Military procurements usually begin with the drawing up of a “statement of operational requirements,” which manufacturers then use to prepare bids. But more often than not, the generals and admirals have already made their decision and “fix the specs” to secure the equipment they want.
Defence officials decided the CF-18 replacements needed stealth technology, thus excluding all aircraft other than the F-35. They narrowed the field for the fixed-wing search and rescue project by specifying a minimum cabin length just 15 centimetres greater — and a cruising speed just 12 knots faster — than the Spanish-made EADS C-295. They set a minimum size for Canada’s maritime helicopter replacement that excluded the Sikorsky Seahawk, the workhorse of the U.S. navy’s rotary wing fleet.
Officials like to buy so-called “paper planes” that are only in the design phase, since this offers the possibility of having the very latest and flashiest kit. But there are risks involved with unbuilt, unproven designs. The F-35 design proved grossly optimistic, leading to long delays, much-increased costs, and less than expected performance. The U.S. Department of Defense has already downgraded its specifications for the plane.
In the case of the planned Sikorsky Cyclone helicopters chosen to replace the Sea Kings, the generals and admirals added new electronics and weapons systems onto the design after the procurement was approved and a contract signed. All the additional equipment proved too heavy for the engines, which meant that more powerful engines had to be designed and fitted, which in turn required a lengthy and expensive full re-engineering of the aircraft.
Defence officials secure approval for these “paper planes” by telling ministers that Canadian companies involved in the initial production of cutting-edge military equipment will reap significant rewards when other countries purchase the same equipment later. The problem is that new designs fail more often than they succeed, and other countries shy away from equipment that underperforms or is overly delayed. No country apart from Canada has selected the Cyclone. Sales of the F-35 are far below the projected level, diminishing any economic benefits and driving up the per-unit cost.
Officials also lowball costs, or fail to inform ministers about maintenance, infrastructure and other “life-cycle” expenses related to the purchase. For the F-35s, defence officials said the cost would be $9.7 billion. The parliamentary budget officer said $29.3 billion. The auditor general said $25.1 billion. When the government brought in the accounting firm KPMG to provide some clarity, it said $45.8 billion.
If the numbers were not so very large, the audacity of the officials might be funny.
Over at the amazing BLDGBlog, Geoff Manaugh has some photos of optical calibration targets in the California desert.
“There are dozens of aerial photo calibration targets across the USA,” the Center for Land Use Interpretation reports, “curious land-based two-dimensional optical artifacts used for the development of aerial photography and aircraft. They were made mostly in the 1950s and 1960s, though some apparently later than that, and many are still in use, though their history is obscure.”
These symbols—like I-Ching trigrams for machines—are used as “a platform to test, calibrate, and focus aerial cameras traveling at different speeds and altitudes,” CLUI explains, similar to “an eye chart at the optometrist, where the smallest group of bars that can be resolved marks the limit of the resolution for the optical instrument that is being used.”
Further, “the largest concentration of calibration targets in one place is on the grounds of Edwards Air Force Base” in California, “in an area referred to as the photo resolution range, where 15 calibration targets run for 20 miles across the southeast side of the base in a line, so multiple targets can be photographed in one pass. There is some variation in the size and shape of the targets at Edwards, suggesting updates and modifications for specific programs. A number of the targets there also have aircraft hulks next to them, added to provide additional, realistic subjects for testing cameras.”
In case you wonder how Switzerland has kept itself from being invaded over the years, here is how.
McPhee points to small moments of "fake stonework, concealing the artillery behind [them]," that dot Switzerland’s Alpine geology, little doors that will pop open to reveal internal cannons that will then blast the country’s roads to smithereens. Later, passing under a mountain bridge, McPhee notices "small steel doors in one pier" hinting that the bridge "was ready to blow. It had been superceded, however, by an even higher bridge, which leaped through the sky above—a part of the new road to Simplon. In an extreme emergency, the midspan of the new bridge would no doubt drop on the old one."
It’s a strange kind of national infrastructure, one that is at its most rigorously functional—one that truly fulfills its promises—when in a state of cascading self-imposed collapse.
