CF-18 jets are mission-ready TheStar.com - News - CF-18 jets are mission-ready
Documents show deployment plans to Afghanistan set, but orders unlikely
February 19, 2007
OTTAWA–Canada's air force has detailed plans to deploy six CF-18s fighter jets to Kandahar, even to the point of predicting how many so-called "smart" bombs would be needed for a six-month air campaign battling insurgents, documents show.
Defence officials say they have no intention of sending the fighters overseas. But military memos and orders obtained by the Toronto Star
make it clear that extensive planning has laid the groundwork for a deployment should the Conservative government give the okay.
"With respect to the current situation ... there are no plans at this point in time do so," Lt.-Col. John Blakeley, director of air force public affairs, said last Friday.
But just over a year ago – as Canada's army units made the move to Kandahar from Kabul – it seemed certain the air force's front-line fighter would be deployed to join them in an operation expected to cost $18 million, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act show.
In January 2006, air force headquarters in Winnipeg sent out an order to the two CF-18 bases at Bagotville, Que., and Cold Lake, Alta., regarding "deployment to Kandahar."
"The purpose of this (message) is to co-ordinate deployment milestones that will ensure the directed fighter preparedness posture is achieved and maintained," it said.
The order laid out some of the requirements for the Kandahar operation, such as parking space for six of the sleek fighters with a spot where another jet could undergo maintenance work.
The documents also reveal that planners predicted how many sorties the jets would be flying each day as well as how many precision-guided bombs would be used in a six-month deployment, although those details have been censored.
The documents detail the "weapons on hand," including a selection of laser-guided bombs weighing up to 907 kilograms.
One memo, marked secret, discusses the need for air-to-air refuelling to get the jets from their bases in Alberta and Quebec to Afghanistan.
Among the papers is a presentation totalling about 45 pages on the threats that would face the fighter team in Afghanistan with topics that include narcotics, the "opposing military force," rockets and mortars, convoy ambush, roadside bombs, kidnappings and suicide bombers, although details on each have been blanked out.
The documents also stress the need for positive identification to avoid "collateral damage" to allied troops. Five Canadian soldiers have already been killed in Afghanistan in friendly fire incidents involving American jets.
Air force rules made clear that CF-18 jet jockeys would have to "visually acquire their targets and have the flexibility to deliver ordinance in lower flight regimes to avoid fratricide."
The air force convened a two-day meeting in Winnipeg in November 2005 involving air staff from across the country to discuss issues "related to preparation, deployment, employment and force sustainment of an eventual fighter force supporting the Afghan theatre of operations" reads one memo.
A 14-member military team was to head to Afghanistan in April 2006, to scout out the Kandahar airfield for the unfolding CF-18 deployment.
Blakeley couldn't say whether that trip ever went ahead. But he said it's common for planners to develop contingency plans for possible operations.
The deployment, planned for sometime after May 2006, never took place and now seems to have been shelved indefinitely.
Today, a CF-18 deployment remains a sensitive topic for senior federal government officials who fear the public may perceive Canadian jets in Afghanistan as an escalation of Canada's involvement in a divisive mission.
And because British, Dutch and U.S. fighters are already providing air support for allied troops in southern Afghanistan, it's unlikely Canadian fighter pilots will be called on to show off their skills, defence officials say.
Canada has about 2,600 troops in Afghanistan, with most based in the volatile Kandahar region.