January 30, 2005

Thoughts on combat first aid

I agree with Patrick. This is a soldiers' must-read.

Posted by BruceR at 06:19 PM

Reader mail

I still feel occasionally guilty about axing the Flitters forum, so I do try to post reader responses when I can, so that this doesn't become a perfect echo chamber. Here's this week's haul, all relating to recent posts on Canadian defence, unabridged:

The Diefenbakerite Chas T. (whose blog I dearly miss) writes:

Gosh, I know it's been a rough January Bruce, but it seems you've developed a real case of the blues. Why so pessimistic? Why would the Yanks would torpedo Canada's defence industry? After all, it is substantially owned by American corporations, as is most of Canada's industry. So why would King George undermine the interest of his super-national corporate buddies? After all a buck is still buck.

And Uncle Jack, in his doting years has turned sadly continentalist. It's a shame to see such a mighty Canuck now shilling for the defence industry. Is he really that hard-up for bread?

Missile defence? Has Jack forgotten perfidious Camelot and the Bomarc fiasco so soon? It's just bluff and fearmongering. Who knows what Bush really said? The Liberals are already commited to NMD and they're trying to scare Canadians.

The free-rider thing always makes me chuckle because over the last almost two centuries what exactly has perfidious Albion and Camelot defended we poor undeserving Canucks against? And when we make a committment, as poor misguided Sir Robert did in 1915, we're treated like some sort of 'toy automata'.

Bring it on Yanks!!!

Rick G. writes:

Anyone who has been reading Flit should be hearing the arguments against Canada sinking serious money into Bush's BMD in their sleep. Bush's questions are based on the assumption that American allies face the same threats as the U.S.A. itself, and that assumption is demonstrably false.

Nonetheless, I challenge you to find a single American who does not believe this false assumption. Americans take it as an article of faith that they are protecting their own values for good of the whole world, and they assume by corollary, that a threat to the U.S. is a threat to good people all over the world. Americans just can't understand why Canadians don't get worked up over the same threats as they do, and that is why they are so confounded when an erstwhile ally doesn't want to get on board, and can't be convinced to do so out of self-interest. They assume Canadians are trying to get something for free, when in reality, we don't want what the U.S. is selling, even if it is free.

Regarding your question that Prof. Granatstein is paraphrasing: I'm not saying this is a good answer, but the only thing I can think of that will convince Canadians (as opposed to just myself) to spend serious money on our military is a serious threat from the United States. If the U.S. threatens to control foreign and domestic policy for us (in a more obvious way than they do right now),that could be enough to tip the scales of Canadian public opinion. Deep down, most Canadians are still waiting for the next Fenian raid. How else could Richard Rohmer have ever sold any books? It's an argument Lloyd Axworthy has been making for years, and up until now, most Canadians just haven't seen the U.S. as a realistic threat in the same way that the Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg does. If Bush talked to Canadians the way he talked to Paul Martin, all those faint-hearted Liberal voters in Ontario would be more than happy to see the DND budget swell.

TM Lutas writes:

In the next decade, you're going to have multiple private rocket companies launching from all over the world. Heck, if my birth nation of Romania fielded a credible team for the X Prize, I'm telling you that there are going to be dozens of designs in service launching from all over the world and with highly variable security systems in place. How, absent a missile defense system, do you shoot down a hijacked private orbital rocket loaded with a dirty bomb or something more lethal? How are you going to have a system you're semi-confident will
work a decade from now if you don't start today?

Finally, how the heck do you openly discuss such things without giving
terrorists ideas.?

Joseph O. writes:

Is there any case for Canada's military specializing? I agree that making the army into a bad peace keeping unit is a mistake, but if we do have scarce resources, shouldn't we pick a couple of things and do them well? And shouldn't we a pick an area easily integrates with our allies?

I really do not know enough about the military to know if we should be generalists or specialists.

Posted by BruceR at 03:25 PM

News from Australia, where apparently everyone is named Tim, now

I'm sorry, it's from a while ago in blog time, but this was the funniest damn thing I read all week. I admire Lambert's self-restraint in saving the "In medieval times, no one was observing the heavens because..." quote until the very end. I would have made that the whole post. Hell, I may devote this entire blog from here on to my profound admiration for the crazy world of Louis Hissink.

