Comment and Articles

As an advocate of discussion and debate of Canadian defence and foreign policy, RUSI Vancouver will share opinions and observations from academia, the media, and respected historians. The result is the new ‘Comment’ category that will provide this service to our members.

For now, the new category is not available for feedback to the website on published topics.

CF-18 Replacement

By Keith Maxwell, OMM, CD
Colonel (Retired)

The recent government announcement for replacing the CF-18 represents petty politics and deflection of responsibility at its worst; it is not based on best military advice and is, at least in part, driven by a chronic underfunding of the Canadian military going back decades. I fear it will end up being as bad as the Sea King replacement – another military aircraft procurement fiasco brought to its knees by political interference and an ill-considered election promise. History doesn’t repeat itself but it certainly rhymes well.

The government could have held a full and open competition to replace the CF-18 starting today and be on contract in 30 months with delivery in 2021. The requirements document forming the basis for that process should have come from the Air Requirements staff at NDHQ based on national strategic guidance. They’ve had such a document for years and have updated it regularly; it is comprehensive, thorough and well developed by the people who are the true experts on the subject. But I suspect the current government doesn’t like the requirements as currently defined by the RCAF because they point directly toward the F-35 as the only option that meets the requirements. Why? Because 4th generation fighters will not be survivable in contested airspace within 10 – 15 years when Russian and Chinese 5th generation fighters and surface-to-air missile systems of similar technology come into operational use by opposing forces in areas where Canadian forces may need to deploy.

I watched the transition from 3rd generation to 4th generation fighters first hand. The first time I controlled an F-15 in 1978 (flying out of Bagotville for an exercise) I knew the world of tactical air operations had changed radically. Canada started delivery of the CF-18 in 1982 and it was superb. That’s almost 35 years ago. By the time we got to the late 1980s 3rd generations fighters were obsolete and those remaining in the NATO inventory were assigned to peripheral roles and locations. The difference between 4th and 5th generation fighters is even greater. The kill ratio in operational test conditions for the F-35 against an array of 4th generation fighters can’t actually be computed – you can’t divide by zero. A 5th generation fighter will kill a 4th generation fighter – or any other aircraft – long before that other aircraft knows the 5th generation fighter is present. It’s only present in a very general sense anyway, given the range of air-to-air weapons it carries.

5th generation fighters will dominate the air-to-ground domain as well. They can deliver munitions of amazing accuracy without being detected and don’t require an expensive array of air defence suppression support aircraft. No 4th generation fighter can do that – they are vulnerable throughout their mission profile.

There is a plethora of rumours and popular media reports about F-35 development difficulties. I remember reading similar reports about the F-15 when it was in development. Leading edge technology is difficult to field. However, anyone who doesn’t believe that the USAF and USN can evolve the F-35 into the finest multi-role fighter in the world doesn’t understand the process or the US military. The F-35 is at Initial Operation Capability (IOC) now and will be reach the critical milestone of Full Operational Capability (FOC) before Canada could ever get its hands on one. The USAF and USN don’t have a plan B and they will make the F-35 work and work well. Single engine is not a disadvantage, given modern engine reliability; the USN has no concerns flying on a single engine over vast ocean areas with no alternate recovery options. The RCAF feels the same way about flying the aircraft over vast unpopulated areas in norther Canada. It is notable that the F-35 has similar a range capability to the F-18E Super Hornet with a better combat radius and is capable of in-air refuelling.

It is regrettable that Canada will be out of step with our NATO allies. It is ironic that a large number of them are procuring the F-35 and will repeat the success of the NATO F-16 program as we sit on the sidelines watching. We’ll be stuck with a lower performance, less survivable fighter that won’t be capable of main force operations in conflict. I am sceptical that our government will correct that as they go through an unnecessarily long, politically protracted process to arrive at a “final decision.” I suspect they will use the time to try to politicize the requirements documents to meet with the ill- informed opinions held by too many of our politicians. We’ve entered and era where those in authority seem to prefer getting their advice from amateurs and Grumpy Harry down at the coffee shop rather than those with the expertise to provide sound guidance. We will suffer from that trend.

The decision to make an interim purchase was, I am sure, motivated by some very unsavoury political factors. In the run-up to the last election the government rashly and foolishly promised to hold a full and open competition for the CF-18 replacement - then said the F-35 would be barred from competing. That was truly an irrational promise made for purely partisan reasons. There’s little doubt that the promise came from uninformed advisors motivated by politics rather than national security considerations. It was a regrettable and unfortunate election promise but the government is struck with it. So it seems the “strategy” is to buy an interim, rag the puck until the current mandate runs out in 2019, and then see which way the wind is blowing. Meanwhile the RCAF will get a very small number of good aircraft for today and yesterday but not for the future. We will spend too much money delivering a restricted capability that will have a “best before” date that will expires far too soon after purchase. I have little faith that it will be followed by a rational, forward looking decision for a long term replacement for the CF-18. Interim solutions have a way of becoming the long term solution when Canada’s entire defence capability is so badly neglected.

