Author Topic: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN  (Read 8212 times)

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Offline Infanteer

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Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« on: March 17, 2020, 22:36:13 »
Interesting article over at CNR:

https://www.navalreview.ca/cnr-articles-01/

The author argues that the Senior Service has become, professionally, overly focused on acquisition and project management to deliver platforms, and that there is a distinct lack of intellectualism and sailors think about the art of war at sea in the RCN today.

He laments the loss of maritime-focused training at CFC, and points out that the Army and Air Force have picked up the slack in operational thought with their own schools and Warfare Centres, the Navy has stuck to tactical ship driving.  The CAF as a whole suffers from having a true centre for excellence in maritime operational thought.
« Last Edit: March 19, 2020, 20:41:51 by Infanteer »
"Overall it appears that much of the apparent complexity of modern war stems in practice from the self-imposed complexity of modern HQs" LCol J.P. Storr

Offline SeaKingTacco

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #1 on: March 17, 2020, 22:39:16 »
Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare Centre. Has existed in Halifax since time immemorial.

That said, I have to agree with you. When I first went to sea, eons ago, we actively discussed tactics in the Ops Room, the Wardroom and every place in between.

Lately, the focus seems to be more just the mechanics of driving the ship from point A to point B.

But, maybe I am just jaded.
« Last Edit: March 17, 2020, 22:42:52 by SeaKingTacco »

Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #2 on: March 18, 2020, 00:17:37 »
Interesting article over at CNR:

https://www.navalreview.ca/cnr-articles-01/

The author argues that the Senior Service has become, professionally, overly focused on acquisition and project management to deliver platforms, and that there is a distinct lack of intellectualism and sailors think about the art of war at sea in the RCN today.

He laments the loss of maritime-focused training at CFC, and points out that the Army and Air Force have picked up the slack in operational thought with their own schools Warfare Centres, the Navy has stuck to tactical ship driving.  The CAF as a whole suffers from having a true centre for excellence in maritime operational thought.

Naval Top Gun. That would be cool... and with excellent table manners :)
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Offline Infanteer

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #3 on: March 18, 2020, 07:38:36 »
Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare Centre. Has existed in Halifax since time immemorial.

That said, I have to agree with you. When I first went to sea, eons ago, we actively discussed tactics in the Ops Room, the Wardroom and every place in between.

Lately, the focus seems to be more just the mechanics of driving the ship from point A to point B.

The author refers to the Warfare Centre, but argues that it is overly focused on naval tactics as opposed to naval operations.
"Overall it appears that much of the apparent complexity of modern war stems in practice from the self-imposed complexity of modern HQs" LCol J.P. Storr

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #4 on: March 18, 2020, 07:44:31 »
Canadian strategic thought? Don't make me laugh, our strategic thought is what our overlords (USA) tell us.

Our biggest issue is a total lack of direction from our political masters. I would wager my pension that if you asked any random Cabinet Minister (non-MND), MP, their staff, and every non-DND public service about the Canadian Armed Forces you'd more than likely get a confused look of "oh yea, they fight floods and peacekeep right?" rather than an "oh yes, there is the RCN that protects our coastlines, is part of the international force that ensures the freedom of the seas, and is an important arm of the diplomatic aims of Canada. The RCAF is an integral part of NORAD, and the Canadian Army that provides hard kinetic power to an enemy if so required by the government." 

The general public and media are even worse. They never give us a second thought unless there is a flood or forest fire.

So with an absence of clear direction from our political masters, we have this facade of a unified CAF going off in all directions trying to justify their own rice bowls.

I'm like Sea King TACCO, I'm just so jaded with the whole bloody mess.

Offline Lumber

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #5 on: March 18, 2020, 08:57:24 »
The author refers to the Warfare Centre, but argues that it is overly focused on naval tactics as opposed to naval operations.

But... But that's their raison d'etre! To develop, evaluate, and publish tactics!
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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #6 on: March 18, 2020, 09:29:10 »
Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare Centre. Has existed in Halifax since time immemorial.
Well..... since enshrined in the Naval Service Act (1910) anyway.

Of course, that Act contributed to the fall of Laurier's government;  probably never forgotten/forgiven by the Liberals, and why they're more predisposed to hate the military.

#TrivialGeek  ;)


Besides, there's nothing new to think about naval strategy -- read Corbett & Mahan, rehash Jutland... maybe watch "Hunt for Red October" (there's no need to watch "Midway," now that BONNIE is gone).   :worms:

Offline SeaKingTacco

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #7 on: March 18, 2020, 12:22:41 »
The author refers to the Warfare Centre, but argues that it is overly focused on naval tactics as opposed to naval operations.

