The life of a CF-18 Pilot in the fight against the Islamic State

By Jason McNaught

Two CF-18 Hornet pilots make their way to the flight line to return to Canada from Trapani, Italy on November 2, 2011. The Canadian pilots flying sorties over Iraq as part of Operation IMPACT adhere to a strict routine, working on a 24-7 rotation. (Combat Camera).

Two CF-18 Hornet pilots make their way to the flight line to return to Canada from Trapani, Italy on November 2, 2011. The Canadian pilots flying sorties over Iraq as part of Operation IMPACT adhere to a strict routine, working on a 24-7 rotation. (Combat Camera).

On September 19, Canada received a direct request from the United States government for additional military support against the Islamic State, and by October 30 two CF-18 Hornets had conducted their first missions in support for MESF, the Middle East Stabilization Force.

As of March 14, Canada’s six CF-18s, based in Kuwait, have conducted 408 sorties, striking IS staging areas, fighting positions, ammunition caches and various pieces of equipment used to facilitate the militant group’s expansion throughout Iraq.

Our news is clogged with reports of the Islamic State’s latest atrocities, but little is known about the Canadian pilots that are now working to prevent them, or what life is like on the Kuwaiti base they’re currently working out of.

Esprit de Corps decided to find out. The following is our interview with a Canadian CF-18 pilot stationed in Kuwait. For security reasons, the identity of the pilot was not revealed.




EdeC: Do you provide your own security on the base?

RCAF Pilot: We brought some of our own personnel, but overall it is a coalition effort. We are a coalition base, so it is a joint protection effort between everybody.


EdeC: What are the accommodations like at Camp Vincent?

RCAF Pilot: There is a wide spectrum, actually. The camp where we are at was not originally built for the number of people that are currently here. There is a mixture of types of rooms. It’s organized by rank. The higher ranks have two to a room and we have several 10-person tents set up. They are quite nice as tents go, but they are tents — with bunk beds — because they have had to very quickly create a lot of extra housing space for coalition people that came into this location. We also have some temporary, portable buildings. There is air conditioning in all of them, thankfully.


EdeC: Who makes the food?

RCAF Pilot: Coalition effort. A lot of the stuff common to the base is coalition-run. There is a contractor. I personally don’t know the details of that.


EdeC: How is it?

RCAF Pilot: It’s pretty good. There’s a lot of it, which is nice. People are never lacking food if they are hungry. It’s not gourmet dining, but it’s fine.


EdeC: Do you have a gym?

A pilot prepares the cockpit of his CF-18 Hornet before his next mission during Operation IMPACT in Kuwait, on February 8, 2015. (Combat Camera).

A pilot prepares the cockpit of his CF-18 Hornet before his next mission during Operation IMPACT in Kuwait, on February 8, 2015. (Combat Camera).

RCAF Pilot: Yes. Again, it’s a coalition effort. There is a fairly nice gym, with a good selection of equipment. It’s slightly old and a little bit worn, but it’s a good size. There are people working 24-7 so it’s always busy. We also have a lot of other activities. For example, the base coalition has a pick-up ball hockey game and pick-up basketball game on a fairly regular basis. There is a lot of sand, so there are also a couple of beach volleyball courts...


EdeC: Do you get the chance to get off the base once in awhile?

RCAF Pilot: We are pretty isolated. We can’t just walk off the base and go somewhere, and we are also very busy. We don’t have the downtime where you typically have two days off and can go somewhere. There is also the question of resources. We don’t have enough vehicles where everyone could just take a car and go away for a day. The primary thing is that we are just working very hard. We are very busy and there is no local facilities around for us to go and visit.


EdeC: Is the camp dry?

RCAF Pilot: Yes it is.


EdeC: What is the R&R cycle like?

RCAF Pilot: Off the top of my head I am not sure of the exact length, but the people that I know who have been here, for example, for six months, they do get a vacation where they can go back home for two or three weeks … or go on vacation somewhere other than home if that is what they choose to do.


EdeC: Is it easy to stay in touch with friends and family back home?

RCAF Pilot: We do have fairly good connections back home. We have personal use internet, and a Canada house social building with Wifi. That helps a lot with keeping in touch back home. There are phones that people can use there, obviously. People can Skype or Facetime as well. That allows more regular and personal contact back home than in the past, which is very nice. It helps morale.




EdeC: How many sorties have you flown so far?

RCAF Pilot: I am early on in my rotation, so I have flown six missions so far. We rotate the pilots on a fairly regular basis, for reasons of proficiency, giving exposure to multiple pilots in theatre, and currency requirements. We have to do certain currency requirements with flying on a regular basis and we can’t do those in theatre, so we have to rotate back. We have to go home on a fairly regular basis to keep current on various things.


EdeC: Do you know when you’ll be flying?

RCAF Pilot: We generally know a few days in advance. We usually work about three to four days in advance, but stuff does change, and it can change on short notice. We have a rough idea, which gets solidified into a more concrete plan about 24hirs in advance. Our work typically starts on the day prior, when we get the tasking from command centres. After that, we start putting together our plan for the mission the next day. It takes about an hour of work to put together our mission materials: what we are going to take flying, our routing plan, how we are going to go where we are going, and who we are going to talk to when we get there. 


EdeC: Do you find that you are well prepared for your missions?

