Wednesday, 30 May 2012


Although Canada doesn’t ‘do’ strategy, it seems inevitable that Canada will acknowledge the growing importance of the Pacific Rim to Canada’s interests.

 One factor that will drive Canada in this direction is that the U.S. has recently announced a “Pacific Pivot”. A strategy change which essentially announces that they see their future challenges as mainly arising in the Pacific Rim area. The military part of this strategy is described in the “Air-Sea Battle” concept. Air-Sea battle is an amorphous concept which can mean almost anything to anybody but in this context means the Air Force and the Navy will work together to contain any military threats from China.

 As well as accepting that many of Canada’s economic interests are bound up in the Pacific, we will be forced to acknowledge the new direction the United States is taking militarily. Traditionally Canadian political and military elites have tended to follow the U.S. lead in military matters. Usually the unintended consequences of these decisions are only discovered later.

The U.S. military strategy is, for the time being, based largely on the use of aircraft carriers.  The following notes, originally entitled “How to kill an Aircraft Carrier” relate directly to this policy.

Aircraft Carriers operate in a box. The front edge of the box is the one most commonly considered. It’s the edge closest to possible targets. It has to be at least close enough for aircraft operating from the carriers to get to their targets (and back). The size of the box is dictated by the need for the carriers to hide. They need a fair size area to maneuver in so as to deny possible enemies certain knowledge of where they are at any given time. The back end of the box is where re-supply can take place. Carriers can’t function without constant support which effectively comes by sea from the homeland. As can be seen in this brief description, the size of the box is necessarily malleable. The range of the carrier borne aircraft, the reconnaissance assets available to opponents as well as the physical constraints imposed by shorelines, islands and even continents can all affect the size of the box. 
When trying to kill an aircraft carrier most opponents consider only the box. The main considerations are about how to track down and target the ship itself with suitable weaponry. What many forget about is the logistic lifeline to the box from the carrier’s homeland. An Aircraft Carrier, not to mention its escorting warships, must have a regular and reliable supply of fuel, food, and munitions to operate. Re-supply ships operating from the homeland to the area of operations (the box) are the Achilles heel of any naval operation, most particularly those involving the sustained use of air-power. Support vessels are seldom armed nor do they usually travel in convoy. The defensive efforts necessary to protect them from targeted and persistent attack would use up the resources necessary for offensive action.
 During peacetime most navies devote their submarine resources to surveillance and reconnaissance. Training for war is usually predicated on the assumption that the enemy’s naval warships will be the targets. In fact historical wartime experience has been that the best use of submarines is actually to sink the merchant shipping of ones opponents. Navies that persist in using there submarine forces to attack warships to the exclusion of other targets lose wars. Similarly, when one is at war with an enemy equipped with Aircraft Carriers the best way to neutralize them is to destroy the means necessary to support them. It may be that the best way to do this is with submarines. Rather than practice torpedoing carriers, something submariners love to do; it would be better to practice destroying re-supply ships. Not as glamorous, but a whole lot more practical.

 Canadian politicians and admirals need to understand what a Pacific strategy entails. We understand that the Atlantic Ocean is a gateway, not a moat. We have to look at the Pacific Ocean and our Pacific coast in the same way. Military adventures can not be confined to the far edge of that ocean, “on the other side of the world”. The Pacific opens the world to us and it opens us to the world.