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It was a remarkable year. On the domestic front, 1987 brought a relatively new white paper on defence (the first in nearly a generation), a lively debate on the perceived advantages and disadvantages of nuclear-powered attack submarines, a long-awaited order for six follow-on frigates (all from the same shipyard!), a significant upgrading of Canada's Pacific fleet (the first in nearly two decades), a significant upgrading of the northern radar network (the first in nearly three decades), and a host of smaller procurement and re-organization initiatives The year also brought renewed attention to the long-dormant subject of defence industrial preparedness.
For Canada's defence industry, 1987 was dominated by on-going activity on a host of pre-white paper procurement programs (covering everything from small arms to patrol frigates), by initial examination of the short and long-term opportunities (challenges?) offered by the white paper, and by a series of pivotal export contracts. Numbered among the latter were the French and West German orders for $410-million-worth of CL-289 unmanned airborne surveillance systems from Canadair, a British order for 242 Advanced Integrated MAD (Magnetic Anomaly Detection) systems from CAE Electronics, and last, but certainly not least, the Canadian share of the U.S. Army's potentially massive order for the Oerlikon-Buhrle/Martin Marietta ADATS air defence system. Among the Canadian beneficiaries of ADATS' victory in the hard-fought FAAD LOS-F-H competition were Oerlikon Aerospace, Litton Systems Canada Limited, and Spar Aerospace.
On the international front, the gradual warming trend in East-West relations was reflected in the December summit between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. A media event enveloped in an air of near-euphoria, the Washington summit's almost immediate claim to fame was the signing of the INF (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces) agreement, but it also appeared to pave the way for a possible START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) treaty in the first half of 1988. the START talks hold the key to a potential 50 percent reduction in strategic missile inventories.
Itself a significant and encouraging -- but no means risk-free -- development in arms control diplomacy, the INF treaty would eliminate an entire category of nuclear weapons, including the American Pershing 2 ballistic missile and the BGM-109G ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM), and the Soviet SS-20 ballistic missile. Virtually certain of ratification by the U.S. Senate, the INF treaty will require rigorous -- indeed, unparalleled -- verification procedures. It would also seem to necessitate, as former NATO commander-in-chief Bernard W. Rogers has warned, increased attention to NATO's conventional deterrent.
Rendered even more timely by the INF treaty, the June 5 white paper re-affirmed the Mulroney government's staunch support of collective defence, and unveiled a 15-year game plan for bridging the gap between Canada's declared defence commitments and actual military capabilities. Integral to its vision of a more credible Canadian defence posture were the re-alignment and consolidation of existing NATO commitments, a renewed interest in home defence, a 'vigorous' naval modernization program and a sweeping re-organization of the Canadian army. The new policy document also outlined a long-term plan to increase the strength of the Primary Reserve from 21,000 to 65,000. The revitalization of the reserves would include the introduction of a genuine Total Force concept and a reduced distinction between the Regular and Reserve forces.
Dominating much of the white paper -- and most of the discussion and debate it stirred up -- were the government's proposals for the reshaping of the Canadian navy. In place of the existing fleet, which could charitably be described as geriatric, unbalanced and virtually irrelevant to sovereignty and security in the far north, the white paper envisaged a balanced, multi-role fleet capable of operating on all three coasts. In addition to the six City-class patrol frigates and four Tribal-class destroyers already under construction or conversion, the white paper announced plans for 10 to 12 nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSN's), six follow-on patrol frigates, several sonar array towing vessels (similar in concept to the U.S. Navy's SURTASS operation), and 30 or more minor war vessels. Intended primarily for a revitalized and retasked Naval Reserve, the war vessels would be utilized for mine counter-measures, coastal patrol, training, and other sundry tasks. The white paper also proposed a fixed, under-ice surveillance system for the Arctic. Cancelled to make way for this ambitious shopping list were the eight (rather ill-defined) frigates originally projected under phase three of the Ship Replacement Program (SRP III) and the four to twelve, conventionally-powered submarines (SSK's) that made up the original Canadian Submarine Acquisition Project (CASAP).