Posted by BruceR at 02:48 PM

January 28, 2005

Flip-flop, flop-flip

Good column by Paul Koring in the Globe on the defence/foreign-policy review and the de-emphasizing of the navy and air force.

The simple fact is, there's only so much you can de-emphasize. Because the other two services have evolved as niche adjuncts for American operations, de-emphasizing them further in any way will significantly reduce Canadian military usefulness to the American government still further (no frigates or CF-18s to fold into American deployments). Our army, with its small size, lack of heavy equipment, and focus on UN and NATO-driven sustained low-intensity peacekeeping, is of comparatively little use to the Bush government. It's hard to see a Martin government dropping out of missile defence AND making our conventional forces more irrelevant to the U.S., when push comes to shove. Certainly the U.S. ambassador will be a voice the navy and air force can count on (never mind the domestic ship-building and aerospace industries).

Still, Koring's got it right. We're on a track to "saving money without adding credibility." What's surprising is that anyone seriously still thinks we can somehow do both. If you want to see the future, what we're coming down to is a reality somewhere between the $15 billion and $12 billion models in this post.

PS: Given that it will take ten years to implement any military recommendations from a standing start, I really hope the foreign policy reviewers here are reading documents like this one. We've almost figured out as a country how to make ourselves militarily useful to the Americans without spending lives or money: the question for 2020 may be how do we make ourselves relevant to China and India, and for that there's no clear answer within our historic defence-spending means.

Posted by BruceR at 10:22 AM

January 27, 2005

Pot: Kettle, you look a little off-hue

"Moments later, Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine criticized the Times for missing an antiterrorism demonstration in Baghdad that an Iraqi blogger photographed and posted. The Times ignored this story, Jarvis claimed, because it ghettoizes news gatherers who aren't professionals."

Jack Shafer, Slate. This is of course the Jeff Jarvis who ignored that same Iraqi blogger's desperate pleas for justice for his cousin who had been murdered by an American patrol, for TWELVE whole months, long after every media outlet in the States had run something on the case.

Posted by BruceR at 04:10 PM

Army the senior service?

A piece in the Globe today says the government is set to emphasize the army and de-emphasize Canada's other armed services, except where they support the army.

One suspects it's the next step in the path outlined last year by Richard Clarke, and started upon by Canada's sensible but wacky previous defence minister, John McCallum. Too bad about those subs and fighter aircraft we're increasingly likely to mothball now, though. Also note the implicit and significant assumption that the Canadian military is a subsidiary adjunct to "foreign aid." We discussed Canadian military altruism here.

Posted by BruceR at 10:46 AM

This is how you do restructuring

The British Army announced last month the amalgamation of all its remaining regular army Scottish units into the new five-battalion "Royal Regiment of Scotland," with a common tartan and cap badge (each battalion will still have a different hackle, however). The tartan, for those curious, will be Black Watch (Government), the original uniclan soldiers' tartan (and one I once wore as a young army reservist). I've always admired the way that the British will defend any military tradition, right up to the point where it becomes an operational or recruiting burden, and then unceremoniously chuck it without a glance back. The move is part of a cut from 40 undersize regular infantry battalions to 36 larger, more indepently capable ones, with additional reductions in armour and artillery.

The Canadian army, which has a couple dozen Scottish tartan-clad reserve units that have resisted any amalgamation for decades, can only gape in awe.

Posted by BruceR at 10:31 AM

Things that suck

My Palm PDA is dead again... SUDS (Sudden USB Death Syndrome). Basically a static charge fries the USB circuitry. It's a known design flaw in all the 500-series, and if it happens to you once, it'll happen again. In Canada, SUDS regularly kills off Palms when the dry winter weather hits and we all go around on the carpet wearing sweaters. Your choices are basically to switch to a serial-port cradle (now almost completely out of stock) or switch to the Tungsten-series Palms, which don't have the flaw. Oh, well.

Posted by BruceR at 10:08 AM

January 26, 2005

Something from another medium

The historically-inclined may want to read my latest contribution to print journalism, a piece on the Canadian Forces memorial I helped organize for Capts. Pickersgill and Macalister last fall.

Posted by BruceR at 10:05 AM

January 25, 2005

The War of 1812?