At a fundamental level, Canada is a shirker and freeloader when it comes to defence. We will spend less than 1% of GDP on defence in the current fiscal year – the lowest figure since 1938. The NATO goal – agreed by all member Nations including Canada - is 2%. We’re not even half way there. Politicians try to deflect that figure in a number of ways to avoid scrutiny, but the figures are derived from the NATO economics staff and are very accurate. And contrary to the standard deflection by politicians when confronted with these uncomfortable facts, NATO does compare like to like. Underspending on defence has been going on for a long time and the blame for that can be spread widely. It is a great pity that countries like Australia, Israel, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands – amongst many others – have found a political consensus to procure and operate a modern 5th generation fighter force and Canada seems unable to do that.

Shirking our responsibilities in NATO has become a habit for Canada and it has consequences. It damages our reputation and it undermines the credibility of our commitment to come to the defence of our NATO allies if they are attacked. At home, it signals a lack of resolve to the US, who take the defence of North America more seriously that we seem to. You don’t buy credibility and influence in the sphere of international security with stern words, a firm handshake and a nice photo-op. You do it by commitment and resolve. And that means financial investment and removal of crass political considerations from shaping the Canadian Forces of the future.

Joining the Canadian Army Militia in 1968, Colonel (Ret’d) Keith Maxwell subsequently served as an armoured crewman, infantryman, infantry officer and later, air weapons control officer, for more than 30 years. He spent most of his career in tactical air operations and related duties including tactics development, requirements and technology procurement.

Col Maxwell served outside Canada for 27 years, including 11 years in NORAD and 16 years in NATO. During that time, he was assigned to several multinational air command and control facilities and headquarters and served as an AWACS Mission Commander and Air Battle Commander for seven years.

Col Maxwell has a History degree from the University of Manitoba and is a graduate of the Canadian Forces Staff School, the US Air Force Air War College and the Canadian Forces Senior Defence and Security Studies Program. He was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Military Merit (OMM) in 1989 while serving at Alaskan NORAD Region. Col Maxwell is Vice-president of RUSI Vancouver.


VANCOUVER, who was participating in a multi-national exercise just North of Auckland, New Zealand is now transiting south in consort with American, New Zealand and Australian ships. A series of powerful earthquakes jolted the South Island on the 13th, triggering a tsunami and sending aftershocks across the country. In total more than 860 aftershocks have hit the region some measuring up to 5.3.


VANCOUVER expects to assist the New Zealand Task Force in Kaikoura, a popular town for whalewatching about 100 miles northeast of Christchurch and near the epicentre, has been completely cut off by massive landslides onto the Pacific Coastal Highway. PM John Key said the top priority was to provide desperatelyneeded supplies to Kaikoura, as there’s an estimated 1,200 tourists and 2000 locals requiring assistance.

VANCOUVER, the jewel of the west coast fleet and ready duty ship has been tasked with providing humanitarian assistance, however specific tasks are unknown at this time.

As VANCOUVER makes preparations to assist in a disaster zone and focuses on supporting New Zealand people in need, we intend to use a multitude of media to update friends and families as to our tasks, activities and timelines.

This Week in History: 1915-2016 A lost relic from the First World War turns up

By John Mackie

Published on: November 18, 2016


British Columbia Regiment unofficial historian Colonel (ret.) Keith Maxwell with a M1895 Colt-Browning .303-calibre machine gun at the Beatty Street armoury in Vancouver. (Jason Payne / PNG)

When the First World War broke out in 1914, the Canadian army didn’t have enough machine guns to outfit the troops heading overseas. So Canadians started raising funds to buy some.

As the new government considers Canada’s defence in a challenging world, there are many topics to address. While others will focus on threats, I think one way to organize the discussion is to focus on what the money is spent on—equipment, operations and personnel. The media and the parliament tend to focus almost entirely on the procurement of equipment. I might guess that much of the discussion at the various roundtables will be centred on that as well, so I will focus elsewhere—on operations and on personnel. My points will be simple ones—that NATO drives Canadian operations, that readiness is often overlooked, and that the size of the CAF is something that needs to be considered.

“From one end of the empire to the other the call has gone out for ordinance and ammunition,” the Vancouver World reported on July 7, 1915. “In the last 48 hours in Vancouver, private liberality has provided for 26 machine guns to supplement the equipment of local regiments.”

