November 03, 2003


Shorter Ontario Tories: "We were going to avoid the looming fiscal disaster we'd secretly created if you re-elected us, with our equally secret plan to sell off all the province's public assets... we knew you'd never go for it if we'd told you, but after the election it'd be too late and your resistance would have been useless... WA HA HA HA..."

Shorter Lorrie Goldstein: "Even though I strongly endorsed them for office, I knew the Tories were lying to taxpayers. Why couldn't the rest of you?"

Posted by BruceR at 01:52 PM


Patrick C. points to a weekend article on the changes to Canada's army, contained in the new Army Strategy and typified by the recent announcement of a purchase of some 105mm Mobile Gun Systems (wheeled tank destroyers).

It's a good piece for the most part, although the headline is objectionable and not borne out in the text. It should be noted that Canada's M109 155mm howitzers are few in number, and like our Leopard tanks are not readily transportable outside the country.

The artillery support for all of Canada's overseas missions since Korea (with the exception of the standing brigade in Germany that left a decade ago at the end of the Cold War) has been a combination of 105mm towed guns and 81mm mortars... exactly the weapons the army is proposing keeping now. It's really more a matter of coming to terms with reality.

I've heard Col. Brian Macdonald speak on this before, and he's in favour of replacing our 155s, too, but with some form of light artillery rocket system rather than big guns that never left the country, too. That's what he's referring to by "better answers than shifting the mortars," in case you were wondering. I don't know if the kit that currently exists meets his requirements (presumably airportable, with guided flight, and a stand-off cluster munition capability), but if it did it would certainly be a handy little toy.

There's no big surprise about this... the plan to move mortars from the infantry to the artillery and the absence of any 155mm gun replacements could have been clearly inferred from the Army Strategy, now a year old. The army leadership announced a plan, got the defence minister's blessing, and are now following it to the letter.

Is it a sound plan, though? Only if you believe the Canadian army's mission should be to increase its deployability and effectiveness in low- and medium-intensity conflicts, such as peacekeeping, given the basic assumption that funding (and hence personnel numbers) will not significantly increase. Given those constraints, it seems perfectly sound.

What you're really seeing here is the institution of corporate-style management practices to the Canadian military... particularly the idea of the "deliverable/nondeliverable" line, and the idea of every budget being a two-way negotiation and agreement. The idea is that the controlling agency (your higher Headquarters) gives you a mission, then asks what you would do to accomplish that mission, and then lets you prioritize the expenditures that would be required from essential to non-essential. You return that info to higher HQ, at which point they say, "okay, you have $X million, draw your "deliverable line" at that point on your list and execute everything above it as a funded priority." Everything "below the line" is unfunded, and only executed if the funding conditions change. This same collaborative decision process is then executed on the next level down.

This is basically what the army is doing with Canada's political leaders now. The things these people are saying the army should keep (ie, tanks and big guns, even if they never leave Canada) are "below the line," because everything else is judged by them (surely the people the best position to know) as more essential to the actual mission they have been given. If the Canadian public someday decided in their righteous ire that the Canadian army needed more funding, they're always free to add resources, and push the line further down into the desirable list. Meanwhile, the army is trying to rationalize purely on the basis of what it's been given and what it's been asked to do. And replacing outdated high-intensity weapons platforms from the Cold War that cannot impact the kind of operations where Canadian troops have their lives on the line today is definitely below their line at the moment.

I know where the graybeards quoted in John Ward's article are coming from. Every last soldier wishes there was more money being given to defence in this country. I just wish the non-serving experts could work on their message so that it stops sounding like they are blaming the army for bad planning (which is demonstrably not true) and direct a clearer call to action to the Canadian taxpayer. I don't get the key message, "Canadian citizens, you need to ante up and kick in, because this is important stuff" from this piece. Largely from the headline alone, I get instead "silly soldiers, will they ever learn?" which is neither helpful nor true at this juncture.

Posted by BruceR at 10:10 AM


While I was on Bill Quick's site, I couldn't help but notice this little bit of truth-skirting:

On several different occasions in Vietnam we lost more men in a single day than we have in the entire Iraq war - and we won the Iraq war. No, the "war" isn't still going on. There are no organized Iraqi military formations in the field. What we are doing now is pacification, not war-fighting. This is no Vietnam and, sad as the extremely small loss of life has been, it is still a trivial factor in the larger scheme of things.

At best this is rather imprecise. For the record, the worst day for American fatalities in the Vietnam war was February 6, 1968, when 147 Americans died, 131 from hostile fire. (The second worst day, for the record, was the next day, Feb. 7... with 130 hostile and 6 non-hostile deaths recorded). The first three weeks of February were the worst time of the war for the American armed forces in Vietnam, as they continued to struggle with the aftermath of Tet and the ongoing siege of Khe Sanh.

To date, there have been 433 American fatalities in Iraq, the worst month being April 2003, when 73 died; the number of soldiers lost "in the entire war" (until the US declared the end of major combat operations on May 2) was 139, with 115 of those being combat fatalities; there have been 139 combat fatalities and 99 other deaths up to this weekend in Iraq since that point. It would have been more accurate to say that the Americans frequently lost more in a given week of the Vietnam war than they've lost in the entire Iraq war and occupation (by any measure), or even that in the height of Tet they managed to lose more in one day than in the entire major combat operations period in Iraq.

What was the rate of loss in Vietnam, really? It depends what you count as the period of the war, as it ramped up and ramped off slowly. Probably the best comparator for Iraq would be the period of major ground combat operations involving US troops, ie the 82 months between June, 1965, when the first offensive combat operation by U.S. ground troops started (on June 27 to be precise) and the last divisional action involving American marines, concluding in April 1972. During that period there were 55,800 fatalities of all kinds or 680 per month. At 45 a month since the Iraq war started, the Americans are well below that, obviously.

viet-iraq comparisonIf you look at the beginning of major ground operations in both theatres for the first eight months of their respective wars, the fatality numbers look like this (with Vietnam dates along the bottom):

Obviously there's a different pattern at work here. But there's no value in making false comparisons, whether it's to "quagmires" or particularly bloody days, either.

Posted by BruceR at 02:33 AM