Logjams and logistical challenges

On Tuesday, 19 January, Murray Brewster of the Canadian Press filed a report that described the logistical problems confronting the Canadian Forces as they ramped up for Operation Hestia. Quoting Lt.-Col. Chris LeMay of Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, Brewster reported: “In comparison to peacekeeping deployments in Bosnia and even the war in Afghanistan, the Haiti mission has unfolded with uncharacteristic speed.”  Even though the full extent of the disaster was not then apparent, the need for speed was driven by the obvious suffering and risk for further human loss.  LeMay also said “the army needs to be concerned about sustaining the force once it’s in the field, and that also takes planning.”

Brewster’s article reported “The operation started as military planners in Ottawa struggled with what Defence Minister Peter MacKay described as “logjams and logistical challenges.” The biggest logistical issue to overcome is getting up to 60 vehicles ashore with ports in the island nation wrecked.” The article indicated that a transport ship was due to dock in Quebec City on Thursday, 21 January, to load the vehicles. Brewster noted: “Even when the vehicles arrive, the army has to figure out how to get them ashore. Unlike the U.S., British, French and Dutch, Canada does not have a landing ship.”

Alison Auld wrote a article entitled “Military rushed to Haiti unprepared, report says” in the Globe and Mail that the post mission report for Operation Hestia records a large number of problems with the air side of the operation: “The pace of getting into the country was so rushed and managed by so many organizations in Canada that members of the Disaster Assistance Response Team, or DART, landed without guns, ammunition and body armour. … The specialized, rapid response team lost control over what got flown into [Haiti]. … The push to deploy rapidly may have satisfied the strategic objective of appearance that Canada was doing something. … However, it adversely affected the operational objective of providing rapid and effective humanitarian aid.”  In an apparent contradiction, Auld reported a military spokesman said in an email that “overall, there was no effect on [the] operational success of Op Hestia” due to training deficiencies.

If the tactical success of the mission was not affected (getting there and just doing anything), then the operational effectiveness most assuredly was (achieving effects that contribute in a meaningful way to solving the problems).  Logistical challenges will always be the Achilles’ Heal of operations planning.  So long as the CF is satisfied with a making a ‘show of force’ rather than ‘generating effects’ they will remain in the lower ranks of military forces, crippled by their lack of mobility, volumetric capacity and staying power.  This will eventually cause great problems and bring about a loss of credibility with our major allies and with the public.  The government cannot be so blind as not to recognize that humanitarian assistance and disaster relief missions resonate with the Canadian public.  Sooner or later, the navy will be forced to accept that logistics is central to both the domestic and expeditionary capabilities of the navy.  It will be far better to recognize this now and begin planning for transformative change than have logistics thrust upon it by the government, probably at the expense of cherished tactical combat capabilities.