Far les spectacular in the eyes of the media and the public, but in many ways more complex, were the plans for the restructuring and expansion of Canada's land forces. Pivotal to these plans was the government's decision to shift the focus of the Canadian Air-Sea Transportable (CAST) Brigade Group from northern Norway to southern Germany. Although the CAST Brigade Group (i.e. 5e Groupe-brigade du Canada) would continue to be based in Canada, it would deploy, in time of crisis, to the Central Front. The result would be a two-brigade Division built around 4 Canadian Mechanized Group (4CMBG) -- the formation stationed year-round in Germany -- and 5e Groupe-brigade du Canada (5 GBC). Concomitant steps outlined by the white paper included the pre-positioning in Germany "of a large part" of the CAST Brigade Group's equipment, and the permanent deployment in Germany of selected Divisional elements (i.e. part of the headquarters) and larger logistics and medical support cadres. In addition, the relatively 'light' 5 GBC would be re-equipped with main battle tanks and other equipment as was necessary for the Central Front. Another Canada-based brigade group, the even more lightly equipped 1 CBG, would be upgraded with main battle tanks and other equipment (i.e. LLAD) in order to provide trained augmentation and reinforcement personnel for the division in Germany. The combined needs of the three brigade groups -- and the Combat Training Centre -- were expected to generate a requirement for 200-300 new main battle tanks.
Also unveiled in the white paper was Ottawa's decision to create a new task force for territorial defence/CANUS (Canada-United States) missions. The task force was to include an airborne battle group of approximately regimental size and a light, air-transportable brigade group. These formations would be created by re-organizing and re-equipping the existing Special Service Force (SSF). The white paper also reported that the revitalized and much expanded Militia would "contribute to defence operations in Canada and elsewhere in North America, and will train replacements for land forces deployed overseas. The Militia will also establish a relatively large force of lightly armed guards to protect military vital points, and make a major contribution to the logistic and medical organizations required to support our consolidated European commitments."
By comparison with the navy (which now faces the daunting task of assimilating everything from austere MCM vessels to state-of-the-art SSN's) and the army (which now faces massive re-organization and militia expansion programs), the air force's future course of development was not radically altered by the 1987 white paper. This state of affairs reflected both the priority attached to salvaging the navy and reorganizing the army, and the fact that a significant number of air force procurement programs are already well underway (i.e. North American Air Defence Modernization) or nearing completion (i.e. initial procurement of the CF-18). Still, the white paper was by no means devoid of air force or air force-related programs.
In the area of procurement, the white paper unveiled plans to: acquire "at least" six additional long-range patrol aircraft (which should take some of the burden off the 18 existing CP-140 Auroras); modernize and re-engine the venerable CP-121 Tracker medium-range patrol aircraft; acquire additional strategic air-lift capacity (which should generate a hefty order for additional CC-130's); acquire CF-18 attrition replacements (probably in the form of 13 ex-American F/A-18's); acquire advanced munitions for the CF-18; and proceed with the coastal extensions of the North Warning System. The white paper also confirmed the requirement for New Shipborne Aircraft (NSA) to replace the aging (and, of late, somewhat cantankerous) CH-124A Sea King. The document made no reference to new tankers, but a pre-white paper requirement for four KC-130's -- primarily to support home-based CF-18's apparently still stands.
The white paper also announced that the commitment of the two Canada-based CF-18 Rapid Reinforcement squadrons (the yet-to-be-formed No. 416 at Cold Lake, Alberta, and No. 433 at Bagotville, Quebec) would be shifted from Northern Norway -- the originally intended deployment area -- to southern Germany. With the commitment of the two CF-18 Rapid Reinforcement squadrons to the Central Front, the three-squadron (Nos. 409, 421, and 439) Air Group currently stationed in Germany would be elevated to Air Division status.
Apart from the fact that it would be expanded and more closely linked with the regular force, the white paper had relatively little to say about the Air Reserve. A useful glimpse of its future evolution has, however, been provided by the commander of Air Command, Lt-Gen. L.A. Ashley, in a recent interview with TWR's sister publication, Aerospace and Defence Technology. Ashley reported that "the air reserves will be postured to complement those areas where we have critical operations, such as air lift." The "kind of thing that will emerge is illustrated in Edmonton, where 418 Air Reserve Squadron will be twinned with the regular force 435 Squadron" and "share a common pool of C-130 aircraft." Another approach would be taken in Winnipeg, where No. 402 Air Reserve Squadron would be "equipped with the Dash 8 and be twinned with the Air Navigation School to provide the airlift for air nav training."
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