Volume #23 - 106.|
DEFENCE AND SECURITY ISSUES
STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND FACILITIES
Extract from Minutes of Meeting of Cabinet Defence Committee|
June 13th, 1956|
The Minister of Defence Production (Mr. Howe),
The Minister of National Defence (Mr. Campney),
The Minister of National Health and Welfare (Mr. Martin),
The Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Pearson),
The Minister of Finance (Mr. Harris).
The Minister of Northern Affairs and National Resources (Mr. Lesage). (For Items III, IV and V)
The Secretary (Mr. Martin),
The Military Secretary (Captain Lucas).
The Chairman, Chiefs of Staff ( General Foulkes),
The Chief of the Air Staff (Air Marshal Slemon),
The Chief of the General Staff (Lieutenant-General Graham),
The Chief of the Naval Staff (Vice Admiral DeWolf),
The Chairman, Defence Research Board (Mr. Zimmerman).
The Secretary to the Cabinet (Mr. Bryce),
The Deputy Minister of Welfare (Dr. Davidson),
The Deputy Minister of Defence Production (Mr. Golden),
The Deputy Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs (Mr. Macdonnell),
Mr. R.G. MacNeill, (Department of Finance).
. . . IV. UNITED STATES AIR FORCE REQUEST FOR PRELIMINARY SURVEYS FOR STRATEGIC AIR COMMAND TANKER BASES IN NORTHERN CANADA
11. The Minister of National Defence said that the United States Air Force had requested permission to examine a number of sites in the north with a view to establishing facilities for aerial refuelling squadrons from which the tanker aircraft would operate in support of Strategic Air Command missions originating and terminating in the U.S.
By providing such bases the bomber's range would be increased, enabling it to complete its passage to target and return and, secondly, the bomber need not be held on the ground while the slower tanker was proceeding to the refuelling rendezvous. The tanker aircraft bases at Goose Bay, Harman and Thule were insufficient to satisfy the need now contemplated.
The stated requirement was for 11 bases to be located about 1500 miles ahead of the main SAC bases in the U.S. The U.S.A.F. had already included in its 1958-59 construction programme $150 million for the initial funding of the project but it was anticipated that the
whole project would cost much more than this. To save time and to avoid setting the programme back, it was desired to survey sites this summer to develop realistic costs for future planning. The programme as such would be placed before the Permanent Joint Board on Defence in due course.
The Minister recommended, with the concurrence of the Chiefs of Staff, that approval be given for these surveys without prejudice to subsequent consideration and decision by the government with regard to location and operation of the facilities and to any terms and conditions required for their control, tenure, etc.
An explanatory memorandum had been circulated.
( Minister's memorandum, June 11, 1956, Document D7-56?).
12. Mr. Campney added that probably the principal reason behind the request was the fact that pressure was being put on the U.S. to leave some of their SAC bases abroad, for example, in Iceland, North Africa and Okinawa. Each base would require 9,000 foot runways and would be capable of handling 40 tankers in two squadrons.
13. During the discussion the following points emerged:
(a) SAC's need for tanker bases would not be so great once it was completely equipped with B52 bombers. However, this would not happen for a few years yet and meanwhile SAC would have to continue to operate with B47's. While the request involved 11 bases there was a good possibility that this number might be reduced. Any bases that were developed for this purpose might have some residual value when they were no longer required, as would be the case when the intercontinental ballistic missile was in operation.
(b) Refusing the request would probably lead to considerable difficulties with the U.S. authorities. Although SAC had not been assigned to NATO, its deterrent effect was the most important single element in the defences of the organization. It had been clearly implied in the past that one of Canada's roles in NATO was to support the strategic bombing effort of the U.S.
(c) Some of the bases in which the U.S.A.F. had shown interest included Namao, Churchill, Coral Harbour and others, depending on their distance from the main bases in the U.S. If the programme were ultimately refused, the Russian position would be much improved in that Russian defences could then be concentrated against attacks which could only come from certain directions whereas now the Russian defensive problem was a very difficult one because of the existing U.S. bases spread pretty well around the world. Another problem to be kept in mind was the fact that the Russians had overtaken the U.S. in the development of long-range bombers. These increased tanker facilities would help to strengthen U.S. effort in the field.
(d) If tanker facilities were established in Canada it would not be long before requests were made for bomber bases themselves. It was stated, on the other hand, that no nuclear bombs could be removed from the U.S. without Presidential approval, hence the chance of requests which would involve the storing of these weapons in Canada would appear to be unlikely. Furthermore, they would probably be able to operate more efficiently from existing bases in the U.S. with refuelling taking place over Canada.
(e) Agreeing to the request meant approval ultimately of the stationing of thousands of U.S. personnel at various bases in Canada and the present was not the time to embark on such a course. It was said, on the other hand, that a decision to permit the surveys would not imply approval at this stage of the overall project. The need for such bases was difficult to dispute and a decision to refuse the request would be a very serious one.
(f) SAC bases would continue to be located in Iceland and North Africa for some time, although there were fairly clear signs that they might have to be removed in the future. The proposal for bases in Canada was an attempt to visualize the situation some years ahead.
(g) In large measure war had been avoided because the Russians now thought that if they attacked there would be prompt retaliation by U.S. bombing forces. U.S. authorities were concerned with the possibility of interference with the maximum effectiveness of the deterrent. If SAC were forced to withdraw from some of its existing bases closer to the U.S.S.R., the U.S. authorities would want it known publicly that compensating arrangements were being made to maintain the effectiveness of the deterrent. It seemed necessary to make a choice between maintaining the effectiveness of the deterrent and a serious domestic political problem arising from a large increase in U.S. facilities and personnel in Canada. There would be serious consequences if Canada contributed to a lessening of the free world's strength.
(h) The problem might be dealt with at the moment, though it would only mean postponing decisions until later, by confining the surveys to existing airfields and by having them made a Canadian undertaking in cooperation with U.S.A.F. officers concerned. This possibility might be discussed between service authorities of the two countries and the reaction of the U.S. obtained.
14. The Committee noted the report of the Minister of National Defence on the request of the United States Air Force to examine potential sites for aerial refuelling bases and agreed to recommend that the U.S. authorities be informed:
(a) that Canada would be prepared to investigate, in cooperation with the appropriate U.S.A.F. officers, what existing airfields might be made suitable for this purpose; and
(b) that it would be undesirable to proceed with any preliminary arrangements for new airfields and related facilities until after the investigation in (a) above had been completed and a report made thereon.
. . .