And the dissection of Lepine’s planning session continues!

This next post is going to cover various situational and threat assessments that are informing Gen Lepine’s hard-assed plan.  It’s a bit scatter-shot for a deconstruction, but then again, it’s a pretty scatter-shot for a planning process too.  Last time we discussed how Gen Lepine was basically working without a chain of command for his airborne operation, and sending random Navy officers to tell them what to do.

Today we’re going to focus on what they actually see when they look at a map of James Bay, and how they see the people living there.  Some of this will be a retread of parts we’ve looked at before, only from a different perspective.

So here’s the threat assessment:

[Miller] “The main features in the area are the village of Chisasibi and its airfield, the generating station at Radisson, the highways between them, and Highway 109 here, running south to Matagami and Val-d’Or.  The terrain in between is too rugged for us, or the bad guys, to move through fast, and frankly there’s nothing of interest anywhere in it.  The generating station is the probable main target of any raid – the other Radisson facilities, the fifty-three-story-high dams and so on, are simply too massive to attack successfully.  The other glaring vulnerability is the five main transmission lines running some 1,400 kilometres south.  They are wide open to attack and the only way to defend them would be saturation aerial surveillance spotting and neutralizing threats before they reached the lines.”

”The population in the northern region, including about 3,000 natives, is displayed here.  Mostly, it’s a peaceful community.”  [still John Miller] turned back to the main map, “The facilities aren’t really guarded, just locals with flashlights.  NDHQ has tried to get the SQ to beef things up, but they say there’s no need and it’s too expensive.”[1]

Lepine deposited his pen grimly on the table.  “Wait until the lights go out.”

This. Is. Not. Enough.

So in Battle Procedure’s orders format, the first heading is Situation.  This heading is broken down into multiple sub-headings that typically include (but are not limited to) Enemies, Friendlies, Locals (neutrals), Terrain/Weather, and Neighbouring Units.  The idea is to cover all the vital factors that might influence the plan you’re creating.  What we’re seeing in these paragraphs here is allegedly the Enemies and Terrain/Weather entries.

And it’s nowhere near enough for a planning session.

Now I’m not expecting anything approaching a realistic depiction of the Battle Procedure process, mostly because it takes forever and after a certain point involves a lot of repetition (as new pieces of information come in, you need to go back and either revise the plan or confirm that it still works).  Portraying something huge like the planning of a regiment-scale airborne assault would take chapters of text to do realistically.  So it stands to reason that things would either be summarized or otherwise condensed.

This?  This is downright skeletal.

Three thousand people, mostly peaceful?  That is not enough to build a plan out of.

For starters…it’s not a peaceful community if there’s an insurgency brewing!  That’s pretty much the definition of a hostile population.  It’s almost like Bland expects the population to act like extras in a movie: random figures to fill the background while the heroes do their thing.

Three thousand people.  Okay…What’s the age breakdown?[2] What’s the physical distribution of the people (are they all living in Chisasibi, or are there a number of homesteads further out from the town)?  What’s the average income (is this a community where everyone has a truck, boat and ATV)? Is there a notable crime rate in the area (and if so, is there any kind of organized crime)?  What are the estimates (pre-CFB raids) of firearms ownership in the region?[3]  What are major the health issues in the region?[4]

What’s the state of the Band government?  Do they appear to be onside with the NPA or not?  What about the police?

Now, the description of the terrain is just as obtuse.

Here’s a fun little music video done by Cree artist Manuan Lafond who wrote it to (among other things) protest the terrible state of Highway 109.  The song’s a bit tongue in cheek, but there’s some genuine affection in there as well, and the video contains some excellent shots of the terrain in northern Québec.

So it looks like some pretty rough ground, and dense woods lining both sides of the road between Chisasibi and Radisson.  Too rugged isn’t exactly a word I’d use for it, though.  As any recruit who’s ever been through BMQ knows, rugged is a pretty subjective term. When the Sergeant tells you to keep going, ‘it’s too rugged’ is not an excuse that’s going to cut it.  This ground looks passable on foot, and offers a lot of defensible terrain features, meaning that it has value, if only in that it can provide plenty of ambush sites.

