The Royal Canadian Air Force and NATO

In Preparing for Domestic and Continental Missions, the RCAF Prepares for NATO Operations

By Lieutenant General

By Lt Gen



, CA


Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force

 January 2017
Warfare Domains: Air Operations

Interview with Lieutenant General Michael J. Hood, Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force

How important is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operations, and what role does the RCAF expect to play in future NATO operations?

RCAF support to NATO is clearly implicit in the Canadian Armed Forces’ three enduring roles: defence of Canada; defence of North America in partnership with the United States (which includes North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)); and contribution to international peace and security. A Defence Policy Review is in progress at the highest levels of Government in Canada and, within that review, those roles have been identified as persisting, key priorities. In contributing to international peace and security, the RCAF continues to integrate with organizations such as NATO and operate integrally to NORAD, ready for missions our Government may assign to us.

NATO has been a significant source of deployed operations over the last decade, and if our Government chooses to participate in future NATO missions, I have no doubt that the RCAF will be ready. My conviction is borne out by recent successes in providing deployed personnel and air task forces for such missions. For example, the RCAF provided a robust Air Task Force (ATF) commitment to the 2011 response to the popular uprising in Libya against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. NATO’s Operation UNIFIED PROTECTOR was led by Lieutenant General Charlie Bouchard, an RCAF general who exemplified the Canadian leadership skills we can offer to NATO missions. Although Canada also participated with naval assets, the RCAF was well represented with non-combatant air evacuation flights, fighter support, air-to-air refuelling, and airborne sensor assets.

In 2014, the RCAF participated in NATO assurance and deterrence measures in eastern and central Europe, providing six CF188 Hornet fighters, and we periodically contribute to NATO’s Airborne Surveillance and Interception Capabilities to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs mission. All demonstrate the RCAF’s capabilities and commitment that the Canadian Government can call upon at any time.

I measure RCAF progress through five goals. NATO support is implied in my goal of improving RCAF air power delivery through greater integration and coordination; to that end we will continue to align our doctrine and capabilities with those of all of our allies. My other goals are delivering high-calibre tactical air power, harnessing the RCAF’s intellectual potential, enhancing institutional accountability, and ensuring we have adequate airworthiness and safety systems in place. These goals can be best achieved through integration with other nations; this effort takes on additional significance for the RCAF as coordination tends to be a critical factor in all air force operations. Seamless integration and coordination with both NATO and NORAD is fundamental to a globally coherent approach to the contemporary threat.

Are there areas of NATO integration that the RCAF is seeking to improve?

Given the importance of integration and coordination with coalitions (a fundamental conclusion derived from the Afghanistan campaign), there are specific areas in which to improve. For instance, the RCAF is addressing integration in the information age to ensure compatible information technology processes and shareable Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). These areas are important to counter the growing threat that groups – such as the Daesh – demonstrate regularly with tactics such as small aerial drones and the use of social media. It is our view that integrated approaches among allies to counter the threat will become increasingly important to the future success of NATO operations. Any movement we can achieve with coordinated networks, software, and kinetic capabilities will greatly enhance both Canada’s and NATO’s ability to respond to the growing threat from non-state actors.

We are also addressing a fully integrated joint targeting capability with an end state of seamlessly contributing to future NATO or coalition targeting efforts. We identified this area for improvement during the 2011 Libya campaign, and the RCAF’s Major General David Wheeler is standing up a Canadian Armed Forces Joint Targeting Capability Implementation team to finalize the way forward. To achieve any NATO or coalition mission, whether using kinetic or non-kinetic means, targeting must not be tied to specific command and control arrangements. Due to command complications arising during recent targeting efforts, Major General Wheeler’s operational fighter and command experience will be essential to developing the Canadian military’s way forward. Targeting is about more than dropping bombs and not always about bombs at all; it’s a way to think about and focus on what is most important within an operational environment. Thus, the implementation team is critical to our future success.

We are placing a high priority on a NATO harmonization of joint and RCAF terminology and methods involved in the operational use of air power to further enhance our integration into future coalitions.

We must also maintain close ties with partner organizations. We have put considerable effort into supporting NATO’s Standardization Office and the Five-Eyes Air and Space Interoperability Council.1 These organizations are vital to ensuring that how we carry out domestic missions aligns with our operations in a deployed coalition environment. In short, we are working to improve certain specific areas, while maintaining close ties with NATO and Five-Eyes organizations to ensure we maintain situational awareness of current or developing gaps in interoperability.

Noting your requirement to maintain air power for continental and domestic operations, what capabilities do you expect to provide to future NATO operations?

I aim to have deployable combat air forces ready for the use of the Government of Canada, providing for simultaneous lines of domestic, continental and deployed operations. Of course, domestic concerns must be considered first, but we maintain capacity for foreign deployments, dependent on government priorities.

We recently developed our Air Task Force concept with deployable expertise in 2 Wing Bagotville for missions requiring deployed RCAF assets. The Wing’s personnel are prepared to deploy immediately on any assigned mission and set up an ATF, based on the specific capabilities required for the mission and consistent with processes and NATO interoperable procedures. The Wing’s readiness and focus is an important step forward for the RCAF to seamlessly interoperate in any combined or Joint Task Force (JTF).

The RCAF maintains a number of capabilities to meet Canadian JTF expectations: overland ISR with modernized CP140 Aurora long-range patrol aircraft, battlefield transport with CH147 Chinook and CH146 Griffon helicopters, air-to-air refuelling with CC130H Hercules and the CC150 Polaris tankers, and fighter capability with CF188 Hornets. Support with CC177 Globemasters and CC130J Hercules transport aircraft are critical to moving joint Canadian military capabilities to deployed operations quickly; they can also be used singly as needed for scalable operations. The CH148 Cyclone maritime helicopter’s reach and power will in time offer increased capabilities from both shore facilities and Royal Canadian Navy frigates. In the future, we expect to bring online additional manned and unmanned overland ISR assets to further enhance our ability to achieve operational integration on the battlefield. All of these capabilities can be used in NATO operations as required.