RCAF Pilot: Yes I do. Even before this campaign started, we were always training and working at the operational squadrons towards all kinds of different potential types of air operations. When the operation here started to spool up, we focused and narrowed our training to get ready for this type of mission. So I would say ‘Yes.’ We are very confident in the training and preparation that we have done prior to arriving here, and then all the work that we do as we arrive here, coming into theatre as pilots. We have in-briefings, we get briefings from previous pilots and handover information. The first mission that you fly, you have already gone through everything you are going to do on that mission. It’s not like it is brand new and you are taking off into the unknown. You have a fairly good idea about what’s going on, where you are going to be, and how you are going to be doing things. That’s the whole point of how we train as pilots in the Canadian Forces — so we come to an operational place like this and fly a mission like we do it back home. It just flows naturally from our training.


EdeC: What is a typical sortie look like?

RCAF Pilot: We typically fly about two to three times a week. It depends on the exact schedule. Depending on where we are going for the area of operations, it will take between an hour, maybe two hours, to get where we are going. Once we are there, we will be on station and conduct the mission we have been asked to, whether that is reconnaissance, monitoring friendly positions to support them, looking at potential suspicious activity or striking various targets. We will do that for anywhere between 2-4 hours over the area of operations, and then we will typically fly back home again depending on where we were. Usually this takes one to two hours or so flying back home.


EdeC: How often do you need to refuel in the air?

RCAF Pilot: A lot. There are a lot of coalition air-to-air refuelling assets from multiple countries, including our own. We do have the airbus here that refuels us and all the other coalition fighter aircraft. But it all comes down from the command centre, and it is very well orchestrated. We hit multiple tankers multiple times because we have to refuel several times for these six, seven, eight-hour missions. Then when we come back home and land, it’s another usually one to two hours of looking over our flight footage and debriefing. Overall, it’s a fairly busy day… and at the end of it you are quite tired.


EdeC: Our CF-18s are getting a lot of use over there. How is the maintenance handled?

RCAF Pilot: Our maintenance crews are working very hard, and doing an amazing job with the aircraft that we have here keeping enough serviceable that we are not missing any missions due to maintenance issues. We are flying missions, especially as a coalition, around the clock, so there are maintainers working on the aircraft, if required, 24-7. They have broken it down into shifts, same as the pilots.


EdeC: When you are flying over IS-held territory, can you get a sense of the level of destruction they have caused on the ground?

RCAF Pilot: A lot of the smaller villages, you can tell that there is not that much activity in them. I would imagine a lot of your average civilians have vacated the areas in a lot of these places that are contested. But of the larger centres, the larger towns and cities, there is still activity in them. I can’t really speak as to comparing it now like it was before — I wasn’t here — but areas that are contested, you will see damage, but it’s not like entire villages have been destroyed or wiped off the map or anything. Not like that.


EdeC: What kind of resistance could you face from the ground?

RCAF Pilot: There are some concerns, and they do have weaponry. The sophistication level varies; they are not a nation-state with its own defence system. We know what their systems are capable of, so we make sure that we fly our missions in an envelope of altitude where they are not effective.


EdeC: You would know as well as anyone that your job is not risk free. Did the Jordanian pilot’s death resonate amongst Canadian fighter pilots?

RCAF Pilot: We all knew before coming over here that is the nature of some of the operations that we are doing. Even if they were to shoot at us, we know how to react, how to defend, how to survive and get away so that we can come home and land at our home base. We are very confident in the system, in the training that we have had, and in the coalition efforts that would happen if that situation were to happen again.


EdeC: But… being burned alive? That must have elicited an emotional response…

RCAF Pilot: It was very shocking and it does demonstrate that ISIS is demonstratably evil. They are doing horrible things. It is something that we note and we are aware of, but we are very well prepared and we know the areas where they are and where they are not. That nature of our missions — of where we are going to be going, how we are going to be operating — that risk is mitigated and it’s not a concern for us where, and how, we are flying our missions.

Fear and Freedom: The premise for war

By Jason McNaught

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets are refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron on October 30, 2014, over Iraq. (Combat Camera).

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets are refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron on October 30, 2014, over Iraq. (Combat Camera).

Get the gun, Annie! The jihadists are at our doorstep again, waving their black flags and calling out the infidels.

During WWII, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt repeatedly argued that Americans needed to fight the Nazis “over there” before they came looking for a fight on their shores. Throughout the administration of George W. Bush, the U.S. president repeated this mantra, stating, “If we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here” and “if we leave [Iraq], they will follow us home.”

Not long ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper began using the same language to justify Canada’s response to the surge of the Islamic State across Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “When we recognize there is a threat like this that has to be done, and it involves our own interests, we do our part,” Harper said. “We do not stand on the sidelines and watch.”

And Canada had been watching; ISIS execution videos streamed through our social media feeds and churned our guts. ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani warned us that we “will not feel secure even in our bedrooms.” Another militant threatened, “We are coming [for you] and we will destroy you.”


Selfish Strategists

“Fighting them over there” isn’t really sound logic based on recent history. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya provide more than enough evidence to suggest that getting one’s hands dirty in another nation does not contribute to freedom and democracy. Rather, it works against those goals, eroding stability, increasing violence and strengthening anti-Western views.

Islamic militants have been around much longer than the war in Afghanistan or Iraq, and their preoccupation with hating the West is not a new concept. What evidence suggests our law enforcement and intelligence officials — who’ve done a good job at foiling terrorist plots on Canadian soil up to now — won’t be able to do so in the future?  

Canadians are shortsighted, selfish strategists. Just because Canada is a democratic nation, it doesn’t mean that every opinion in Canada is an informed one.

