The Need for Canadian Strategic Lift

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Many studies in recent years have documented the decline of the Canadian Forces (CF). This publication addresses one of the ways by which the CF can be rebuilt: by acquiring what military planners call strategic lift. Because Canada is isolated by wide oceans from most of the trouble spots of the world and because Canada has no overseas bases, if the CF are to be deployed abroad, whether to fight wars or to engage in humanitarian actions, they must be sent there from home soil. To get where they are needed in theatres overseas, strategic lift is necessary. Tactical lift - mostly by air - refers to the ability to move around in a given theatre. The argument that Canada can rent a strategic lift capability when it is needed is examined and found wanting. It is our position that Crown assets, not rent-a-ship or rent-a-plane programs, are needed. A second premise is that existing assets, an aging fleet of aircraft and ships with limited capabilities, will have to be replaced in the near future. If they are not, even if Canada develops the finest infantry in the world or the most lethal frigates ever to sail the seven seas, it will be unable to use them anywhere but at home. Under such circumstances, Canada may well have to relinquish the pretence of a foreign policy since it will have nothing to back it but words.

In this publication, we examine the major options available both for sealift and for airlift. The airlift needs can best be met, we think, by purchasing a mix of C-17 Globemaster III aircraft and C-130J Hercules. The sealift mix is more complex. The recent announcement of a replacement for the auxiliary oiler and replenishment ships (AORs) is a start; but additional ships and decisions regarding the future of the Navy in joint operations with the Army will condition the kind of vessels needed. Our discussion of sealift lays out the options and the implications of specific choices.

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