Andrew Olmsted and Jim Henley go at the "necessary wars" question. This one could go on a while, but I think Olmsted was down a point after the clunker in his first post:

"We could have ended the Revolution at any time, but at the cost of losing a war for our national existence, so it seems fair to say we had to fight that one. The War of 1812 saw British troops burn the White House, so we probably had no way out of it."

It should go without saying that the American invasion of Canada in 1812 can hardly have been a "necessary" war, even if it did lead to British attacks on the homeland two years later. It was characterized then as a war against Royal Navy impressment and blockade, but the American maritime states, reliant on British trade, blanched at the prospect; much more significant was British support for Indian claims in the mid-West and South. The Brits had their own geopolitical reasons for backing the Tecumseh and Creek confederacies, of course, but the opposing position of Harrison, Clay et al, that the Indians were bereft of human rights altogether is clearly as repugnant today as the Confederacy's armed defense of slavery is.

As to the Revolution, well, the entire fact of English Canadian existence is premised on the argument that there was another way in 1776...

Olmsted goes down another point today, with his suggestion that Henley feels the Americans should only have fought Japan in WW2. Since that was never a historical option (Hitler declared war with Japan, and hostile U-Boats were in action off the Carolina coast within a week) I was surprised it was brought up at all, and I know without asking that that's not Henley's position. Pearl Harbour forced the U.S. hand. The more interesting debate to my mind is the preceding Lend-Lease question, where FDR struggled with his own "necessary war" question in detail.

I'm bullish on necessary wars, or at least more bullish than Henley, I suspect. In the Canadian example I'd say the necessary battles post-Revolution were 1812 (foreign invasion), the 1837, 1870 and 1885 rebellions (internal insurgencies), WW2, Korea, GW1 and Afghanistan. The question marks in our history have always been South Africa and our early entry into WW1, both deserving of more thoughtful posts some other day.

In the American frame, I'd also say the Barbary Pirate wars, the Civil War and the late entry into WW1 (if only on the basis of resistance to unrestricted sub warfare and the Zimmermann telegram) certainly would qualify, as well. After that it gets harder: the better Canadian record with the Indians gives us the natural predisposition to think that the Americans could have done better there; the early-20th century Latin-American interventions, as imperialist as they were, hardly qualify as wars; and the Mexican, Spanish-American, Vietnam, Grenada and Panama conflicts were all in part exercises in U.S. brinkmanship diplomacy that failed (or succeeded, depending if you wanted a war in the first place... and Henley's point is that one should never WANT a war).

Hell, I'd even be willing to consider the Boxer Rebellion as a just war, if only due to the nascent internationalism of it. But even though I agree with Olmsted more than Henley, Olmsted's definitely going to have to raise his game if he wants to get back into it.

Posted by BruceR at 02:10 PM

Why are we paying? (part 2)

Further to the below, it should be noted that Prof. Granatstein is subtly changing the subject rather, from the initial Bush question of how Canadians could be convinced to support continental missile defence, to how Canadians could be induced to spend more money on defence, period.

Canadians will be convinced of the need for missile defence when three things happen:
1. The American missile defence system appears to actually work;
2. An identifiable threat it could mitigate emerges, i.e., one whose first name is not "Kim"; and
3. If and when Canadians are convinced of point #1, when they realize that interposing yourself in between a real threat and an actual working defence system is kind of like hanging around outside the walls of Troy with that nice Hector fella.

To a degree, all these conditions applied to the creation of NORAD, when the threat was Soviet bombers (the ICBMs only came later). We could be 1) reasonably confident that jet fighters could shoot some of the bombers down, 2) the Communist threat seemed plausible, and 3) people accepted that Americans unilaterally shooting polar route bombers down before they reached the States meant the resulting wreckage would almost certainly land on our territory anyway unless we got in on the deal, never mind the annoying way fallout from the States would almost certainly follow acid-rain patterns of distribution. Which is why we have a large number of abandoned radar stations in the Canadian North today. NORAD membership was a perfectly rational, self-interested decision. Canadian participation in American missile defense today would not be.

