A numbers game

Ken Pole
July 11, 2007
By Ken Pole
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale used his recent budget speech to acknowledge Canada’s history of responding to international need, and for the government to make certain that capabilities matched demand.

It would have been interesting to hear from Canadian soldiers who regularly depend on our allies’ helicopters to get them to their forward operating positions. Fearing department backlash, publicly they would undoubtedly opt of the politically correct assessment. Privately, they would likely have something different to say.

It seems, though, that the federal government wants to relegate that often embarrassing scenario to the dustbins of history. Goodale’s February 23 speech confirmed funding to increase the Canadian Forces’ regular and reserve complements by 5,000 and 3,000 respectively. That is coming under an umbrella of $12.83 billion in new defence funding – the largest increase in two decades.

However, the devil, as they say, is in the details, and you have to dig through the 415- page Budget Plan for those. On page 222, you will find that $12.83 billion but, as the document explains, “the timing and size of DND’s cash requirement will depend on how the military allocates its new funding to its various needs.” The scenario set out on that page has only $500 million budgeted for the 2005-06 fiscal year, which began April 1, followed by $600 million in 2006-07. The really serious money probably won’t start flowing until 2007-08, when DND would get nearly $1.59 billion. That would be followed by $4.47 billion in 2008-09 and $5.7 billion in 2009-10.

Of the five-year total, $3.06 billion would be for the additional personnel, $3.22 billion for “operational sustainability,” $2.76 billion for several equipment acquisitions, and $3.79 billion for other “investments” after the defence policy review is done.

Beyond that, it’s impossible to figure out how much money will be available for the new helicopters because the aforementioned $2.76 billion and probably some of that $3.79 billion in follow-on funding includes not only the helicopters but also trucks, utility fixed-wing aircraft and a new “facility” for Joint Task Force 2, the elite counterterrorism unit. And again, most of money likely will flow in the last three years of the budget program.

Given recent history, the Canadian Forces are going to be increasingly busy at home and abroad. Our troops have been tasked with an exhausting array of missions, humanitarian as well as military, and the government is under tremendous pressure from its allies and the United Nations to keep it up and preferably expand its activities.

While there were no CF helicopters supporting the security, combat and reconnaissance deployments in Afghanistan, six Bell CH-146 Griffon utility tactical transport helicopters were fundamental to Operation Halo in Haiti. The Griffons entered service in 1994, replacing not only the Bell CH-135 Twin Huey and Bell CH-136 Kiowa light observation helicopter, but also the Boeing Vertol CH- 147 Chinook, which could carry 25,000 pounds of cargo or 44 troops.

Capable as they are, the Griffons simply aren’t up to heavier jobs. As the Budget Plan acknowledges, “Canada’s military lacks medium-capacity helicopters that are capable of moving teams of personnel and their equipment around in-theatre, whether dealing with international crises or domestic emergencies.”

So which aircraft will Canada acquire for that role? There are three logical contenders. One is already in the CF rotary fleet, a second is about to be and the third has been.

The aircraft already in service is the AgustaWestland EH101 Cormorant, tasked with military search and rescue. The one about to be – starting in 2009, at least – is the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone, which will be Canada’s new maritime helicopter. The third would be the Chinook, the distinctive tandem rotor machines Canada retired as an “economy measure” in 1991; they eventually were upgraded by Boeing Vertol and sold to the Netherlands, where they remain a backbone of that country’s air transport role today.

Whichever it chooses, it could result in the Canadian Forces having more rotary lift capability than ever before, a key element to restoring the Canadian Forces’ relevance in the “new era.”

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