Also, while I’ve never been to Chisasibi myself, I’m willing to bet there’s all kinds of trails and black-tracks that are passable for ATVs (or snowmobiles during the winter).  Hunting camps, trap lines, and whatever sketchy shack the kids go to in order to drink and have sex, there’s all kinds of things to be found on those seemingly empty green spaces on the map.  Meaning it might be very possible for a local force to move quickly between the two towns, and possibly hole up in some secluded location while army stumbles around looking for it.

While it’s unlikely that Gen Lepine’s HQ has anyone from Chisasibi in it, odds are at least a few of the people there are small town boys and girls.  And a lot more who have served at one of the many rural CFBs in Canada where outdoor activities are pretty common.

Petawawa is one such base.

Now we got Miller chiming in about the potential threats in the region.  Although there’s no indication that he’s been talking to the ITAC, it bears a striking resemblance to their threat assessment.  Even though he’s coming from a purely military perspective, he’s still hitting almost identical notes.[5]

Miller paused briefly, then continued.  “We conclude, obviously, that the generating station is the main vulnerability, the transmission lines are next, and if the attack is on a larger scale than quick sabotage and retreat, that the civil authority, police and officials will be scooped up and held prisoner, possibly as hostages.  The attacking force would have to come from the local native people – bringing in enough outsiders to do the job would be impossible to hide in a community of this size and we’ve seen no sign of it.  Therefore, we assume from the data and close intelligence, that the bad guys have about 100 young men and some women, lightly armed and poorly trained but led by ex-Rangers and some ex-Canadian Forces people who have moved back into the area.  That’s about it, sir.”  

It’s not clear how they came up with the (correct) estimate of approximately 100 warriors.  Earlier it was implied that OP Thunder forces actually were the local Ranger units who’d recently gone rogue,  instead we now have a force made up mostly of locals, with a handful of Rangers leading them.  If it had been a hundred Rangers, then about a hundred effective troops would be the starting point.

Building on that you could expect additional supporters might join up in the heat of the moment, plus warriors (like Will Boucanier) coming in from the outside.  The locals joining up might not stick around if things go bad, and aren’t likely to be the best fighters. Insurgencies, however, require a lot of people in support roles, including scouting and spying, passing messages, carrying out simple acts of harassment & sabotage, and otherwise giving cover to the more hardened fighters.  So dozens of enthusiastic locals would still be a problem to reckon with.

As for outsiders, this could include a whole spectrum of characters with varying levels of skill and experience.  Just to use one example, there was one Warrior at Oka who’d seen action a the Wounded Knee standoff.  So outsiders would represent a major wild card in a confrontation.

So if we were starting with a hundred Rangers, then you could expect the numbers to spike sharply once the fighting started.  The force CSSR would be confronting might easily number several hundred.  Even worse, gauging just how many would be difficult, since many of them might not even depart for Chisasibi until after the Robert Bourrassa Dam had been taken. Hell, some of them might be coming from within the CF itself.

Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill here, but a major part of Bland’s argument is that the Native soldiers in our midst represent a fifth column that will one day turn on us all.  If that’s the case, then who these guys are and where they’re coming from is important.

But now, according to this most recent paragraph, we’re talking about a handful of Rangers leading a bunch of poorly trained locals?

Also, where’s this assumption of ‘lightly armed’ coming from?  The CFB raids netted machine guns, explosives, anti-armour and anti-aircraft weapons.  Anyone with operational experience in Afghanistan should be worried about all of these, but especially the last one.  Anti-aircraft weapons.  Specifically Blowpipe missiles.

The Blowpipe anti-aircraft missile. Source.