The answer to Bush's second question, therefore is, "yes." As things stand today, nothing my Prime Minister said could convince me of the value of missile defence, and I'm a lot more ready to hear that argument than most. The continuation of NORAD into a new era really doesn't, really shouldn't, seem that important.

The answer to Bush's first question, decoupled from the missile defence question, is much thornier. America certainly has it within its power to short out most of our international intelligence gathering, through the termination of intelligence-sharing agreements, effectively blinding our diplomacy and our defence policy; it could also, if it chose, torpedo our own defence industries overnight. We have already effectively ceded arctic sovereignty to American submarines; the coming loss of our own subsurface capacity will be a significant degradation in the ability to surveil our other two ocean-coasts, with American patrollers taking up that slack, as well. Our army, air force and navy can't actually operate in even a medium-intensity theatre without significant American assistance. We have no real control over our own airspace, at least in terms of shooting something down if we had to. And any major natural disaster in Canada could only be responded to with significant U.S. help.

Other than that, we could get along without the Americans just fine. But all of these things are bestowed on us, by them, by virtue of Americans spending 3% of their GDP on defence, and Canadians spending 1%, and they can all easily be taken away (and by virtue of our geography, it would take roughly 3% of our own GDP to get them back for ourselves). That is the definition of free-riding. There are cost-benefit calculations behind every item in that list above that have made them, in the past, worth American effort. But none of them are permanent or necessary conditions of their sharing a continent with us.

American altruism in these other areas has enabled Canadians to use their own limited military spending for exclusively "good things," like support of UN peacekeeping. The left and right of the arc for this nation would thus seem to be (the traditional Liberal policy of) currying American favour on the defence side and then leveraging that into some greater influence abroad and a positive influence on world events (but accepting greater U.S. influence on us), or rejecting defence cooperation entirely and lapsing into a forced deaf, blind isolationism. You can argue where we should be within that spectrum all day, and each of the three national parties has its own equilibrium point, but those are the two extremes.

Posted by BruceR at 10:19 AM

January 24, 2005

'Why are we paying to defend Canada?'

George Bush asks the $64,000 question:

"But Bush did confront Martin and used the sort of language that sets Canadians on edge. "He leaned across the table and said, 'I'm not taking this position, but some future president is going to say, 'Why are we paying to defend Canada?' " said the senior Canadian official who was in the room and noted that he had been assured by Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell personally that Bush would avoid the subject.

"Most of our side was trying to explain the politics, how it was difficult to do," the official said. But Bush "waved his hands and said, 'I don't understand this. Are you saying that if you got up and said this is necessary for the defense of Canada it wouldn't be accepted?'"

Paul Wells portrays this as a clash between the Bush Doctrine and the reality-based world, but Canadian defence policy has been clashing with reality for, well... forever, actually. For its entire history, save a blip in the 1940s and previously in the 1910s, Canadians have been free riders on defence of somebody, be it France, or Britain, or now the States. Rightly or wrongly, regular Canadians instinctively see the world as threat-free. That's unlikely ever to change. For the last three years, this blog has been posing a similar question to Wells's friend Jack Granatstein (what would it take to convince Canadians of the utility of military spending?) I have never heard a good answer.

Posted by BruceR at 04:23 PM

January 21, 2005

Reason #313 I like working with soldiers

But those on the ground [with the Canadian Forces DART unit in Sri Lanka] say they are simply focused on their job. "We're just going to make sure any friggin' bacteria in there is dead," said Master Corporal Bob Levesque, running one team's reverse-osmosis water purification unit.

--Globe and Mail, today

Posted by BruceR at 01:54 PM

January 11, 2005



"The Panel reaches no definitive conclusion as to whether the Killian documents are authentic. Given that the Killian documents are copies and not originals, that the author is deceased, that the Panel has not found any individual who knew about them when they were created, and that there is no clear chain of custody, it may never be possible for anyone to authenticate or discredit the documents."


Posted by BruceR at 06:03 PM

Court-martial verdict: Jeff Jarvis ends silence

(See previous entry.)

The verdict has come in for the first Samarra bridge-pushing trial: six months for assault, acquittal on the manslaughter charge... the military court evidently inferred reasonable doubt about the existence of a body. But Sgt Tracy Perkins gets to keep his job. And Jeff Jarvis ends his year-long dignified silence on the subject, saying that it "doesn't smell great."

