Libya mission is not a blueprint
Much has been made of the success of Operation Mobile, including its application in future combat missions. But for those advocating the reuse of the Libyan script in Syria or elsewhere, its commander has a few words of caution.

“NATO’s success in Libya is not a blueprint, nor should it be one, for the conduct of future missions,” LGen Charles Bouchard told the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence in February. “We adapted to the environment and conditions on the ground. Future commanders will have similar challenges in future conflicts. It would be unwise to believe that the strategy used in Libya will work equally well in other parts of the world.”

Given that the NATO mission achieved two primary objectives – protecting civilians without the loss of life to coalition partners – he was asked why it could not be repeated.

“In this case, we were able to do what we did with the projection of power from air and sea. To turn this into the way of the future would be dangerous because each commander, when assigned a mission … will go through [his] own estimate process,” he said. “I will admit to you that we tried to adapt Libya to the Afghanistan model in the early days and it did not work. We quickly learned that you should not take the last conflict and try to fit it to the current one. At the end of the day, the lesson learned is what can be applied to the future.”

Bouchard downplayed his accomplishment, saying “there is not a three star or two star general in the Canadian Forces today who could not have handled the mission with the same level of success.” But he did have some words of advice for the Canadian Forces as he prepares for retirement.

“We must develop stronger capabilities in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, including the need to link all systems together at the national and international levels. We need lower yield weapons with smaller collateral effects. We must be able to operate in built up areas where the difference between rivals, combatants and non combatants is becoming more and more difficult to ascertain. [O]perated on land, at sea or in the air, the assets should have the capability to gather information, pass it on in a real time manner and engage valid and bona fide targets when needed.”

Seeking Pacific nation status
The Prime Minister may be making in roads with China, but is Canada a player in the Asia Pacific?

Speaking to the Conference of Defence Associations in February, Dr. Jim Boutilier, the special policy advisor for Maritime Forces Pacific, suggested Stephen Harper’s recent trip might be 20 years too late. The centre of gravity, he argued, has been steadily shifting from the Atlantic to the Pacific and the waters of the South China Seas and Indian Ocean, where countries have been heavily investing in naval assets, most notably submarines.

From energy to trade to disagreements over ownership of islands and waterways, the region will be a focal point for international engagement. Boutilier noted, however, that as he travels throughout the region, he’s often asked: where’s Canada?

That absence, he argued, has been due to a lack of interest in Ottawa. But that might be shifting.

Dr. John Blaxland, of Australian National University, and Capt (Ret’d) Raul Pedrozo, of the U.S. Naval War College, both argued there is plenty of “scope” for Canada to play in a major way that would be more than welcome. “The U.S. does not have the ship numbers to do it all,” Pedrozo said. “We rely on partnerships … they are very important to our strategy.”

A proposal to partner on subs
The Royal Canadian Navy’s much-maligned submarines have taken a media beating in recent months. But don’t look to John Blaxland for any sympathy.

“Cry me a river,” the former Australian military attaché and army intelligence officer said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, in a presentation to the Conference of Defence Associations.

The more than one billion dollars Canada has spent repairing its four Victoria-class submarines pales next to the $6 billion Australia has doled out on its fleet of six Collins-class subs. And while Canada’s subs may appear to be in a permanent state of repair, in fact three will be available for operations by 2013. Of Australia’s six, just one is on operations; one is being cannibalized for spares and one has been mothballed.

Dr. Blaxland, a senior fellow at the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at Australian National University, suggested now might be a good time for both countries to consider collaborating on the next generation of subs. Australia has said it will need to replace its fleet by 2026 while Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, commander of the RCN, told a Senate committee that the Victoria-class will suffice until 2030. He added, though, that plans for their replacement would be on the agenda within the next four to five years.

The suggestion to collaborate on subs is not new. Both Canada and Australia entertained the idea 20 years ago when Australia was planning construction of its Collins-class.

Maddison recently joined the General Walt Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, on HMCS Victoria as it conducted diving operations as part of equipment trials. It will be fully operational later this year.