Tuesday, December 28, 2004

We just can't get there from here.

December 26th will forever have new meaning to several countries bordering the Indian Ocean, after the devastation wrought by the undersea earthquake and resulting tsunami. The tens of thousands of dead and missing and their surviving families need all the support that the rest of the world can muster. The United States, Great Britain, Australia, and others stepped up immediately to offer financial and, more importantly, human assistance. Canada stepped up with $1 million in pocket change, later upped to $4 million.

What the devastated area really needs is our capability to deal with such emergencies with direct medical aid and other life saving requirements, such as potable water. We have that capability standing by in the Canadian Forces Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), but we just can't get there from here. The reason for that is that we have lost our capability to deploy such an asset by sea or air in a timely manner.

Our strategic sealift capability consists of two overtasked supply ships, in need of replacement, and smaller-sized and equally overtasked warships, not designed to haul equipment and supplies. With the Navy's shortage of personnel and existing deployments of ships, timeliness would be a major handicap in addressing the short-term requirements.

The capability of the Air Force to reliably deploy in an emergency situation has gone the way of the serviceability of our C-130 Hercules fleet, that is straight downhill with age and overuse. We will use what Hercs and Airbuses are available to send equipment and supplies, but it will be on a catch-as-catch-can basis. To commit to sending DART would require a carefully planned operation and a large number of serviceable C-130s to conduct it in a timely manner. The emergency operational planning is a no-brainer for the tremendously capable people we have in uniform. The expectation of a large number of C-130 missions without embarrassing breakdowns is another question. We've been there before and that just might be the real reason behind the slow/non-existent response with DART. We don't want to risk looking like the international weaklings that we have become.

When he was Minister of National Defence, John McCallum quietly cancelled the Air Force's Strategic Airlift Replacement Program, which would have resulted in an aircraft like the Boeing C-17 being available. The Honourable Mr. McCallum then misled his successor as MND on the capabilities of the
C-130 to transport heavy equipment, such as the new Stryker combat vehicle. A C-130 can take one disassembled Stryker, and nothing else, a total of 700 nautical miles, i.e. Edmonton to Kenora. In a direct comparison of moving stuff, one C-17 is the equivalent of eighteen C-130s in deploying Strykers from Edmonton to Kabul, and that is assuming that both aircraft remain serviceable for the entire mission. Similar comparisons are obvious for moving DART to the Indian Ocean or other emergency requirements.

This is just another example of our deeds not matching our words, and Canada letting down the side. This does not denigrate, in any way, the selflessness and generosity of Canadians who are doing all that they can to help. It does denigrate our government's apparent lack of ability to acknowledge and react to real-world priorities. There are two solutions to this current situation of not having an ability to react in a meaningful way to urgent world situations.

Firstly, the government needs to quit pretending to support the missions of the Canadian Forces and get on with implementing strategic airlift and strategic sealift programs. Aircraft like the readily available C-17 and ships like the proposed large supply ships capable of carrying personnel, supplies, equipment, medical facilities, helicopters, and command and control capability, would fit the bill. These programs will not help in the current emergency but, if we don't start, then we'll never get there from here.

Secondly, the government needs to get outside the box and look at programs that are in place in other countries, such as the United States and Great Britain. We need agreements whereby civilian airlift and sealift capability can be considered national assets, in the event of an emergency. Available aircraft, ships and crews could be put under contract to the Department of National Defence and/or the Department of Foreign Affairs, and used as a second-wave response to a national or international emergency. The first responders would always be the (properly manned and equipped) Canadian Forces, but situations like the current disaster will not be short-term, and more capability will be needed.

I believe that the Prime Minister may know someone in the shipping business, and I believe that Robert Milton may have the odd IOU outstanding. Are they paying attention and do they care?

4 Comments:

Blogger John the Mad said...

Laurie:
I posted my view of the failure to deploy the DART team on my blog. Andrew, of Bound by Gravity, noted in a comment that you had stated the likely reason for the failure. Accordingly, I have visited you for the first time. It will not be the last.

I agree with you completely. I'm going to provide a link to your site on my blog. Well done. Per ardua ad Astra!

8:58 PM  
Blogger John the Mad said...

Laurie:
I posted my view of the failure to deploy the DART team on my blog. Andrew, of Bound by Gravity, noted in a comment that you had stated the likely reason for the failure. Accordingly, I have visited you for the first time. It will not be the last.

I agree with you completely. I'm going to provide a link to your site on my blog. Well done. Per ardua ad Astra!

9:10 PM  
Blogger John the Mad said...

Laurie:
I posted my view of the failure to deploy the DART team on my blog. Andrew, of Bound by Gravity, noted in a comment that you had stated the likely reason for the failure. Accordingly, I have visited you for the first time. It will not be the last.

I agree with you completely. I'm going to provide a link to your site on my blog. Well done. Per ardua ad Astra!

9:14 PM  
Blogger Capt. Craig said...

Laurie, I haven't seen you since Alaska, but I hear you have been doing good work, from several sources. I moved back to Canada slightly less than a year ago and am trying to catch up. I only found out about your blog a few weeks ago. I too have started one, check it out at http://tatterhead.blogspot.com/
I, like you have been sadly disappointed and sometimes outraged with Ottawa and the unconscionable decimation of our once first class Military. My son has just finished his Masters at RMC and just got his CD, boy do I feel old, and has related horror story after horror story. It is bordering on treason what the left idiotarians have done to this country. Keep up the good work and I know you will have much left wing venom and blind fury to contend with. Remember, you are supported out here and the ranks will swell as more and more of the populace are faced with the truth.

6:05 AM  

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