Personnel, the Vital Capability
© 2015 FrontLine Defence (Vol 6, No 1)

Within the defence community, we’ve all heard about the fast pace of current Air Force operations, about new equipment being introduced in rapid succession, about the increased capabilities that will take the Air Force to new heights after years of struggling as a “hollow” force. In fact, the recent introduction of strategic airlift and the planned acquisition of new tactical transport aircraft, an expanded joint unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capability, new maritime helicopters, tactical aviation airlift, in addition to the projected introduction of new fixed-wing search and rescue (FWSAR) aircraft, will each help revitalize the Air Force and make it a key component of Canadian Forces operations. This is all good news.

Nonetheless, the continued transformation of the Canadian Forces will challenge overall personnel capacity. This is due to the exceptional pace and scale of that transformation and also because it’s happening while the Air Force’s operational tempo is higher than ever – by supporting combat operations in Afghanistan as well as important domestic and other overseas missions. It also comes at a time when the Air Force, like all employers, faces an extremely challenging demographic situation. Our aging Air Force “boomer” population is increasingly retiring and we must also contend with a more competitive labour market to both retain those currently in uniform and to attract new recruits.

Numbers Need to Increase
In this current climate, the effective and careful management of our people is key to the Air Force’s future success. Right now, however, we’re facing clear indications that we can easily outstrip our projected personnel capacity.

First, there are clear indications that our personnel levels are below what they should be, both Regular and Reserve Force. We have employed many Air Reservists over the past several years to fulfill our tasks and this trend shows no sign of abating in the near future. Annual, unfulfilled requests for more people in our units points to the fact that demand exceeds supply when it comes to our talented members in uniform. This situation can also have secondary effects. For example, since every unit feels it’s working at maximum capacity with minimal people, compromises are being made in areas like professional development – bosses can’t afford to let their people go on longer courses, which is not in anyone’s long-term best interests.

Faced with these obstacles, we are taking immediate action to overcome them and move toward a future that will include an Air Force with realistic numbers of people. Crucial to our efforts is the development and implementation of an Air Force Personnel Strategy and associated campaign plan, representing careful and deliberate management of all personnel issues through holistic planning that ensures strategic oversight of each aspect. This encompasses strategic prioritization of key areas including personnel production numbers and training rates, occupation development and policy initiatives and overall establishment and manning numbers.

Making the Leap
The Air Force’s current overall personnel numbers “on paper” are based on the Air Force “establishment.” Following extensive review and study, we have determined that this establishment doesn’t reflect our current or future needs. It represents a force structure that was based on 1990s assumptions and methodologies that are no longer valid, and on capabilities that have changed due to influences like new equipment and operations. We need to fix this basic build­ing block by taking a long hard look at each and every Air Force establishment position and then devising the right numbers that represent an Air Force that is effectively staffed for the future. But that takes time.

More important in the short term then is our actual Air Force manning, the existing numbers of Air Force personnel. Unfortunately, we can’t simply hire experienced Air Force people off the street. We have the numbers of people we have, and we must optimize their use by carefully prioritizing the workload, which involves making hard decisions at the strategic level. Helping to solve this problem in faster time also involves making necessary changes to several occupation structures and finding efficiencies so we can train more personnel at faster rates without sacrificing on the quality of the training received.

Occupation Structure Changes
Aircraft Technicians
Aircraft technicians make up nearly 38% of all personnel wearing Air Force blue in the Canadian Forces today. For generations, in peacetime and in war, they have been at the heart of Air Force operations, keeping high performance, mission-capable aircraft in peak flying condition.

In previous decades, when there were more than enough technicians to do the job, the Air Force had aircraft technicians who specialized in very precise aspects of aircraft maintenance – everything from airframes and engines to instruments and electrical systems as well as meteorological issues. In 1995, however, because of reduced budgets CF-wide, 13 air maintenance occupations were amalgamated into three. This served the requirements of that time, but inadvertently created gaps in expertise that began to become apparent as the operational tempo increased.

Recent demographic trends, the development of an expeditionary Air Force and the introduction of new fleets, technologies and maintenance support concepts now require a restructuring of these occupations to reflect today’s reality. The main changes have been the creation of a consolidated aircraft maintenance superintendent occupation at the rank of warrant officer and up, the creation of an occupation for air weapons systems and revisions to the aircraft structures technician occupation. This will ensure a highly skilled workforce capable of providing full support to meet the future needs of Air Force operations. The new air weapons systems and expanded aircraft structures occupations should achieve steady state by 2015.