I must say, as an occasional participant in the military justice system here in Canada, and an observer of its work elsewhere, I don't have a lot of patience any argument that court martials are in any way fairer or more just than civilian trials. They may move somewhat more rapidly, but I'd say they're just as prone to bad decisions, and unfair verdicts, in either direction.

That speed of execution can also weigh against justice. In this case, I have to wonder why there was no stay of proceedings pending the anticipated exhumation of the body in question. If that was the material fact that the whole trial hinged upon, to leave it undetermined going into the final hearing seems negligent, at the least. (I would presume double jeopardy will disallow any revisiting of the manslaughter acquittal in future.)

Now that he's finally talking about it, if he's reading this Jarvis may also want to comment on the previous dropping of all charges for all of Sgt Perkins' and LT Saville's superiors (including the rather Kurtzish figure of Nate Sassaman), and the soldiers who actually did the pushing, as well (in the latter case, also due to reasonable doubt about whether there was a corpse).

This case is a real little nexus of a number of Iraq-related issues, if you read into it. Sassaman was reportedly one of the military commanders who were sending truckloads of people to Abu Ghraib on suspicion alone... the military investigation was stymied for a year largely in part due to a lack of basic security in the "quiet" city of Samarra (and military stonewalling)... it was an Iraq blogger who pushed the military justice system to at least take notice and was savaged by several jingo-bloggers for doing so, etc. There's a whole lot more that could be written about this case than has been thus far.

Posted by BruceR at 11:46 AM

January 07, 2005

Quote of the trial

"[U.S. Army] officers testified that platoon leaders were encouraged to try nonlethal responses [to curfew violations]." --Houston Chronicle

Well, okay. So long as they were encouraged.

Posted by BruceR at 05:37 PM

January 06, 2005

Things that pleased me, contd.

Best Christmas gift this year: Season 1 of The Office, that splendid little British comedy. The army reservist character Gareth Keenan ("three years in the Territorials") has to have been the worst thing for army reserve recruiting to come along in years. If people start thinking of us as a bunch of Gareths, we're doomed.

Posted by BruceR at 06:54 PM

January 05, 2005

Samarra bridge-pushing update

First testimony this week in the Perkins court martial, the first of the two remaining Americans still facing charges for the Samarra bridge-pushing, with the survivor getting his day in court yesterday. No one disputes now that Zeyad's non-swimmer cousin was thrown into water over his head in the pitch-dark by an American patrol because he'd been caught outside after curfew, and his family buried a body they thought was his. The defense's remaining straw is that you can't prove the body that was buried was really, truly the victim in question. Apparently Iraqis lack cellular DNA, or something.

It might be worth reviewing this handy recap of the initial response from the jingopunditry to this story, from a year ago this week. Here's another one. As this is as far as I can tell the first-ever homicide court-martial that began as someone's blog post, you'd think the bloggers would be more interested in this than they are. Jeff Jarvis' studious silence, as expected, continues.

UPDATE: In later testimony, the American battalion's second-in-command confirmed it was former media darling LCol Nate Sassaman who ordered the soldiers of his battalion to lie to JAG investigators about the alleged drowning incident. Sassaman, who testified in Perkins' defence, has received an unspecified reprimand for his actions. More on Sassaman here. 1st Sgt. Perkins' defense counsel also tried to pin the whole thing on his LT (who is facing trial in March), calling witnesses to say the junior officer did all the ordering around, while the senior NCO never left his vehicle and so did not contribute to the prisoner-throwing (or did anything to stop it, for that matter). Nice "blade," that.

Posted by BruceR at 02:34 PM

Reader mail: on the DART thing

Veteran correspondent Chas. T. writes in on my DART post, below. My response follows:

"Ok Bruce now that you've had your fun let's have an evaluation of the DART programme itself. At its current size is it really viable? It has been deployed twice since 1996. At 600 tonnes or 1,322,773.57 pounds utilising C-17 Globemasters with a payload capacity of 170,900 pounds each and a price tag of $300 million each it would take almost 8 of these big birds to airlift DART at one go. Even the Brits only have four. It's not going to happen nor should it.