Yes and no.

It is important to remember that, in Canada we have two distinct Navies- a NATO navy on the East Coast and a "USN" navy on the West Coast (and maybe soon to be a third, Arctic navy with the introduction of the AOPS, shortly).

We do almost nothing outside of those two contexts, therefore, our operational thought is largely drawn from those two organizations. Our tactics, on the other hand, are often Canadian derived because they deal with the employment of the specific equipment that we own.

I am actually at a loss to think of what Naval Operational Art Canada would have to create out whole clothe, since we have essentially made ourselves adjuncts of the USN and NATO. Not trying to be sarcastic- this just the way I see what is going on around me.


Offline daftandbarmy

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #8 on: March 18, 2020, 12:44:13 »
Yes and no.

It is important to remember that, in Canada we have two distinct Navies- a NATO navy on the East Coast and a "USN" navy on the West Coast (and maybe soon to be a third, Arctic navy with the introduction of the AOPS, shortly).

We do almost nothing outside of those two contexts, therefore, our operational thought is largely drawn from those two organizations. Our tactics, on the other hand, are often Canadian derived because they deal with the employment of the specific equipment that we own.

I am actually at a loss to think of what Naval Operational Art Canada would have to create out whole clothe, since we have essentially made ourselves adjuncts of the USN and NATO. Not trying to be sarcastic- this just the way I see what is going on around me.

If anything, our 'Naval Operational Art' would probably be something like:

'Combined operations - because we have been doing so much, with so little, for so long, with the world's longest coastline and other global commitments, that we're screw&d if we don't work as a team.'

Or something like that.... :)
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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #9 on: March 18, 2020, 12:48:05 »
Yes and no.

It is important to remember that, in Canada we have two distinct Navies- a NATO navy on the East Coast and a "USN" navy on the West Coast (and maybe soon to be a third, Arctic navy with the introduction of the AOPS, shortly).

We do almost nothing outside of those two contexts, therefore, our operational thought is largely drawn from those two organizations. Our tactics, on the other hand, are often Canadian derived because they deal with the employment of the specific equipment that we own.

I am actually at a loss to think of what Naval Operational Art Canada would have to create out whole clothe, since we have essentially made ourselves adjuncts of the USN and NATO. Not trying to be sarcastic- this just the way I see what is going on around me.

I continue to go down the rabbit hole that the lack of political direction has caused the whole CAF to flail about in its own environmental and especially coastal silos.

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #10 on: March 18, 2020, 17:08:39 »
Personal opinion, having sailed in harms way with the RCN for many years.  Right now, the most important aspect of Naval Operations is to get off the wall, get overseas, and show the flag.  A uniformed, armed presence.  One of the lowest levels of the force continuum. 

Higher level considerations are playing second fiddle to many of the background concerns - fleet manning, fleet maintenance, fleet replacement.

Just my opinions as a 'has been' sailor who now hangs his hat with an Army unit.

NS
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Offline Oldgateboatdriver

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #11 on: March 18, 2020, 21:01:21 »
I am not convinced that there ever was a "Canadian Naval Strategic" outlook or even a golden period of such thought around the 1990's.

What we did have, as the result of the coincidence of the RCN 75th anniversary and arrival of the modern ships (the HALs) that finally let the Navy free itself of its ASW blinders, was a revival of interests in the broader tactical scope of naval warfare in all its aspects and discussions of the RCN's history (pushed as a result the 75th) and future place in the current naval paradigm of NATO and US navies. I would not necessarily call that naval strategy, or an interest therein.

Now, broadly speaking, there are only two naval strategies: Sea Control or Sea Denial. In Canada, both as a faithful ally of NATO and of the US and because it is clearly in our very own interest as a trading nation surrounded by the sea, we are by definition working under a Sea Control strategy.

I believe it  was Infanteer who recently brought up (in another thread) Hughes on Fleet Tactics. One interesting point made by Hughes was that naval power is seated, meaning governed, from land. It brings an interesting question: from a naval point of view, where does the distinction between tactics and strategy begin?

Classic case: Battle of the Atlantic. Obviously, the Allies were Sea Control strategists (freedom to use the seas) while the Axis powers were Sea Denial strategist (starve England by cutting maritime access). But does the overall battle, which involved control from shore of organization of convoys, arranging escorts, organizing and coordinating air patrols, then running a hunting campaign in the Bay of Biscay and bombing campaigns against U-Boat lairs, etc., qualify as "strategic" or still "tactical"?