A NANOS poll conducted in October and November 2014 showed that the majority of Canadians supported sending Canadian fighter jets to participate in airstrikes in Iraq, but opposed the idea of having soldiers fight the Islamic State on the ground.

How many Canadians, when responding to that survey, would have been able to find Iraq on a map, let alone explain the various religious and ethnic divides within that country?

Using Canadian polling info to give yourself another mandate for war in the Middle East is a politically safe strategy, but is it responsible?  Do the majority of Canadian’s feel good about our participation in Libya? Better question: Do they care?


Inviting an unwanted guest

Although the West appears to be looking at the crisis in Iraq via the needs and wants of their own countries — and the misplaced fears of their own voters — it is true that Iraq formally requested assistance from the United States to help stem the advance of Islamic State Militants.

“Iraq has asked officially help from the United States of America,” stated Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari,  “…to help in directing air strikes and help on some vital targets of these groups to break their morale and to help the security forces in pushing away the danger of these groups and to start defeating them."

It would be easy to refute the argument against the self-serving nature of our mission in Iraq if it weren’t for the fact that their government didn’t want America’s help until the Islamic State was on Baghdad’s doorstep. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was quite clear about the American presence in Iraq following the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein: “Keeping Americans in Iraq longer isn't the answer to the problems of Iraq. It may be an answer to the problems of the U.S., but it's definitely not the solution to the problems of my country.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Iraq wants the West to take over this war in the name of Iraqi citizens. It doesn’t.

After the U.S. installed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2006, the virtually unknown leader turned against the United States, undermining their interests (and using their money) to create a Shia-dominant government with close ties to Iran. Naturally, many Iraqis think that the United States has an axe to grind, and has created the Islamic State to destabilize the country and capitalize on the chaos.

Whether or not that’s true is being hotly debated on plenty of non-mainstream media websites. The West’s involvement in Iraq is bad medicine for Iraqis, and the fact that we recently stood by during a joint Iran-Iraq effort to free the city of Tikrit doesn’t help the argument that we want what’s best for them.


Watch closely

So let’s review: ISIS sweeps across Iraq and lands on Baghdad’s doorstep. Iraq, who’s fighting ISIS with the help of Iran, calls on the Americans to stop their advance. America calls upon a broad coalition of countries, including Canada, to send in special forces to assist training the Iraqi army and militia groups in addition to mounting airstrikes. Our government — and the media — raise fears that Islamic State militants will begin attacking us on home soil, and Canadians give them a mandate to “kill them over there.”

And then things get more confusing. Many Iraqis (and Muslims across the Middle East) are sceptical about the West’s intentions, and do not want them meddling in the affairs of their nation. And then, in order to assist the Iraqi government, Canada begins helping the Kurds, who aren’t actually fighting for the Iraqi government, but for the security of the own autonomous region, and the creation of their own independent state. The Kurds, while enemies of ISIS, have used the war as a pretence to expand their own territory in the region, taking advantage of a weakened Iraqi government while expelling Sunni Arabs from their homes across Northern Iraq.

Now, as Canada continues past the six-month mark of their mission in Iraq, the allied effort has turned the tables of the war. Instead of expanding their territory, ISIS is now pulling back to entrench themselves in Syria, home of another evil despot, Bashar al-Assad.


To Syria… and beyond

Defence Minister Jason Kenney recently appeared on CBC’s The House and stated that his government would not rule out moving into Syria to chase down Islamic State militants. What he didn’t mention is that entering Syria could also set the stage for the removal of the Assad regime — a two-birds-with-one-stone approach. If that doesn’t seem like an enormous mess already, throwing Russia — a Syrian ally — into the mix probably won’t help. And don’t forget Iran, another enemy of the West, also fighting ISIS, and also a Syrian ally.

One has to wonder where it stops? The United States is already arming “vetted” militia groups in Syria to undermine Assad’s power, and their ally, Qatar, is also pushing hard for the removal of the Syrian Regime. Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani told CNN this past September, "If we think that we're going to get rid of the terrorist movements and leave those regimes doing what — this regime especially, doing what [Assad] is doing — then terrorist movements will come back again.”

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Saud also takes a hard line against Assad, and the protection that the regime is afforded through Iran. “Remove the Iranians and I bet you anything that it wouldn’t take more than a few weeks or a couple of months to bring Assad to his knees… we have to negate Assad’s military superiority because he won’t negotiate until then.”

The West has done a brilliant job at creating power vacuums across the Middle East in the name of democracy and freedom, but everything that’s come out of those conquests has yielded instability and civil war, which Canadians only seem to want to fix when we’re directly threatened by the conflicts.

Following America into Syria has the potential to turn a regional war against the Islamic State into a global conflict — and at the very least, will completely eradicate any structure or governance the country is now clinging to through the Assad regime. And if the United States et al. do not have a plan to prevent that from happening (beyond building U.S. military bases) we shouldn’t think about pointing our guns there.


Understanding the conflict

If we’re not doing this for Iraqis, or for Syrians, then why are we doing it? Can we really believe that our current strategy will discourage Anti-Western sentiment in the Middle East, and eliminate the threat of terrorist attacks from foreign terrorists? Philip H. Gordon, now Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, doesn’t think so. In 2007, he wrote that an attempt to eliminate the terrorist threat would only lead to more terrorism, not less. Instead, he argued, America should pursue the reduction of the risk of terrorism to “such a level that it does not significantly affect average citizens’ daily lives, preoccupy their thoughts, or provoke overreaction.”

