Tag Archives: Royal Canadian Air Force

An experienced US fighter pilot on the F-35

If you had to fly any fighter into an air combat arena today, including an operational F-35A as an option, what would it be?

The F-22. It’s a better jet than the F-35. It can carry at least as much, further and faster. If it was up to me I’d cancel the F-35 and start building more Raptors. A common counter to that is the cost to restart the F-22 assembly line. How much does one pig cost? Another is that the F-35 program is too far along. Yep, let’s just keep paying for a poorly-managed, overly expensive fighter that has three versions that make any one version less than it could be. Can you say F-111? That the F-35’s avionics are better than the F-22’s; how about a Raptor upgrade? I’d also build more advanced versions of the F-15 and F-16.

OK, I’ve spent enough time on my soapbox.

And what does the Canadian government want to purchase?  The poorly managed, overly expensive fighter that can’t fight, can’t run, and can’t hide.

Of course this isn’t the Canadian government’s fault.  It is solely the U.S. governments.

The F-22 was supposed to be the air superiority fighter.  That is what it was designed to do.  It would do that job well except the U.S. government didn’t forsee the USSR or China (or anyone else) becoming a threat and they killed the program because it was too expensive.  They then decided to get a lot of F-35s which would do attack runs and stuff like that.

Then Russia and China have both developed better and better fighters which will be as good as the F-22.  And they are making more than 150 of them.   This could mean that a lot of F-35 pilots are going to be killed in a potential conflict, including Canadian ones.

Canada is only buying 65 or so F-35s which mean that our pilots won’t get the training hours in needed to make them elite dog fighters in a plan that one pilot who has flown it said, “could be clubbed by baby seals”.  So not only is Canada buying a “pig” for a fighter (that isn’t a fighter), it is going to have pilots that won’t be as trained as they need to be.

In a world of increasing tensions, this is a recipe for disaster.

Harper isolated on NATO defence spending

From Jeffrey Simpson

Mr. Harper’s isolation could be read indirectly into the reporting of last week’s phone call between him and U.S. President Barack Obama. Whereas the Canadian “readout,” or report, of the conversation made no mention of defence spending, the White House reported that “the President stressed the agreement on increased defence investment in all areas is a top priority at the NATO summit.”

A “top American priority” is always to cajole NATO allies into spending more on defence. That priority is certainly not Mr. Harper’s. He has developed an ambivalent and somewhat contradictory attitude toward the military, and it toward him. The Prime Minister and his advisers and the top military brass circle each warily, harbouring their respective reservations about each other.

To put matters aphoristically, Mr. Harper’s government likes the idea of the military more than it likes the military itself.

The idea of the military means history, monuments, medals, ceremonies, parades and repeated rhetorical praise. The military itself means buying equipment, deploying it, dealing with veterans and wrestling with a budget that always seems to go up unless the political masters get tough.

The military has produced some nice headlines to an image-obsessed government, notably from the Afghanistan mission, but it has also delivered headaches and bad headlines, especially over procurement. Delays and problems have beset such purchases as the new generation of fighter aircraft, maritime helicopters, search and rescue aircraft, ships and some smaller gear.

For this government (as for previous ones), the military seems always set on a permanent “ask,” but for the military, this government like previous ones, promises more than it delivers and takes on missions that stretch the military’s means of delivery.

After Cold Lake soldier caught busking to make ends meet, viability of military pay in booming ‘little Fort McMurray’ called into question

Lower ranked soldiers struggle to pay rent in Cold Lake

“A lot of oil patch people will call Cold Lake ‘little Fort McMurray,’” said the town’s mayor, Craig Copeland.

“Rent in Cold Lake has gone up from five years ago. You used to be able to get a two-bedroom apartment around $1,000 to $1,200 a month and now, because of the latest boom in the oil patch, in the last year and a half or so … rent has really shot up. Now two-bedroom apartments, good ones, are going for between $1,800 to $2,200.”

About a decade ago, the military stopped subsidizing its on-base housing. Instead, they began to charge the local market rate for rents. In order to maintain a “nationally consistent process,” the military calculates the rents in Ottawa using Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation data.

That process isn’t forgiving to soldiers who live in remote towns struck by oil wealth.

“A normal person would look at this story, see a house built in the ‘50s and ask ‘Why in the world are you charging market rate rents for these people? They work for you? Why do we need to gouge them on the rent?’” said the mayor.

Fearing backlash, few soldiers were willing to speak candidly about the situation. Christine, a soldier’s wife with three young children, said even spouses are too concerned to complain publicly.

“We get crap living conditions,” she said. “Every year my husband gets a raise and our rent goes up. It doesn’t matter.”

After almost two years on the base, she said her husband’s paycheque of about $58,000 is not covering basic expenses.

“Our paycheques do not pay our day-to-day living. We were very lucky in the sense that when we came here, we had money saved up, but that’s all dwindled and we’ve been pulling out of our house-savings fund,” she said.

“There are no extra-curricular activities for the kids, we didn’t have birthday parties for the kids this year, we can’t afford it. Our quality of life is shot,” she said.

The mayor estimates 30% of the employees at CFB Cold Lake — many of them young soldiers with young families — have taken second jobs, like delivering pizzas.

A July report on economic conditions at the base from the Canadian Forces Ombudsman found 35% of one unit had taken on second jobs.

“It was to make ends meet,” said Alain Gauthier, the director-general of operations at the Ombudsman’s office.

In 2012, the ombudsman held four town hall meetings. He heard from military families who couldn’t pay Internet or phone bills, were dipping into their RRSPs and selling their belongings to cover the skyrocketing costs of rent and goods and services.