I think two points quickly becomes obvious: First, at the "ship-at-sea" and TF/TG level at sea, everything is tactical - and it must be mastered. Second: It is hard to determine where the line lies between that tactical level and what becomes clearly considered as "strategic".

BTW, and I may make some enemies in my own service here  :nod:, It is my firm belief that, at the national level, national defence strategy is and should be the purview of the Army. Such determination then should dictate the naval and air requirements. To give a Canadian instance: If the Canadian Army had decided that there is an actual essential strategic requirement for Canada to have an amphibious capability, then the RCN would have been told to provide it and it would have.

So when I see Army people in these fora complaining that we have no such capability (and this is a pet peeve of mine  ;D), I can only think that it is because they, as the Canadian Army, have failed to make a case to our political masters for its necessity.       

Offline dapaterson

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #12 on: March 18, 2020, 21:12:34 »
So when I see Army people in these fora complaining that we have no such capability (and this is a pet peeve of mine  ;D), I can only think that it is because they, as the Canadian Army, have failed to make a case to our political masters for its necessity.     

*Cough* the demise of 450 in 1998 *cough*.
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Offline Oldgateboatdriver

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #13 on: March 18, 2020, 22:00:13 »
My point exactly, Dapaterson: The Army failed to make the case to our political masters.

Not the first time, BTW. In 1971, the Navy offered to Hellyer to reorganize along a three TG structure, with one TG centred around a carrier (the Bonnie) and two more TG centred around Iwo Jima class amphibious vessels.

...

It was the army who said they didn't need it in the lead off to unification.


Offline LoboCanada

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #14 on: March 19, 2020, 09:09:24 »
If we're talking strategy and high-level objectives - is it not possible we've thought of many of the general possibilities and had strategies already in place for them? Only things that could change are capabilities of the actors in these scenarios - making it more about the capabilities of new XYZ platform changes. I.E planning for a hot war in Europe, supply lines, Carrier/Task Groups etc... Only things that might have changed have been the tools to carry these strategies out in the past 60 yrs.

On the flip-side, what about the lack of thought towards the threats close to home? Where are the strategies to compensate for shortcomings?
1. 1000% increase in calls for CF help in natural disasters, where are the strategies, playbooks, smart ideas to help gov't with this surge?
2. NATO doesn't seem to care about the Arctic above us, as NORAD does. Where are the strategies and planning for us and the US to protect ourselves, all alone with no European help.
3. Are there strategies in place/playbooks written for how we respond to something in the pacific?


To add, RCN finally gets Dads credit card for the weekend, how can you blame it for thinking about what it can do with it?


Offline Colin P

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #15 on: March 19, 2020, 11:29:10 »
I am not convinced that there ever was a "Canadian Naval Strategic" outlook or even a golden period of such thought around the 1990's.

What we did have, as the result of the coincidence of the RCN 75th anniversary and arrival of the modern ships (the HALs) that finally let the Navy free itself of its ASW blinders, was a revival of interests in the broader tactical scope of naval warfare in all its aspects and discussions of the RCN's history (pushed as a result the 75th) and future place in the current naval paradigm of NATO and US navies. I would not necessarily call that naval strategy, or an interest therein.

Now, broadly speaking, there are only two naval strategies: Sea Control or Sea Denial. In Canada, both as a faithful ally of NATO and of the US and because it is clearly in our very own interest as a trading nation surrounded by the sea, we are by definition working under a Sea Control strategy.

I believe it  was Infanteer who recently brought up (in another thread) Hughes on Fleet Tactics. One interesting point made by Hughes was that naval power is seated, meaning governed, from land. It brings an interesting question: from a naval point of view, where does the distinction between tactics and strategy begin?

Classic case: Battle of the Atlantic. Obviously, the Allies were Sea Control strategists (freedom to use the seas) while the Axis powers were Sea Denial strategist (starve England by cutting maritime access). But does the overall battle, which involved control from shore of organization of convoys, arranging escorts, organizing and coordinating air patrols, then running a hunting campaign in the Bay of Biscay and bombing campaigns against U-Boat lairs, etc., qualify as "strategic" or still "tactical"?

I think two points quickly becomes obvious: First, at the "ship-at-sea" and TF/TG level at sea, everything is tactical - and it must be mastered. Second: It is hard to determine where the line lies between that tactical level and what becomes clearly considered as "strategic".

BTW, and I may make some enemies in my own service here  :nod:, It is my firm belief that, at the national level, national defence strategy is and should be the purview of the Army. Such determination then should dictate the naval and air requirements. To give a Canadian instance: If the Canadian Army had decided that there is an actual essential strategic requirement for Canada to have an amphibious capability, then the RCN would have been told to provide it and it would have.