"And based on the the Sri Lankan and Indian govts response to Israel's offer of military aid one seriously wonders if DART is viable. The Ozzies and Kiwis used Hercs to drop in aid to Indonesia. Maybe its DART that needs a rethink."

My reply:

The Australians used Hercs because Hercs were within effective lift range from their location. The ludicrous C-17 price is the reason Canada doesn't use them or buy them, but relies on the somewhat more affordable Russian-type lift, instead. It's four trips in an Antonov 124, of which there are large numbers in commercial service.

(For comparison, in lift terms 1 An-124 = 2 C-17s = 4 Il-76s = 6 (short-range) Hercs = 10 CF Airbuses).

The only viable concept I've ever seen within realistic funding parameters was this idea for a Crown Corporation leasing out purchased Il-76s. For the price of two C-17s ($500m US) you could purchase 8-9 Il-76s at start-up, which would be enough to do a full 600-tonne DART drop in two round trips. Such a company would obviously also be in demand from the other NATO nations and the UN: I think it might even be self-sustaining after a $1B government startup investment... The big plans for a NATO shared heavy-lift pool using still-to-be-built Airbus 400s has been staggering around for a while now, so I wouldn't count on that option.

But a better emergency-need agreement with either Volga Dnepr, or better, Toronto's own Skylink Aviation (following the Australian model), whose own An-124s are going to be used by DART when it finally deploys this Thursday, would also help in the interim.

PS: To be clear, the RAF only leases its C-17s, for $35m US a year each... which Canada could do too.

UPDATE: Chas replied:

"Apparently the AN-124s are bigger but also less fuel efficient and without the STOL capability of C-17s. How often do you get a full-size functional run way in
a disaster area? It's not at all clear that the market for commercial heavylift aircraft is all that viable.

"And maybe the objective of global reach is unrealistic for Canucks. Were the Ozzies and Kiwis in Honduras after the hurricane? And is 600 tonnes of DART really necessary when an Italian emergency response team (firefighters and doctors) gets to Sri Lanka in a couple of days using Canadair cargo planes.

"And do we need another Crown corporation dumping tax dollars into you know which province when the potential of a return is about as great as the gun registry? ;)"

To which I responded:

No one's arguing the C-17 isn't a great plane... It's just unaffordable except on a lease basis.

The market for commercial heavy airlift is not viable, which is why it's so hard to find one when you need one. Hence the various proposals for leasing pools such as the UK has now. Countries that wish to have global military reach in a timely fashion need to spend more to have it... That's no surprise.

Global reach by air for us probably IS unrealistic. Britain and France at least have the advantage of various military bases scattered around the world to stage through. But it's a necessary condition for a foreign policy of rapid-response humanitarian interventionism by a country lacking those kinds of basing arrangements, which is what Paul Martin, Bono, etc. says we need more of. It's also a necessary condition for a more robust international response by Canada, or the smaller NATO nations, or the UN generally. You either believe in these things, or you don't.

We get certain advantages and cost-savings from a national defence point of view from being relatively isolated from the rest of the globe. This is the downside.

The Italian response is to be admired, and possibly emulated. They certainly have made a better showing than us so far in this case. For the record, those two Canadian aircraft are Canadair CL-415 converted water-bomber amphibians, which carry about 11 passengers each in the multirole configuration, and is the largest amphibian aircraft still in recent production. They don't have the range to cross the Atlantic, but I understand they're otherwise great planes. Like all float planes, I have no doubt they'd be particularly useful in a country without a lot of free airstrips at the moment (as anyone who's spent any time in the Canadian north would agree). If I was going to send a team of 20 disaster response staff with their first few days' supplies to some place that I wouldn't have to cross an ocean to get to, I'd want to use them too.

Posted by BruceR at 12:12 PM

Tales from today's air force

I hadn't heard this one until now... the reason the Canadian air force has only managed two Airbus flights to the tsunami area so far (26 tons of supplies total) in 10 days is because there are no replacement aircrews for the Airbus in question. So the crew is flying halfway... stopping to sleep... then flying the other half. (Standard practice in other air forces is to bring along a "slip crew" which takes over half the time, allowing a continuous flight, if refuelling is taken care of.)