I could easily over-quote my way to the end of my internet service here, but it’s a story worth reading. There are, for instance, hidden bomb shelters everywhere in an extraordinary application of dual-use construction. "All over Switzerland," according to McPhee, "in relatively spacious and quiet towns, are sophisticated underground parking garages with automatic machines that offer tickets like tongues and imply a level of commerce that is somewhere else. In a nuclear emergency, huge doors would slide closed with the town’s population inside."
Describing titanic underground fortresses—"networks of tunnels, caverns, bunkers, and surface installations, each spread through many tens of square miles"—McPhee briefly relates the story of a military reconnaissance mission on which he was able to tag along, involving a hydroelectric power station built inside a mountain, accessible by ladders and stairs; the battalion tasked with climbing down into it thus learns "that if a company of soldiers had to do it they could climb the mountain on the inside."
In any case, the book‘s vision of the Alps as a massively constructed—or, at least, geotechnically augmented and militarily amplified—terrain is quite heady, including the very idea that, in seeking to protect itself from outside invaders, Switzerland is prepared to dynamite, shell, bulldoze, and seal itself into a kind of self-protective oblivion, hiding out in artificially expanded rocky passes and concrete super-basements as all roads and bridges into and out of the country are instantly transformed into landslides and dust.
The Economist has an interesting article on defense spending by GDP.
ON JUNE 8th China’s top military brass confirmed that the country’s first aircraft carrier, a refurbishment of an old Russian carrier, will be ready shortly. Only a handful of nations operate carriers, which are costly to build and maintain. Indeed, Britain has recently decommissioned its sole carrier because of budget pressures. China’s defence spending has risen by nearly 200% since 2001 to reach an estimated $119 billion in 2010—though it has remained fairly constant in terms of its share of GDP. America’s own budget crisis is prompting tough discussions about its defence spending, which, at nearly $700 billion, is bigger than that of the next 17 countries combined.
It’s not totally accurate as the Illustrious is being converted to a helicopter carrier and England is building the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carriers and the reality is that the Invincible class of aircraft carriers was at the end of it’s life expectancy.
It is interesting that despite the outrage of how much Canada has been spending on defense lately, we still spend less than Australia, Brazil, and Italy among the largest military spenders. I was also surprised to see Turkey so high on the list and not not see Pakistan considering how much India spends.
Congressional delegations – known in military jargon as CODELs – are no strangers to spin. U.S. lawmakers routinely take trips to the frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they receive carefully orchestrated briefings and visit local markets before posing for souvenir photos in helmets and flak jackets. Informally, the trips are a way for generals to lobby congressmen and provide first-hand updates on the war. But what Caldwell was looking for was more than the usual background briefings on senators. According to Holmes, the general wanted the IO team to provide a "deeper analysis of pressure points we could use to leverage the delegation for more funds." The general’s chief of staff also asked Holmes how Caldwell could secretly manipulate the U.S. lawmakers without their knowledge. "How do we get these guys to give us more people?" he demanded. "What do I have to plant inside their heads?"
According to experts on intelligence policy, asking a psy-ops team to direct its expertise against visiting dignitaries would be like the president asking the CIA to put together background dossiers on congressional opponents. Holmes was even expected to sit in on Caldwell’s meetings with the senators and take notes, without divulging his background. "Putting your propaganda people in a room with senators doesn’t look good," says John Pike, a leading military analyst. "It doesn’t pass the smell test. Any decent propaganda operator would tell you that."
At a minimum, the use of the IO team against U.S. senators was a misuse of vital resources designed to combat the enemy; it cost American taxpayers roughly $6 million to deploy Holmes and his team in Afghanistan for a year. But Caldwell seemed more eager to advance his own career than to defeat the Taliban. "We called it Operation Fourth Star," says Holmes. "Caldwell seemed far more focused on the Americans and the funding stream than he was on the Afghans. We were there to teach and train the Afghans. But for the first four months it was all about the U.S. Later he even started talking about targeting the NATO populations." At one point, according to Holmes, Caldwell wanted to break up the IO team and give each general on his staff their own personal spokesperson with psy-ops training.
I may have an overly elevated view of the intelligence of U.S. Senators but I personally believe that polling numbers at home were far more influential the psy-ops were in the field. That being said, every general in every battle in every war has wanted more resources, money, and for many, glory so I am not sure this is as much as a story that Rolling Stone is making it up to be.