How does he propose to do this? Gordon explains that victory will only come “when the ideology the terrorists espouse is discredited, when their tactics are seen to have failed, and when they come to find more promising paths to dignity, respect, and opportunities they crave.”

We know that past wars in the Middle East have failed to achieve this, but our strategy doesn’t seem to change. The Iraqis were better off with Saddam. Libya was better off with Gadhafi. Western voters didn’t give their governments the mandate to ensure long-term stability in those countries … and we can be sure that Canadians aren’t prepared to do what is necessary for Iraq, and potentially Syria, once we beat back the Islamic State.  

If Canadians aren’t prepared to commit to the long-term success of the Middle Eastern nations we’re dropping bombs on (i.e., Afghanistan and Libya) we need to take a long, hard look at how we’re involved. 

Shedding our fears about the terrorist threat at home means that we need to stop giving Muslims in the Middle East every reason to hate us.

Writing in his blog about a recent interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Fareed Zakaria, a well-known political commentator in the United States, referred to the conflict as a struggle within Islam. “It’s a cultural war that has to be waged by Muslims,” Zakaria writes. “If outsiders such as the United States want to play a role, they should listen to and support Muslims fighting the good fight.” King Abdullah agrees. “It’s not a Western fight,” he says. “This is a fight inside of Islam where everybody comes together against these outlaws.”

If we want to reduce the terrorist threat, perhaps we should attempt to restore our image in the Middle East, not by “killing them over there,” or by refusing refugees based on their religion, but by spending our money on winning hearts and minds through support for Iraqis displaced by the war. What would they rather have? Four of our CF-18s taking pot shots at Islamic State targets, or water, shelter, and food?

Maybe it’s time to ask them.


When the smoke clears

Gunpowder, an arms race, and an unrelenting capacity to innovate: Rheinmetall Canada’s storied past points to a bright future for the company, even as government defence spending shrinks.

By Jason McNaught

The lineage of a defence company often resembles a family tree, clipped and pruned according to the economic highs and lows of the times, branching its way through the industry under one name, then another, or an awkward combination of both. But as large and as diverse as organizations become, they can usually be traced back to a single individual with an idea or opportunity, and a dogged determination to see it through.


Smokeless Powder

Rheinmetall’s success in the defence industry provides a good example. One hundred and twenty five years ago, in 1889, an engineer from the small German state of Thuringia was presented with an immense challenge.

The invention of smokeless powder in 1884 by French chemist Paul Vieille caused quite a stir at the time, not only because it dramatically improved the operation and effectiveness of guns at the time, but also because it essentially rendered all other large bore black powder guns immediately obsolete. An arms race ensued, and Germany was intent on keeping up, developing a new bolt-action rifle, the Gewehr 88.

Along with new rifles came exceedingly large orders for new munitions capable of being fired out of the Gewehr 88’s long, black steel barrel. When the German Ministry of War awarded steel and mining company Hörder Bergwerks und Hüttenverein a contract for supplying just that, it quickly became apparent they lacked the capacity to fulfil such an order.


An Engineer from Thuringia

Enter Heinrich Ehrhardt, the man who found himself tasked with heading up an entirely new company — Rheinische Metallwaaren- und Maschinenfabrik Actiengesellschaft — founded exclusively to provide the Ministry of War with the new munitions they required for the Gewehr 88.

The task was monumental, to say the least. But by 1891, Ehrhardt was not only supplying munitions, he was developing patents, including one that resulted in a process for creating seamless tubes … an innovation easily overlooked today, but certainly not in the 19th century. By 1894, after rapid expansion and the acquisition of a small drop forge and the creation of Metallwerk Ehrhardt & Heye near Dusseldorf, “Rheinmetall” was officially listed on the Berlin stock exchange.

During Ehrhardt’s time, Rheinmetall went on to accomplish many things, including the development of the first field-worthy recoiling cannon, an outstanding engineering achievement during the time period.

More than a century later, Rheinmetall is a multinational company with a defence division that spans the globe. Here in Canada, Rheinmetall continues in the same spirit of innovation that Ehrhardt sparked more than a century ago, with a diverse range of products that meet the continually evolving needs of our soldiers.


Managing Technology

As vice president of Rheinmetall Canada, Alain Tremblay explains that the steady pace of technological development is a good thing for soldiers, but only if managed properly.

Weight is a critical issue. Infantry are already burdened by packs and equipment that add an additional 40–90 pounds to their existing frames; in a combat scenario, overburdening a soldier can turn into a serious handicap, decreasing mobility and increasing risks to their health through exhaustion or injury.

But herein lies the problem: as more and more technology is developed with the intent of increasing the overall effectiveness of the infantry, a soldier either has to learn to deal with the excess weight, or needs to shed an existing piece of equipment to make the load effectively bearable. And then, to complicate matters further, there is the problem of batteries. How many are needed to run a certain piece of equipment? How long will the soldier be out in the field? How many spares need to be carried and what’s their added weight?

When developing soldier systems, these types of questions can easily become overwhelming, but Rheinmetall overcomes this by knowing exactly what they are working towards: “A well-protected soldier [who is] equipped with robust weapons, a clear view of the tactical situation and reliable means of communication.”

Distilling the needs of the soldier into what is most important on the battlefield has resulted in an easy-to-operate modular combat system that improves “survivability, C4I [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence] capabilities, sustainability, mobility and lethality” while delivering enhanced performance and reduced weight, says Tremblay.


