The new year should bring a host of announcements as Canadian defence planners grapple with the initial implementation of Perrin Beatty's white paper (and with more than a few carry-over programs from the pre-white paper period). Although target dates could well change, the army programs that will attract the most attention during 1988 are the Heavy Logistics Vehicle (which may see contract award by March), TCCCS (the RFP for the first phase of which should appear by early-to-mid year), the main battle tank replacement (with the possibility of project definition approval by May or June), the Close Air Defence Weapon System (with an RFP possible in the spring or summer), the light armored vehicle/light armored utility vehicle (with an RFP likely before the end of 1988). For the army, 1988 should also bring the first LLAD deliveries, and more detailed information on the new Divisional structure in Germany (i.e., the location of the proposed fourth manoeuvre unit for 4CMBG).
For the navy, the pivotal development -- now that work is underway or committed on CFP, SRP II and TRUMP -- will centre on the selection of the 'country of origin' for the SSN program. This decision should appear relatively early in 1988. It is hoped, as well, that there will be solid news regarding mine-countermeasures vessels and new naval auxiliary vessels. On a nostalgic note, 1988 will also see the honourable retirement -- as personnel are released for training on the City-class -- of several of Canada's veteran steam-driven frigates. That these vessels lasted until 1988 is high praise for the people who designed them over the past three decades. It also speaks volumes about the lack of continuity in Canadian naval procurement, but that is another story...
For the air force, 1988 will bring continued progress on the NSA program, delivery of the last of the 138 original CF-18's, closure of the final CADIN-Pinetree Line radar stations, activation of additional AN/FPS-117 sites, activation of the eighth and final CF-18 squadron (No. 416 at Cold Lake), removal of the CF-5 from the NATO flyover role, and further refinement of the plans for the operation and staffing of the CF-18 Forward Operating Locations. Also expected to appear is the RFP for the Canadian Forces Light Helicopter (CFLH). One hopes, as well, that there will be solid developments with regard to the four proposed KC-130's, to the proposed expansions of the strategic airlift and long-range patrol fleets, and to the long-term modernization of the search and rescue fleet. At the present time, SAR modernization seems likely to involve variants of the EH 101 and the C-130, although there are proponents of a mixed C-130/Dash-8 fixed-wing fleet. Also worthy of close attention will be the Tracker update program. The latter promises to generate some very interesting questions. How extensive, for example, should the update be? Should any further privatization of the Tracker's fisheries surveillance duties -- which seem to enjoy very high levels of public support -- be sanctioned?
1988 Year In Review
It was a paradoxical year. On the one hand, 1988 brought major developments in the fields of defence procurement (i.e. the ordering of 1,122 heavy logistic vehicles, approval-in-principle for the acquisition of approximately 820 northern terrain vehicles, the launching of the first of twelve City-class patrol frigates, and the approval of project definition for the Tactical Command, Control and Communications System [TCCCS] and the Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel [MCDV] project), defence organization (i.e. the activation -- or, more accurately, the reactivation -- of 1 Canadian Division and 1 Canadian Air Division) and defence operations (i.e. substantial Canadian involvement in a new round of United Nations peacekeeping and the first deployment of a CF-18 'rapid reinforcement' squadron to the Federal Republic of Germany). Also outlined during the year were a series of initiatives, including a much-needed Northern Training Centre, designed to enhance Canadian sovereignty and security in the Arctic. Further attention also was directed to the long-neglected subject of defence industrial preparedness.
In a similar vein, 1988 witnessed what may well be a one-year record for reorganizations, realignments, takeovers and plant openings within the Canadian defence industry. Particularly noteworthy were the acquisition of Leigh Instruments by British-based Plessey, the acquisition of Singer's Link Simulation and Training Systems Division by CAE Industries of Toronto and the acquisition of Cincinnati Electronics by Canadian Marconi Company. In terms of exports, it was clearly the 'Year of the Airbus', with major subcontracts for the A330/A340 family being logged by Dowty Canada and, in particular, the Canadair division of Bombardier. On other fronts, 1988 saw the first flight of an MBB BO 105 helicopter powered by Pratt and Whitney Canada's promising PW200 turboshaft, the first flights of both the civil and military Turbo-Tracker (by Conair and IMP, respectively), the delivery of the 100th helicopter (a 206L LongRanger III) produced by Bell Helicopter Textron at its Mirabel plant, the roll-out of the first production ADATS fire unit by Oerlikon Aerospace of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, and the delivery of the 844th and final de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter.
