Vincent J. Curtis
A decade ago, NATO alliance members, Canada included, pledged to spend two per cent of the country’s gross domestic product on defence. Only the UK and USA have consistently met that goal. President Donald J. Trump has said that, unless other NATO members start pulling their weight in respect of defence spending, the United States may not come to the defence of an attacked NATO country that failed to pull its weight.
It does Canada no good to pull out of NATO as a means of avoiding U.S. pressure to spend more money on defence. In the first place, Canada cannot pull out of NORAD, which is a bilateral continental defence alliance with the United States. In the second, the purpose of a defensive alliance is to reduce defence spending across the board. Leaving NATO would require Canada to look after all its defence needs outside of NORAD, such as sovereignty in Arctic waters. Departure would entail an increase of defence spending anyhow.
Canada simply needs to put on its big-boy pants and start acting like the important nation she has become. Canada’s contribution to world peace will come about partially by becoming militarily stronger. Defence spending is cheap insurance, and if it keeps Trump off our backs in respect of trade, then it will be doubly worth the money.
The difference between what Canada spends annually on defence and two per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) is roughly $20-billion. Over the four years of a Trump administration, Canada needs to find a home for $80-billion in defence dollars. These are not hard to find.
The Royal Canadian Navy needs to be completely recapitalized, and $40-billion could easily be spent on that. Canada should be aiming for a 25-ship surface combatant fleet consisting principally of frigates; a couple of battlecruisers (or missile cruisers if a battle-cruiser seems too warlike), supply ships and icebreakers for the far north would round out a blue water navy. Beneath the waves, the four submarines of the Lemon class — I mean the Victoria class — could also absorb a few billion to get them finally operational.
That leaves $35- to $40-billion to spend on capital equipment for the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Army in years three and four. Placing an order now for 120 to 150 F-35s would absorb the best part of $20-billion, and the purchasing war stocks of expendables and capital upgrades of bases would consume the rest of year three’s capital expenditure.
In year four, it would be the turn of the Army. What capital upgrades could the Canadian Army use? Let’s start with rifle sights. New, digital rifle sights would enable Recruit Bloggins to hit small targets out to a thousand meters with 90 per cent plus probability of a hit with minimum training. The system, called Tracking Point PGF, is presently being sold already mounted on rifles and is expensive, but a precision marksman per section should have one immediately. As the system matures it will be affordable to replace Elcan sights with them.
Compared with other armies, Canada’s army is utterly deficient in rotary aviation. And I don’t just mean AH-64E Apache Guardian helicopters — you know, the ones that can kill tanks from multiple kilometres away, and terrorists as well? I mean drones that kids across the street play with. How hard can it be to equip ground units — infantry, armour, and especially artillery — with small drones that enable spotters to find the enemy at great distances and quickly without exposing themselves? Even body cameras can be acquired and used to look around corners to provide a picture of what’s waiting for the lead man.
Canada has a terrific facility in its Mechanized Training Centre at CFB Wainwright. The army has also employed SAT (small arms training) ranges as a means of simulating combat for soldiers. What about virtual reality? How hard can it be to equip a company or a battalion or even the entire reserve system with virtual reality trainers as successors to the now old and mostly non-functioning SAT trainers?
The tactical ground communications system is centred on the Tactical Command and Control Communications System (TCCCS), a radio system that was essentially obsolete the moment it was fielded. Cell phones in urban areas provided parallel lines of communications for guerrilla forces, whereas the TCCCS allows only one channel of communication, to be used serially. Given all the new cell phone and satellite technology, surely some communication system can be developed that empowers every soldier on the battlefield to communicate with any other soldier other than by shouting. The aural system by which the soldier receives tactical instructions from his commander can be one of those that not only amplifies quiet sounds around him but also electronically dampens sounds above 85 decibels, protecting the soldier’s natural hearing.
We are deficient beyond imagining in artillery as compared with Russia and the United States. Realistically, we could triple the number of M777 guns in inventory and still be below our proportionate needs.
These ideas barely scratch the surface, and none of them involve increasing the operating costs of the CAF over the four years. All of these expenditures are capital. To that extent they are temporary. Expansion of the operating cost of the CAF, if necessary, can await a second Trump term.