Innovative Technology

The Canadian Armed Forces is not a large force compared to some of its allies, but punches above its weight when it comes to fielding new and innovative equipment. Staying ahead of the curve, Tremblay argues, is achieved by identifying new trends, selecting the ones that have the greatest probability of reaching the market, and then investing in them through R&D.

One area of technology Rheinmetall is currently developing is autonomous robots, which may complement the company’s existing line of soldier systems and is now in a strategic partnership with Clearpath Robotics, a Kitchener, Ontario-based company with a vision to “automate the world’s dullest, dirtiest, and deadliest jobs.”

Says Tremblay: “We are experimenting with controlling robots in a very intuitive fashion, using our existing soldier systems technology with no additional hardware.” Clearpath robots, such as their Husky model, have the ability to operate alone or be programmed to autonomously work at tasks — such as navigation and mapping — in a group. The Rheinmetall/Clearpath system is currently on a six-month trial with the U.S. Department of Defense.

Although autonomous robots may one day serve alongside our soldiers on the battlefield of the future, Rheinmetall’s Satellite-on-the-Move (SOTM) communication system is an example of a project that’s much closer to providing the Canadian Armed Forces with unparalleled long-range voice and data connectivity between deployed command vehicles, arms advisors (such as the armour corps, engineers, etc.), high priority sensor vehicles, tactical headquarters or command posts. “We had the capability in Afghanistan,” Tremblay explains, “but in a static way. Now we will be able to do it on the move.”

Acquired under the Canadian government’s Land Command Support System Life Extension (LCSS LE) program, the requirements for the SOTM system contained specific capabilities that had yet to be developed. “The Canadian requirements for long-range surveillance mounted on vehicles is unique in the world. We didn’t think they would ever go there,” says Tremblay.

Part of the system is comprised of a telescopic mast designed to carry a payload and operate at a height of six metres while travelling at a speed of 40km/hr. When not in use, or under fire, the system retracts into the vehicle on which it is deployed. “Today, you could have a LAV III with one of these systems gathering data from the top of its mast, and that could be immediately uploaded to Joint Operations Command in Ottawa,” says Tremblay.

The Canadian Army will equip 66 LAV IIIs with the SOTM system. An unknown number of Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicles (TAPV) will also be configured as recce vehicles.

The TAPV, produced by Textron Systems, is another example of an innovative product designed exclusively for the Canadian Army and set to replace the RG-31 and Coyote reconnaissance vehicles. “The TAPV,” states Tremblay, “is a vehicle that doesn’t exist anywhere else.” He calls the vehicle a Commando Select “on steroids.” Rheinmetall is performing multiple integration functions and final assembly on the vehicles, the first of which hit the production floor this summer. In total, more than 500 TAPVs will be delivered to the Canadian Army, with an option for 100 more.


A legacy of innovation

Rheinmetall’s past is marked with over a century of milestones, thanks to a legacy of innovation that began with Heinrich Ehrhardt in 1899. Today, Rheinmetall Canada continues that legacy, building on its success in the development, integration, and production of platform-independent systems.

Baird's Legacy

By Jason McNaught

John Baird’s recent and sudden departure as Canada’s foreign affairs minister drew heavy media coverage following the announcement of his retirement on February 3.

As a politician, Baird was immensely successful, winning his first election in provincial politics at the young age of 25 … and every election after that for the entirety of his 20-year career as an MPP, MP, and finally as a loyal minister to Stephen Harper.

At first, it was understandable that the media would give Baird a warm send-off. Why kick him in the pants as he’s putting on his shoes to head out the front door? That would be un-Canadian. Besides, the press community in Ottawa is a fairly tight-knit and cohesive bunch. Stepping out of line may make future encounters (and there are many) with Conservative staffers and MPs a little awkward. What reporter wants to skulk around Parliament with their head down after printing something a little more truthful and a little less trivial?

Baird was a walking contradiction: a hypocrite who placed economic benefits above human rights. He worked tirelessly for gay rights yet supported trade deals with nations that would hang you for being a homosexual. His devotion to Israel was so inexplicably fervent that when they began targeting schools and hospitals — full of civilians taking refuge from the attacks — in Palestine, Baird commented that Israel had “every right” to defend itself. Yet, as he stood before a gaggle of jostling reporters on his final day as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he said: “I quickly learned though to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values.”

Baird had little understanding of (or use for) diplomacy. There was once a time when other nations respected Canada’s stand on international matters. When Baird became our foreign minister, he turned himself from a ‘pit bull’ in the House of Commons to a little yapping dog on the doorstep of the world’s larger powers. His trademark “black hat, white hat” approach to conflict resulted in an act-first-think-last approach that had him canoodling with Islamic fundamentalists in Libya, would-be ISIS terrorists in Syria, and white supremacists in Ukraine.
Libya is a campaign that Baird and the Conservatives have worked hard to forget about. Once “very impressed” with the capabilities of the rebel council members who sought to oust the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, Canada held a victory parade after the former dictator was pulled into the street, sodomized and shot to death by those who were supposedly fighting for democracy. The post-Gadhafi regime, Baird cautioned, “won’t be perfect.” He was right. Libya is now a failed state, and Canada has stood on the sidelines as it continues to descend into a country devoured by tribal war.

Baird's White Hat/Black Hat labels were better suited for Hollywood, not real life.

Baird's White Hat/Black Hat labels were better suited for Hollywood, not real life.

With Baird’s “no room for moral relativism” foreign affairs strategy, he was quick to tuck himself under the sheets with Syria’s anti-Assad forces until realizing that they, too, were as cruel as the leader they were opposing. After quietly slipping out of bed with bearded ISIS extremists, Baird declined the request to arm them, but somehow stood behind the American decision to do just that.