Posted by BruceR at 12:05 PM

Tales from today's army

I've heard from a reliable correspondent that the Canadian Forces Supplementary Reserve's General Support Force Pacific (GSF-P) pilot program is moribund. No surprise, but a pity.

The GSF-P was a Western Canadian project to employ retired Regular soldiers in domestic-response situations, such as natural disasters. Headed by Col. Bill Low, the group had a peak strength of around 50, based in B.C. Current estimates are, if there was a natural disaster on the B.C. coast, it would be minimum of 72 hours before the first-responders from the nearest Canadian Forces army base (in Edmonton) could arrive by land. The GSF-P was meant as a stop-gap for B.C. until the rest of the army could arrive, and trained together with local civilian emergency responders. Members also got practice working forest fires, and the Kananaskis and G8 summits. The cost to the CF was the one full-time coordinator, and the civilian training courses for members.

A year-and-a-half ago, command and control of the GSF-P was transferred from the army's Western Area headquarters to Ottawa, supposedly as part of a plan to roll out similar organizations in the rest of Canada. But the members have not been contacted since, and none were called out for the recent natural disasters in Kelowna (fire) or Penticton (flood). Most have assumed the organization has died, and are offering to turn in their army equipment... if they could find anyone to turn it into. Oh, well.

Posted by BruceR at 12:00 PM

January 04, 2005

Things that pleased me, 2004 edition

If you, as I did, spent much of the early- to mid-80s playing board wargames and pen-and-paper RPGs, you've got to be pleased by the last couple years in computer gaming, with computer games that match if not surpass our cardboard-based pleasures coming out in nearly every genre. My passions in no particular order, were D&D, Squad Leader, Starfleet Battles and Wooden Ships and Iron Men... the first three have all been excellently digitally rendered in the form of Neverwinter Nights, Combat Mission, and Starfleet Command respectively... true-to-the-spirit homages without being fossilized (Peter Jackson style recreations, if you will). I can't ever seriously imagine playing the paper versions again. Late last year came the fourth and last in my personal set: the unfortunately named Age of Sail 2: Privateer's Bounty, by Russia's Akella Games, now in a remainder bin near you.

At $10 Cdn. and dropping, it might be hard to imagine, but this game is at least an order of magnitude better than any previous wooden sailing sim (and I've tried them all). The name is misleading, and the campaign games are silly... but underneath is a remarkably tight and realistic recreation of naval battles 1775-1815. Every major fleet or single-ship action of the period is included as a scenario, with good multiplayer support and strong AI for single-player, and a wonderfully flexible scenario and campaign editor (not to mention an easily moddable set of ship files, if the starter set database of 2,000 period ships of all sizes isn't working for you) allows you to alter or add nearly anything you could think of. Over Christmas I sketched out on paper a neat little 20-scenario multi-branched campaign covering the Lake Ontario skirmishes of the War of 1812. Everything I mapped out would have been totally doable in the built-in editor, my time allowing, and exportable to others in a zip file as a game mod. It's been a while since I did the whole computer game modding thing (it's sort of why I started keeping a personal website in the first place), but this would be a really fun next project, time permitting. Unfortunately, it doesn't for now.

Oh, and the spar-decked frigate model (ie, USS Constitution) looks like crap, unlike all the other ship models. Must have been an afterthought: I'd love to know if someone out there was quietly working on modding up a better one.

Still, I really do recommend picking this up, if only for the remarkable historical value. Neat little game.

Posted by BruceR at 11:01 PM

New insurgency size estimate from Iraq

TNR has a link to the latest quasi-official estimate of the actual size of the insurgency from pro-government sources: 40,000 active fighters (not counting the Shia side of the equation). It would be interesting to have the American intelligence chief's estimate instead, but it still might be worthwhile comparing to previous U.S. estimates:

Nov/03: 5,000 active fighters
Oct/04: 12,000 active fighters

The addition of 28,000 new active fighters... two divisions worth, in only three months... would be remarkable, if true: far outstripping the death rate due to American actions. But even if the Iraqi intelligence chief is overstating by a factor of two, and it's hard to see how he could be off by much more, we're seeing a remarkable growth rate. The figure of 200,000, including enablers, sounds large, but remember that would still only be 2-3% of all Sunnis. There's still a lot of room for further growth.

