Seaborne & sea based expeditionary capability

We are indebted to Robin Allan for his timely article on international landing craft developments in the current issue of the NOAVI Lead and Line. Herewith are some related observations on the now grim outlook for Canada's ability to respond to security and humanitarian needs at the speed and scale needed.

The demands will be overwhelmingly in littoral theatres at delivery locations, under conditions impractical for airlift and accessible only from the sea. Many of these areas will have little or no usable port facilities. Others may be devastated by a variety of natural, man made disasters and civil disorder, like those that recently struck Thailand and the far flung Indonesian island chain. They will require a scale and diversity of aid and ground forces delivered as a coherent whole by amphibious ships like our maritime NATO allies. Bluntly put, despite the best efforts of the CDS and the Minister, cabinet has declined to provide the relatively modest sum needed, even to borrow , lease or rent an initial ship to progress training given the glacial pace of procurement.

In a sad irony, amphibious capability as well as heavy airlift has been recognized as a fundamental need by Tory defence policy since the election campaign in June 2004. These are highly affordable ships at less than the program cost of merely one of our helicopter equipped Halifax-class frigates. Even gutsy little Holland has two highly efficient such ships, a country with the fraction of our wealth and national income. Yet, unbudgeted billions from surplus have been shoveled off the back of the turnip truck in what many voters see as a "buying of votes". For serving officers the voicing of such unpleasant realities and their implications will no doubt be seen as injurious to one's "professional health".

They have, however, been realistically but tactfully faced by the CDS with some hope for a pre-2010 Winter Olympics solution in his Canforgen 059/07 directive on April 07/07. In so doing, he has ensured the preservation and continuation of Canadian concept development for seaborne and sea based expeditionary and amphibious capability despite shutdown of the SCTF and its planned headquarters at Shearwater. This reaffirms an undiminished commitment to the absolutely fundamental verity long recognized by our NATO and Australian maritime allies - grunts cannot walk on water. Since the return of HMCS Magnificent to the Royal Navy and the scrapping of HMCS Bonaventure at mid-life in 1970, both highly versatile light carriers, we have had no independent and adequate means of deploying and supplying our forces except at very small scale using our fleet supply ships. All else has been by bumming a lift from our allies or highly unsatisfactory commercial air and marine charters. (Witness the humiliating, Keystone Kops fiasco of the MV GTS Katie affair).

We are at least fortunate in one respect as the "Tail end Charlie" of NATO in expeditionary development. We do not have to reinvent the wheel. The way ahead has been well marked for us by our British, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish allies, in addition to some 70 years of highly refined expertise in the unified forces of the US Navy and its Marine Corps, regular and reserves. The following extract of the CDS directive is therefore both instructive and encouraging:

The CF remains fully committed to the concept of integrated and unified forces and to the growing importance of the world littoral operating areas as they pertain to the future security environment, both domestically and abroad. The direction for IE CDE indicated here will ensure that the CF continues to shape itself for flexibility and relevance in the future security environment and, that they remain poised to seize the opportunity to transform concepts into new capabilities once the necessary balance of resources with priorities is achieved.

Though governments do not always follow the pre-election defence platforms of their parties, those of the Conservatives since the June 2004 campaign have clearly recognized the sovereign need for strategic as well as tactical mobility of forces by sea and air, including amphibious ships and heavy airlift. The latter at least is about to become a reality with delivery of the four C-17 Globemaster III transports, a superb STOL workhorse with a load capacity of 165,000 lbs, the equivalent of two of our old "Leopards".