October 22, 2003


"And where are all the people who were screaming about the Plame leak?" Instapundit demands.

Oh, for pete's sake, Glenn, the story says Rumsfeld GAVE it to at least three Congressmen personally. Take your own advice and read the whole thing, for once.

Posted by BruceR at 05:56 PM


DND will make an announcement today, the Globe reports, that it's phasing out its last heavy armour to make room for LAV3 Mobile Gun Systems (some call it an armoured car, some call it an assault gun... I'd say it's the second coming of the "tank destroyer" concept, myself).

I'd love to say this is a bad move, but I rather fear it was an inevitable bridge to cross at this point. Canada's Leopard tanks, while undoubtedly effective, were never capable of rapid deployment overseas, which meant that for the kinds of missions Canadians had actually been doing with NATO and the UN for the last 50 years, they were essentially a waste. Last year, the army consolidated its remaining tanks in one of its three tank battalions, out west... the other two battalions reverted to half-strength, essentially due to lack of equipment. Buying 50-100 105mm-armed armoured cars will make Canada's armour a rapidly deployable asset again, especially if defence minister McCallum follows up with a new Hercules purchase, as is widely expected, and some kind of improved naval transport capability so they can get places.

There can be no doubt that there's a survivability loss here, that these things are NOT tanks, and if they're treated as such, then Canadians will die. But a Leopard replacement was not affordable on the current budget, or even a significantly increased one. This will also be a big vote of support for the Canadian auto industry, particularly GM Canada, which was looking for its first real bulk buyer for this vehicle.

There's all kinds of doctrinal and organizational issues that need to be worked out, still, and there will certainly be an outcry from the Opposition and the "pro-defence" lobby. The historical comparison is that the 105mm MGS (the Americans call it the Stryker MGS) is to a real MBT as the Sherman tank was to a German Panther... simply not in the same league. But the simple fact is we have about as much chance of buying real MBTs now as the Canadians in 1944 had of picking up a few Panthers... zip.

In the last Literary Review of Canada, I wrote: "Rebuilding tasks, pre-emptive deployments and peacekeeping may become even more the Canadian way of war from here on: in the future, we may come to draw more inspiration from our low-intensity victories, such as the Yukon Field Force, Wolseley's Red River Expedition, or the mounted rifles in South Africa, than we do from Vimy or D-Day."

The mounted rifle tradition, which began in the 1860s and lasted until WW1, is not to be totally sneered at, and was in large part a Canadian invention (a leading scion of the movement, George Denison, has Toronto's central armoury named after him). The parallel tradition in the States would be Sheridan and Forrest's carbine-armed cavalry, which increasingly fought dismounted through the Civil War. It also grew out of the European dragoon tradition, whose adherents also saw horses as a means to bestow rapidity of movement, more than shock action (in mechanized terminology, the horse as reconnaissance vehicle and battlefield taxi, rather than as a fighting vehicle). You could also talk about the Australian Lighthorsemen, or a century earlier, Col. Johnson's Kentuckians. If the army wants to sell this to a skeptical armoured force, it could be it's that tradition they need to remind soldiers of now. Throughout the 19th century, there were competing heavy cavalry and mounted-rifle/dragoon traditions, both with their adherents, but with the latter making more sense in lower-intensity warfare situations or peacemaking. It was something the Canadians, like Australians and Americans, seemed to see as more relevant to their experience than all that heavy cavalry "into the valley of death" nonsense the Europeans liked at the time: the NWMP, the original "Mounties," was basically a mounted-rifle regiment formed to cow the natives and white traders on the Prairies into respecting Canadian sovereignty. (Sam Steele, perhaps the greatest Canadian cavalryman ever, served in the Mounties, fought Indians with his own mounted-rifle unit in the Northwest Rebellion, took time off to pacify the Yukon, then fought Boers with a series of Canadian and locally-raised mounted-rifle units in South Africa.)

In the mudfields of Flanders, the heavy cavalry tradition of battlefield domination through superior maneuverability and shock action was internalized by the new armoured corps. The idea of a light armoured tradition has taken a longer time reasserting itself (the South Africans never forgot its value in their warfighting, but the Americans, for instance, have spent a long time trying to make the helicopter-borne soldier the new "light cavalry," with somewhat mixed results) but it could be making a small comeback now, as more situations arise where speed of deployment can be more important than high-intensity survivability. Having a Canadian light cavalry force that can serve on an open flank in a high-stakes battle, like Buford at Gettysburg, or move quickly to forestall a looming crisis, like the Mounties, would paradoxically make the Canadian army both more valuable to the Americans than it is at present, and more capable of running an independent show, as the Australians did in Timor, and we're sort of doing in Afghanistan, if that's what the Canadian public wants, instead.

PS: A word on the defence minister, John McCallum. This blog said when he was appointed that there was more to this guy than meets the eye. The poor guy suffers because he's one of those people (I had the fortune of a one-on-one conversation with the guy shortly after his appointment) who by his nature looks a little less than sober even at the best of times... it's easy to see why rumours of alcoholism continue to follow him around. He's rumpled, and unpolished, and sometimes he says things he probably shouldn't. He's certainly not very macho, even in a Clintonesque way. He's weedy, like that prof you giggled about in undergrad because he couldn't keep his shirt tucked in. But he's already the most effective defence minister the country's had, in terms of actually setting realistic objectives and actually taking us there, in anyone's memory. You may dislike his direction, but anyone who thinks he's not in his own way in control of the situation and steadily trudging towards the goals he's set for the Canadian Forces is kidding themselves.

PPS: Little known historical fact: a chief creator of the discredited "tank destroyer" doctrine that shaped American pre-WW2 orbats and is now being dusted off by MGS advocates in the States, was the unfortunately named Brig. Gen. Harry L. Twaddle.

Posted by BruceR at 02:47 PM


It would be really... interesting to live like this.

In other news, surely Paul Bremer has better things to do than take pretty Iraqi girls for helicopter rides.

Posted by BruceR at 01:05 PM