Posted by BruceR at 07:10 PM

January 02, 2005

Flightless DART

There's little to say about the tragedy of Canada's response to the tsunami tragedy that hasn't already been said. A lot of excuses have been bandied about for why Canadian soldiers weren't sent, when Australia, Taiwan, Israel, and other countries despatched forces early, and the American military launched its largest operation in the area since Vietnam to try to save lives.

In the end, though, the answer's pretty simple: 600 tonnes.

That's the amount of airlift required to move the DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team). Since Canada only has the 4 CC-150 Polaris (modified Airbuses) for strategic airlift, with a cargo capacity of 13 tonnes each, rapid deployment of DART anywhere outside the effective ferry range of our 30-odd additional short-range Herc transports (ie, off this continent) was a mathematical impossibility, without civilian airlift... and civilian airlift is in pretty short supply at the moment.

Whether to Bosnia or Afghanistan, the Canadian military flies overseas by chartered air now. Ottawa's political leaders would have had to move very fast to reserve some of the available transports (mostly Russian-made) before they were snapped up by other governments and NGOs. They didn't. (Canada, along with the other smaller NATO countries, tends to use Russian air carrier Volga Dnepr, which has refused to sign any agreement that "reserves" any of its airfleet to a given government in advance for these kinds of situations. Australia's military, by contrast, uses domestic air carrier Adagold, flying the same Russian aircraft, but with their own country's military as a "preferred customer.")

The lack of airlift was a conscious decision, based on the little remarked-upon shift in the tail-end Chretien period, during John McCallum's time as defence minister. His predecessor Art Eggleton, seemingly influenced by the Liberal interventionist wing (Richard Gwyn, Janice Steyn, Lloyd Axworthy et al), had attempted to reposition Canada as a "first-in, first-out" military, moving quickly to crisis areas with a rapid deployment force, but shunning long-term commitments anywhere.

McCallum rightly recognized that the Forces a) didn't have the people; b) didn't have the money, and c) would not have the public support for the inevitable Canadian casualties when the paratroopers dropped into Kigali, or what have you. Fully supported by the Prime Minister, he publicly switched the military's focus to a "last-in," stabilization-oriented force (or, admitted that was what we really had, if you prefer to think of it that way)... low-intensity conflict only, shipped by chartered air into countries with a sufficiently-stable ground picture that significant casualties were highly unlikely. Starting with the McCallum years, we officially became "hotspot" averse. (Regarding strategic airlift, his now famous line was "No one has yet been able to give me a single instance where the absence of this capability stopped us or significantly delayed us moving people or equipment from point A to point B." Well, we've got a single instance now.)

Unfortunately, as was commented on at the time, that mentality makes it now effectively impossible to deploy in natural disaster scenarios, as well. DART, an Eggleton "first-in" project, has atrophied to the point where it proved undeployable even to Haiti during the hurricanes last year. If all this makes you wonder how effective the CF might be if that earthquake had been off of Vancouver Island, instead of Aceh, well, you probably should wonder. It's certainly not encouraging. Hopefully the Americans will have an aircraft carrier free then, too.

(Current defence minister Bill Graham and prime minister Paul Martin mouthed some support for the UN/ICISS "reponsibility to protect" concept through 2004 (aka the "peacekeeping brigade"), although there has been no sign to date of any actual resource allocations to meet that commission's demand for "an effective expeditionary force, capable of engaging in low- to medium-intensity conflict, anywhere in the world." If the pendulum is switching back to a "first-in" concept, it's doing so very slowly, and the military recruiting and training crisis means actually meeting that goal would be something like a decade away at this point.)

"The world needs more Canada," Bono said. Well, it's unlikely at the moment to get it, at least not in the uniformed variety.

PS: The Canadian side of the tragedy is a classic example of political power abhorring a vacuum, by the way. With the federal government effectively paralyzed by vacation, the Toronto chattering elites have been looking to the city's mayor to have his "Rudy Giuliani moment" and sent planeloads of relief with a Toronto sticker on the side of the plane overseas. Mayor David Miller, by all accounts a sensible man, has avoided the challenge to date... one of his successors likely won't the next time, and the abrogation of federal powers by the provinces and municipalities will continue its Canadian snowball.

Posted by BruceR at 03:33 PM