So when I see Army people in these fora complaining that we have no such capability (and this is a pet peeve of mine  ;D), I can only think that it is because they, as the Canadian Army, have failed to make a case to our political masters for its necessity.     

If a Russian corvette in the Black Sea can pound targets in Syria, is that tactical or strategic?

Offline Infanteer

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #16 on: March 19, 2020, 11:47:02 »
The act of "pounding" is always tactical.  Time, space, and force considerations play on the strategic calculus.
"Overall it appears that much of the apparent complexity of modern war stems in practice from the self-imposed complexity of modern HQs" LCol J.P. Storr

Offline Colin P

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #17 on: March 19, 2020, 13:57:19 »
However the ability of a modern ship to affect a much wider geographic area goes beyond the 'tactical". Back in the ASW only days, the ships were very tactical oriented. The Type 26/CSC will have the ability to have influence over a very large area, depending on her potentiel weapon load out. I wonder if the RCN has wrapped their heads around what that may mean?

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #18 on: March 19, 2020, 14:25:02 »
Shooting a missile at something 10 km away or 1000 km away is a tactical activity.  "Strategic" isn't defined by distance.

But you're point on the time and space related to naval operations is correct - a platform can have a tactical effect across a greater area of space in a compressed period of time.  Have we wrapped our heads around the consequences of this?  The author of the article in question would probably answer no....
"Overall it appears that much of the apparent complexity of modern war stems in practice from the self-imposed complexity of modern HQs" LCol J.P. Storr

Offline Colin P

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #19 on: March 19, 2020, 14:42:58 »
hmmm I guess I see tactical vs strategic in land battle terms, the location of a army in my mind is strategic, the battles fought by the companies are tactical. However if Canada sends a ship off the coast of Africa or Syria with 32 cells loaded with cruise missiles to enforce or pressure a another government or group to act in a particular way or not to act, then in my mind that is strategic as it extends the reach of the will of government and the ability to act, beyond our borders on another government/party. Even if the missiles are not fired, their presence has strategic implications. Going back to my Russian example, it showed the region that Russia can reach out and touch them, even if contained within the Black Sea, that will affect how regional players react. 

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #20 on: March 19, 2020, 16:08:52 »
Interesting discussion on tactical vs strategic. I have been working for some time with some naval colleagues who are grappling with this same issue, how does the Navy achieve strat effect, as part of a pan-domain force employment concept and within a full spectrum targeting construct. That may be the easier method to crack the nut, determining the effect you want to achieve and at what level, and does the RCN platform (or the other purveyors of action) then have the ability to create that effect. After running through the exercise a number of times, and if your assumptions about the likely reactions/outcomes/consequences are correct, you hopefully begin to get a sense of who can do what.

Problem is, much of the discussion is theoretical. Canadian military strategic effect internationally is determined, by and large, through coalition ops, and as a previous poster stated, we often get swept up in the strategy of the 800 lb. gorilla. Also, the target(s) of the effect has a vote.

The Strat Effects Mgmt Board is looking at a number of these challenges right now. It will take some time to figure out amongst all of the players. Though we have some strategic thinkers, we still have a bunch of folks for whom metal on metal is the preferred method.

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #21 on: March 19, 2020, 19:16:38 »
Is sending your AOR to support a coalition effort off the coast of Africa a tactical or strategic decision? The benefits you gain by doing so, may have nothing to do with the mission at hand. I see the C17 purchase as a Strategic decision as it allows us to spread our influences and alliances further and in a way that many of our allies can't. One reason why I bemoan the failure to secure the two built for Russia Mistals, I saw them as a way to leverage our influence with other nations by supporting a wide variety of missions with them, beyond what we have done since the loss of the CV's.

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #22 on: March 19, 2020, 19:21:02 »
Allocation of forces to a theatre is a strategic decision.  The AOR sailing in specific ways to avoid contact is a tactical one.
"Overall it appears that much of the apparent complexity of modern war stems in practice from the self-imposed complexity of modern HQs" LCol J.P. Storr

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #23 on: March 19, 2020, 19:52:43 »
I'm glad OGBD posted because I was scratching my head trying to untangle the strategic from the tactical in naval operations.  Compound this with the procurement or project management consideration from the original article to entangle the issue.

There is no doubt that Canada is making strategic decisions with the RCN.  The setup of the Shanghai Logistics Hub (or whatever its really called) similar to the Logistics Hub in Kuwait was done to allow for two things.  Improve relations with players in South East Asia and allow for CAF strategic reach (logistics) to improve in the area. 