The international military-strategic and political environments were in a state of flux as well, with considerable progress on implementing the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) agreement of 1987, a new round of East-West 'summitry' and the announcement of unilateral defence cutbacks by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Such developments -- and progress on resolving a number of long-standing regional conflicts, usually with the assistance of United Nations peacekeepers -- did not mean, as some overly-optimistic observers suggested, that "peace was breaking out all over", but it did mean the continuation of the gradual warming trend in East-West relations and the apparent emergence of a somewhat more benign international environment.
At the same time, however, one could not escape the conclusion that 1988 was also somewhat anticlimactic -- partly because defence policy failed to emerge as an important (or even truly visible) issue in the federal election campaign and partly because the promised final decision on the 'country-of-origin' for Canada's nuclear-propelled submarine (SSN) fleet was not forthcoming.
In the weeks and months leading up to the November 21 election, it was widely assumed and confidently predicted -- by observers both within and outside government -- that defence policy would play an electoral role not seen since the BOMARC and nuclear weapons-scarred elections of the early 1960s. Such was not the case. In the 1988 election, the Free Trade debate drowned out virtually every other issue, with the result that defence -- and many other important issues -- were relegated to mere footnote status. Indeed, defence was for the most part less visible than during the 1984 election campaign -- which, from a defence viewpoint, was dominated by multi-party pledges of support for CFB Chatham, New Brunswick, and by Liberal and Progressive Conservative feuding over the cost of reintroducing distinctive uniforms for the army, navy and air force. In retrospect the dominance of the Free Trade issue was neither surprising or inappropriate but, with major differences between the three federal parties on defence policy, the country was not well-served by the absence of a meaningful debate on defence matters.
The low visibility of defence, which at times left the impression that the Liberals, the New Democrats and the Progressive Conservatives had signed some sort of non-aggression pact on the subject, also may have been influenced by the presence of potentially inflammable, and in some cases inconsistent, elements in their defence planks. As an earlier edition of The Wednesday Report noted, it was consequently difficult for the parties to publicize the potentially marketable or attractive aspects of their defence policies without risking powerful political (and other) counterattacks on the more vulnerable aspects of those policies. The New Democrats, for example, could have played up the sovereignty-enhancing features of their defence policy but, given that most Canadians still support membership in NATO, would have been extremely vulnerable to Liberal and Progressive Conservative sniping. The NDP's attempt to soften its long-standing pledge to withdraw from NATO -- by saying that it would not do so until a second term -- could have been played up too, but such a tactic probably wouldn't have produced many converts and, by drawing attention to the change, would have risked renewed internal strife within the party.
The Progressive Conservatives could justifiably have taken credit for producing the first white paper in almost a generation (itself an interesting comment on the Canadian public's interest in defence matters) and for so explicitly acknowledging the commitment-capability gap, but systematically 'playing up' defence would have invited fierce Liberal, NDP and peace movement attacks on the SSN programme. The Liberals, too, were vulnerable on defence. Although their anti-SSN position was eminently marketable in some quarters, the party was vulnerable to charges that a pro-NATO, anti-cruise missile testing stance was inconsistent (and the subject of internal disagreements), and to accusations that its naval policy (i.e. how it would rebuild the navy in the absence of SSNs) was decidedly murky.