Air Navigator Renamed
With the introduction of new Air Force equip­ment and rapid technological advance­ment, the role of the air navigator evolved far beyond the traditional tasks of actual airborne navigation. Most air navigation tasks are now accomplished almost exclusively by automated systems. So this occupation has been renamed and reclassified. The name that was chosen to more accurately reflect the current and future operational roles previously carried out by air navigators is air combat systems officer (ACSO). The new designation took effect in January 2009. ACSOs will retain the current air navigator wings on their uniforms as these still accurately represent the occupation and have a strong Air Force heritage.

ACSO tasks will include continuing air navigation duties in the CC130 legacy Hercules that will be in service until 2017, leading UAV operations, strategic air-to-air refuelling crewing in the CC150 Polaris, and performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance duties in the CP140 Aurora aircraft. Some air navigators now handle CP140 acoustic sensor operations but in the future this job classification will be transferred to the airborne electronic sensor operator (AES Op) occupation.

The Future for Flight Engineers
We are also looking at the scope and technical requirements of all flight engineer duties – along with the related duties that will be required on new aircraft like the Chinook helicopter and fixed wing search and rescue aircraft. The analysis will look at various options to determine the best occupational structure to ensure we have the necessary number of skilled people to perform these essential roles. A decision regarding a redefined structure for the flight engineer occupation should be forthcoming in June 2009.

Implementation of changes to the flight engineer occupation will be a multi-year plan that will include enough flexibility to sustain crewing the cockpits of our legacy fixed wing fleets. One thing is certain. The Air Force needs flight engineers and will continue to require their technical and in-flight expertise for the foreseeable future.
Air Force Training
Air Force occupations require a high level of technical skill and knowledge, lengthy training periods and regular, consistent practice. We are working on increasing training production with several initiatives.

We’ve shortened the duration of training courses for our aircraft technicians, increased course capacity, improved the quality of training and incorporated performance-oriented training at our technician schools. We are also investing in training technologies and simulation techniques and, where possible, we are using retired aircraft and dedicating them to technician training.
We’ve also made changes to Air Force pilot training. This is being done in a number of ways, including increasing the number of pilot instructors, eliminating redundant instruction, revising training methodologies, using better selection tools to reduce attrition and increasing the use of training simulators.
Increased Air Force Pilot Production
Pilot production for the Air Force is critical. We have taken a number of steps to increase the number of pilots who will graduate each year. One of these is moving novice pilots through the training system with greater speed by allowing pilots who already possess a fixed-wing Transport Canada commercial license to bypass primary pilot training at Portage la Prairie, Manitoba and go directly into the secondary training cycle. We’re also enlarging the capacity of some of our operational training units and have reduced the time required at a Wing to upgrade a pilot to aircraft commander status from three to two years. These initiatives will help ensure that our Air Force squadrons will have enough pilots to successfully carry out their missions and that Canada’s NATO pilot training program will continue to have world-class status.

Army Training for Air Force Personnel
Canadian Forces deployments to Afghan­istan in recent years have highlighted the need for all CF personnel, including those in the Air Force, to be fully prepared for the contemporary operational environment. We’ve determined that Air Force personnel need basic soldiering skills to integrate seamlessly into Army operations for their own safety, security and operational effectiveness.

Both the Air Force and Navy began to deliver an enhanced Primary Leadership Qualification in Fall 2008 to better prepare junior leaders for operational deployments. This course now includes a force protection segment, focusing on defensive security operations and section/personal reaction to security threats. Some Air Force occupations will also require the Soldier Qualification and the Army version of the Primary Leadership Qualification; as well as the Common Army Phase for officers.
Air Force Officer Professional Development
The Air Force has always encouraged its officer corps to seek deeper knowledge in striving for excellence in leadership and it has, in the past, also provided them with a means to do so. This commitment remains unchanged but now, a new Air Force Officer Development (AFOD) program brings our professional development into the 21st century.

The new AFOD program was developed to provide the formal professional development education that Air Force ­officers need from the time they finish their basic training until they are promoted to major. It replaced two previous courses and is organized into four themes: operations, management, communications and leadership.

AFOD features a flexible education system, using a combination of distance-learning and classroom time at the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Studies at 17 Wing Winnipeg, Manitoba. AFOD is mandatory for officers commissioned after 1 January 2003, and they are expected to complete the program in seven years.

