The incredible shrinking Royal Air Force

Posted December 19th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, Technology by MarkOttawa

Senior serving British officers certainly are much more open and frank than ours:

Air Vice-Marshal Greg Bagwell, commander of the RAF’s No 1 Group, which controls all Britain’s fast jet combat aircraft, said that Britain was likely to end up with only six fighter and bomber squadrons, half its current number.

He warned: “That might not be quite enough.”

Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell’s remarks, in a briefing last week to Defense News, a trade journal, are among the most outspoken by any senior RAF commander.

He warned that even the reductions that have been publicly announced — from 12 fast-jet squadrons to eight — would leave the RAF only “just about” able to do its current tasks, with no leeway for the unexpected…

In the medium-term, over the next seven to 10 years, Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell said, the RAF “will be a six-squadron world; that’s what’s on the books”. He said he expected there to be five squadrons of Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft and just one of the Harrier’s long-term replacement, the Joint Strike Fighter. “I expect a single [JSF] squadron in 2020 and that’s it,” he said [more on the UK's F-35 plans here, plus the RAF's giving up aerial maritime patrol].

Asked whether this left the RAF on the same level as Belgium, he replied: “I think we’re slightly above Belgium, and we are not a Belgium-minded country.”

He added: “I might, over the next few years, argue that that might not be quite enough.” As recently as the 1990s the RAF had 30 front-line fast-jet squadrons [emphasis added]…

An RAF comprising six fast-jet squadrons would be smaller than at any point since its foundation in 1918. It would take British combat air power back to the pre-RAF days of the Royal Flying Corps.

Belgium no longer has a stand-alone air force, but an “air component”, with five fast-jet squadrons. In squadron terms the RAF of 2020 will be only slightly larger, but will still have significantly more aircraft, with an estimated minimum of 135 fast jets to Belgium’s 70.

Air Vice-Marshal Bagwell said that one way around the shortages was to collaborate more with the French [emphasis added, more here: "Good froggies!"].

“It looks like we are going to twin 3 Squadron [a Typhoon squadron] with one of the [French] Rafale [fighter-bomber] squadrons. I’ll make a prediction we will have British officers flying Rafale from a carrier within a few years. I’m quite sure of it.”..


U.K. Harrier’s Farewell
(All Pictures: UK MOD Crown Copyright 2010)
[Note the snow.]

Earlier on the Harrier:

Harrier’s last sea jump

By the way, the Canadian Air Force has two operational fast air squadrons (CF-18 Hornet “gun squadrons”): 409 at Cold Lake, Alberta, and 425 at Bagotville, Quebec.

The Royal Navy, for its part, is also fading fairly fast:

The Royal Navy’s new flagship is a ferry…

Lots more here on the recent UK big defence cuts.

Update: A pilot from 425 Squadron is flying Tornados in Afstan on exchange with the RAF (via and the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs).

Upperdate: A version of this post is at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds Blog.


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Double take of the day

Posted December 16th, 2010 in Canada, International by MarkOttawa

In light of the current situation, some rather wry humour at the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs:

Canadian News

CBC News
Canada’s troops head to Korea


“Afghanistan: Progress-more needs to be done”/”Bleak Intelligence Brief”/Polish Update

Posted December 11th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, united states by MarkOttawa


Then there’s this, rather sobering, on two major US estimates:

Afghanistan, Pakistan Get Bleak Intelligence Brief

WASHINGTON — New U.S. intelligence reports paint a bleak picture of the security conditions in Afghanistan and say the war cannot be won unless Pakistan roots out militants on its side of the border, according to several U.S. officials who have been briefed on the findings.

The reports, one on Afghanistan, the other on Pakistan, could complicate the Obama administration’s plans to report next week that the war is turning a corner. U.S. military commanders have challenged the new conclusions, however, saying they are based on outdated information that does not take into account progress made in recent months, says a senior U.S. official who is part of the review process.

The analyses were detailed in briefings to the Senate Intelligence Committee this week and some of the findings were shared with members of the House Intelligence Committee, officials said.

