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Pole: Ottawa Perspective-Sept/Oct 05

A lot of Canadian Forces’ air power, with the notable exception of some helicopter fleets, is getting long in the tooth.


September 28, 2007
By Ken Pole

Armies need aircraft, both fixed-wing and rotary, not only to deliver
them to theatres of operation but also, by providing air cover, to do
their job on the ground.

A
lot of Canadian Forces' air power, with the notable exception of some
helicopter fleets, is getting long in the tooth. That includes,
notwithstanding various upgrades, the C-130 Hercules transports, the
CF-18 Hornet fighters and other fixed-wing assets.

I recently
had a chance to put questions to Gen Rick Hillier, Chief of the Defence
Staff since February. I noted that there have been suggestions that
budget 2006 will be tight and that departments should be careful about
their spending. What were the implications for the CF-18’s successor,
most likely the Joint Strike Fighter, and for other operational
requirements such as strategic airlift?

“I’m concerned about all
the big programs,” Hillier replied. “They’re all (a) difficult to
prosecute and (b) expensive, without question.” His perspective from
last February’s budget, especially its five-year funding profile for
DND, is that “we’re going to need every cent” to transform the military
into the kind of force to meet domestic and international commitments.
“As we walk through the next 12 to 18 months or so here, the detail
that we get to in what we are and what capabilities we have will allow
us to determine whether that’s enough funding – but I would tell you
it’s the base.”

Gen. Walt Natynczyk, tasked with overseeing the
Canadian Forces transformation, pointed out later that DND is subject
to the “checks and balances” applicable to all departments. That said,
DND needed to be responsive to the demands placed on it. “It’s just
going to take some time to figure out the processes, more time from
flash to bang, so to speak, from the time we identify that there’s a
requirement to the time we put it in the hands of those who require it.”

Hillier
added that “there’s got to be a better balance between a pedantic
process that takes forever and getting the capability in somebody’s
hands” while spending public funds responsibly. “There’s got to be a
better balance. We can find it.”

Meanwhile, a key part of DND’s
transformation is the creation of a Special Operations Group (SOG)
built around the elite Joint Task Force 2. “This is where the high
demand is right now,” Hillier said, explaining that it requres special
skillsets of the kind critical to successful operations in such
hotspots as Afghanistan. The SOG, he continued, will involve an
“aviation piece” in addition to maritime, reconnaissance and light
infantry pieces.

But what about getting the SOG and other assets
to overseas theatres of operation? Hillier said he wants to “reinforce”
the CC130 Hercules tactical transport capacity. That doesn’t
necessarily mean new aircraft; DND might continue to charter heavy lift
aircraft as necessary. “Every force in the world does that,” he said.
“How much can I assure the Canadian Forces and the government … that
we can meet our commitments by leasing and a combination of that and
the C130s and our Airbuses and those things is what I’ve got to walk
through now to get to the comfort level…. It’s been discussed a lot
outside of the department, but the actual details of what we want to
do, we’ve not come forward to our minister with yet.”

But there
was no avoiding the need to “shore up” the C130 fleet, most of which
has been around for a long time, including the 42-year-old Herc that
transported Hillier into Afghanistan earlier this year. “It had
three-and-a-half years in the air flying time!” He agreed the CF needs
the Hercs’ “huge flexibility” of long range, heavy lift and short
takeoff and landing capacity. “We’re going to have to put some
investment in that … and meanwhile we’re going to be carrying on
leasing.”

That should be no surprise. Earlier this year, Hillier
told a Conference of Defence Associations seminar that new airlift
capacity is not a priority. “I come from the school that if there is
any way we can assure ourselves of the lift and responsiveness that we
need without owning it, then that’s the route I would recommend.”

It
may not be what some in DND or the aircraft industry want to hear, but
Hillier at least doesn’t equivocate. He makes – nor should he – no
apologies for being blunt-spoken. It’s a refreshing rarity in today’s
politically correct world. His widely-reported characterization of
terrorists as “detestable murderers and scumbags” ruffled some
politicians here but thankfully not those who count, such as his
immediate boss, Defence Minister Bill Graham, or Prime Minister Paul
Martin.


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