As we’ve discussed before, Bland is a bit out of date with his weapons systems.  The Blowpipe was an earlier generation man-portable anti-aircraft missile that was already falling behind the times in the 1980s.  I’m prepared to cut him some slack here (Canada upgraded to newer systems like the ADATs and Javelin systems in the 90s) but even if we didn’t, the Blowpipe would still be a threat worth considering.  Although it had limited range (about 2,000-3,500m depending on the variant) and a very obvious launch footprint (meaning it was easy to spot where the missile was fired from), it did work.  So it could be counted upon to dependably engage low-flying aircraft within its range.

For example, the Blowpipe would largely be useless against fighters like the CF-18 which could bomb them from high altitude or strafe them at speeds too quick to track.[6]  On the other hand a C-130 dropping in low to deliver airborne troops would be incredibly vulnerable.  The possibility that even one of these things could be in James Bay should be giving the planners an ulcer.

This is another case of Bland’s bad writing.  You see, Bland knows that the capture of the hydro-electric dam at James Bay is nothing but a cleaver ruse.  As such, he knows that the NPA warriors in the region have only been given a bare minimum of weaponry to carry out their mission, and will receive no outside support other than Will Boucanier.

The problem is that the CF Generals don’t know this, and should be acting accordingly. There’s been hints dropped that maybe something important is happening out west as well, but right now their only hard information is that the NPA has armed itself with anti-aircraft weapons, and they appear to be planning on capturing one of the most vital pieces of infrastructure in Canada.  Based on the evidence available, the show in James Bay is the show.  Meaning that they should expect all the nastiest weapons and heaviest reinforcements to be deployed there.

This would be the wrong call to make story-wise, but the right one based on the information they have.  From Gen Lepine’s perspective, he should treat the James Bay mission as the main event of the uprising, meaning that he should be preparing for the NPA to do their worst.

This next part is the one that really put me around the bend.

The general stood up and faced the wall map.  “Next: rules of engagement.  The operation is to be conducted as an air assault into a hostile environment.  It’s not an aid-of-the-civil-powers operation.  However, commanders are to use minimum force until engaged by armed forces and then only enough force to stabilize the situation at hand.”  Levine noticed Miller had stopped writing and was looking at him.  

“I know what you’re thinking, John.  It’s a bit ambiguous, but I don’t want any prep-fire plans or overly aggressive engagements.  I love them, but dammit, this is inside Canada and we have to keep the paras on a short leash.  Shortish.

These are not rules of engagement.

For fuck’s sake, it’s only two sentences!  And the first one is contradicted by the second!

Never mind ambiguous, these are straight out contradictory and any commander worth his salt would be demanding clarification.[7]  It’s not an aide-of-the-civil-power…but an air assault into a hostile environment.  Okay so far, sounds like he wants CSSR to go in with guns blazing. But then there’s this: use minimum force until engaged by armed forces and then only enough to stabilize the situation at hand.


How do you use minimum force until engaged?  Minimum force is basically standing around doing nothing.[8]  If you’re in uniform, armed and advancing on an objective you’re visually transmitting a threat of armed violence which (in the absence of armed opposition) is an escalation.  Is CSSR supposed to stand around doing nothing until someone shoots at them?

That was a serious question.

This is going to be especially important in an airborne parachute assault, given that a large number of troops will be highly vulnerable for a short but predictable period of time.  There needs to be a very clear idea of exactly when the troops involved can shoot, and when they can escalate.  Otherwise, these poorly trained, lightly armed NPA warriors will have a real chance at wrecking the mission.

As I mentioned in the discussion on Airborne Operations, every parachute drop is preceded by a Pathfinder team.  This team will include the DZ (Drop Zone) controller party, but the bulk of the force will have the responsibility of securing the DZ and protecting the main body as they jump in.  According to CAF doctrine, the DZ controller is in charge of ensuring the security of the DZ and RV (Rendezvous) points, and for the brief period in which the main body is jumping they actually command the mission.

So what’s the order if a truck load of NPA warriors is spotted at a distance?  What if they’re approaching the DZ?  What if they can’t be engaged with small arms, is an air strike permitted?  What if a tube weapon is spotted?[9]

Or worse – what if a couple of local kids wander by the DZ while the Pathfinders are setting up?[10]

Keep in mind, even something archaic like a Blowpipe missile could send a C-130 crashing to the ground in flames and force any following planes to take sudden evasive action that can easily injure many of the jumpers on board.  So what do you do if you see one?

