Tuesday, June 07, 2016
The Quality of Quantity
It's claimed that Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, quipped that, in matters military, quantity is a quality unto itself. Then again you don't have to be a Communist mass-murderer to know that.
When Allied armies landed in Normandy in 1944 they quickly found their Sherman tanks hopelessly outclassed by the German armour which was larger, more heavily armoured and more heavily gunned. The Germans came out way ahead on the kill/loss ratio. We lost far more tanks but we had far more tanks, enough that we managed to swarm the defender's armour and destroy it.
Which brings us to the search for a new fighter aircraft for the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Harper wanted to sign Canada on for the Lockheed-Martin, F-35 stealth light bomber. His plan was to equip the RCAF with about 60 F-35s. Out of that force about 15-20 would be hangared, held in reserve. Of the remaining 40 or so, probably 25 to 30 would be available at any given time, the others in for maintenance and repair. Now when you've got the second largest territory in the world, including vast unpopulated areas with challenging climate issues, that's not a lot of airplanes. When you consider that this vast, northern frontier is paralleled by the vast, northern frontier of our NATO adversary, Russia, those numbers of Canadian fighters seem minuscule.
The story got out yesterday that the Trudeau government will opt to replace our aging McDonnell Douglas CF/A-18A Hornet fighters with Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet fighters.
Pierre Trudeau's government bought Canada the first batch of CF-18s, 138 in total. He got them at a good price as Canada was the first export customer. We even had an option (never exercised) for another hundred or so at the introductory price.
Those CF-18s have been. hands down, the most successful combat aircraft Canada has fielded since the end of WWII. Whether the 18Es will make the best replacement for the aging 18As is debatable although Australia just ordered another batch and the US Navy is continuing to buy them.
What hasn't been addressed is what we intend to do with them, the answer to which will indicate how many we need. Harper was big on sending CF-18s abroad in "penny packet" missions of 6-aircraft. We had a penny packet in the air campaign against ISIS. We still have a penny packet boring holes in the sky over the Baltic states. We also have fighters based at Cold Lake, Alberta, and Bagotville, Quebec, on NORAD duty.
The old numbers seemed more or less sufficient while the Arctic airspace was a dead zone where, every now and then, a Russian Bear bomber would put in an appearance just outside of our airspace. That is in the process of changing as Putin re-militarizes the Russian Arctic zone even as the Arctic sea ice steadily vanishes, inviting additional marine and naval activity in the polar region. It's becoming a brand new deal in the far north unlike anything we've known before.
There's really no way to know with any certainty what Canada's defence needs in the far north will be and the fighter choice has to reflect that vague future. Harjit Sajjan may be thinking of following Australia's approach of an interim buy of perhaps 60 of the updated F-18s now to be followed by something else later on as a clearer picture of our defence posture emerges. There are signs that the Americans could have something better than the F-35 by 2030, a new design that incorporates the best of the F-35 but leaves the considerable flaws behind. That might be Canada's best bet.
Slightly off topic but we have spent the last decade hearing about how Harper was the saviour of the Canadian Armed Forces which Pierre Trudeau had sent into a nose dive. Here's the truth no Conservative wants to read.