Leadership: Canada Develops Some Special Special Forces

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September 20, 2015: In the last decade the Canadian defense budget has stayed about the same ($18 billion a year, adjusted for inflation) but the emphasis has changed. Now it’s all about new equipment for Canadian special operations troops, especially the Special Operations Regiment, a unit similar to the American Special Forces which Canada began forming a decade ago. That effort was a success, especially for the peacekeeping type operations Canada is so active in. Despite the enthusiasm for special operations the situation was different in 2006. That was because after cutting defense spending sharply since 1991 (and the end of the Cold War) there were more serious military problems to deal with. Back then it was agreed that the 1990s cuts were too deep and over $15 billion was allocated to improving transportation and logistical capabilities. Most of the new money went to replacing aging transport helicopters, and buying two logistical support ships, 21 transport aircraft and 2,300 trucks.

Canada's defense spending, like everyone else's, shrunk after the Cold War ended in 1991. For Canada, their lowest annual defense budget was $8.4 billion in 1998. Per capita, that was less than a third of what the United States was spending. At that point, spending began to increase in the face of a growing number of media stories on how Canadian troops were struggling with worn out, inoperable or unavailable weapons and equipment. A decade ago a new government got into office partially on its pledge to finally address all the material shortcomings in the military. Canada's current defense budget is much higher as a result of that. Yet the Canadian defense spending is still less than half of what the United States spends, per capita. But during the Cold War, Canada deferred to the United States in most defense matters, including dealing with nuclear weapons threats, and protecting North America from foreign attack. While Canada outspent the United States, per capita, during both World Wars, this was reversed after World War II, when America became the main participant in the Cold War effort to contain the Soviet Union.

While Canada has no military threats at home since World War II it has become an active contributor to peacekeeping missions. This sort of thing requires a lot of logistics. You've got to move the peacekeeping troops to distant locations, and then supply them. To date, Canada has been relying a lot on leased civilian transport. But this has caused some problems (of control and reliability). Giving the military more transport resources solves this problem.

Canada soon discovered effective peacekeeping required more than well trained troops and good logistics. Thus Canada become the first nation to emulate the success of the U.S. Army Special Forces. Canada came at it from the peacekeeping angle. The U.S. Special Forces are a unique military organization, the only one in the world with troops who specialize in the language and culture of nations they may be operating in. The Special Forces are also elite troops, very selective, and requiring several years of specialized training before they are ready for action. The U.S. Special Forces have shown a real aptitude for peacekeeping, in those instances where they were used this way. Given their language and cultural skills, Special Forces troopers cannot help but have a pacifying effect wherever they operate.

Apparently, the 750 man Canadian "Special Operations Regiment" is not a clone of the U.S. Special Forces. That's because the basic training for Special Forces troops takes two to three years, and it then takes another few years in the field before the troops are ready for anything. Canada has had a small commando force for decades, and that provided the initial cadre of trainers and training facilities for the new regiment. The r Special Operations Regiment was, at least, initially closer in capability to the U.S. Army Rangers, who are very well trained light infantry. Over the next decade more members of the regiment will be put through the years of specialized training that will bring them up to something approaching the U.S. Special Forces standard. The American and Canadian ground forces have worked together for generations, so there will probably be some assistance from the U.S. Special Forces, to help the Canadians get going.

 

 


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