All the officials interviewed spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the classified documents.

The reports, known as National Intelligence Estimates, are prepared by the Director of National Intelligence and used by policymakers as senior as the president to understand trends in a region. The new reports are the first ones done in two years on Afghanistan and six years on Pakistan, officials said. Neither the Director of National Intelligence nor the CIA would comment on either report…

In describing the Afghanistan report, military officials said there is a disconnect between the findings, completed in recent weeks, and separate battlefield assessments done by the war commander, Gen. David Petraeus, and others that contain more up-to-date and sometimes more promising accounts [see here].

A military official familiar with the reports said the gloomier prognosis in the Afghanistan report became a source of friction as a preliminary version was passed among government agencies.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged the contrast between the Afghan estimate and Petraeus’ reports.

“It’s a very disciplined, structured process, so it’s got a cutoff date that’s substantially earlier in the game than, say, the military review,” Cartwright said in a recent interview.

He said officials will have to grapple with whether intelligence and battlefield reports are starting to diverge or whether the gloomier intelligence analysis is “more an artifact of time. Those are the questions that we’ll have to work our way through and either feel comfortable about or not feel comfortable about.”..

Update: This article from Time is illuminating–at least the Poles are a combat force:

For U.S. Troops in Afghanistan, Coalition Forces Are Mixed Blessing

U.S. forces have long expected to do the heavy lifting on the NATO mission in Afghanistan, but even then, the Army battalion that arrived in Ghazni province last summer were troubled by what they found. The Taliban were resurgent in areas that U.S. forces had pacified before handing control to Polish forces a year earlier. “It was as if the [Polish] were waiting for us to come back and release them from their base” and then take the credit, says one U.S. officer, describing how failure to patrol the roads has allowed a route between coalition bases to become choked with roadside bombs. Americans had to return to take charge, he said, because the Poles are “just kind of hanging around.”

Such criticism is common among U.S. officers who have served in Afghanistan, and it is directed not only at Polish forces but also at other NATO forces, some of which are hamstrung by so-called caveats that range from prohibitions against fighting at night to traveling without an ambulance, thereby precluding foot patrols. The Polish force is not bound by any of these constraints, but U.S. officers say the Poles’ top-down approach to war-fighting is ill-suited to a counter-insurgency campaign that requires real-time decision-making by mid- and lower-level officers on the ground. They add that the Poles’ six-month deployments strain continuity, and that logistics snafus make them dependent on U.S. support…

Via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs.


Canadian Government has no idea what the F-35 will cost…/Video Upperdate/What LM said Uppestdate

Posted December 2nd, 2010 in Canada, International, Technology, united states by MarkOttawa

…just like the US one (and all other prospective buyers).  The end of a post yesterday:

“Rivals Target JSF”/ More on why Update

Meanwhile our government claims our F-35s will cost 74.5 million each.  Sure.  The most recent limited production batch for the US have prices (without engines) of around $150 million each, it would seem.

Now we see the government finally coming somewhat clean:

[David] Burt [director for air requirements] conceded the $70-million to $78-million price tag per plane is not guaranteed. It could rise or fall, he said, depending on the timing of the delivery. Lockheed Martin has only recently started the F-35′s mass-production process. The earlier the slot in which an aircraft is produced, the more costly it is [emphasis added, our government says the Air Force will start receiving the planes in 2016--when full-rate production will just be starting and the full-rate price will therefore be at its highest].

Burt added that commodities prices and other factors could also drive up prices. “But they could also drive prices down,” he noted.

Talk about grasping at refuelling nozzles:

Does anyone really think the acquisition costs for 65 aircraft will stay anywhere near the $9 billion the government has budgeted? So how many F-35s might the Air Force end up with if the government does not add more money (most unlikely under continuing budget pressures)?  Our slowly shrinking fighter force–unless we hold a competition?

