MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 20 Sept 11

  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (1)  Busy Monday for the CDS – he spoke to the Prime Minister and he spoke to the defence critics.  Here’s the newest story line:  Canada’s chief of defence staff says he takes full responsibility for the travel expenses he has incurred and will reimburse the government if he is found to have broken any rules ….”  Variations on that theme here, here, here and from the outlet that broke the story here.  My read of this:  if he says this after meeting the PM and the defence critics, I’m going to guess he’s pretty sure the rules have been followed.
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (2)  And who decides if the rules have been followed?  This, from the CDS, quoted by the Globe & Mail“Canada’s top soldier now says he will cut a cheque to defray the cost of taking a government jet to a Caribbean vacation last year if the Prime Minister’s Office requests it. ….“If the government, as the Prime Minister indicated, his office looks at that trip … if the interpretation of the Treasury Board guidelines on this regard is incorrect, then I will reimburse as required,” he said ….”  Similar wording from CTV.ca here.  We’ll just have to see what the PM’s Office has to say about Treasury Board’s rules and if they apply here (which is different from hearing what the Treasury Board has to say).
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3a)  The CDS is appointed by the PM.  And how was the PM’s defence of his choice of CDS in the House of Commons during Question Period?  According to the Globe & Mail, “…. On the current controversy surrounding Gen. Natynczyk, NDP defence critic Jack Harris asked why the general had been allowed to take flights worth more than $1-million in the nearly four years he had headed the military – many of them on Challenger jets reserved for government VIPs. Mr. Harper, who met with Gen. Natynczyk on Monday, said the military chief understands the rules for taking government jets “and is certainly prepared to live according to those rules. The Chief of the Defence Staff does fly very frequently on government business, but obviously where there are alternatives, we will look into that usage.” ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3b)  Here’s what a transcript of the exchange in the House of Commons says was said:  “Mr. Jack Harris (St. John’s East, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the cost of the Chief of the Defence Staff’s recent taxpayer-funded trips to events such as football games, hockey games and the Calgary Stampede have shocked Canadians. The government is now planning significant cuts to the Canadian Forces. Will the Conservative austerity plan only apply to soldiers, sailors and airmen and women and not to the brass? Why did the Minister of National Defence approve over $1 million of flights to be taken by the Chief of the Defence Staff?  Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Minister of National Defence has outlined the rules under which ministers use government aircraft. I have spoken to the Chief of the Defence Staff. He understands what those expectations are and is certainly prepared to live according to those rules. As members know, the Chief of the Defence Staff does fly very frequently on government business, but obviously where there are alternatives we will look into that usage.
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (3c)  Here’s how Defence Minister Peter MacKay handled a similar question earlier “Mr. Mathieu Ravignat (Pontiac, NDP): Mr. Speaker, Conservative ministers are developing quite a passion for the use of high-flying government jets. The Minister of Finance and the Minister of National Defence make particular liberal use of the jets. The Prime Minister says that everything is fine because he pays the paltry equivalent of a commercial airline ticket. Why have the Conservatives abandoned their commitment to respect taxpayers dollars when it comes to jetting around the country? Hon. Peter MacKay (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, just to throw a few facts into the mix, the policy for the Prime Minister and all ministers requires that commercial travel be utilized for public business, the government aircraft being used when commercial travel is not available. I would remind the member opposite that when it comes to the liberal use of this aircraft, the Conservative government has reduced the average annual spending of the ministers’ Challenger flights by approximately 80% over the previous Liberal government.”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (4)  I really have to give credit where it’s due – CBC.ca is offering more information (including an intriguing tidbit), and not just from those aching for a “gotcha” story.  Good show for not JUST following the pack.  “…. Last week’s news reports indicated that it costs about $10,000 an hour to fly a Challenger, including pilot salaries, training costs and the cost of the planes’ depreciation. The actual flying cost is $2,630 an hour, according to numbers provided by the Department of National Defence. “These aircraft — these Challengers — are not used very much,” CBC’s James Cudmore reported. Natynczyk said military Challengers are flown an additional 170 hours a year with no passengers on board so that pilots can maintain their proficiency. “So these hours are paid for, they’re all paid for — there’s no incremental cost to the Crown,” he said. “That’s why, especially when I travel and I have the team with me, it’s less expensive to the government of Canada to get into that Challenger than it is to put them into an aircraft, in a commercial aircraft.” Natynczyk travels with up to six or seven people, sometimes including a close protection team with automatic weapons. He also needs the secure communication lines provided on government aircraft that allow him to work while he’s in the air. Cudmore said sources told CBC News that the story about Natynczyk may have been leaked by someone, perhaps in a bid to see the general replaced ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (5)  We’ve gone from a Saturday Calgary Herald editorial headlined “Jet-setting general” to this commentary from the National Post“…. Defence Minister Peter MacKay offered him use of the Challenger to join his family on vacation after he spent Christmas in Kandahar, and then attended a repatriation ceremony for five Canadians killed in Afghanistan, forcing him to miss his scheduled flight. Was he supposed to hang around Pearson airport waiting for a cancellation instead? ….”
  • Natynczyk’s Plane Rides (6)  One letter to the editor (bottom of page) sums it up for me:  “…. If the Chief of Defence Staff had done what the average Canadian would have done, said, “sorry I cannot be there to honour a Canadian hero, I have a holiday booked,” then the headline would have been something like “Top General Too Busy On A Cruise To Honour Our Dead.” ….”
  • In other news in case you’ve been distracted by the shiny bright thing that is the CDS’s jet story….  An internal government investigation has concluded that Conservative MP Bob Dechert did not breach national security despite exchanging emails with a Chinese reporter, insiders say. CTV News has learned the RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service have found no evidence Dechert compromised national security as a result of his relationship with Shi Rong, a reporter with the Xinhua News Agency in Toronto. Senior CSIS and RCMP officers confirmed to CTV that the Chinese news agency functions as an intelligence arm of China ….”
  • Libya Mission  The House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence prepares to hear about and discuss the Libyan misison today.
  • A reminder that not ALL of Canada’s troops overseas are in Afghanistan“On 27 August 2011, the nine members of Task Force Freetown were guests of honour at the jubilant opening of the rebuilt Grafton Scout Camp near Freetown, Sierra Leone. Guests and Scouts joined together in a heartfelt ceremony with gifts, singing and outbursts of rhythmic clapping to thank Scouts Canada, the members of Task Force Freetown and the people of Canada for their generosity and compassion. Task Force Freetown, the Canadian Forces team deployed in Sierra Leone with the International Military Advisory and Training Team, got involved with the local branch of the Scouting movement through a civil-military cooperation (CIMIC) project. With a budget of Cdn$90,000, it turned into the most ambitious CIMIC effort ever undertaken by the tiny task force in its 11 years of existence ….”
  • Afghanistan  Door Gunner 101 courtesy of the CF Info-Machine“Door gunners are combat arms soldiers whose job is all about protecting soldiers. During the Task Force Freedom combat mission in Afghanistan, door gunners ranging in rank from private to sergeant flew aboard CH 146 Griffon and CH-147 Chinook helicopters. On the Chinooks, they used their weapons strictly for local protection and close defence; on the Griffons, they were called upon to protect ground troops and ensure the security of the Chinooks they were escorting ….”
  • Way Up North  Russia:  If you’re not an Arctic country, keep your nose outta the Arctic.  “Russia will increase its military presence in the Arctic – a region NATO should stay out of, a senior Kremlin official said Tuesday. ‘Our northern border used to be closed because of ice and a severe climate,’ said Anton Vasilev, a special ambassador for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. ‘But the ice is going away we cannot leave 20,000 kilometres unwatched. We can’t leave ourselves in a position where we are undefended,’ Vasilev said, in an interview with the Interfax news agency. Global warming and demand for new energy sources make necessary new and clearer international agreements on the division of Arctic region’s resources and usage he said. Only Arctic Council nations – and not outside agencies like NATO or the European Union – should set the groundwork, he said ….”
  • I’m shocked, SHOCKED to hear someone from the Rideau Institute object to a British nuclear sub visiting Canada“A British nuclear submarine will visit the Port of Halifax next month, CBC News has learned, and that has at least one military critic worried about the risk of a nuclear accident. The British nuclear submarine fleet has been plagued by accidents in recent years, including a fatal explosion and fire, an onboard shooting and an underwater collision with a French sub.There have also been multiple leaks of low-level radiation. And while the risk of a major accident is small, Steve Staples of the Rideau Institute in Ottawa said, the consequences for Nova Scotians would be dire if the worst should occur. “If a fire spread to a nuclear reactor and even any of the potential nuclear weapons that could be on board, you could see the release of radiation like we had in Fukushima,” Staples said ….”
  • Now that the branches have been “Royalized”, more calls for unit re-namings are coming out of the woodwork “Made up mostly of farmers, fishermen and blue collar workers from northeastern New Brunswick, they became one of the most decorated military units in Canadian history as the North Shore Regiment. They were one of the first Canadian units to fight in the Great War. Before the regiment was merged with others in New Brunswick, it was among the first to breach Adolph Hitler’s Fortress Europe on Juno Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day during the Second World War. And while the “royal” title has been restored to many Armed Forces veterans delight, a growing chorus of voices wants to see New Brunswick’s second battalion of the Royal New Brunswick Regiment drop the colonial throwback for its original name. Proponents now say they are closer than ever to seeing the North Shore Regiment return after meeting with both provincial and federal officials this month. “We lost our identity,” said Graham Wiseman, president of the North Shore Veteran’s Association, whose father, Sprague Wiseman, is the only surviving member of the original regiment from Bathurst. “It has been a long wait to get it back, but there is a feeling that it will now happen.” ….”

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 27 May 11

  • Richard Curnow, R.I.P.:  Authorities have confirmed that a body found Sunday is that of Master Cpl. Richard Curnow, a soldier who went missing on May 5 during a training run. Master Cpl.
    The identity was confirmed through dental records, Edmonton police said. “Based on autopsy results and the investigation, the death has been deemed non-criminal, therefore the [Edmonton Police Service] will not be releasing the cause of death,” police said in a statement. Curnow’s body was found in the North Saskatchewn River near Redwater, Alta., about 65 kilometres northeast of Edmonton. Curnow, 25, was last seen starting a 10-kilometre morning run with eight fellow soldiers through Emily Murphy Park in Edmonton’s river valley. He did not show up at the finish area and his vehicle was still in the parking lot ….” 
    More here, here and here.
  • Afghanistan (1):  More from the CF Info Machine on ISAF Commander General David Petraeus’ visit to Canadians in southern Afghanistan.
  • Afghanistan (2):  When Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan entered its final phase, Karen Wilson got on board. The Ontario grandmother doubled her electric bill and burned out a convection oven while producing more than 35,000 cookies as a show of support to the Canadian soldiers who were putting their lives on the line in the war-ravaged country. Labouring in her kitchen in Petrolia, Ont., Wilson churned out shortbread confections by the hundreds, devoting no less than eight hours a week to the task. On weekends, she sold baked goods and homemade “Support the Troops” buttons at community events to finance her project. As Canada prepares to end its combat role in Afghanistan for good, Wilson is looking forward to the first lull in her schedule since 2008 ….”
  • Taliban Propaganada Watch:  Still with the attacks claimed across Kandahar and Zabul.
  • Libya Mission (1):  “…. It is entirely proper that the Armed Forces exercise caution in what they reveal. But the need for discretion when publishing potentially compromising information of use to the enemy should not be used as carte blanche to withhold virtually all information …. The Royal Air Force has released dramatic gun-camera footage of British bombs destroying Libyan warships. And yet our military refuses even to disclose how much the operations in Libya are costing the Canadian taxpayer — information of dubious value of the Libyan military, but of potential concern to us. Canadians value their military, and understand that sometimes, force is necessary to safeguard lives. The Forces, and the federal government, have nothing to fear from disclosure.”
  • Libya Mission (2):  The CF’s Info Machine is cranking out material from the Mediterranean, including features on how flexible the HMCS Charlottetown is, how the Charlottetown helped gun down a boat looking like it was attacking a Libyan port, and the Charlottetown as “babysitter.
