Liberal defence policy calls for hundreds more commandos and $1.5 billion in special forces equipment

Canada’s special forces organization has emerged a big winner in the policy, which calls for increased recruitment of commandos and more than $1 billion in new equipment.

The ranks of the Ottawa-based special forces will be boosted by 605 personnel, and $1.5 billion will be spent on new equipment ranging from surveillance aircraft to boats.

There are around 1,900 personnel in special forces. That would increase to 2,500, but the Liberal government has not detailed the timeframe in which this would take place.

The defence policy does not stipulate where the new personnel will be based but the majority of Canadian special forces are located in Ottawa and at Garrison Petawawa, Ont.

The $1.5 billion for equipment would be spent over the next two decades.

Courtesy of DND
Courtesy of DND Canadian special forces are shown in this photo helping Kurdish in Iraq.

The signals the desire to make more use of special forces and have them integrate further into the U.S.-led global network of clandestine troops.

The policy notes that the expansion will “enable rapidly deployable and agile Special Operations Forces to provide their unique skills both at home and abroad.”

Special forces are currently in northern Iraq training there in the war against the Islamic State.

Canadian Special Operations Forces Command or CANSOFCOM oversees Joint Task Force 2, which is a counterterrorism and special operations unit in Ottawa; the 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment, both in Petawawa; and the Response Unit, a Trenton, Ont.-based organization that deals with weapons of mass destruction.

You have to get the right calibre of people and special forces will… not want to ease its standards

New vehicles and communications gear are also among the equipment to be purchased for CANSOFCOM.

Some of the equipment programs announced in the Liberal defence policy Wednesday are already under way and were put in motion by the previous Conservative government.

The Liberal policy also calls for the Canadian military to expand its role in cyber protection and warfare.

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said it is not surprising the government is looking at expanding its special forces and cyber capabilities. “Those are areas that need to grow,” said Shadwick, a strategic studies professor at York University in Toronto. “That mirrors an international trend.”

But Shadwick warned it could take time to recruit new cyber warriors and special forces personnel. “You have to get the right calibre of people and special forces will, in particular, not want to ease its standards,” he added.

Adrian Wyld / Canadian Press
Adrian Wyld / Canadian PressMembers of Canadian Forces Special Operations JTF2 unit rappel from a helicopter as they storm a ship during Operation Nanook off the shores of Churchill, Man., in 2012.

A new cyber force could also provide opportunities for reservists, Shadwick said.

The Liberal government also said it remains committed to NORAD, the joint U.S.-Canada organization that protects North America. Canada will contribute to new radars and other sensors that feed into NORAD, but a timeframe for that still has to be determined.

In addition, the Liberals noted the government will spend billions of dollars over the next 20 years for a variety of infrastructure projects. As an example, it highlighted new buildings to house the Canadian Joint Response Unit.

But the defence policy makes no mention of the new special forces base that was slated to be built in Trenton.

The military about the need for a new base 2005

That base was announced by the Conservative government but was derailed after the cost jumped to more than $1 billion as the special forces command kept adding to the proposed facility.

JTF2 was supposed to leave its Ottawa base for the new base sometime after 2019 but it is unclear whether that will ever happen.

The previous Conservative government had authorized $346 million for the building of the new JTF2 site and the move of the unit.

The military has been talking about the need for a new base for JTF2 since 2005. Among the options considered was an expansion of the existing Ottawa site or moving the unit to Petawawa.

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