A defence plan for Canada

HILARY MACKENZIE,MARC CLARK June 15 1987

A defence plan for Canada

HILARY MACKENZIE,MARC CLARK June 15 1987

A defence plan for Canada

Last October, Defence Minister Perrin Beatty found himself standing on the narrow matteblack hull of one of Canada’s 20-

year-old Canadian submarines off the coast of Nova Scotia. He had only been in the job three months as he stood on the sub’s foredeck, looking out at the grey-green Atlantic as an outmoded Sea King antisubmarine helicopter lumbered overhead. Only weeks before, Beatty had denounced the choppers as obsolete equipment which should be replaced. Now he waited as one of the aircraft prepared to winch him into the air in a doughnut-shaped sling and transfer him to HMCS Ottawa, a destroyer that had celebrated its 30th birthday that summer. As Beatty told Maclean's last week after presenting his defence white paper to Parliament: “That kind of experience really focuses your attention.”

Beatty’s firsthand encounter confirmed his view that the Canadian military was in desperate need of new hardware. And last week he committed the government to doing something about it. In the long-awaited white paper, he announced plans for a massive campaign to rebuild the country’s depleted Armed Forces. The total cost of Beatty’s policy proposals: $183 billion. The paper, the first review of Canada’s defence needs in 16 years, signals the government’s intention to build a fleet of nuclear submarines, develop and deploy a surveillance satellite in space, juggle NATO commitments in Western Europe and purchase new planes, ships and tanks. Defence spending is to rise by at least two per cent a year over 15 years. The costs of new equipment could push the final figure over $200 billion, but Beatty decided that it was worth the price. Said one senior government official: “Beatty deliberately cast his sights at getting the war machine back in shape.”

For the most part, the paper confirmed the two mainstays of Canada’s post-Second World War defence policy: joint defence of Canadian airspace with the United States through the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), and a strong commitment to the defence of Europe through NATO.

The most far-reaching changes in policy will take place at home. Canada’s long-neglected reserve forces will be increased threefold to 90,000 troops, making it roughly equal in size to the regu-

lar forces. And for the first time, Canada will pay more than lip service to the defence of its western and northern boundaries. Under Beatty’s new blueprint, the Canadian navy—traditionally concentrated in Halifax—will be more evenly distributed between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. And the new fleet of 10 to 12 nuclear-powered submarines will for the first time give

Canada the capability to patrol and defend its arctic waters. One senior defence adviser described the new approach as “Canada first-ism.” He added: “It is a clear shift of the centre of gravity of Canadian defence policy westward and northward, and the vehicle to shift that centre is the navy.”

The Conservative government had promised an early defence review during the 1984 election campaign. But the project languished under two defence ministers until Beatty, 37, assumed the post last June. The new minister set to work quickly—one official said that he junked “drawers full” of early drafts of

the paper. Last week, military officers declared themselves delighted with the results. Said Gen. Paul Manson, chief of defence staff: “I can’t think of a single recommendation of the department that has not been brought into the white paper.”

Both opposition parties supported Beatty’s proposal for an increase in defence spending of at least two per cent

per year. But the Liberal and New Democratic Party defence critics condemned Beatty’s decision to buy the nuclear-powered submarines. Liberal Douglas Frith said that the purchase would draw Canada into “a dangerous cat-and-mouse game of superpower strategy.” Indeed, the decision to purchase nuclear submarines is likely to be the most contentious part of the new defence plan. According to Beatty, the total cost of the subs would be $7-$8 billion—making it Canada’s most expensive defence purchase ever. But Beatty said that the purchase would not threaten other defence programs. Ottawa would save the money by cancelling one of the three batches of six antisubmarine frigates promised to the navy and diverting funds set aside for the replacement of Canada’s three diesel-powered submarines.

Beatty acknowledged that nuclearpowered submarines are more expensive than conventional vessels, but said that they are worth the extra cost. They are faster, can stay underwater for months and are the only submarines capable of operating in the Arctic. Diesel-powered submarines must surface regularly to take in air—a dangerous and sometimes impossible feat under the arctic ice pack.

But critics said that a fleet of nuclear submarines could draw Canada into an aggressive new U.S. defence strategy. Under the new plan, U.S. attack submarines would penetrate into the Soviet Barents

Sea, the arctic home of the Soviet ballistic-missile submarine fleet. Retired Admiral Robert Falls has labelled it a “Rambo type of strategy.” And NDP defence critic Derek Blackburn has warned that in times of crisis, Canada’s nuclear submarines would be drawn into that strategy. Said Blackburn: “If Washington thinks they are needed, they will be used.” But Beatty defended the submarine program. “Somebody’s navy will be in our North, whether it’s Soviet, American or Canadian,” he said. “I want to make sure it’s Canadian.”

As well, U.S. defence officials have complained privately that they prefer that Canada spend its money on reinforcement of its forces in Europe. According to the white paper, Canada will end its long-standing commitment to send a brigade and two fighter squadrons—5,500 people—to Norway in case of crisis. Instead, in an emergency those troops would join Canada’s 6,500strong force in southern Germany at a larger division headquarters. As well, new tanks and equipment will be based in Europe, providing the force with the capability of doubling its size to division strength.

In addition, the white paper includes an expensive shopping list of new equipment. Beatty confirmed plans to acquire a second batch of six new frigates at a price of $3.5 billion over eight years, supplementing six now being built in New Brunswick and Quebec. As well, Ottawa will

spend $1.8 billion on 30 to 50 new antisubmarine helicopters to replace the 1960s-vintage Sea Kings. Ottawa also will go ahead with the new $600million North Warning System and upgrade arctic airfields for deploy-

ment of CF-18 fighter jets. Other proposed purchases:

• A $75-million network of sensitive listening devices to detect submarines passing through the narrow passages of the Canadian Arctic.

• A flotilla of 30 minor warships, including Canada’s first batch of minesweepers since the early 1960s. Cost: $600 million.

• Six maritime longrange patrol aircraft to supplement Canada’s 18 Aurora antisubmarine aircraft — at $300 million.

• Upgrading of dated Tracker short-range antisubmarine aircraft at an as yet undetermined cost.

• Ten to 13 CF-18 fighters, likely used aircraft purchased from the U.S. navy.

• A northern training centre in the high Arc-

tic for troops, and extra

support for the Canadi-

an Rangers, a reserve force composed largely of Inuit and Indians.

• Unspecified funds for research on space-based surveillance systems.

For would-be defence contractors, that list represents a mine of lucrative contracts. The richest of them—the submarine program—has already triggered an international marketing war. Only three western countries build nuclear-powered submarines. Defence officials have ruled out the giant U.S.made Los Angeles-class attack submarines—they cost $1 billion each—leaving French and British manufacturers jockeying for the contract. Defence officials are believed to favor the British-made Trafalgar-class submarine over the French-built Amethyste-class vessels. The Trafalgar is more expensive—$450 million to $500 million each, versus $350 million for its French rival—but its proponents note that it is larger, faster and quieter.

Beatty acknowledged that additional pressures on the federal budget could shorten that list. But he said that he is determined to press for a massive reequipping of the Armed Forces. “We could meet our defence needs by having somebody else do the job,” he said. “It would be cheaper to do so, but the price that we pay is in our nationhood. It would be tragic if we mortgaged that.”

HILARY MACKENZIE

MARC CLARK

CHRIS WOOD