And note this from 2008, and how our government is now being exceedingly economical with the truth when it says the F-35 was somehow selected under the Liberal government in 2001 as a result of the American JSF competition:

Canada Lowers Number Of Planned Fighters

Canada has reduced the number of new fighters it plans to purchase to 65 from 80, and stresses that it has not formally selected the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) despite having participated in its development…

Despite the widespread and understandable assumption that Harper was referring to the F-35, Canada has not yet selected its next fighter, the DND emphasizes. Like several of the international participants in the JSF program, Ottawa plans to evaluate other candidate combat aircraft before making a decision, which is required by 2012.

Yet the government rushed to a decision two years early in 2010; this, I think, is the reason.

Update: A version of the post is at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s 3Ds Blog. Below is a list of contributors to the blog, weird:

David Bercuson
Douglas Bland
Derek Burney
Paul Chapin
Mark Collins
Mark Entwistle
Jack Granatstein
Colin Robertson
Hugh Segal

Upperdate: Tom Burbage, Executive Vice-President and General Manager F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Integration, will be appearing at 1530 this afternoon before the Commons’ Standing Committee on National Defence, video will be here. Somehow one doubts the discussion will be terribly informative or to the point.  One suspects there will a great concentration on jobs (pork) from all parties.

Uppestdate: No video, only audio.  The opposition parties performed better than the government, asking a fair number of fairly substantive questions as opposed to the Conservatives’ cheerleading ones.  Though no MP seemed to have a serious grasp of the related issues involved.

Mr Burbage held to the LM “all is well” party line, as indeed he would, wouldn’t he? He did make clear that Canada would pay the same price per plane as the US for the A model (unless there is Canadianization, e.g., for method of aerial refuelling).  He maintained that the $74.5 million per plane price, for deliveries starting in 2016, was well inside the ballpark. But that depends on the numbers in actual US full-rate production at that time, does it not?

No-one knows what the production rate will actually be in 2016 (if we actually start receiving the aircraft then); therefore Mr Burbage cannot really know the price per plane then. That depends on unknown US government–administration and Congress–decisions. So our government cannot know the real costs when even the Americans do not.

As for industrial benefits, Mr Burbage made it clear that the gazillions Canadian companies are touted to make by our government depend completely on total F-35 sales world-wide. And those are increasingly unclear, both in the US and elsewhere, think of those European budget crunches. So the industrial winnings remain a crap-shoot.

There are an awful lot of assumptions in play.  Mr Burbage (an intelligent and informed professional, what he must have made of our MPs) also made it clear that Canada had no substantive role in the 2001 competitive selection of the F-35 by the US, and that Canada was in no wise committed by that selection.  Not the line our government has been spinning.

Meanwhile at the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs:

Canadian Commentary

Mark Collins — The 3Ds Blog
F-35’s final cost is unknown – More

Beyond Uppestdate: Our media simply regurgitate Mr Burbage’s opening statement. Pathetic reporting:

Canada could lose out on billions in contracts if F-35 deal yanked: Lockheed Martin

U.S. jet exec shoots down criticisms of F-35

The Brits, for their part, are reducing their planned F-35 buy, probably severely. UK companies have the largest share of non-US F-35 work. Will that be reduced with the Brits’ much smaller F-35 acquisition? That’s what Mr Burbage said would happen to Canadian companies if we do not buy the F-35.  And if we do buy the plane will our firms pick up some of that UK business? That would follow Mr Burbage’s logic.  One wishes an MP had asked the question; and one wishes our media would.

A final note on developments abroad:

JSF in Crosshairs of Dutch Defense Review

Dutch defense minister Hans Hillen says the F-16 replacement program — effectively the purchase of F-35s — will be part of the larger review of force structure in light of planned reductions in defense spending…

The Dutch are slated to buy 85 aircraft, but there has been much talk about reducing that figure to slightly more than 50 units.

Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to pressure Lockheed Martin for cost reductions.


Where the WikiLeaks likely came from-and what they show

Posted November 29th, 2010 in International, united states by MarkOttawa

At the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs:

International News

SIPRNet: Where America stores its secret cables – More – DISA – More

As for the significance, Timothy Garton Ash in the Guardian:

…from what I have seen, the professional members of the US foreign service have very little to be ashamed of. Yes, there are echoes of skulduggery at the margins, especially in relation to the conduct of “the war on terror” in the Bush years. Specific questions must be asked and answered. For the most part, however, what we see here is diplomats doing their proper job: finding out what is happening in the places to which they are posted, working to advance their nation’s interests and their government’s policies.

In fact, my personal opinion of the state department has gone up several notches. In recent years, I have found the American foreign service to be somewhat underwhelming, reach-me-down, dandruffy, especially when compared with other, more confident arms of US government, such as the Pentagon and the treasury. But what we find here is often first rate.

As readers will discover, the man who is now America’s top-ranking professional diplomat, William Burns, contributed from Russia a highly entertaining account – almost worthy of Evelyn Waugh – of a wild Dagestani wedding attended by the gangsterish president of Chechnya, who danced clumsily “with his gold-plated automatic stuck down the back of his jeans”.

…one question remains. How can diplomacy be conducted under these conditions? A state department spokesman is surely right to say that the revelations are “going to create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world”. The conduct of government is already hampered by fear of leaks. An academic friend of mine who worked in the state department under Condoleezza Rice told me that he had once suggested writing a memo posing fundamental questions about US policy in Iraq. “Don’t even think of it,” he was warned – because it would be sure to appear in the next day’s New York Times.

There is a public interest in understanding how the world works and what is done in our name. There is a public interest in the confidential conduct of foreign policy. The two public interests conflict.

One thing I’d bet on, though: the US government must surely be ruing, and urgently reviewing, its weird decision to place a whole library of recent diplomatic correspondence on to a computer system so brilliantly secure that a 22-year-old could download it on to a Lady Gaga CD. Gaga, or what?

Via Norman’s Spectator.


Katyn and coming clean about a mass murderer

Posted November 26th, 2010 in International by MarkOttawa

Further to this post,

“Bloodlands”: Where WW II in Europe was really fought…

good on the Russian Parliament:

Stalin ordered Katyn massacre

Via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs. As for the Germans:

Expense claim: “liquidation of Jews in Belgrade”


Corruption? What stinking corruption? Part 2

Posted November 25th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International by MarkOttawa


Many in Canada howl that we should not be militarily involved in Afstan because the government is too corrupt…

Yet our government is working very hard, with general approval, to strengthen links with another country in the area (which the Liberals are also mad keen on courting) that has very serious corruption problems of its own:

Canada-India trade talks overshadowed by corruption scandals

Now in The Economist:

Graft in India
Rotten to the crore?
Coping with the aftermath of a massive scam

My point is not to eschew trade ties but to point out Canadian hypocrisy in selectively and relentlessly bashing Afstan for things we just don’t even talk about when lots of money is hoped to be made. Our relations with China are now equally selective in taking supposed principles seriously (interesting photos at preceding link).

I just want us to shut the moralizing …. up and be honest. We do Realpolitik too.

Update: A version of this and the “Earlier” post is in the National Post’s “Full Comment”:

The Post piece is also in the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs:

Canadian Commentary
Mark Collins — National Post
Canada’s selective corruption index. Afghanistan bad, India good


Afstan: “A training role is possible”

Posted November 14th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International by MarkOttawa

A letter of mine in the Toronto Star (links added):

Re: Canadians need clarity, information, Nov. 9; Taliban waited and Ottawa blinked, Nov. 10; PM’s reversal on Afghan pullout flawed, Nov. 10

These columns all maintain that it will be almost impossible for the Canadian Forces to stay on with a training mission in Afghanistan that is not at the same time effectively a combat role. That is not so. Basic military training of Afghan recruits, officer staff training, training in technical skills and medical skills can be readily done in the Kabul area without going “outside the wire” alongside the Afghans.

The Canadian Forces have already sent a small number of personnel to engage in that sort of training in Kabul as part of the NATO Training Mission — Afghanistan. They have suffered no casualties and have not seen combat. I would imagine that any large Canadian training contingent would mostly be attached to that non-combat NATO mission.