To ensure these capabilities operate seamlessly in a NATO mission, we previously merged a Canadian JOINTEX with NATO’s TRIDENT JUNCTURE in 2015, and will do so again in 2017 with NATO’s ARRCADE FUSION. Our Analysis and Lessons Learned Branch within the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre takes advantage of these exercises to capture lessons for incorporation in our tactics and doctrine. So you can see that we put a great deal of effort towards NATO, even though our defence priority starts at home with close ties to NORAD.

What changes are you making in the RCAF and how will they affect the capability you can bring to NATO operations?

I would like to return to my five goals for the RCAF to answer this question because everything we are working towards will eventually enhance our ability to support NATO operations when tasked by the Government of Canada. I’ve already noted greater integration, but our other efforts are to deliver high-calibre tactical air power, harness the RCAF’s intellectual potential, enhance institutional accountability, and ensure we continue to have adequate airworthiness and safety systems in place. These will improve all aspects of our operational efforts and the leadership we bring to coalition operations.

My goals are clearly focused on the expertise of RCAF personnel. Our airmen and airwomen are our most valuable asset, and improvements in their education and expertise will have effects across all operational environments in which they are assigned. Their expertise is being further expanded by increased efforts towards lessons learned and professional education. Underscoring this emphasis, I have added a focus on air power mastery. New courses on air operations and air command and control will soon offer educational upgrades in both the academic and professional streams to further develop our future operational and institutional leaders.

I am also bringing all RCAF members into the air power conversation, affording direct access to comment on air power discussion papers, and I welcome direct briefs on innovative ideas from throughout the institution. Essentially I am flattening the organization when it comes to innovation.

My goal is developing current and future leaders who are flexible and capable Canadian air power experts. They will offer Canada the option of providing highly-effective command and staff personnel for coalition headquarters positions as well as operational aircraft assets for NATO operations. Thus, the RCAF can maximize all its assets.

The world appears to continue to struggle with the financial crisis from 2008; do you envision challenges that may limit RCAF deployed operations for future NATO missions?

We anticipate stable funding support. Fundamentally, therefore, deployable capabilities are available for NATO operations much as they have been in the past, depending of course on strategic guidance and direction from our Government.

The challenge will be matching the high cost of emerging aviation technology with actual and affordable assets. As we purchase new RCAF aircraft and equipment, we must ensure each platform and asset is leveraged to its maximum extent in a joint and combined operational environment anywhere in the world. The days when a nation such as Canada could afford individual assets for specific missions are gone. We must ensure each asset provides value across multiple mission parameters, at home and abroad.

To that end, the RCAF envisages working with allied air forces to create an ISR ‘system of systems’ network to blend the input from space-based assets, aviation resources, traditional sensors, and ground-based sensors. Although that increased interaction will occur more with the United States Air Force as part of daily NORAD responsibilities, elements will carry into our NATO interaction – specifically with the increasing reliance on Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOC) and the synergy between different national capabilities that a CAOC requires to function. Working closely together will ensure that existing air force assets are correctly offered and attached to specific missions. The goal is to employ each nation’s strengths for a tailored and combined mission-specific response to NATO or United Nations operations.

As a senior air person with decades of experience, what advice do you have for contemporary NATO personnel?

I would like NATO personnel to understand that NATO’s borders extend to North America, but that within North America, the United States and Canada are two different entities with different, but complimentary approaches to operations outside home territory.

As NATO nations all work closely together, it is important to acknowledge national priorities but avoid ‘silo’ type language when discussing specific capabilities. For instance, the primary mission of our long-range patrol aircraft is maritime sovereignty patrols, but it is equally capable in an overland ISR role. Other platforms are also used in multirole missions that don’t always appear congruent with their main role; in this manner that Canada will provide the most synergy possible for future missions. As we continue to refine the way forward, we need to keep in mind that the tools and aircraft that we need for Canada will often coincide with NORAD and NATO’s needs, and vice versa. We will all succeed in our tasks if we understand and maximize the strengths that each NATO nation brings to a fight.

A final word of advice: never stop reading and learning. We can learn so much from our history and heritage that is applicable to the contemporary environment. I have made considerable efforts to ensure learning opportunities are available to all RCAF personnel, and we are making progress in enabling communications engagement across all ranks. Learning from each other is an important part of our professional enhancement throughout our careers and educational opportunities maximize lessons learned. After all, understanding our complex past allows us to adapt to the future with a nuanced and balanced approach. If we all face the future with shared air power fundamentals, we are sure to find ourselves all flying in formation.

Sir, thank you for your time and your comments.

The Five-Eyes member nations are Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
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Lieutenant General
Commander, Royal Canadian Air Force

Lieutenant General Mike Hood received his air combat systems officer (navigator) wings in 1988. Most of his flying career was spent in the tactical airlift role on the CC130 Hercules although he also had a tour as an electronic warfare officer. He commanded two transport squadrons, followed by command of Canada’s principle air mobility base from 2007 to 2009. Following a series of staff appointments, he became Deputy Commander of the RCAF in 2012, Director of Staff, Strategic Joint Staff, the following year and took command of the RCAF in July 2015. He is a graduate of Canada’s National Security Program as well as the United States Air Force Command and Staff College, and holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations from Auburn University in Alabama.

Information provided is current as of January 2017

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