The report found that the average rent for a three-bedroom home on the base, $1,032, was about double the cost of identical accommodations in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

To add insult to injury, of the 854 homes on the base, almost 97% of them were listed in either poor or fair condition. The report noted that most of the homes have asbestos in the insulation, and many have problems with the electrical outlets and water lines.

So let me get this straight.  Soldiers in the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force can be ordered to give up their lives defending our way of life and for the privilege of doing that, they have to live in substandard housing AND take on part time jobs for the right to do so?

The end result?

Unsurprisingly, Cold Lake is registering high release rates as highly skilled soldiers find better-paying work in the labour-starved oil patch right next door.

According to the ombudsman, the release rate in Cold Lake is double the national average. Highly skilled military personnel are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate.

Christine said she had had that very conversation with her husband this week. If it means another three to four years of living in Cold Lake, she said, her family will leave the military.

“We can’t physically survive another three to four years here. We’re getting closer to debt every month and we don’t have snowmobiles or second vehicles. We don’t have anything,” she said.

I am pretty sure this isn’t just a Canadian problem.  Former General Norman Swatzkoff walked about U.S. soldiers in Europe having to use food banks to feed their families (especially when their wives could not work off the base) and substandard military housing has been a problem for years for most armed forces.  Yet it is disappointing that when you see the money that goes into weapons programs that we can’t figure out how to feed our troops and fairly compensate them based on their posting.  On top of that, Canadian soldiers can be punished for having too much debt or declaring bankruptcy.  Putting them into that situation where debt and having to live off of saving is unacceptable.

For the record, I also agree with those voices in the story that say that the soldier should be disciplined for using his helmet and mention himself being in the service while busking.  Mentioning his military service and using military equipment showed very poor judgement.

Big Yellow Taxi

Why Peter McKay’s “taxi” ride in a search & rescue helicopter strikes a nerve in Newfoundland.

Cormorant CH-149 helicopter

For centuries, families in Newfoundland and Labrador have grieved for those who went to sea and didn’t come home.

The risk continues. Fishing is among the most deadly jobs in the country, and the dangers inherent in travelling to the offshore oil rigs were made clear in the 2009 helicopter crash that killed 17.

Against this backdrop, search and rescue (SAR) is never just about dollars and cents for people in the province. There has been heated debate and raucous protests about the appropriate level of protection. All of which explains why the controversial helicopter ride by Peter MacKay, the ranking political minister in Atlantic Canada, touches such a hot button.

“In the context of cutbacks to basic [rescue] services, that’s pretty hard to swallow,” said Earle McCurdy, president of the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union. “Since 1973 there’s been 193 Newfoundlanders lost their lives in the fishery.”

What makes people really upset is that McKay took a helicopter that was really needed elsewhere.

Search and rescue for the province is handled out of a central location in Gander, where 103 Squadron gets twice the national average of distress calls. There, approximately 50 military personnel and 26 civilians, a unit that calls itself “Outcasts” and features on its badge a rescue dog named Albert, operate three Cormorant CH-149 helicopters.

Each of these choppers – the same type that fetched Mr. MacKay – can carry 12 stretchers and operate in icy conditions. A base spokesman could not be reached Friday afternoon, but the squadron’s website speaks proudly of covering “the lower Arctic, the Maritimes, Newfoundland and Labrador and all offshore waters in the region,” with round-the-clock capability.

But dissenting locals argue that the base is too far from the busy waters off the southeast part of the province, and that overnight response time is sub-par.

Military standards require that SAR crews be airborne within 30 minutes of receiving a call that comes in on a weekday, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. But the rest of the time they have two hours to get in the air. The latter standard falls below international norms and, given that work at sea doesn’t necessarily align with office hours, has sparked much criticism about a two-tier system.

Yeah, if I was a fisherman, I would be upset at McKay using the helicopter as well.  The Calgary Herald has this

Taking a search-and-rescue helicopter out of service to pick him up at a fishing lodge is, frankly, appalling. As opposition members asked Friday, would MacKay use an ambulance as a taxi?

In e-mails uncovered under access-to-information requests, search-and-rescue personnel crossed their fingers after the request came in to pick up MacKay and hoped for "a slow night" so that the helicopter – one of three stationed in the area – wouldn’t be needed for a rescue mission.

This is worse than Canada’s top general using government jets to whisk him about the country.

This is like taking a fire truck off the street and using it as a limousine for a cabinet minister.

The issue is not that cabinet ministers should never use military aircraft. Pilots need to log airtime to stay sharp. If a minister can hitch a ride, it’s not a big deal. But when a minister orders one up when he’s on a fishing vacation, and there is a chance that public safety could be compromised by diminished search-and rescue capabilities, that is inexcusable.

MacKay has long argued that he used the helicopter as part of a planned search-and rescue exercise in July 2010, but recently released Defence Department e-mails suggest otherwise. One military official said in an e-mail that they would use the "guise" of a training mission to explain why the helicopter was sent to pick up MacKay.

The e-mails are damning. They show officials scrambling to accommodate MacKay’s request to be picked up at a private fishing lodge at the end of a vacation and expressed concern that the Cormorant chopper might be needed for a real rescue mission.

I am a big Peter McKay fan but I am starting to wonder if Harper should drop him from cabinet on this one.  I know it won’t happen but this was an abuse of power.  This is how governments lose power.  It’s why we got tired of the Liberals and it’s why Canadians will grow tired of the Conservatives.  It’s not usually a big thing, it’s things like McKay’s user of a helicopter,  the Conservatives lying about Irwin Cotler and Clement’s G8 legacy fund.  It death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts.