Get our FREE newsletter.
Join now!

Richard Shimooka: The future of warfare is changing—and Canada has no clear plan to keep up

Commentary

If you asked reasonably informed Canadians to name the workhorse of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), you’d probably get a range of answers—perhaps the Air Force’s C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, the Army’s Light Armoured Vehicle, or the Navy’s Halifax-class frigates. 

While all are good answers, one capability few people would likely identify is the CP-140 Aurora, a long-range multi-mission aircraft (MMA). The aircraft was originally purchased in 1980 primarily as an anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft, but its unusual acquisition and subsequent development has placed it at the forefront of Canadian military capabilities.

During the 1970s, Lockheed offered a version of their Electra L-188 aircraft civilian transport aircraft modified for maritime patrol, called the P-3 Orion. It was used widely by the United States Navy and almost all close allies. Yet Canada chose a slightly different route—it took the P-3 airframe and modified it with a more capable mission system from another U.S. Navy aircraft, the S-3 Viking. 

This set the tone for the aircraft’s history: Canada would continually invest and upgrade the aircraft’s capabilities as new threats and technologies emerged over its life. In the late 2000s, the aircraft’s role extended from its original core ASW and surface warfare capability, into intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities for operations over land (commonly referred to as C4ISR). Essentially it can identify, track, and direct other aircraft and ground units to potential threats while being useful in a domestic context during natural disasters to assist recovery and rescue efforts.These upgrades in particular made the Aurora a much-prized and sought-after aircraft in coalition operations. For example, in 2015 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered on his campaign promise to withdraw the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) CF-18s from operations against ISIS, the CP-140 was retained in theatre for an additional two years due to its value for allied units.

Although the Aurora has provided an exceptional level of capability for much of its life, the airframe is nearing the effective end of its lifespan. Canada spent approximately $2 billion on refurbishing the aircraft’s airframe over the past five years, but such life extensions will become increasingly more frequent and costly as the aircraft ages. Furthermore, the aircraft is becoming increasingly vulnerable against new and emerging anti-air threats, such as long-range surface-to-air missiles, especially considering its reliance on on-board sensors.

In recent months, reports have emerged that Canada intends to accelerate the procurement of a successor to the Aurora: the P-8 Poseidon. Manufactured by Boeing, the aircraft was designed as a replacement for the P-3 Orion, the Aurora’s half-sibling, and largely matches its capabilities. Consequently, it is in service with nearly all of Canada’s major allies, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia. One of the key reasons why Canada seems to have accelerated procurement of the P-8 is due to the potential for the aircraft’s production line to close in the coming years. 

Bombardier has expressed interest in leading the development of a competing system based on the Global 6500 business jet. This may take years to develop and come at a significant cost to Canada but potentially could be more in line with how the CAF acquired and developed the CP-140 aircraft throughout its history. 

While the acquisition of the P-8  would ensure that Canada’s long-range patrol aircraft fleet will remain relevant for the foreseeable future, the overall process by which the government arrived at its selection could benefit from a rethink.

At present, the U.S. and other allied militaries are developing a new paradigm of warfare. This involves using high-bandwidth networking to tie in all capabilities in different domains, high-definition sensor systems, and complex data-processing systems to analyze these data flows and provide useful insights.

The major consideration for what determines a capability’s utility is not its speed, range, or warhead size but the type of data analysis it can undertake and its connectivity with other platforms and data sources. These are some of the mundane, but essential, questions all military platforms must answer if they expect to play a role in a future fight.

Many militaries are starting to disaggregate roles from platforms—instead of one platform to do all roles, like with the CMMA, networking allows for several separate platforms to operate cooperatively to achieve the same or greater effect. However, the essential precursor to answering these questions is having an overarching strategy for these developments, and how to implement them more broadly into doctrine and equipment.

Overall, the CAF’s response to this technological shift has been less than stellar. While the significance of the shift is well understood by many in the armed forces, the lack of funding and absence of a robust, centrally-mandated effort has meant the military as a whole has fallen behind. Perhaps unsurprisingly, however, the CP-140 has been one of the few bright spots in this area, as its upgrades have largely followed these developments. The P-8 was designed and built with many of these concepts of future warfare front of mind. It was originally designed to operate with a small retinue of large surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), through a program called Broad Area Maritime Surveillance. Moreover, given the U.S. military’s leadership in battlefield networking, it is almost certain that the Poseidon will continue to be updated to keep abreast of new developments.

The issue is that Canada’s own strategy and approach for this emerging warfare remains largely undefined. Acquiring the P-8 will come with a range of assumptions surrounding this new information warfare that may or may not meet Canada’s needs when the country gets to defining them. This may not necessarily be a bad approach. The RCAF and Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) already operate extremely closely with the U.S. military, and thus adopting some of their standards and concepts makes sense. However, in some areas, it may not, and this might mean the aircraft will be less than ideal for some of the missions it may be tasked to complete. It is a risk, though perhaps an acceptable one considering the ageing state of the Aurora fleet and the narrow opportunity to acquire the P-8.

