© 2015 FrontLine Defence (Vol 6, No 1)

As the head of Canada’s Air Force, I am responsible for the force generation of aerospace capabilities. Shaping an Air Force to meet the challenges of the 21st century has meant transforming the organization and moving it forward with the right combination of equipment and appropriately trained personnel to fully support the operational level commands of the Canadian Forces (CF). There are primarily two operational commands, and each ­presents different challenges.

LGen Angus Watt arrives at Cold Lake in a CF18. Photo: MCpl Frances Gaudet

The Next Stage
We’ve recognized the need for a balance of capabilities in the Air Force of the future – to meet the diverse requirements of supporting Canada Command for operations in North America, and Canadian Expeditionary Force Command for international operations. To maintain that ­balance for many years to come, we are in the midst of an unprecedented level of recapitalization of our aircraft fleets. We’ve brought in a fleet of CC177 Globemaster III strategic airlifters, acquired CH147 D Chinook helicopters, and leased the CU170 Heron unman­ned aerial vehicle. We’re contracting for C130 Hercules tactical airlifters to replace the older airframes being phased out. We’re also planning for a Canadian multi-mission surveillance aircraft, a new fixed wing search and rescue aircraft, and the next generation of fighter aircraft to replace our CF18s.

This revitalization is critical and until these new aircraft come on line, I am work­ing hard to keep the older aircraft operationally relevant, and safe, and effective to fly. Our greatest challenges with older aircraft lie with the availability of parts and serviceability. However, as the new air ­platforms come into the fleets, the average age of our aircraft will come down and this will increase the overall availability and capability.

Vision and Strategy
To ensure that our transformation efforts are coordinated and progressing towards a single strategic vision, I have been working on a strategy that lays out the primary building blocks I see as a foundation for the organization. The end state I envision is an agile and rigorous Air Force, with the reach and power essential to integrated CF operations at home and abroad. Our Air Force must be a learning organization, one that is effects focussed, networked, interoperable with our allies, expeditionary both at home and abroad, combat-capable and fully engaged with Canadians.

To guide the implementation of this vision, I have grouped personnel, aircraft, capabilities and functions into strategic “lines of operation” – the tools by which aerospace power is applied. The nine lines of operation are: first stage training, ­aerospace force application, aerospace man­agement and control, air demonstration, air expeditionary support, air mobility, domestic search and rescue, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and control, and tactical helicopters. By setting out this vision and organizing capabilities in this manner, the Air Force will convert strategic intent into identifiable objectives.

Personnel Challenges
Transforming the Air Force through recapitalization presents significant challenges, but the number one issue that affects us today, in all aspects of operations and ­planning, is personnel. Canada’s Air Force currently has approximately 13,000 Regular Force members, 2,300 Reserve Force personnel and 2,000 civilians. However, we face personnel shortages, long training times, and challenging demographics.

To ensure we have sufficient personnel to meet the operational demands of the future, the challenges are threefold. We must attract, train and retain talented and committed people who want a future with the Air Force.

The Air Force offers wonderful career opportunities and we are actively marketing and showcasing them to compete and win in the race to attract the best and the brightest of Canada’s youth. We are confident that what we have to offer makes us an employer of choice, and we encourage Canadians to come and explore these prospects.

Air Force occupations require a high level of technical skill and knowledge and I am also working on building the capacity of our training units to increase training production to accommodate our existing personnel with ongoing professional development, as well as to train the new people we attract, to operational standards. ­Sharpening and maintaining this focus on training will improve the long-term demographic health of the Air Force.

Once we have our people trained, the most critical aspect is retaining them in the Air Force over the long term. We are working to set conditions that will encourage Air Force members to remain longer in uniform.

Finding ways of keeping existing Regular and Reserve Force members in the organization is a key focus of my efforts right now. To this end, we have a personnel strategy in place to address retention, with a strong focus on family-friendly initiatives.

We are also ensuring that we have the necessary facilities at our Air Force Wings across the country to support our new ­missions and platforms. We are currently investing in new construction and also actively re-engineering existing personnel structures that were largely based on Cold War models. These initiatives have been put in place so that we will have a modern and relevant infrastructure for many years to come to sustain the Air Force of the future.

Transformation in Action
Air Force transformation involves recapitalizing, rejuvenating, rebuilding, refocussing, re-engineering and reinforcing our organization for the future. The generation of aerospace capabilities continues to be the top priority for the Air Force, and as we go into 2009, the challenge remains but the progress is constant. The strategy and enablers of our transformation will also enable us to realize the Canadian Forces’ vision for the future.

There is a “shine” on the Canadian Forces right now and I am tremendously proud of the outstanding work the highly skilled people of the Air Force perform every day, both here at home and in dangerous places around the world.

I am confident that we are “on-track” and “on-target” to ensure that Canada has an expeditionary, effects-based Air Force that can continue to make a meaningful contribution to the country’s defence needs well into the 21st century.

Lieutenant-General Angus Watt is Chief of the Air Staff and Commander of Canada’s Air Force.
© FrontLine Defence 2009