Strategic reviews: Deep cuts the knife
Reports of job cuts at the Department of National Defence could be the first signal that a strategic review of military capabilities is taking effect. Over three years, some 2,100 positions are to be eliminated, along with annual reductions to contractors of five percent a year for three years, according to a leaked report. The Chief of Transformation, LGen Andrew Leslie, has already made it clear that Forces members will be moving from desks to operational assignments, though the details of that entire program have yet to be released.

If CF/DND does undergo severe cuts, it will be following an international trend. The United Kingdom’s strategic review last year slashed 42,000 military and civilian jobs, cut the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, and both the Nimrod and Harrier aircraft. Recent reports suggest the Ministry of Defence is still looking over the books to see if it can even afford the reduced forces: the army might not get new armoured vehicles, and the last remaining aircraft carrier may never return from refit.

The Dutch government wants its military to take almost $950 million euros or CDN$1.3 billion out of its budget. Both its defence ministry and its defence organization must make up the total, with cuts to administration and management, support and operational logistics. That means 30 percent staff cuts, and a reduction in “top-level positions” from 119 to 80. The Dutch navy will cut the mine-hunter fleet down to six from two, and two of four new patrol vessels will not enter service. One supply ship will be taken out of service. The army loses two tank battalions, some SP guns and engineering capabilities. The air force is cutting transport helicopters and it will lose 19 F-16s, leaving it with 68.

Meanwhile, the United States is struggling with huge budget deficits and President Obama wants the defence department to produce some $400 billion in savings over the next 12 years. That means yet another strategic review is underway. Recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the review would match resources with needs rather than impose what he called across-the-board cuts.

The Eagle has landed – in a museum
The Joker has officially been retired! ScanEagle 687, the unmanned aerial vehicle that made its debut when the movie The Dark Knight was released, was turned over to the Canada Aviation and Space Museum at a small ceremony in May.

Gen. Marc Lessard, commander of CEFCOM and a former commander of Regional Command South who admitted he did not have enough helicopters or ISR while in Afghanistan, called the ScanEagle a new capability that played a vital role in overwatch, support to other aircraft and artillery, and situational awareness. “I am totally convinced that ScanEagle’s presence in theatre saved lives and prevented many, many injuries,” he said. “It’s one thing to develop a project, but [it’s something else] to see it in such a short timeframe…employed in operations and gaining the confidence of the operators. It’s a testament to the quality of the platform and the skills of the people who flew it.”

The UAV was developed by Insitu in partnership with Boeing and ING Egineering and contracted to the army. The ScanEagle has flown over 25,0000 kilometres in support of Canadian troops since 2008. Ryan Hartman, vice-president of sales and marketing for Insitu, credited the UAV’s modularity with its ability to accept upgrades and new sensors while in theatre.

Ian Glenn, CEO of ING Engineering, the system integrator on the project, called the ScanEagle the most successful UAV program in Canada: “It afforded us the opportunity to bring some great Canadian talent together,” he said. But it required some creativity and “outside the box thinking” to accept that a “robot could change the world for Canadian soldiers. We got it into service and I don’t think there is any turning back.” Glenn also noted the success of a small but effective civilian and military team.

Marc Ducharme, the museum’s director of operations, said the UAV would be used to help explain the evolution of flight.

Calming the Cyclone storm
National Defence is marking progress on the CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter project, whenever and wherever it can be found. In late May, the location was 12 Wing Shearwater and the occasion was the arrival of the first “interim” Cyclone several weeks earlier.

In a statement, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said, “the arrival of this helicopter demonstrates progress with this project and brings us one step closer towards the delivery of a Maritime Helicopter capability that provides the Canadian Forces with a modern, flexible helicopter to assist in the defence of Canada and Canadian interests well into the future.”

He pointed out that the arrival of the aircraft did not constitute a delivery, and while it would be used to train technicians first and aircrew later, it would remain “under Sikorsky title and control until Sikorsky meets all of the contractual delivery requirements.” Interim Cyclones do not have the helicopter’s complete payload of weapons and mission systems installed, but maintainers and aircrew need to begin training. After a Canadian military airworthiness certificate is granted and aircrew have initial flight training, the first machine could be formally delivered later this summer.

Sikorsky was originally supposed to start delivery of fully functional Cyclones in 2008. Failure to meet that deadline brought threats of small cash penalties. Last October, the auditor general wrote, “in our opinion, National Defence did not adequately assess the developmental nature of this aircraft, and the risks related to cost, and the complexity of the required technical modifications were underestimated.”

Online gamers tackle anti-piracy policy
Would Osama bin Laden have been found much sooner if 7,000 people from around the globe had been devising strategies to capture him?

In an effort to confront maritime security challenges, last month the Office of Naval Research launched the U.S. military’s first-ever online war game – to the public. As the Washington Post aptly described it, the three-week project — MMOWGLI or Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging the Internet – “is a video game for policy wonks” that, while lacking the high-tech graphics of commercial games, manages to replicate a typical strategy session on a massive scale.

Already, 7,000 people have signed up for MMOWGLI. The ONR is “more interested in building technology that can be used for research across military platforms,” the Post noted, but it is also keen to experiment with the diversity of experience and thinking of such a large online community to develop anti-piracy policies. The project will also allow military personnel to contribute anonymously, an interesting way of sidestepping military hierarchy.

Gamers will be given several scenarios involving pirates off Somalia’s coast and, in the initial stages, will role-play either military and commercial interests or the pirates. Later rounds of the game will see players collaborate through a combination of virtual simulation and social media tools to present solutions when shipping is disrupted, select the most popular and “develop in-depth action plans.”

At a cost of $450,000, the pilot project may be one of the most cost-effective policy development solutions – if it succeeds.