The question is whether the cost of developing a Canadian-developed system bespoke to the country’s requirements is worth the costs involved.

What desperately needs to occur is for Canada to start developing a comprehensive approach to thinking about the future of warfare—this would allow the military to better judge the relative merits of different options. The forthcoming Defence Policy Update would be a good place to undertake such an effort, allowing the military to better understand what its needs are and how best to invest its money to gain the most return for its capabilities. 

In such a situation, it may discover that the Bombardier-led option would be better suited for Canada’s needs in the long term—or perhaps not. Another alternative would be some sort of joint purchase that disaggregates roles: a smaller P-8 fleet focused on the maritime domain, combined with a Bombardier project or projects focused on the land domain. However, there is no path for such an approach, partly because no enabling strategy for it exists. Without a clear plan for understanding the future nature of warfare, this issue will be replicated across all new capabilities that the CAF wants to acquire in the future. 

That is the essential problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

Richard Stursberg: Defunding the CBC but not Radio-Canada defies fairness

Commentary

Pierre Polievre has argued that CBC television should be eliminated; he has proposed to leave Radio-Canada’s TV service intact. He appears to believe that since CBC’s audiences have declined significantly, there is no point in continuing to support it. He is certainly right that CBC TV has lost audience share over the last decade (now just 5 percent of prime time) and performs very poorly compared to its French counterpart, Radio-Canada’s Ice Tele (25 percent of prime time).  

Why is this?

First, the English broadcasting environment has always been much more competitive than the French one. Over the last 30 years, CBC has had to compete not only with dozens of Canadian rivals in its home market (CTV, Global, CITY, TSN, etc.) but multiple American ones as well (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, etc.). This has never been true in the French market, where Radio-Canada has only one significant rival, TVA. It has been insulated by language. The Americans do not broadcast in French.

The result is that it has always been a challenge to make English Canadian entertainment shows that Canadians will watch in large numbers. Producing dramas, comedies, and documentaries that can compete against the flood of expensive, attractive U.S. programs has historically been very difficult. It can be done, but it requires proper financing, creative talent, fine producers, and luck. Of these, the only one in the control of the government is money. For many, many years, CBC has been one of the most poorly financed public broadcasters in the world. 

Second, CBC’s advertising revenues have fallen substantially, like those of all the other broadcasters. Advertisers prefer Google and Facebook’s digital ads because they are more efficient. More than 55 percent of Canadian ad revenues now flow south to Silicon Valley rather than staying in the country to support the creation of Canadian content. The losses are much more significant in English than in French. 

Third, the arrival of the big foreign streaming services (Netflix, Disney, Amazon, etc.) has further eroded the market share of CBC TV, as well as that of the private Canadian broadcasters. With their enormous budgets, the streamers have created huge quantities of high-quality programming. Unlike Canadian broadcasters, however, they are not required to spend any of their revenues commissioning Canadian shows. This not only gives them substantial financial advantages over their Canadian competitors, but it also erodes the money available to finance Canadian drama, comedies, documentaries, and kid’s shows.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, CBC suffers from chronic underfunding. The government provides roughly $1.25 billion to CBC/Radio-Canada. That works out to about 33 dollars per capita for CBC and Radio-Canada combined. The split of the $1.25 billion is not, however, the same for CBC and Radio-Canada.

About 44 percent ($550 million) of the public subsidy goes to the French services and 56 percent to the English side ($700 million). This split does not reflect the relative size of the two major language groups in Canada. French is spoken by only 21 percent of the Canadian population. Given that Canada’s population is roughly 38 million people, this means that the 8 million French-speaking Canadians receive a per capita public broadcasting subsidy of almost 70 dollars, while the rest of the country receives 23 dollars. In effect, this makes Radio-Canada one of the better-financed public broadcasters in the world and CBC one of the worst.

This disparity is compounded by the fact that the costs of producing programs in French and English are dramatically different. An average Canadian English language drama costs $1.7 million per hour; its French equivalent costs almost exactly half that. The situation is even starker when it comes to children’s shows. An hour in English has an average cost of $850,000 and in French $200,000, a more than four-fold difference. 

This is a very strange situation. Radio-Canada gets almost three times more money per capita from the federal government than CBC, although it faces dramatically less competition in its home market and enjoys very significant cost advantages in program production. It is hard to understand how this is either fair or reasonable.

Television is the most important cultural medium in the world. In English Canada, the only broadcaster that has consistently made Canadian entertainment shows is the CBC. If Pierre Polievre were really concerned about CBC television’s poor performance, he should concern himself with these disparities. He should argue not for eliminating CBC but for financing it at the same level as Radio-Canada. This would require an injection of $1.4 billion to the English side. If he also considered the different program production costs, the number would be significantly higher still.

Pierre Polievre’s attack on the CBC and not Radio-Canada seems to defy the test of simple fairness. Why would he choose to go after the side of the public broadcaster that faces the more challenging environment and that has been systemically disadvantaged by the federal government? If French Canadians were receiving almost three times as much per capita for health care or education, he would surely object and argue that the money going to French Canada should be reduced. Or better still, that English Canada should be put on the same footing.