Canada's military peers into future, and it's scary
In the worst-case scenarios, oil prices quadruple, drones patrol the skies, global wars spill into cities
Allan Woods Ottawa Bureau
Published On Sat Oct 17 2009
OTTAWAThe war between India and Pakistan spills over into Toronto's immigrant suburbs. A terrorist sleeper cell poisons Montreal's water system. Mandatory military service is enacted for young and new Canadians.
While the country's politicians debate what Canada's engagement in Afghanistan will look like after the current mission ends in 2011, the military has already peered far past that date to determine its training and equipment needs and the worst-case scenarios it must prepare to face.
While the Armed Forces constantly project scenarios for which to train, these hypothetical situations are rarely publicized. Although they appear far-fetched, the military is obliged to prepare for the worst, or risk being unready in the event of a catastrophe.
A 10-year forecast completed for the air force lays out likely trends in areas such as oil prices and aviation technologies, but also a series of “strategic shocks” unpredictable events that could throw the best-laid plans off course.
The report predicts that oil prices will have doubled, tripled or quadrupled by 2019, unmanned attack aircraft will police the skies, and the Arctic will have become the zone of interest for the world's great powers.
A lethal, all-commando Canadian army may not stay in Kandahar, but it will be fighting terrorists in a geographic rainbow known as the “arc of instability” a region stretching from western Africa, through the Middle East and into Southeast Asia.
“These areas have also traditionally served as potential safe havens for terrorists in developing, organizing and preparing for asymmetric attacks against the developed world,” says the report, produced earlier this year by the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre.
No more country-to-country wars for Canada. Instead, soldiers will face shadowy enemies in weak or failed states with little regard for civilian safety.
“It is projected that irregular challenges, asymmetrical warfare, low-intensity conflicts and insurgencies will be the most prevalent form of conflict until 2019.”
The report also explicitly probes Canada's domestic fault lines features like our shared border and trade ties with the United States or our large immigrant populations and puts them up against some of the world's most volatile disputes to offer scenarios showing how a largely peaceful society could be torn apart.
The introduction of national military service for new Canadians in 2016 to tackle large immigration flows and a depleted military.
War between India and Pakistan that sparks clashes in B.C.'s Lower Mainland and Ontario suburbs where refugee and immigrant populations from the two countries have settled.
A Taliban sleeper cell poisons the Montreal water system, killing and sickening thousands. Hospitals are swamped, the U.S. border closes and tourism plummets.
A large-scale Canadian military deployment to Afghanistan in 2016 to ensure Canadian business has free access to protectionist U.S. markets.
The scenarios may seem improbable, but they all have some basis in reality: Canada's dependence on the U.S.; international terrorist ambitions; simmering conflict in South Asia; and a stagnant military.
A study by the University of Ottawa earlier this year looked at security threats to Canada in 2020 and came up with similar outcomes to those of the military.
In one, the Pakistani state collapses in 2016 and India moves in, appointing friendly politicians and establishing its own laws. Protests eventually give way to riots in “Little Toronto,” where Indians and Pakistanis live side-by-side.
“Fundamentalist feelings have flared up, opening the door to terrorist organizations and the recruitment of new members,” says the April study.
The military's scenarios may be conceivable, but there's no evidence they are likely to occur, said Paul Robinson, a University of Ottawa professor and former military intelligence officer who helped design the dystopian outcomes for the University of Ottawa study.
“Scenario building is never desperately scientific in the sense that you are engaging in fantasy, but you can engage in fantasy in a more solidly grounded basis,” he said.
In his opinion, the air force's strategic shocks are less grounded in scientific method than in the politics of a military bureaucracy competing for money.
“I suspect it's in an air force report because it makes you scared, and if it makes you scared you'll spend more on defence,” he said. “That's just my cynical view.”
The air force report cites various Canadian and British military studies to come up with its forecasts, as well as an official Air Force Strategy paper and the “vision of the Chief of the Air Staff.”
As for the flying wing of the Canadian Forces, the future lies in the North and high in the skies.
With climate change, melting Arctic ice and the possibility of up to 80 per cent of the global transportation market moving through Canadian waterways, the air force plans to better protect Canadian territory, deter unfriendly visitors and rescue those in trouble in the unforgiving territory.
Dwindling global fuel stocks, and unstable oil prices, also make it more likely that the pilots of the future will have two feet on the ground, controlling surveillance and attack drones by remote control. It's unlikely the air force will ever purchase another fighter jet to replace its CF-18s, the report says. “In the future, smaller, cheaper and expendable unmanned combat aerial vehicles … will have unsurpassable advantages over manned platforms in both performance and costs.”