Following Russia’s sneaky yet bloodless annexation of the Crimea and the subsequent war in Eastern Ukraine, Baird immediately gave up on the prospect of diplomacy by cutting off communication with the Russian embassy in Canada, expelling Russian diplomats, implementing sanctions and making public comments comparing Putin to Hitler.

After standing arm-in-arm with neo-Nazis in Ukraine and praising them as “freedom-lovers,” Baird’s overly simplistic, Hollywood-style Good versus Evil view of the world repeatedly made him look like a buffoon on the international stage. In late 2014, he even began to refer to the West as “the civilized world” when speaking to journalists about Russian involvement in the war in Ukraine. That’s odd, considering that the West’s democracy crusade — starting with the illegal war in Iraq — has helped to produce wave after wave of increasingly barbaric fundamentalist groups in the Middle East — most of whom seem to enjoy the use of high-tech American-made weaponry.

Baird entered politics young — perhaps too young — and his ascension to foreign affairs minister was earned through party loyalty, not by exhibiting the traits that would have made him an effective statesman. Postmedia’s long-serving foreign correspondent Matthew Fisher, who generally steers his columns away from Conservative party criticism, took a different tack when summing up John Baird’s tenure as Minster of Foreign Affairs:

“Whether the subject was the Middle East, Europe or Asia, they [younger diplomats] often complained that he had a wide but thin knowledge of the issues and seemed to come at them with preconceived notions about the world that were seldom modified as he became more deeply briefed,” writes Fisher. “Foreign service officers would roll their eyes or wince when they heard he was coming to town. They did not see the utility of many of his visits and wearied of the arrangements they had to make to accommodate his stays.”

For this country’s sake, let’s hope that our next foreign affairs minister does more listening and less talking.

Adrift in a Sea of Procurement

When Brian Mersereau, Chairman of Hill & Knowlton, wrote for Defence Watch about the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) program on September 12, 2014, he buried a bread crumb under a heap of neatly written paragraphs.

As the most expensive and complex naval procurement in Canada’s history, the government is under a lot of pressure to get the CSC program right … mostly because they so often get major defence acquisition programs wrong. The Canadian Armed Forces must grit their teeth at the bureaucratic ineptitude that forced them to saunter up to the National Air Force Museum in Trenton, cap in hand, to ask for parts for their half-century-old CC-130 Hercules aircraft.

An RCAF CC-130 Hercules

An RCAF CC-130 Hercules

At this point, however, those teeth must be worn down to the gum line. While successive governments fail to deliver promised equipment to the military, the guys and gals on the front line somehow manage to keep aircraft in the air, ships at sea, and vehicles on the road decades longer than their predicted life spans. It’s like travelling the streets of Havana and marvelling at all those old Chevys Cubans have magically kept trundling along since Castro was a young man. Are they resourceful? Yes. Are we envious? No. As employees of the government, soldiers must ‘make do’ with the equipment they have and, traditionally, Canadians have done a pretty miserable job of ensuring they get what they need.




The CV-90: A former contender for Canada's CCV Competition.

The CV-90: A former contender for Canada's CCV Competition.

There hasn’t been a lot of positive press on the government’s decision to sole-source the purchase of the F-35 fighter jet, but one good thing it has done is highlight the government’s poor record on military procurement programs. Taxpayers are shaking their heads when they read the headlines about how long it has taken to deliver fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) craft to the air force, how expensive it has been to build an ‘Arctic’ offshore patrol ship (AOPS) that doesn’t live up to its namesake, and how much money was wasted on running a Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) competition that the Army eventually concluded it didn’t need.

All this boils down to accountability, and it raises an important question: Could the Harper government survive another disastrous, scandal-plagued, billion-dollar procurement bungle?  
Maybe not. This is why, from the outset, the government has billed the CSC program as a ‘fair and transparent’ competition. But things are not as they seem. Enter Mersereau’s bread crumb — the first indication that the integrity of the CSC program had already been compromised.

Mersereau writes: “There is discussion in industry circles that Canada has indirectly retained a third party to help make it a more informed decision on the CSC procurement strategy of MQT (Most Qualified Team) versus MCD (Most Capable Design). One would hope that if in fact the rumour is true, then industry would be given some insight into how the supplier was selected and the terms of reference established.”

Initially, it looked as though the CSC program was going to progress along the same lines as the Canadian Patrol Frigate project: two partially funded project definition contracts, with two separate industrial teams, would go head to head in order to offer Canada the most capable ship at the lowest cost. This fairly simple approach, known as “Most Capable Design” (MCD), is effective … as long as the government is realistic about what it can buy for the money it has.


But then a new method came to the fore, and with it questions about the integrity of the CSC program. The “Most Qualified Team” (MQT) approach is similar to the one used by the government when it selected Irving Shipbuilding Inc. for the bulk of the work under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS).

Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, Nova Scotia

Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, Nova Scotia

The problem with this is the use of arbitrary benchmarks. The government writes its own criteria, and then selects a ‘winner’ based on which contractor — or, in this case, team of contractors — meets them. It’s like opening a job up to all birds, and then stating that the successful applicant must look like a duck, act like a duck, and quack like a duck.

In regards to the CSC, the MQT approach heavily favours Lockheed Martin, and their competitors are acutely aware of this. But why, one must ask, in a ‘fair and transparent’ competition, would the government want to tip the scales in favour of one company over another?


