Three decades ago, Canada’s CF-104 jet fighter was the acme of aircraft design, a bullet-fast stiletto of an airplane that could outclimb and outfight any opponent. But by 1974, when Lt.-Col. Ian Struthers began flying the CF-104, it was a museum piece. Canada’s allies flatly refused to practise combat with Canadian airmen. “We were on our knees trying to get someone to exercise with us,” recalled Struthers, now the commander of 441 Tactical Fighter Squadron in Cold Lake, Alta. “The Americans said that they were wasting their time fighting an outdated jet.” Then, in 1982, the Canadian Armed Forces took delivery of the first of 138 CF-18 Hornets, a state-of-the-art marriage of computers and brute power that leaves lesser jets in its smoke. “Now,” said Struthers proudly, “they are calling us.”
Few of Struthers’ colleagues in other branches of the Canadian Armed Forces are as fortunate: most of Canada’s 87,300 troops are still driving, sailing and firing the same outdated equipment they had when the Tories took office in 1984, despite Defence Minister Perrin Beatty’s claim that the Conservatives are refurbishing the military.
Most of the new equipment that has arrived—including CF-18S, the last of which are scheduled to be delivered next month—was ordered by the previous Liberal government.
Beatty has followed through on Liberal plans to buy more of everything, from rifles to warships, as the defence department continues its greatest-ever peacetime spending program.
While adopting Liberal purchasing plans, Beatty has embarked on new programs of his own to upgrade the military. In mid-July, he awarded a Calgary firm, Canadian Foremost Ltd., a $420-million contract to build 820 wide-tracked troop carriers for use across snowy or swampy ground. Then, on July 25, he announced plans to
spend $750 million in the next 10 years on 12 small warships for minesweeping and coastal patrol. And the cabinet is expected to approve a request from Beatty for a sophisticated new army communications system to cost $1 billion. Beatty’s estimate of defence requirements during the next decade: a total of $183 billion.
Controversy surrounds the program.
In the House of Commons last week, Liberal defence critic Len Hopkins charged that Beatty “has found an excellent election tool in the department of national defence.” But Dan Middlemiss, director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, said, “The military needs these things badly.” Some of Middlemiss’s academic colleagues are
less convinced. Said David Cox, who lectures on defence issues at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.: “People are reluctant to come to the conclusion that Canada just does not have many problems with defence.” Still, Canada’s troops—particularly in the navy and army—are eagerly awaiting delivery of new ships, tanks, trucks and guns as sleek and sophisticated as the palegrey CF-18s on the tarmac at Cold Lake.
The navy is first in line. The youngest of the fleet’s 23 destroyers is 17 years old and 19 of the ships are steamdriven vessels delivered in the 1950s and 1960s. Maintenance is a constant headache. “If you ran a car for 30 years, you know what kind of shape it would be in,” said Capt. Basil Moore, deputy chief of staff of Maritime Command in Halifax and the officer responsible for fleet readiness. Moore and his associates are eagerly awaiting the delivery next year of HMCS Halifax, the first of 12 new helicopter-carrying frigates from an $8-billion contract that the Liberals awarded in 1983. The Halifax’s 225 crew members will have the same mission as Canadian sailors do now—hunting submarines—but they will do it with radically different equipment.
The Halifax’s electronics will have more in common with the space-age computers that line the CF-18’s cockpit than the vacuum-tube technology on the old destroyers. Q Deep in its hull, a compact o and powerful turbine—essentially a jet engine adapted for use at sea—will produce speeds above 27 knots, nearly 31 m.p.h. The new frigates will also feature rapid-fire guns to deal with the latest threat to surface ships: deadly sea-skimming missiles such as the French-built Exocets that sank a British destroyer during the 1982 Falklands War and crippled a U.S. destroyer in the Persian Gulf in May, 1987. Submarines, aircraft and surface ships can all launch the missiles.
The Halifax will have a modern, Swedish-designed, radar-directed 57mm antiaircraft gun and a U.S.-made Phalanx 20-mm Gatling gun that can spew 2,000 shells per minute at incoming missiles or planes. By contrast, the 19 older ships in the current fleet carry three-inch antiaircraft guns designed in the Second World War to shoot down Japanese kamikazes.
Beatty announced a year ago that the government will likely equip the new frigates with modern Anglo-Italian EH-101 helicopters carrying the latest in submarine-detection sonar and homing torpedoes. The Sea King helicopters they will replace have been in service since the 1960s and are showing their age: bits of tape cover worn rivets and holes in fuselages.
Beatty’s most controversial proposal is for a fleet of 10 to 12 nuclearpowered submarines to augment the frigates. The subs would be a potent force—they can sail submerged and undetected for weeks at a time—but Beatty is facing strong opposition publicly and within his own party to the $8-billion cost. The cabinet has not yet approved the plan, which has attracted intense lobbying by French and British builders.
Of the three branches of the Armed Forces, the 25,000-member army is perhaps furthest behind. Canada’s 128
German-made Leopard I tanks will likely be replaced in the 1990s. The Leopards are mechanically sound— they have been in service for just 10 years—but developments in armor and guns will soon render them obsolete. In fact, Canadian military planners knew that they were selecting a dated design when they chose the Leopard I. Less than a year after the Canadian tanks rolled off a German assembly line, the manufacturer switched production to the Leopard II, which features a more powerful diesel engine, better armor protection and a new 120-mm cannon that outshoots the earlier model’s 105-mm gun. Now the Leopard II is a leading contender, along with the U.S.-made M-l Abrams tank, to replace the Leopard I.
New equipment is already gradually trickling into field units. Infantry battalions are trading in their Belgianmade 7.62-mm FN rifles and machineguns for new, lighter 5.56-mm weapons made by Diemaco Inc. of Kitchener, Ont. In April, UTDC Inc. of Kingston, Ont., is scheduled to deliver the first of 1,122 diesel-powered heavy trucks worth $250 million. And in late October, the army will accept the first of 36 state-of-the-art antiaircraft missile systems built by Oerlikon Aerospace of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., at a cost of $1.1 billion. At present, Canadian
soldiers in Europe have the same 40mm Bofors guns that their fathers aimed at German Focke-Wulf fighters in the Second World War.
Beatty’s commitment to a broad range of new equipment points up an expensive tradition in Canada’s military planning: the conviction that the Armed Forces, though small, should be extremely versatile. Canada’s military is a miniature of the great armies of the United States or European countries, with specialists of all disciplines carving up a relatively small defence budget of $10.3 billion. Said Cox: “The tank men, the fighter pilots and the others are all entrenched. What the policy demonstrates is the military’s inability to throw somebody out of the tent.”
But for the men and women already enjoying the fruits of the arms purchases, those issues cause little concern. In Cold Lake, Struthers said that his pilots are “delighted” with the CF-18. There are some minor drawbacks, however, to operating the latest technology. When pilots fly their CF-18s below a preset level, a computer-synthesized female voice, affectionately dubbed “Bitchin’ Betty,” calls out “Altitude low, altitude low.” To Canada’s fighter pilots, the high-tech nagging is a small price to pay for a chance to fly high.
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