Indeed, if the government sends the 1,000 personnel mentioned in the media, I would think Canadians would largely be taking charge of the NATO training mission. For which our allies will be very grateful as NATO has had great difficulty in getting members to provide the numbers of trainers needed.

Mark Collins, Ottawa

Though as BruceR. has pointed out at Flit, NTM-A does do a lot of outside-the-wire mentoring; but that would not be the CF’s role at Kabul–or elsewhere in Afstan if some CF members are also stationed outside the capital area, according to this story by Matthew Fisher of Postmedia News.  As for taking charge, that too would be at Kabul.

Update: The letter and this post are in the Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs:

Canadian Commentary

Mark Collins — The Toronto Star
Letter: A training role is possible – More


Afstan: Really hitting the Talibs for six

Posted November 12th, 2010 in Afghanistan, Canada, International, pop culture by MarkOttawa

Almost body-line bowling, ideologically speaking:

First women’s cricket team for Afghanistan

KABUL — Afghanistan is to get its first national women’s cricket team, the sport’s governing body in the country said on Thursday, announcing plans for it to compete in an international tournament next year.

“This development is so exciting for our young women cricketers and their families and supporters,” said Diana, women’s cricket development officer at the Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), in a statement.

“We love our country and hope to support it through our sport. Seeing a women’s cricket team in the Asian Cup will do so much to raise the hopes of many women here,” added Diana, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Women’s participation in sport in Afghanistan has increased since the 2001 fall of the hardline Islamist Taliban, who banned education for girls and forced women to retreat behind the all-enveloping burqa.

Sprinter-turned-lawmaker Robina Jalali made it to the Olympic Games in 2004 and 2008, competing in a hijab or traditional Muslim headscarf.

Football and basketball teams have sprung up in some urban areas, but women’s full involvement in sports is still lacking — as in other areas of society — and in many rural areas women rarely leave their homes.

The ACB said the team’s participation in next February’s short-format Twenty20 tournament in Kuwait would be the first time Afghan women will have taken part in cricket matches abroad.

More than 100 young women currently play the game in the capital Kabul and three have recently attended umpire training courses. The ACB has also set up coaching sessions to attract more girls and young women to the sport…

Cricket in Afghanistan is taking off after the men’s national side qualified for the Twenty20 World Cup held in the West Indies earlier this year.

The team is currently preparing to play in the Asian Games from Saturday…

Many Afghan cricketers learned the sport in neighbouring Pakistan after fleeing the violence as refugees…

Take a look at the “Home Ground of Afghan Cricket on the Web”.  Many Afghans are not the fanatical (except for cricket) mediæval primitives a lot of people seem to think they virtually all are.

By the way, there’s a very informative Update, via BruceR. at Flit, at this post on the government’s plans to keep the CF on in Afstan in a training role.

Update: At the game:

Photo via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs.


American presidential memoirs: Don’t bother…

Posted November 7th, 2010 in united states by MarkOttawa

…with two notable exceptions (I’ve read Grant and quite agree).  From a review of George W. Bush’s book in the Washington Post:

…The presidential memoir as it has evolved, especially in the wake of recent presidencies, is not a memoir as the term is commonly understood — an attempt to examine and interpret the writer’s life — but an attempt to write history before the historians get their hands on it [heck that was Winston Churchill's approach--a very good book]…

The presidential memoir is a creature of relatively recent invention, a product of the post-World War II era and one that has, to all intents and purposes, no older precedent. Only two memoirs by former presidents are worth reading today. The first, Ulysses S. Grant’s two-volume “Personal Memoirs” (1885-86) is almost entirely about his military career and makes only passing reference to his two terms in the White House. The second is Harry S. Truman’s memoirs, also two volumes: “Year of Decisions” (1955) and “Years of Trial and Hope” (1956)…

As an aside, this is an interesting piece on a Churchill largely forgotten (via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs):

Churchill’s Dark Side: Six Questions for Madhusree Mukerjee

Update thought: Tony Blair’s memoirs, by comparison to the other B’s, at least seem to be interesting.  And related to Mr Blair and memoirs, do read The Ghost and see The Ghost Writer–both brilliant.


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