EDITORIAL

What our tin-pot navy needs is a lot of heavy hardware

Peter C. Newman February 16 1981
EDITORIAL

What our tin-pot navy needs is a lot of heavy hardware

Peter C. Newman February 16 1981

What our tin-pot navy needs is a lot of heavy hardware

EDITORIAL

Peter C. Newman

An American version of Canada’s CF-104, an aircraft that still serves as our main strike weapon in NATO, has been added to the historical section of the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio. The computers that operate the firing systems on most of our warships depend on antiquated vacuum tubes supplied by the U.S.S.R.

These and similar facts are fairly typical of the state of Canada’s defence readiness. Generals and admirals are always being accused of trying to win the last war. Our military commanders certainly can’t claim that distinction; they now couldn’t even attempt to contest the last war, much less the next one.

Because I am particularly interested in naval matters, I recently spent some time talking to senior members of the armed forces. All that they really have is enthusiasm. The dedication of most service personnel is beyond question; most of their equipment is beyond salvage. The naval service is the worst off. Of our 20 fighting ships, all but four are between 15 and 25 years old; their hulls have become so thin and shaky that masking tape has had to be used to keep seawater from damaging electronic instruments. Three of the frigates counted as part of our NATO fleet are docked so they can be cannibalized for parts to keep the other ships going. It’s the equivalent of going into the Second World War with destroyers built in 1907.

Such a tin-pot approach wouldn’t matter much, except for the fact that the U.S.S.R.’s rearmament program has concentrated on an unprecedented buildup of sea power. The Soviets now have more than 500 capital ships, including new titanium-hulled submarines the size of ocean liners. They can travel 80 km an hour underwater and execute a 180° turn in 90 seconds, outrunning the West’s fastest torpedoes. One such vessel hiding off Newfoundland’s coastal shelf could destroy every city in Canada with its long-range missiles.

One way to make our defence expenditures more effective might be to allocate them to the protection of our energy resources through establishment of a new NATO northern command. (Right now, the air defence fleet stationed north of 60 consists of precisely two Twin Otters in Yellowknife.)

Already, Canada’s annual per capita defence spending (at $177) is the lowest for any NATO country except Luxembourg and Portugal. If we don’t raise these budgets very soon we may as well follow the urgings of Mogens Glistrup, the head of Denmark’s Progress Party. He recently suggested that his country’s defence ministry should consist entirely of a telephone answering device with a message in Russian, repeating: “We surrender.”