One of the key problems with the CSC procurement program is Lockheed Martin Canada: The corporation is too well positioned to win the lion’s share of the work (and money). In fact, if this were a horse race, Lockheed started out of the gate when the Halifax-class modernization program began (some would argue even before that), positioning themselves at the finish line before the starting bell rang.

One of the Halifax-Class frigates with a 'bone in her teeth.'

One of the Halifax-Class frigates with a 'bone in her teeth.'

To be clear, that’s not a problem for Lockheed Martin, but it is a problem for their competitors — and for the Harper government. Lockheed is wrapping up a very successful modernization of the RCN’s Halifax-class fleet, leading a team of Raytheon, Thales, BAE, and General Dynamics (among others) to install everything from new missiles and weapons to the ultra-complex system that will ultimately control them.

Besides being an ‘on-time and on-budget’ good news story, choosing Lockheed on the Halifax-class modernization also ensured seamless interoperability with the U.S. fleet — a priority in the Harper government’s now-defunct Canada First Defence Strategy.

Installing the same, or similar, systems on the CSCs means that naval personnel won’t need to go through a potentially costly and time-consuming training and adjustment period on the new vessels. Retraining sailors on brand new systems and having different systems between RCN ships doesn’t really make a lot of sense … especially considering that Lockheed Martin Canada invested millions in the establishment of a 100,000-square-foot Maritime Advanced Training and Test Site (MATTS) in Dartmouth, N.S., for the Royal Canadian Navy in 2009.

Furthermore, Lockheed’s relationship with Irving Shipbuilding has been particularly fruitful. During a time when military programs are blowing their budgets and experiencing delays, the Halifax-class modernization has earned high (and rare) praise from Canada’s Minister of Defence. “We couldn’t have done this without our tremendous partnership with the Canadian shipbuilding industry. Lockheed Martin Canada has taken care of all the integration software and combat management systems — a truly critical aspect of the modernization process,” said Rob Nicholson at a November 2014 press conference.

As the winner of the NSPS combat package, Irving wields a considerable amount of influence over the CSC program. After their proven partnership with Lockheed, what motivation would they have to work with another combat systems integrator? Relationships have been formed, they’ve been tested, and the combination is working … for Irving, for the Harper government, and for the RCN.


As many in the defence industry see it, MQT is the government’s way of manipulating the parameters of the competition to ensure a Lockheed win. The government makes the rules to favour one company, and when they play the game, that company wins. But Canadians aren’t looking at how and why the rules were made the way they were, they’re looking at what the referee does as the game is played. It’s like creating a new form of hockey where the rules say that the visiting team can’t use sticks. The ref will call a fair game, everyone in the stands will see that, and naturally the team without the sticks will lose. Were the rules fair? Not really, but whoever created them didn’t force the visiting team to play. Did the ref call a fair game?

Absolutely. Which begs the question, why did the visiting team step on the ice at all if they knew they’d have little chance of winning? The answer is simple: They were playing for the chance to win $26 billion, hoping for another ‘Miracle on Ice.’

The concern here isn’t about cost, public scrutiny, or even whether or not the existence of the report Mersereau alleged was necessary; it’s about the government’s commitment to fairness and transparency. One hand of the Harper government is over its heart promising to be honest, and the other hand is penning multi-million dollar contracts to companies that could have extreme bias over the outcome of the CSC program, directing them to come up with information that could influence who wins the $26 billion competition.

That company is Irving, which was allegedly paid upwards of $2 million in order to contract global consulting firm A.T. Kearney to weigh the merits of MQT vs. MCD. When asked about the existence of a report, Irving Shipbuilding and A.T. Kearney both declined to comment. A representative from Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC), however, provided the following response:

“The work focused on assessing the degree to which the current draft requirements for the systems and sub-systems, which will be potentially incorporated into the Canadian Surface Combatant ships, support competition for the selection of these systems. These draft requirements were presented to Industry during the five industry engagement sessions held over the past year, and will also be the subject of further industry engagements.”
PWGSC continued: “A decision with regard to the procurement strategy will be based on a number of factors, of which an independent review of the draft technical requirements is just one.”

The definition of “independent” is open to interpretation, but if the government really wanted to be convincing, why didn’t they commission the report themselves? Why contract Irving and risk compromising the integrity of the CSC program when PWGSC could have gone to A.T. Kearney directly?

There are a few simple reasons: it more than likely would have taken forever; perhaps another is that the public would have balked at the cost. And if that were the case, why not share the terms of reference with industry? In a supposedly ‘fair and transparent’ program, what’s with the secrets? Silence breeds speculation … and if we’re all buckled tightly onto the honesty bandwagon, why not set the record straight?


This leads us to a unique predicament. Industry reps won’t go on record, leaving mainstream journalists with little to run with until they are able to lay eyes on the report directly. And that, given the sensitivity of the document, would be next to impossible to retrieve through Access to Information.

A RIM-162 ESSM Missile

A RIM-162 ESSM Missile

What little there is to be found on the CSC program, besides what’s already been written by Mersereau, has been penned by Michael Den Tandt, who is circling menacingly over the government’s head with headlines (“Breaking Lockheed Martin’s inside track at DND” and “Does Canada need an independent military?”) that make a Lockheed win seem anti-Canadian.
Den Tandt has also raised another important issue within the scope of the CSC program, namely Canada’s $800-million dollar investment in the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) program.

At a time when the government has made deep cuts to the Department of National Defence budget and, coincidentally also to the procurement of munitions, the decision was made to invest $200 million in the development of the ESSM, adding another $600 million for future procurement and integration of the missiles.

