A policy of collective defence defines industry’s role

November 4 1985


A policy of collective defence defines industry’s role

November 4 1985


A policy of collective defence defines industry’s role

Collective defence—effectively the pooling of national resources with other like-minded countries—has provided the cornerstone of Canadian foreign and defence policy since the end of the Second World War.

In partnership with its allies in the Atlantic Alliance (Belgium, Denmark, France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States), Canada has supported a doctrine which seeks to deter aggression by maintaining adequate military strength. At the same time, however, the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) have actively sought verifiable arms control and disarmament agreements.

Canada’s decision to reject neutrality or non-alignment in favour of collective defence and participation in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization has necessarily had a powerful impact on its armed forces.

This impact was perhaps most readily apparent during Canada’s military buildup of the early-to-mid 1950s. The buildup, which was unparalleled in peacetime, produced a modern, well-equipped defence establishment of considerable size and complexity.

The decision to station Canadian military personnel in Europe, in peacetime, also was a new departure. The Canadian contingent in Europe was to include a particularly well-trained and well-equipped infantry brigade group from the army and, from the air force, a twelve-squadron Air Division. Equipped with late-model fighter aircraft, the Air Division represented a large and important contribution to the air defence of Western Europe. A variety of homebased forces, including the bulk of Canj ada’s rapidly-growing navy, also were given NATO assignments.

At the same time, strenuous efforts were being made to build up the air defences of North America. These efforts, which ultimately culminated in the creation of a joint North American Air Defence Command (NORAD) with the United States, included a large force of Canadian-designed interceptor aircraft and a series of radar warning lines.

Peace-keeping operations under the flag of the United Nations and such important domestic duties as search and rescue and disaster relief rounded out the responsibilities of a very busy and decidedly far-flung defence establishment.

During the 1950s, equally strenuous efforts were being made to promote Canadian self-reliance in the development and production of selected military hardware. This approach generated considerable employment in the aerospace, electronics and shipbuilding industries and produced research and development and manufacturing expertise of potential "spinoff” benefit to the civilian community. A vigorous defence-industrial sector also made it easier to provide on-going repair, overhaul and other support for the Canadian Armed Forces. In 1959, however, the cancellation of the Avro Arrow fighter aircraft showed just how difficult—and expensive—it was to maintain indigenous design capabilities.

Although the NATO commitments continued to provide the cornerstone of Canadian defence policy throughout the 1960s, a major foreign policy review at the end of the decade reduced their relative importance. The Canadian contingent in Germany, for example, was reduced in strength by some 50 percent. Although Canada acquired new "flyover” commitments to NATO’s northern flank (Norway), relatively limited defence spending during the early 1970s made it increasingly difficult to maintain a modern defence establishment.

In 1975, however, a second defence review restored NATO’s historical role as the cornerstone of Canadian defence policy. The related decision to launch a thorough military modernization program reflected a number of considerations. Prime amongst these was the view that Canada, as a member of NATO, had an obligation to carry a fair share of the collective defence burden. At a time when the conventional balance of power between East and West seemed to be tilting away from NATO, this argument was doubly persuasive.

The 1975 review led to a series of well-publicized defence acquisitions. Included in this list were Aurora long-range patrol aircraft from the United States, Leopard tanks from the Federal Republic of Germany, CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft from the United States, and Piranha light armoured vehicles from Switzerland. The latter were built under license by the Diesel Division of General Motors of Canada in London, Ontario.

More recently, the modernization program has included six patrol frigates for the navy, a new radar network in the far north and a host of smaller acquisitions, ranging from torpedoes to search and rescue helicopters.

The Canadian defence establishment, although still relatively small in terms of manpower (approximately 83,700 fulltime “regulars" and 23,800 part-time reservists), has received a considerable amount of new equipment as a result of the 1975 defence review. The extensive backlog of old equipment and the cost of modern equipment, however, has necessitated a long-term replacement program. Some branches of the armed forces are consequently much betterequipped than others.

One area of particular concern is low level air defence. Low level air defence, as the name suggests, is concerned with the protection of both “fixed" installations, such as air bases, and mobile formations, such as army infantry and armoured units. In the absence of credible low level air defence, both could be devastated by ground-attack aircraft armed with guns, bombs, missiles or a variety of other weapons. Well-armed helicopters are another potential threat.

Canada’s current low level air defence systems, however, are of very limited effectiveness. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Canadian ground forces and air bases in Europe are horribly vulnerable to air attack. The Lahr and Baden-Soellingen air bases in Germany, for example, are currently protected by old 40mm “Boffin" guns—little changed from their World War II counterparts— and somewhat newer, but still inadequate, “Blowpipe" surface-to-air missiles.

The “Boffin" guns, which were previously installed on Canadian naval vessels, were reclaimed from storage in the early 1970s. These systems do not come close to providing adequate protection for the expensive CF-18 Hornet fighter aircraft which Canada is deploying to Europe. “Blowpipe", a relatively light shoulder-launched weapon with a number of significant limitations, also is utilized by the Canadian mechanized brigade group which is stationed in southern Germany.

To protect these facilities and units— and the army brigade group which is stationed in Canada but assigned to the defence of northern Norway—the Department of National Defence launched the Low Level Air Defence (LLAD) program in 1982.