Since 9-11, the JTF2 have operated alongside their allied counterparts and earned much deserved praise.
However, what Canada has failed to establish is an international intelligence-gathering agency that would compare with the CIA or Britain’s MI5 and MI6. As a result, our Special Forces operatives are completely reliant upon our allies’ information to execute their missions in Afghanistan.
While welcomed by our NATO partners for their professionalism and discipline, without an independent intelligence agency, our JTF2 are essentially highly trained mercenaries. While the usual suspects responded to the CBC stories by calling for additional civilian oversight of our secret commandos, the more fundamental question would be: Is this sort of specialized unit something Canada should be fielding in the first place?
As a former colony, we really don’t have any deep-rooted footprints around the globe. As such, it would be difficult to begin assembling a first-class international intelligence agency.
However, if we are serious about employing the type of capability the JTF2 represents, then Canada must make a spy network a priority.
Otherwise, we should remove the cloak and dagger secrecy, send the commando elements back into our regular combat forces and let the remaining JTF2 operatives focus on their domestic security duties.
While in Chapters in Regina, I picked up a copy of Fiasco by Thomas E. Ricks. It is a mesmerizing read if for just the amount of incompetence within the White House, the Pentagon, and the provisional government in Iraq (Paul Bremer comes across as an incompetent idiot). Basically it tells the story of intelligence that was discredited within the CIA even before Colin Powell tried to sell it at the United Nations and about how despite a chorus of concerned experts both inside and outside the Pentagon that the occupation could go very bad, very quickly, the office of the Secretary of Defense ignored it.
Those warnings existed in the war plans since 1991 and were made not only by senior military leadership but from a wide variety of partisan and non-partisan think tanks. Republicans and Democrats saw that the invasion of Iraq could go bad without enough troops and the office of the Secretary of Defense just ignored them. Senior military leaders were told to expect a plan on the occupation of Iraq but then in one instance were told to produce one themselves in just 24 hours. It would read like a comedy of errors if not so many lives were being lost.
While Rumsfeld and General Tommy Franks were right that you could win a military battle with speed and airpower, winning a war and keeping order takes a lot of troops. On top of that the early plans all relied on the Iraqi military to help rebuild until Bremer surprised everyone by dissolving the Iraqi military which made 400,000 skilled troops suddenly unemployed and gave them an axe to grind. He followed that up by dissolving the Ministry of the Interior which put all of the police out of work. "De-Ba’thification" worked just about as well. While the military was relying on the Iraqi’s themselves to do this (they would kill the partisan Ba’th member themselves), Bremer put most of Iraq’s skilled workforce out of jobs on the basis that they may be Ba’th members despite strong reservations from the military and his own advisors.
The book does leave one question unanswered. Why senior military and political leaders refused to listen to those around them? Leaders become isolated but in this case a lot of people were able to make their case to them. It almost seems as if they were overwhelmed by the task at hand and chose to ignore it which forced them into defaulting back to their original assumptions as if they couldn’t handle the complexity on hand. This happens in many organizations but generally near the top, you have people who can focus both on the task at hand and on the larger picture. Within the Pentagon and the White House, they seemed to be focused on too small of a picture (winning the war) and too large of a picture (transforming the middle east in to a pro-American democracy) which was the wrong thing to be focusing on.
As the U.S. Army War College study pointed out, the war “was not integral” to the global war on terrorism but was a costly “detour from it.”
For me the question that the book kept bringing back to me was how do leaders who rise to senior leadership positions in politics and the military manage to ignore their advisors at such a key time. This isn’t just a military question either. I have seen church leaders tune everyone else out and Wall Street is littered with companies that made moves everyone else saw as a probable train wreck (Corel going into competition against Microsoft and Adobe at the same time comes to mind). Just recently Stephane Dion campaigned on a Green Shift even those closest to him thought was a horrible idea. Ignoring those around you isn’t new but what amazes me is that those that can’t or won’t are weeded out more effectively by complex systems like the Pentagon. As for how it happened in the White House, that’s Bob Woodward’s specialty.