to be consuming ever more significant attention and resources from Ottawa. The same could also be said of the current DPS/CFDS vision, which appears poised to expand the countrys expeditionary capabilities (and especially the Armys role in power projection) at the expense of other critical capabilities. Unfortunately, these gambles may be a necessary means for the CF to finally be infused with sufficient commitment to prevent its total dissolution as a viable multi-purpose combat-capable force. While far from a perfect solution, the current model of transformation despite the serious reservations that likely plague the other services and the serious risks associated with its execution may easily turn out to be the only solution to Canadas military woes.