A $605 million undertaking, the LLAD program has touched off an intense competition involving the leading international suppliers of LLAD systems and their Canadian partners and sub-contractors. In April of 1984, for example, an industrial briefing session in Ottawa drew 182 representatives from 37 companies in 12 countries. The seven major bids, which were received by August of 1984, included firms headquartered in the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

After a hard-fought competition, a “short-list” of finalists was announced on May 8, 1985. The finalists, who are offering a technically diverse mix of solutions to the Canadian LLAD requirements, include Bofors Ordnance of Sweden, Contraves AG of Switzerland and Machine Tool Works Oerlikon-Buhrle of Switzerland.

Switzerland’s prominence on the short-list—at the expense of formidable competitors from other European countries and the United States—may surprise many Canadians. In point of fact, however, Switzerland has a defence industrial sector which is both highly-developed and highly-successful. A defence industry with acknowledged world-class expertise in air defence systems, light armoured vehicles, training aircraft and a variety of other technologies, it has made extensive inroads in the international marketplace. The Swiss defence industry also provides a significant percentage of the equipment operated by the Swiss Army and its air component, the Flugwaffe.

References to the “Swiss Army” also tend to surprise many Canadians. What would Switzerland, a small, neutral country with about one quarter of Canada’s population, need a defence establishment for? Has Switzerland, a country which could comfortably fit into an area half the size of New Brunswick, not been at peace since the 19th Century?

It is important to remember, however, that Switzerland practices not only neutrality but armed neutrality. An article of faith for the Swiss, armed neutrality requires a defence establishment of sufficient size to deter and, if necessary, actively oppose, a would-be aggressor. The result is a largely reserve-based military establishment of impressive size, compulsory military service, a large civil defence organization and, as noted earlier, a substantial defence-industrial sector.

The Alps and the Jura mountains also provide the country with a number of natural defensive barriers.

Although Switzerland spends less on national defence than Canada, compulsory service and a heavy reliance on reserve personnel allow it to maintain a military establishment far larger—in terms of manpower—than Canada’s. Indeed, in an emergency, Switzerland can mobilize a force of some 580,000 soldiers and airmen. Switzerland’s massive civil defence organization, unlike anything seen in Canada, can call upon almost 500,000 personnel and provide shelter and other facilities for most of the Swiss population.

Not surprisingly a well-equipped force, the Swiss Army utilizes equipment of domestic, European and American origin. Domestic manufacturers, for example, have provided a variety of low level air defence weapons and the Pz61 and Pz86 family of tanks. American-designed equipment currently in service with the Swiss defence establishment includes M113 armoured personnel carriers, M109 self-propelled howitzers, Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and the F-5E fighter aircraft. The latter were built under license in Switzerland. Switzerland also is expected to acquire the very advanced TOW 2 anti-tank missile from the United States.

Acquisitions from fellow European countries include the French Mirage III fighter aircraft and, more recently, the formidable Leopard 2 tank from West Germany. In addition to 35 tanks purchased direct from West Germany, an additional 345 Leopard 2s are to be built in Switzerland. Canada’s Leopard 1 tanks are of an earlier generation.

Switzerland’s small size and rugged topography have dictated a number of quite remarkable measures. In the event of hostilities, for example, the air component of the Swiss Army would deploy to a network of underground bases. Carved out of rock, these subterranean Kavernen (or caverns) include nuclear-resistant hangars, repair shops, storage facilities and living quarters. Only the runways are above ground. In an emergency, Swiss military aircraft also could make use of specially reinforced sections of highway.

Canada, a member of a defence alliance, and Switzerland, a neutral nation, obviously approach national defence in different ways. They also differ markedly in terms of military organization, with Switzerland primarily relying on reservists and compulsory service and Canada on full-time regulars and voluntary enlistment. At the same time, however, there is common ground in terms of some equipment and, much more importantly, in terms of a common belief in democratic principles.

Although the LLAD program carries the prospect of an expanded link between the industries of Canada and Switzerland, it will certainly not be the first example of defence-industrial cooperation between the two countries. In 1977, for example, the Swiss MOWAG company and the Diesel Division of General Motors of Canada won a Canadian military competition for the supply of new armoured vehicles. Renamed the Cougar, Husky and Grizzly in Canadian service, the MOWAG-designed “Piranha” family of vehicles was license-built by General Motors in its London, Ontario facility. This contract, which involved many other Canadian firms, was completed in 1982. A modified variant of the Canadian-produced vehicle, however, was subsequently ordered in quantity by the United States Marine Corps. Production of this and other variants is continuing.

There are other defence-industrial linkages, as well. Pratt and Whitney Canada in Longueuil, Quebec, for example, is continuing to supply PT6 turboprop engines for the highly-successful line of training aircraft manufactured in Switzerland by Pilatus.

The Low Level Air Defence program clearly offers the opportunity to build on this foundation. Increased interaction between Canadian and Swiss defence suppliers would naturally strengthen the respective defence industrial sectors and provide a wider range of skills and expertise to support the respective defence establishments. A relationship of potentially long-term benefit in both the military and non-military spheres, increased interaction also offers the prospect of technology transfer, joint ventures, enhanced two-way trade in defence and non-defence products and a variety of new commercial linkages between Canadian and Swiss companies. For both countries, increased interaction between two rather complementary defence industries should help to promote self-reliance in defence through industrial cooperation.