OP PROJECTION is to build those relationships and work with allied navies in order to blunt Chinese influence.  Asterix being sent first to the Pacific and out the OP PROJECTION was a significant strategic move, helping to improve the strategic mobility of our allies there.  Also, the deployment of a submarine to Japan was part of this strategy.

OP REASSURANCE and the visit of HMCS Toronto to Ukraine twice was a government strategy to show we can operate in Russia's backyard.  That was more government and NATO-led than RCN lead but diplomacy is fully intertwined with naval strategy in many cases.

Now when one looks at the project management criticism though well-founded, it misses an important point.  A naval strategy is completely based on the platforms that one has available.  We cannot make strategic decisions without understanding the capability or effects that a ship can have.  AOR's improve strategic mobility and logistics enormously.  Frankly, they might be the difference between a true sea control strategy and a sea denial strategy.

Secondly, the CSC statement of requirements was built around the RCN having the effectors it needs in order to implement various strategies.  For example, if one is unable to tactically project power ashore through missiles or guns (as we are currently limited) then the strategic effects a task group can have off an enemy shore is limited.  Proper procurement and effective platforms change the calculus for the enemy and have strategic impacts. 

Problem is, much of the discussion is theoretical. Canadian military-strategic effect internationally is determined, by and large, through coalition ops, and as a previous poster stated, we often get swept up in the strategy of the 800 lb. gorilla.

Coalition operations have strategic effects IMHO.  Building those relationships in order to balance off the larger powers, its what middle (middling?) powers do.  That might not be a true naval strategy but it's a national strategy.

The TG concept is designed to allow Canada to operate without a coalition.  Four ships, an AOR, and a submarine are the dream.  But without the project managers, we don't have the equipment to even think about doing that, and thus sea control, sea denial and power projection are limited.

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Re: Decline of Naval Thought in the RCN
« Reply #24 on: March 19, 2020, 20:27:14 »
Problem is, much of the discussion is theoretical. Canadian military strategic effect internationally is determined, by and large, through coalition ops, and as a previous poster stated, we often get swept up in the strategy of the 800 lb. gorilla.

I don't think this is necessarily true - I hear it a lot, but I don't really feel this sentiment captures the essence of strategic decision making.

Some of the best models of strategy I've seen describe it as being composed of time, space, and force.  Strategic decision making is allocation of time, space, and force to achieve tactical effects for the purposes of war (policy).

While a predilection to fight through coalitions and alliances will often limit the space factor of strategy for Canada (we don't unilaterally determine where we will employ military force), Canadian decision makers have the ability to consider and adjust the factors of time and force.

Use the Second World War as an example.  Canada was able to exercise some degree of strategic choice.  It opted not to send forces to North Africa, it opted to dispatch forces to Italy (instead of, say, the Pacific), it took part in fabricating a system to defeat the U-Boat menace, etc, etc.  Once forces were committed, Canada did not have as much say in the iterative interplay of strategy and tactics, and didn't have much operational decision space - this was largely determined by the senior Allies (US and the UK) and by the alliance chain of command, dominated by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.  So, while we didn't have complete strategic freedom of action, we had some.

This still stands today: Canada possesses some strategic choice.  Where do we sail our frigates?  Where do we dedicate our fighters?  Where do our transports fly stuff to?  Where do we put Battle Groups?  Some of this strategic choice is already determined by pre-existing alliances such as contributions to a NATO standing fleet or to NORAD air defence requirements, but anything in excess of that provides for strategic choice.

This is partly what the pan-domain force employment concept you mention gets to - our military resources are finite, so it makes sense to put them in the places that make the most strategic sense for Canada.  There are also new force elements (for example, cyber forces) coming on-line that have completely different characteristics when it comes to time, space, and force.  When you transition a cyber resource from one target to another without physically moving anything, there is a new dynamic in strategy related to prioritizing these "high demand/low density" resources.  Does strategy say the priorities lay with countering a VEO like Daesh?  Is this adding to deterrence in Eastern Europe?  Is this working in the Pacific to maintain freedom of navigation?

Swinging this all the way back to the original topic, there is - in my opinion - certainly space for Canadian operational and strategic naval thought.  Where do we dedicate naval resources in terms of time, space, and force, and once dedicated, how are they best employed within that theatre?

 :2c:
« Last Edit: March 19, 2020, 20:30:17 by Infanteer »
"Overall it appears that much of the apparent complexity of modern war stems in practice from the self-imposed complexity of modern HQs" LCol J.P. Storr