Air Force Integrated Information and Learning Environment (AFIILE)
Traditional instructional methods cannot meet the demand in our training units. We have found that technological change, a higher military operational tempo and increased recruitment numbers have created training bottlenecks for the Air Force that must be opened up. To meet today’s challenges we are launching a new web-based initiative within our training establishments called the Air Force Integrated Information and Learning Environment.

AFIILE will combine Department of National Defence resources and industry capabilities to provide Air Force personnel with the most thorough training possible today. It is a portal that opens the door to industry expertise, best practices, information, tools, templates and methodologies not easily accessible using traditional training methods.

AFIILE will support and enhance traditional instructional practices in our training facilities. This 21st century approach combines traditional instruction blended with e-learning to speed up the training process and increase the number of people coming out of our schools who are ready for Air Force operations. We are certain that AFIILE will also improve the overall quality of Air Force training.

It is our plan to implement AFIILE in all Air Force training establishments in two initial phases, and this new blended training approach will be employed across the spectrum of Air Force occupations
New Vision Standards for Aircrew Candidates
The Air Force has approved updated vision standards for aircrew candidates. Under the new standards, applicants who require modest correction to their vision are now eligible for consideration, whereas previously, applicants required uncorrected vision. The previous standards were based on a Second World War-era policy that ­presupposed that uncorrected vision was necessary to fly combat aircraft. However, this policy was not substantiated by current scientific research.

Although the Canadian Forces has not had any difficulty attracting pilot applicants in the past several years, the modernized standard makes the process fair and ­inclusive and will result in a larger pool of applicants and a more competitive selection process.

Laser Refractive Surgery for CF Aircrew
The Air Force also now allows serving and potential aircrew to undergo Laser Refractive Surgery (LRS) within defined guidelines. Worldwide experience with laser eye surgery is now sufficiently advanced and robust to permit its limited acceptance for potential and current CF aircrew and the risks involved with LRS are considered minimal.

Serving members and applicants who have chosen to undergo laser eye surgery are monitored closely and must pass the standard aircrew vision test before flying in CF aircraft.

At the present time, LRS for serving CF aircrew is not funded at public expense. Anyone who undergoes refractive surgery in an attempt to meet CF visual standards for a particular occupation does so at their own expense and at their own risk.

Recruiting, Growing and Retaining Air Force Talent
Recruiting is a key challenge – not just in terms of sheer numbers, but in the Air Force’s ability to select the right people for the organization, both skilled applicants and raw recruits. We need people who have what it takes to get through challenging training regimens and who’ll remain with us for a meaningful career. We’re developing better selection tools that will reduce training attrition and result in more focused recruiting. We have also found ways to move young recruits more quickly through the training pipeline to reach the point where they are operationally functional. The Air Force will be increasingly competing for talent both at the entry point and at the mid-career point in the coming years.

Of course, retaining our experienced serving members is paramount – these are the people who conduct current Air Force operations, train our new members and who are key to the Air Force’s transformation. They are highly skilled personnel and not easily replaced, as each of them embodies years of training and experience. We’re diligently working at identifying and improving those factors that will positively affect retention. This includes things like improving family services involving childcare, medical care, spousal career employment, education, family mental health support, and deployment / family separation.

The Canadian Forces is also modernizing personnel policies involving care of the ill and injured, component transfer between Regular and Reserve Forces, official languages, leave and promotions. We’ve also been trying to achieve greater flexibility into the posting selection process and a transparent and fair succession planning process.

We are reviewing options for being more flexible in retaining personnel who are on medical employment limitations. Our aim is to employ certain individuals who have specific skill sets that we require for defined periods of time. The experience of these individuals is vital as we modernize our fleets while continuing to conduct operations.

Finally, we’re working at attracting former service members back into the fold and facilitating their re-enrollment. There have been significant enhancements to the CF pay and benefits package over the past few years, and many former service members miss the excitement, the greater family aspects and opportunities of military life. For those who are interested, we will welcome them back.

Overall, we’re working very hard at mitigating our personnel-related pressures and in growing the Air Force over the coming decade to meet the challenges ahead. Luckily for the Air Force, our organization is full of talented, dedicated, adaptable and resilient people at all levels who want to see the organization succeed – and they are key to its success. We’re on the right path, and I’m confident we’ll achieve the aim.

Brigadier-General Terry Leversedge is the Director General Air Force Personnel at National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ) in Ottawa.
© FrontLine Defence 2009