The 26 machine guns had been purchased for $1,000 each by organizations like the Vancouver Club and wealthy individuals like B.T. Rogers of B.C. Sugar.

Still, the World noted that “hundreds who are unable to give $1,000 for the purchase of a gun would be glad to give from $1 to $100 to a common fund.” So it launched one, in the name of poet Pauline Johnson.

Johnson was one of Canada’s most famous literary figures in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The daughter of a Mohawk chief and his English wife, she was born on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ont., and had moved to Vancouver in 1909.

She died of breast cancer on March 7, 1913. Two years later, her sister Evelyn wrote the World offering $217.17 from Johnson’s estate for some civic use.

The World decided to use the money on a machine gun.

“It would have appealed with great force, we know, to the patriotic and Imperial soul of Pauline Johnson, and nothing would have pleased her more than she had done something for her country’s defence,” said the World.

World readers rallied to raise money.

“Little children walked many blocks to school for days and saved their car fare to swell the fund,” the World reported in 1920. “Concerts were held in backyards by the little tots and there were dozens of miniature flower marts where the pennies were gathered by the kiddies.”

The paper quickly raised $1,042.80 and sent a bank draft overseas to Col. C.S. Tobin of the 29th Battalion, a Vancouver unit known as “Tobin’s Tigers.”

Tobin wrote World publisher John Nelson that he had purchased a gun in New York for $1,750 (“the price asked for quick shipment”), and would have Johnson’s Mohawk name, Tekahionwake, engraved on it.

June 10, 1915 story in the Vancouver World about
Pauline Johnson’s sister donating money from
Johnson’s estate for some civic use in Vancouver. (PNG)

The machine gun saw its first action in Kemmel, Belgium in Jan., 1916, and was also used at Ypres. On July 6, 1920 it came back to Vancouver, where it was put on display in the window of the World offices at 445 West Hastings.

In 1924, The Vancouver Sun purchased the World, taking its subscribers and folding the paper. And the machine gun disappeared.

Pauline Johnson fans have searched for it for over nine decades. This week, it turned up at the Beatty Street Drill Hall, where it had been hiding in plain sight in a regimental museum.

Local historian Jolene Cumming discovered it when she arranged a tour of the Drill Hall.

“I wanted to see a plaque to my great-great uncle George McSpadden, which is downstairs,” said Cumming. “I contacted (retired Col.) Keith Maxwell, and he said sure, come down on Wednesday. I said, ‘I’m also looking for a machine gun’ and gave him the information, but he didn’t respond back, so I figured it wasn’t there. So I came to look at the plaque and he said, ‘(The machine gun) is here.’”

The Beatty Street Drill Hall was the home of the 29th Battalion, which is probably why the machine gun wound up there. But nobody seemed to realize the significance of the machine gun, because it was tucked away in a display case, with the identifying “Tekahionwake” inscription on the inside.

A group of local Johnson “enthusiasts/historians” went to see the gun this week. The M1895 Colt-Browning .303-calibre machine gun is in remarkable shape, probably because it became obsolete soon after it arrived in Europe.

“I suspect this gun didn’t see very much action at all,” said Maxwell. “I’m sure the last time it was shot would have been 1916. They replaced (the Colt-Browning) with the British Maxim machine gun, but somebody held onto it and brought it back.”

The First World War was rough on equipment, and very few M1895 Colt-Browning machine guns returned from overseas.

“They didn’t take many of these over: it’s a limited number,” said Maxwell. “A lot of those ended up broken and busted, dropped in trenches and lost. To have a surviving one is pretty significant.”

Especially when it’s a machine gun named after one of Canada’s most famous poets.

July 7, 1915 front page of the Vancouver World. (PNG)

July 14, 1915 story in Vancouver World about the World’s campaign to raise money for a machine gun for Vancouver’s 29th Battalion in the First World War. (PNG)

July 6, 1920 story in the Vancouver World on the return of the Tekahionwake machine gun to Vancouver. (PNG)


World War I from the journal of Captain Fred G. Coxen RFA (Royal Field Artillery)

From the PREFACE:

"My purpose for writing this book was to honor my grandfather by telling his story. In addition I wanted to impart to the reader the experiences, as well as the conditions of war, and what it was like trying to survive each day.

"The story is based on the World War 1 journal written by Captain Frederick G. Coxen, who served in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and the Royal Air Force (RAF) from 1905 to 1919."

Download the entire book (158 pages) HERE.


RUSI Vancouver members gather for lunch on Wednesdays at 12:00 Noon at the Officers' Mess of the 15th Field Regiment (RCA) located in the Bessborough Armouries, 2013 West 11th Avenue, Vancouver, BC.