By far the greatest let-down for the Canadian defence establishment and the Canadian defence industry, however, was the absence of a cabinet decision on the 'country-of-origin' for the SSN programme. As readers of The Wednesday Report are well aware, the decision is now the better part of a year behind schedule and unlikely to be rendered before the end of February at the earliest. The reasons for the slippage are complex and vary depending on the source, but are variously ascribed to political 'cold feet' (indeed, some peace groups are now claiming that "adverse" public opinion on the proposed acquisition has administered the coup de grace to the entire project), cabinet dissension over the cost, continuing American intransigence over certain technology transfer issues (which have made life very interesting for the British), the Mulroney government's need to grapple with more pressing matters (most notably the Free Trade Agreement) and last, but certainly not least, the complexities inherent in evaluating weapon systems and technologies with which Canada has virtually no prior experience.
If a final decision between the British and French contenders can be reached by the close of February, the damage done in terms of delaying naval modernization, delaying the industrial start-up and tarnishing Canada's international credibility will still be manageable. Significant delays beyond that point would be decidedly risky, however, and would call into question the centrepiece of the 1987 white paper, the Mulroney government's commitment to a genuine three-ocean navy and the credibility of Canadian pronouncements on defence procurement. More to the point, what would replace CASAP-SSN if it were to be cancelled? How soon would alternative naval and naval air procurement strategies be put into place? At this juncture virtually all indicators suggest that the Mulroney government will move forward with the SSN programme, but it should be noted that Canada is fast-approaching the point where a decision to pursue alternate naval modernization strategies would be preferable to continued delays in reaching a decision on SSNs. Irrespective of whether one favours SSNs or some other approach, time is of the essence.
It is clear, as well, that a decision to pursue the SSN option will have to be accompanied by a renewed effort to blunt some serious -- and continuing -- public misconceptions about CASAP-SSN. These include the mistaken belief that the raison d'etre of the SSN fleet will be the checking of passports, largely American passports, at the entrance to the Northwest Passage. The three-ocean rationale for SSNs and their relevance to Canada's traditional naval missions need to be restated. Also required is a reminder that the navy gave up SRP III (Ship Replacement Programme Phase III), CASAP (in its conventionally-powered form) and part of the NSA (New Shipborne Aircraft) programme to help pay for the SSNs. The government also needs to deal in a forthright manner with the cost and arms control reservations, some of them quite legitimate, which have been expressed in certain quarters. If the SSN debate enters a second phase next month, let us hope that it rises above the sort of misleading hyperbole spouted by some of the organizations affiliated with the Canadian Peace Pledge Campaign. Debate is healthy, indeed essential, in a democracy, but newspaper ads that suggest that "Canada's finger is on a nuclear trigger" and warn that a Canadian SSN "could start a nuclear holocaust" if it "were to accidentally or purposefully attack a Soviet...submarine" are not helpful.
Undoubtedly more satisfying for the Mulroney government were a number of SSN endorsements from the defence-academic community (which was, and in some respects still is, uncertain about SSNs) and the general media. Underscoring the latter were a number of pro-SSN editorials from the Globe and Mail, which noted that nuclear propulsion allowed "subs to be subs." Underscoring the former was the testimony of Professor Rod Byers before the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence (SCOND). Now a Senior Fellow at York University's Centre for International and Strategic Studies -- and arguably Canada's foremost non-governmental strategic analyst -- Byers told the Committee that if one took account of both military-strategic and Arctic sovereignty considerations "within the context of Canada's maritime strategy, with the primary purpose of sea control, sea denial, and the requirements of the 21st century, then the rationale for SSNs...becomes quite compelling. SSNs would substantially increase Canada's capabilities to operate independently within a task force concept. Diesel-electric submarines would not be as effective for this type of role. In fact, I might even suggest that if we are going part of the way down this route of really having a maritime strategy for Canada then I wonder -- and I have grave doubts -- whether or not the acquisition of diesel-electric submarines would serve that function at all. You are probably in a situation where the diesel-electric capability would have to be exclusively placed within a NATO context and probably would not be able to relate to the requirements of independent task force structures and capabilities." Byers concluded with the observation that "if we have a Canadian maritime strategy, if it is explicit, and if independent naval assets are deemed important for the 21st century, then SSNs would be an important force structure requirement."
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