That’s relevant not only because Raytheon is a close partner with Lockheed on the Halifax-class modernization project (and would be on the CSC project), but also because those ships currently use Sea Sparrow missiles. In fact, Canada has been using Sea Sparrow variants since the 1970s.

To think that the government would put up $800 million dollars in support of the ESSM program when 15 of their future warships wouldn’t carry them carries this reaction from a defence industry source: “At the end of the day, the thing is a complete charade. If they actually went and did this and invested the better part of a billion dollars, are you going to move to another missile system at that point?”

Den Tandt has been plucking away at the fabric of the CSC program, but hasn’t yet stabbed a knife through the middle of it. Again, that has to do with the availability of sources, and their willingness to talk. But that doesn’t mean that both he and Mersereau haven’t had an impact.


At a recent meeting between industry and PWGSC, a government official admonished defence execs about what has already appeared in the media. The relationship between both parties has become increasingly strained, largely because defence execs are losing/have lost faith in the process, yet can’t speak out for fear of future retribution. The government doesn’t hand out multi-billion-dollar rewards for blowing the whistle on questionable practices in military procurement programs. Speaking out could be disastrous; it could mean potentially losing other contracts, losing potential subcontracts from the CSC program’s big winners, or becoming pariahs within a very close-knit defence industry.

This has contributed to turning the government’s highly touted ‘industry engagement sessions’ into a farce. Their December meeting, set-up in a large hall with more than 50 representatives in attendance, lasted a mere nine minutes. If most of the players at the table of a poker game believed that the dealer was showing bias towards a particular player, why would they want to show the dealer their cards? Wouldn’t that just make it easier for the dealer to rig the game?

Understandably, the government realizes that they have a major problem on their hands. Even though a Lockheed solution seems to make sense, and the path to it is most easily reached through an MQT approach, they’re beginning to realize that going down that road will invariably result in a media circus. After the $26-billion pie has been gobbled up, tongues may be more inclined to wag, and Canadians will be left thinking our government has sold out to the Americans (again), overspent on procurement (again), shipped jobs overseas (again), and reduced the independence of the Canadian military.

And in an election year, that could be a crippling blow.


You could be forgiven for thinking that the government’s agenda has ultimately been stymied by public scrutiny, but that wouldn’t make you any less wrong.

Before the end of the workday on January 20, reporter James Cudmore filed a story on CBC stating that government officials had met with “industry insiders” to inform them that Irving Shipbuilding had been chosen as the prime contractor on the $26-billion Canadian Surface Combatant program. On Tom Ring’s last day as Assistant Deputy Minister at PWGSC, he gave away the largest and most complex naval procurement contract in Canada’s history with nary a whimper. Apparently, that component of the CSC program wasn’t up for competition.
Passing responsibility for the CSC program onto Irving Shipbuilding may not have been entirely fair, but they are Canadian, if that’s any consolation. But just as their name implies, Irving is a shipbuilder. Considering that the government had been starving them of military shipbuilding contracts for decades, when (and how) did they become experts in the management of large-scale military procurement projects? Lockheed Martin, BAE, and DCNS have proved themselves in their respective home countries many times over in this department … but competence doesn’t really seem to factor into the equation here.

Choosing Irving Shipbuilding as the prime contractor solves a few problems for both parties. Because the project is taking place in their shipyard for the next 20 or 30 years, it stands to reason that they’d want to take the lead in the project. As for the government, assigning Irving Shipbuilding the responsibility to award subcontracts takes them out of the line of fire if and when Lockheed scores another big win in a Canadian military procurement program.  

A leaked PowerPoint document from the January 20 meeting reveals that Irving will be responsible for awarding a contract for combat systems integration, and another for warship design. This seemingly hybrid approach may allow other defence contractors to theoretically obtain a larger percentage of the work, while still leaving most of the meat on the bone for Lockheed. The downside to that approach is huge: Warships aren’t Lego. Think of the man-hours (and the hundreds of millions of dollars) it took for BAE, DCNS, and Lockheed Martin to provide complete, cutting-edge, off-the-shelf warships for their customers. It would be like asking a Cadillac dealer for the shell of a car — with no engine, transmission, suspension, or parts — then asking a Mercedes dealer for all the working parts, and then heading down to the local mechanic and asking them to put it all together. Except, unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

If you’re wondering why the government would ever try to turn our future fleet of CSCs into a bunch of overpriced Frankenships — something that runs completely counterintuitive to common sense — think of what’s at stake for industry. Think about how hard these companies will fight for a chunk of that business. Think about what transpired in order for this writer to produce this article. Think about Den Tandt’s articles, and why Mersereau put that bread crumb in that Defence Watch article. And then mix in all the other factors, such as the government’s international obligations, politics, public opinion, etc., etc., etc. You’ll find your answer somewhere in that dark forest, where there are 26-billion reasons for the CSC program to go wildly off course.


No one is a victim here; no one besides the sailors that man the decks of Her Majesty’s ships, painting over the rust and machining parts that haven’t been manufactured for decades. RCN Commander Vice-Admiral Mark Norman will (has to) sell you our Navy, but he knows that the quality of our sailors aren’t matched by the condition of our warships. And yet, as the CSC program languishes in the ‘take-no-prisoners’ chess match of military procurement, he is forced to lean on allies and ‘make do’ with what he’s got.

There is nothing fair about the CSC procurement: not for the government, not for industry, and especially not for our sailors.