This has to be answered before the mission starts.  What we’re seeing is a grotesque failure of a responsible chain of command.

Also, maybe the terminology has changed but what the fuck is a ‘prep-fire plan?’  Is Bland expecting the airborne drop to be preceded by some kind of saturation bombing?  In real life, we generally don’t drop bombs unless there’s someone on the ground who can see the target and confirm it’s good to go.  Also, is the only reason to want something like a prep-fire plan the fact that it’s cool?  I would think the idea behind any fire support would be to keep your people alive and help them take their objectives.  If you’re denying your troops a firepower asset, you should give a better reason than “we all love them but…it’s Canada.”  If you’re taking this war seriously, it’s Canada would be all the more reason to crank the bombing up to eleven.

[John Miller] “I’ll have the draft order for your review in a couple of hours.  The staff have the preliminary details in hand.  Anything else, sir?”

“No.  Just get the CDS on the secure line in my office.  I’ll give him the outline and look for timings and we’ll check the political temperature.  Then send the attack warning order to the CO of the Special Service Regiment as soon as possible.  Best to give the young Colonel Rusty Campbell as much time as we can get his people ready.”

Fucking hell.  They’re actually treating this half-hearted bullshit statement like it’s a workable plan.

I’m mostly talking about the ROEs here (and I’m realizing that I’ll have to do additional Blog Posts just to cover these issues) but the whole thing’s a mess.  If this were a different kind of novel, I would expect this to be the start of some kind of protracted tragedy where an irresponsible chain of command issues weak-kneed orders that leads to disaster for the troops on the ground.  Given Bland’s predilections, I would have expected orders like this to come from some government desk jockey instead of a hardened General.

Except that’s not what’s happening here.  The General who’s supposed to know what he’s doing is issuing orders that basically scream ‘cover my ass and fuck the troops!’  How the fuck is that acceptable?

***Featured Image from Band of Brothers (Dreamworks 2001).***


[1] The way Commodore Miller is talking here sounds like this was a routine question about security, not an urgent warning of an immanent attack.  Nobody would be arguing about a budget question if they’d just received a call from NDHQ warning them that an attack was immanent.  They’d be too busy dragging the vending machines out of the break room to barricade the doors.

[2] Bland has made a big deal, in this book as well as his non-fiction title Timebomb, about the ‘warrior cohort’ the 15-24 age bracket from which the majority of potential fighters would likely be drawn from.  Obviously things are a lot more complicated in real life, but never mind that for the moment.  If the warrior cohort is so vital, how many people in Chisasibi fall within it?  What’s the likely recruiting pool for the NPA?

[3] In Canada, a really rural community like Chisasibi could be expected to have a lot of sporting rifles and shot guns available, and even people who don’t hunt regularly could be expect to have at least a basic understanding of firearms.

[4] One of the major health concerns in northern First Nations and Inuit communities is a depressingly high rate of Tuberculosis.  That might be something worth mentioning.  I know they mentioned the TB rates in Afghanistan when I deployed there.  Many times.  That was a big deal.

[5] You’d think a purely military man would obsess heavily over weapons, particularly the anti-aircraft weapons and explosives that were stolen during the CFB raids.  Especially given that (even in Bland’s version in Canada) the Afghan experience should still be looming large in the minds of senior officers.

[6] In conflicts like the Falkland Islands War, the Blowpipe did a pretty good job as an ambush weapon against low flying fighter aircraft, but that required a fair bit of coordination and planning (or luck) to make sure the gunner could target the plane as it was approaching head on.

[7] I’m using the word ‘demand’ very deliberately here.  All CAF personnel on operational deployment have an obligation to learn and understand the ROEs, and when they are unsure, to request clarification from higher.  The chain of command has a obligation to provide detailed ROEs and if it turns out that there’s confusion, they have a responsibility to clarify them.