  • More on the CF in Sierra Leone on OP Sculpture.  “While deployed in Sierra Leone, Chief Petty Officer 2nd Class Steve Smith and I recently had the rare privilege of accompanying our Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) counterparts on staff visits to two forward operating bases (FOBs) on the country’s wild Atlantic coast, far from our base in the capital, Freetown, Just getting there was half the adventure. We travelled in two Land Rover Defenders on some of the roughest roads either of us had ever seen, through jungles and villages, and crossing waterways by ferry or on old, narrow bridges that held up without benefit of maintenance. The spectacular sunrises and sunsets rivalled Hawaii, and in places the scenery was like something out of The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ….”
  • Cuts coming?  “Defence Minister Peter MacKay says his department is conducting a “strategic review” of its staff in response to unconfirmed media reports that his department will cut 2,100 of its public service positions over the next three years. MacKay, who was in Halifax to announce the impending arrival of Canada’s first Cyclone maritime helicopter, would not comment on the details of the report in the Ottawa Citizen. He said Canadians are going through a “belt-tightening exercise” across the country and all government departments are expected to do the same. “We’re looking at ways to achieve efficiencies and achieve maximum results from the Department of Defence,” MacKay told reporters on Thursday. “This refers specifically to civilian employees so we’re looking at ways to maximize the efficiency of the department and I think Canadians would respect and expect that.” ….”  More on the allegedly coming “efficiencies” here.
  • Enjoy some of the latest speculation about the naming of Julian Fantino as Associate Minister of National Defence (and the naming of former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan, Chris Alexander, as Parliamentary Secretary).  The anticipated slash and burn of the public service by the newly-minted Conservative majority government could be starting at the Department of National Defence. Reports Thursday morning say 2,100 jobs will be cut over the next three years. This as Defence Minister Peter MacKay attempts to defend what many see as his diminished role. In the cabinet swearing-in last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Julian Fantino, the former top cop in Ontario, as Mr. MacKay’s Associate Minister in charge of procurement, which comes with a huge budget that is between 14 and 16 per cent of the department’s $22-billion total. And then Wednesday, the Prime Minister named up-and-coming rookie MP Chris Alexander, the former Canadian Ambassador to Afghanistan, as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Defence. This one-two combo of Mr. Fantino and Mr. Alexander will give Mr. MacKay fierce competition ….”
  • Canada and the United States will have a plan in place by this summer on how to achieve the long-awaited perimeter security deal, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday. Harper met U.S. President Barack Obama to discuss the plan on the sidelines of broader G8 discussions this week in the seaside resort of Deauville, France. “The president and I are committed to pursuing a perimeter approach to enhance our security and accelerate the legitimate flow of people, goods and services between our two countries,” Harper said in a statement following the meeting. “We are pleased that discussions are on track, and we expect to have an ambitious joint action plan ready this summer following public consultations.” The plan is expected to lay out priorities for the border deal and what both countries will do together and separately to make it happen ….”
  • F-35 Tug o’ War (x):  “A stern warning from a top Pentagon official about the soaring cost of building the F-35 fighter jet has given Canada’s defence minister cause for concern, but Peter MacKay insists his plan to buy 65 aircraft is a sound proposition. MacKay, in Halifax to show off the latest test version of the military’s new Cyclone helicopter, was responding to reports that the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, undersecretary Ashton Carter, had revealed that the per-aircraft cost of the 2,443 jets the U.S. wants has almost doubled in real terms.  Pentagon officials say the cost of the project has jumped to $385 billion U.S., about $113 million U.S. per plane in 2011 dollars. The original price was $69 million per airplane.  “That’s what it’s going to cost if we keep doing what we’re doing,” Carter said last week. “And that’s unacceptable. It’s unaffordable at that rate.” …. MacKay confirmed he was aware of the U.S. undersecretary’s dim view of the project. “Of course it gives me cause for concern,” he said. “But … there are three configurations for the F-35. We are purchasing the conventional takeoff model. Much of the criticism has been directed at the vertical-takeoff model. … We’re not buying that plane.” ….”
