Advancing health research
A soldier or civilian wounded in Afghanistan has a 97 percent chance of surviving if he or she makes it through the doors of the hospital at the Kandahar Airfield with a pulse. During the six weeks of Operation Hestia following the 2010 Haitian earthquake, Canadian Forces personnel treated 22,000 patients.

We know this because the CF keeps meticulous records of its actions in operations. In fact, the battlefield has become the testing ground for highly innovative medical interventions and solutions.

However, for all the health data collected on CF personnel, far less is known about the health of serving military and veterans. For the CF, it’s partly a matter of capacity; for Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC), it’s a matter of numbers: just 17 percent of Canadians with military service have applied for client services.

Further more, what limited research is being conducted is ad hoc, with no coordination and no institutional mandate to look at the longitudinal and holistic picture as military personnel transition into civilian life. Dr. David Pedlar, VAC’s director of research, admits that past surveys and studies have focused on the agency’s clients; only in recent years has it made progress on the larger veteran population.

As a result, a national network of researchers from 20 Canadian universities and veterans groups helped launched the Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research (CIMVHR) in December following a two-day conference in Kingston in November, hosted by Queen’s University and the Royal Military College of Canada, that brought together over 250 academics, health scientists and researchers, military personnel and other government department representatives.

As Commodore Hans Jung, the Surgeon General and commander of the Canadian Forces Health Services Group, told the conference, there is a deep well of data going largely untapped. With its unique, captive population and full medical records from the day of enlistment, the CF might be a researcher’s dream. Jung said the CF doesn’t have the capacity to conduct the highly relevant research it needs – on mental health, disability and rehabilitation, women, families and the Reserves – and must leverage the civilian community. “All of the potential is going untapped right now.”

Changing the SOF rules
Special operations forces (SOF) have always abided by Fight Club rules, and the number one rule of Fight Club is, don’t talk about Fight Club. But as the government seeks to trim defence budgets and politicians clamour for greater oversight as a result of recent allegations against a member of JTF2, Canada’s Special Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) could find itself “the target of bean counters,” cautioned David Charters, a long-time military observer with the University of New Brunswick.

SOF combines high risk with high reward, he observed, and the need for their unique skills will likely expand through the next decade, even in a “more constrained fiscal environment.” But that may require better marketing and greater transparency by CANSOFCOM.

Charters delivered his remarks to a special forces forum in Kingston open to media, a sign in itself that the command is entertaining the idea of a more open public face. Commander BGen Michael Day admitted he was doing so with some trepidation – revealing SOF to media has not always worked so well in the past, he said – but he acknowledged media and the public are now part of the modern battlespace in which SOF must operate.

An organization identified by its expeditionary exploits, secretive as they may be, CANSOFCOM is in fact primarily a domestically focused operator. “If we can’t answer the call at home, that’s strategic failure,” Day said. It is also cost effective and resource light in comparison to conventional forces, taking fewer casualties as well. As Charters noted, though, despite regular briefings with the Chief of the Defence Staff and deputy ministers – an indication that at least within National Defence the command’s operations are not secret – CANSOFCOM may have to go further to justify its necessity to politicians.

Among the more intriguing discussions during the conference was a media panel, most of whom described their difficulties working with SOF. As one noted, for an organization that is neither risk averse nor reactive, when it comes to media special forces are “totally opposite of the ethos of your organization.”

The morphing face of cyberspace
“Espionage has never been easier,” Salim Douba observes. With a single click, attackers can now strike from almost anywhere, the chief technology officer with Cygnos Information Security told a recent privacy and information security conference in Ottawa.

Those paid to monitor such things say there has been a distinct shift from a defensive posture to the development of offensive tactics on the part of many states. Among other things, the 2007 missile strike by China against one of its aging satellites was a powerful demonstration of its ability “to destroy a node in the network,” Douba said. Likewise, the appointment in May of four-star general Keith Alexander as the first head of U.S. Cyber Command sent strong signals.

Though there are distinctions between espionage, warfare and criminal activity, much is getting blurred in cyberspace. At a conference hosted by the Atlantic Council of Canada (ACC), Ron Deibert, director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies and the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, said cyberspace is “entering a more dangerous phase of militarization” in which we are “witnessing a classic arms race.”

Muddying the picture further, the rules about who can play have been democratized. Look no further than signals intelligence. Do-it-yourself tools have become so prevalent that “virtually anyone can do it,” Deibert noted.

Both Deibert and Douba acknowledged Canada’s new national cyber strategy as a positive first step. Douba, though, questioned the whereabouts of a matching warfare strategy. With its domestic focus, Deibert suggested the strategy was incomplete; missing is a foreign policy for cyberspace that seeks to protect the net from degradation.

Naval gazing or identity crisis?
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the Senate defence committee was studying a belated centennial present for the Canadian navy’s 100th anniversary – a name change for Canada’s Maritime Command.

It began life as the Naval Service of Canada, before becoming the Royal Canadian Navy until 1968. That year, the Trudeau government “unified” the armed forces and the navy became Maritime Command.

Proponents of a return to the name Royal Canadian Navy testified before Senators in committee with eloquence. Our sailors went to war under that name, they pointed out and besides, Royal Canadian Navy “has an elegance and grace to it and rolls off the lips in a way that Maritime Command does not.”

After a service member used an official email account to voice an opinion, the head of Maritime Command, Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, advised naval personnel that, as private citizens, they may communicate their opinions to Senators, if they wish. As serving members, discussion of the name change issue will take place inside the chain of command.

At issue is the word “royal.” To traditionalists, it is a valuable link to the past. To opponents, it would be a step back. Young people entering the service today, however, would say they are joining the Canadian Navy. That was the name used during the naval centennial and it would be no surprise to see it become official in the New Year.