[8] Literally.  Armed presence is considered the lowest level of force that may be used by the CAF in most ROEs for the last two decades (at least).  Being there, in uniform, ready to take action but not actually doing anything (yet) is the bare minimum use of force for the CAF.

[9] At long distance, a human being is kind of a dot with arms and legs and a bulge for a head.  A person carrying a rifle (whether at the hip, port arms or slung over the shoulder) presents a notably different silhouette.  A tube weapon refers to anti-armour weapons like the Carl-G, the barrel component of a disassembled mortar, or anti-aircraft weapons like the Blowpipe.  These are usually carried over the shoulder, and create a silhouette that is noticeably different from the rifleman, but difficult to differentiate from one another.

[10] Just to be clear, detaining non-combatants in and of itself is a legally dubious.  Arbitrary detention is an act of violence, but there are exceptions. Short answer: An argument can be made for self-defence (even small children can blab to their parents and betray your mission) as well as defence of the non-combatants (you know what’s about to happen, so you can confidently detain them and keep them safe from harm during the operation).


6 thoughts on “55-Lepine has a Plan (2) – Speaking of Ass…

  1. “The terrain in between is too rugged for us, or the bad guys, to move through fast, and frankly there’s nothing of interest anywhere in it.”

    Nothing of interest? Not even the river running between Radisson and Chisasibi, parallel to and a little bit north of the highway? I’m not a Man of Military in any sense, but overlooking a major waterway? Surely that’s not the done thing.


  2. I thought about this for a bit. Lepine’s level of direction here is actually reasonable for his rank level – he’d doing the “Broad sweep of the operation” and not getting bogged down in the details.

    Take the ROEs – Miller now needs to take the ambiguous direction given by Gen Lepine and hand that to a team to flesh it out into what the soldiers on the ground and pilots need. There should a small group of Majors from the Army and the RCAF, along with their trusty JAG sidekick to turn this really vague direction into proper ROEs for the General to sign off on. Or at least, a properly staffed J5 staff will. Granted, the more specific Gen Lepine is, the less interpretation the staff needs to do, speeding up the process, but Given this direction and probably 30 minutes or so, the staff could come up with a reasonable set of ROEs.

    Same for the other bits of the plan – General Lepine is giving appropriate direction for his Chief of Staff to pass to the teams and to write up the details – the General will then review the various courses of action, pick the ones that best meet his intent and sign off on. Now, if this is what his STAFF was turning out, then this would be negligent.

    The exception here being the briefing on the capabilities of the Enemy – this is at the “negligent performance of duty” level – giving the General incomplete information (like the likely presence of AA missiles) means that the General is missing key information and cannot properly plan. And of course your general also needs to ask, “Hey, at yesterday’s briefing they said several Blowpipe missiles were stolen – where are they and can we expect them?”


    1. In terms of the overall mission, I can see the idea that Lepine is providing a ‘broad sweep of the operation’ but looking at how he’s presenting ROEs, I think there needs to be a lot more detail if he wants to give Miller a solid grasp of ‘commander’s intent.’
      The first two sentences implies that he doesn’t want an aide-to-civil-power mission, but an assault into hostile territory. That seems to imply he wants the CSSR to hit the ground with guns blazing. The next sentence implies he wants ‘minimal use of force’ which would be more in keeping with an aide-to-civil-power mission where force is to be applied judiciously and as a last resort.
      This set off a whole lot of alarm bells for me, and if I’d been Miller I would have been asking for a lot more details. Especially when the follow-on sentences seem to be excluding the option of air power.
      Coming in ready for a fight but not firing the first shot is an option. Coming in with speed violence and aggression at the site of the Dam itself, but shifting to a more cautious posture after that is a workable overview as well. Putting heavy limits on air power to limit collateral damage (or damage to the Hydro facilities) is something that Miller can work with in building ROEs.
      This…well it seems to me that there isn’t enough detail here. And Miller should be prompting for more.


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