Natynczyk email defends Challenger use to troops

Canada's top soldier is defending the use of Challenger jets in an email to all the staff at the Department of National Defence.

In the email, Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk says he and Defence Minister Peter MacKay have "been the subject of intense media coverage and questions in the House of Commons regarding our use of military aircraft."

Natynczyk says MacKay has been unjustifiably criticized and that much of the criticism of both men has been misguided.

Here's the text of the letter:

From: Chief of the Defence Staff/Chef d'état-major de la Défense Sent: Thu Oct 06 19:19:29 2011 Subject: Message from the CDS/Message du CEMD

Le texte français suit

This message is being sent to all recipients on the DWAN and as such does not need to be forwarded to anyone on the DWAN.

As you may be aware, the Minister of National Defence and I have recently been the subject of intense media coverage and questions in the House of Commons regarding our use of military aircraft. Much of this coverage has featured exaggerated costs and sensational speculation that have significantly clouded the facts as I see them. As a public figure, I expect and welcome scrutiny, and stand prepared to be held accountable for my decisions. Nevertheless, I have been dismayed to see our minister being unjustifiably criticized for the fine work he has been doing on behalf of the men and women of the CF and the department. Accordingly, I want to provide you with my perspectives on this matter.

At present, for the vast majority of CF staff travel, commercial airlines are almost always the best and cheapest choice. But direct dollar costs can be a poor basis for deciding how senior CF and departmental personnel should travel. In many cases, military aircraft offer security, scheduling, command and control, and flexibility advantages that cannot be matched at any price. Whether doing the nation's business abroad, or trying to squeeze additional productive time out of a tight schedule, being able to move senior leaders and their support staff quickly and efficiently to their destination is one of the reasons we operate command and liaison fleets such as the Challenger, and why we sometimes use other CF aircraft and helicopters, even if airlift is not their primary operational role.

When considering the actual costs of travel, much of the media debate over per hour operating expenses has been misguided. Once fixed costs such as the price of the aircraft and aircrew and maintainer salaries are properly accounted for, along with factors such as the necessary flying hours required for training, the number of people aboard, and the additional costs created by longer stays and other expenses related to commercial travel, a justifiable and reasonable argument for military airlift can be made under certain circumstances. When one considers the clear operational advantages these aircraft offer in terms of their ability to enable command and liaison, medical evacuation, VIP transport, and short-notice delivery of high-value military equipment and personnel into operational theatres, I am confident that the Challengers continue to represent good value for money.

In general, when it comes to the use of CF aircraft, Challengers or otherwise, I have similar confidence in the chain of command and senior departmental staff to make sound cost-benefit decisions when requesting airlift. As diligent stewards of our resources, we are called upon routinely to weigh requests against such factors as ongoing operations, direct and indirect costs, time savings, and follow-on impacts. In many cases, the decision is made to simply go commercial. But where a sound cost-benefit argument can be made, particularly when there is the opportunity to provide the airlift at little or no incremental cost (by combining it with required training, for example), I consider use of military aircraft to be an appropriate and prudent expenditure of resources.

This brings me to my final point. The CF is one of Canada's most trusted institutions because of the high standards of conduct and integrity shown by our men and women. When I observe the minister's tireless engagement in operations and the modernization of the CF, his genuine concern for military families, and the respect he pays to our fallen comrades, it is obvious to all that he shares this sense of personal honour. As Chief of the Defence Staff, I hold myself and my senior commanders to a high ethical standard, and I know that the minister is equally uncompromising in regards his office and responsibilities. When we fly the minister in CF aircraft, it is not only because his duties require it, but also because we are proud to support him in his work, and confident in his personal leadership.

While this issue may linger over the coming weeks and months, I note with pride that CF members are currently serving with distinction in two major conflicts, and continue to support our nation in operational theatres around the globe and here at home. However frustrating the reports of the past weeks may have been, I know that as we work with our civilian partners in the department to find efficiencies and cost savings, and to continue modernizing the CF while enabling operations, it is bonds of trust and mutual respect that will sustain our efforts.

Thank you for your support, your loyalty, and the professionalism of your service.

General Walter Natynczyk

Chief of the Defence Staff