  • More on the replacement for Canada’s Sea Kings that’s only here for training and certification purposes.  “Canada recently received its first look at the potential future of the country’s maritime helicopter fleet, but Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the “interim” helicopter does not represent the formal delivery of the new fleet, which has been marred by lengthy delays.  MacKay announced in Nova Scotia Thursday that a Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone was delivered to Canadian Forces Base Shearwater on May 13. Its primary use at this point is to train Canadian Forces aircrew members for the Maritime Helicopter Project. Later this summer, flight training is expected to take place …. MacKay said “formal delivery” of the helicopter is expected this summer once it gets a Canadian military airworthiness certificate ….”  The text of the Minister’s statement is available here, and more on the Minister’s estimates for “formal delivery” here.
  • The “glass is half emtpy” version of the CH-148 Cyclone story, from the industry pressCanada’s top defence official said on 26 May that Sikorsky has delayed formal delivery of the first of six interim CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopters to the third quarter. The new timetable marks the latest in a long series of delays since Sikorsky was awarded the contract in 2004 to deliver 28 military derivatives of the S-92 under the maritime helicopter programme (MHP). The original contract called for first delivery in 2009, but Canada last year agreed to accept the first six aircraft with an “interim” capability in November 2010. That schedule was further delayed to the first half of 2011 ….”
  • Revision, leading developer of ballistic protective eyewear for militaries worldwide, has secured a $2.7 million contract with the Canadian DND to supply Air Force members with Ballistic Eyewear (BEW), also known as the Sawfly Spectacle System. The initial contract is to supply 33,000 kits and 40,000 additional lenses in 2011 with a 5 year option period ….”
  • No early release for Khadr Boy.  “The U.S. military tribunal that oversaw Omar Khadr’s war crimes case has refused the Canadian’s bid for clemency with a statement Thursday that simply confirms the eight-year sentence he received in a plea deal. The Toronto native had, through his military lawyer, sought to have the sentence reduced, arguing in part that the prosecution had been guilty of “misconduct” in its calling of a key prosecution witness. The confirmation of the eight-year sentence — in exchange for which Khadr admitted to five war crimes, including the murder of a U.S. serviceman — was issued by retired Vice-Admiral Bruce MacDonald, who serves as the tribunal “convening authority,” or overseer ….”  More on this here.

MILNEWS.ca News Highlights – 6 Feb 11

  • Egypt Watch:  Protests in Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, et al) call for Mubarak to GTFO.
  • Where Else is the CF Working? “The school serving the families of Sierra Leone’s largest military base has been substantially renovated under a project financed, launched and managed by Task Force Freetown, the Canadian contingent of the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT). At the grand re-opening of Wilberforce Army Municipal School on 16 December 2010, task force commander Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Carr addressed an enthusiastic crowd of children, parents and teachers who loudly expressed sincere appreciation ….” More on the CF’s work in Sierra Leone on Operation Sculpture here.
  • Where Else is the CF (Still) Working? “Since 2006, Cyprus has welcomed Canadian Forces members on their way home from Afghanistan for the short break known as “third location decompression.” In November 2010, when Camp Mirage closed, the island also became the home of a Strategic Line of Communication Detachment (SLOC Det) deployed by Canadian Operational Support Command to provide a staging point for equipment and personnel en route to and from Afghanistan. These are only the most recent Canadian Forces arrivals in Cyprus. The CF actually has a long history on the island. From March 1964 to September 1993, Canada deployed one of the major contributors of troops to the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) ….” More on Canada’s mission in Cyprus on Operation Snowgoose here.
  • More calls for Canada to get more involved in Africa. “The political volcano erupting in Africa continues to make headlines around the globe. In media terminology, it is the perfect time to say all roads lead to Africa, or better still, all eyes on Africa.  While Ottawa has not been as vocal as the United States, this silence cannot be indefinite for several reasons.  First, the current situation in Africa presents Canada with a golden opportunity to showcase the values that make it distinct among nations and upon which its civilization is based …. Second, the presence of a large African population in Canada with fresh roots back home means Ottawa owes an explanation to a people on its doorsteps …. Third, the current instability in North Africa constitutes a severe security threat not only to the United States but to Canada as well ….”
  • Taliban Propaganda Watch:  Attacks claimed across Kandahar, Uruzgan and an alleged shoot-down of a helicopter near Kabul.