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.

The Defence Policy Review

A Positive but Minimal Effort

By Keith Maxwell, OMM, CD Colonel (retired)

Vice-President, RUSI Vancouver

I will start with the bottom line – the Defence Policy Review (DPR) goes in the right direction with many – even most – of the minimal requirements included for procurement, upgrade or enhancement for the Canadian Forces. But it’s a minimal effort given the state of the world and alliance politics right now. It’s the least the government can undertake without further damaging our reputation with our allies after freeloading so egregiously over the past four decades.

I am not concerned about the timelines or affordability. Under modern accounting methodologies the expenditures show up on the books with some delay as they are capability, not expenditure, oriented. The package is affordable by any measure – it will just take the political will to implement.

I am concerned about the need for cross party, non-partisan support for this initiative: here is where Canadians could look to our Australian friends to adopt a practical way forward. National defence is not a fruitful or helpful area for political bickering – the opposition should support this and recommend enhancements rather than use it as a political tool for the partisan fight. Given its past record, the party currently in power would be playing the same awful games if they were in opposition. There was once a time when there was a broad consensus and significant cooperation around national defence in Canada. Our political establishment needs to grow up and take a mature approach to defending our nation.

Our service women and men do a great job and the CF stands up to pretty much every commitment we undertake to our allies and friends in peacetime and in crisis. Where we fall is in providing a sustained and credible contribution to conventional force deterrence. While deterrence is, perhaps, the least visible role of an alliance, it is also the most important. Force structure, numbers, sustainability, depth, able to deploy and the timely fielding of the ever-important technological advantage are the areas where we have gone astray.

The DPR will put us about half way between our current woeful contribution to alliance and global security, and what we should be spending on defence to give us a well-rounded, robust and sustainable force.

In concrete terms, what’s missing?

It is true, 88 fighters are better than 65, but not enough. We should be buying about the same numbers as Australia – 120 would be a good figure. While 88 fighters would satisfy our current NORAD and NATO commitments, those commitments represent the minimal effort status quo we’ve maintained for way too long. It’s time for Canada to start pulling its weight.

The government is still playing political games with the CF-18 replacement. As so many allies have discovered, there is no reasonable alternative to the F-35. Most of NATO is going there and more will follow. The next to join the procurement is likely to be Germany. If we buy a fourth generation fighter – even the most technologically advanced one - we will become a second class air force unable to operate in contested airspace. Our contribution to deterrence in this area will be diminished irreparably. The difference between fourth and fifth generation is even greater than that it was between third and fourth generation. Those of us who lived through that process saw the entire fighter inventory become obsolescent in a matter of a very few years. It would be unfortunate indeed if the RCAF were to become a marginally effective tactical air force because of an ill-advised election promise made by a group of poorly informed politicians gearing up for a partisan fight. All of the expert military advice to the government has been to procure the F-35 and it will win any free and open competitive bid, provided the requirements are not skewed by politics.

There has been much criticism of the F-35 in the media – it is the most sophisticated weapon system in the world and has had growing pains – that’s not unusual. The USAF has now declared the system operational; if anyone thinks that the F-35 will not emerge in the end as the best combat aircraft in the world, they don’t understand the US Defence Department or the USAF and USN. They will make this work and work well. Cost has also been in the press. In fact, the fly-away cost per aircraft for the F-35 is only slightly higher than for the most modern F-18E Super Hornet. That modest increase in cost would buy Canada an enormous increase in capability. Again, it is time to pack up the politics and get on with equipping the Canadian Forces for success.

Maintaining a fleet of 15 major surface combatant warships is the minimum for a viable blue-water navy. It is important that the government resist budgetary pressures to lower that number. Over the past quarter century, the Royal Canadian Navy has supported operational commitments around the world. Moreover, we are a maritime nation reliant on maritime access and control. This is an important core capability for Canada.

Keeping our four Victoria class submarines is good, but a very minimal effort. We need a fleet double that size to provide a realistic contribution in two oceans. The fleet should be expanded with a replacement program before the current submarines come to the end of their design life.

There is no hint of armed helicopters in the review; that is a significant omission and capability gap. It is particularly important to have them for escort and protection of helicopters transporting troops into uncertain and opposed terrain. They are also critical for combat search and rescue. We have no capability in that area now. We had to rely on allies to provide armed escort in Afghanistan; it should be a core capability in the CF. Armed helicopters are not particularly expensive and are a great added value for air mobile operations, particularly in low intensity conflict. And low intensity operations, like we are now carrying out in Iraq, are the future.

Our Griffon helicopters need replacing and that is not a specific item in the review, though it may be covered by “other upgrades and replacements.” We need more, and more capable rotary wing airlift at that level. The Griffon was under-specified and was a compromise system in the first place. We need a mixed fleet of medium and heavy airlift helicopters in larger numbers and with more capability than we have now.

The government has, once again, backed away from Ballistic Missile Defence. This is a position of weakness and it is hypocritical – Canada is already party to NATO area missile defence in Europe – why not North America? We should now be participating in North American missile defence in cooperation with the US. If that were to happen the mission would switch from a US unilateral command structure to NORAD. Canadians would then have influence and make a significant contribution in this aspect of continental defence. Given the madness of North Korea and other emerging intercontinental threats, missile defence is a crucial mission in which we must participate. The Americans would be very happy to have us. Canada has much to offer in this regard – particularly geography. Our prime contributions would likely be manpower in a number of locations around the continent and installation of a missile warning radar site in eastern Canada – probably in Labrador. It’s the ideal location to deploy such a capability and would fill a gap in coverage. Unfortunately, the government has, once again, bowed to uninformed and dogmatic political correctness by those who are naive enough to believe that defence of the homeland is somehow a provocation.

Canada made a very big mistake six years ago when the Harper government decided to withdraw from the NATO Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) program as a "cost saving" measure. Canada had been the third largest contributor to the program and immediately lost all influence in the area of alliance air command and control. AWACS is now the key to the air deterrence operations in the Baltic and the Romanian area. It was a very bad mistake that needs to be corrected. The DPR should have included a pathway to re-enter the NATO program and partake in the upgrade/replacement program just getting underway.

Alternately, Canada should consider a stand-alone AWACS capability, similar to the capabilities of Australia, the UK or France. Other nations have the capability as well, and many of those nations are much smaller than Canada with a more narrow air surveillance focus. There are a number of good systems on the market that are much less expensive than the older systems. It would make a great contribution to both NORAD and NATO and would give Canada an independent air surveillance capability for the northern and coastal approaches to Canada.

All of these deficiencies could easily be accommodated if Canada were to increase the funding commitment to 1.8 or 1.9 percent of GDP. Instead we are making the smallest increase we can get away with internationally without further degrading our not-so-pristine record on collective defence.

We could do better – in fact, Canadians deserve much better.

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.


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.