WarningThis information has been archived for reference or research purposes.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.

Views and Opinions

Can the CF Develop Viable National Joint Capabilities?

by Brigadier-General G.W. Nordick

Print PDF

For more information on accessing this file, please visit our help page.

During the Chief of the Defence Staff’s General Officer Seminar held in Ottawa last October, he offered all General Officers the opportunity to forward suggestions as to how the Canadian Forces could improve its internal ability to conduct joint operations in the future. Having given this matter some thought, a version of this paper was submitted to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff for consideration as work on a major defence review is begun.

Independent Joint Canadian Overseas Operations

To frame this discussion, a hypothetical scenario based around the recent CF contribution to both Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf will be used as a means of addressing the type of joint operations that could be possible in the Canadian context.

To the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, the CF has deployed a brigade headquarters, a mechanized infantry battalion (equipped with the LAV III/Mobile Gun System), and a range of brigade troops (a Coyote squadron, an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle troop, a composite 105mm/Multiple Missions Effects Vehicle artillery battery with counter-battery radar), as well as a full range of support troops. In the Persian Gulf, as part of the continuing war against terrorism, Canada has deployed a frigate, supported by a detachment of three Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), tasked as part of an international naval task force, with the mission of preventing smuggling and the movement of illegal arms. Three C-130 Hercules aircraft, a National Command Element, and a National Support Element Line of Communication Base, located at an airhead in the Gulf region, complete the Canadian ISAF contingent.

The scenario set for this article portrays an environment where failure to achieve internal political agreement has caused the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate. Local warlords opposed to the internationally supported interim government’s efforts to bring them under control are increasingly bellicose and are threatening direct attacks to seize power. The problems reach a crisis state when a general insurrection breaks out aimed at toppling the interim government. Armed militias, some equipped with tanks, artillery and armoured personnel carriers, leave their barracks, set up roadblocks around the capital, threaten Kabul airport with a range of indirect and direct fire systems, and carry out a series of attacks against ISAF bases, units and convoys. Apart from the political ramifications, this action closes both the ISAF and Canadian Lines of Communication and ties down ISAF forces with increased force protection requirements. As a result, ISAF is overstretched and in need of immediate help. Finally, because of the nation-wide nature of the uprising, American forces in theatre are already stretched to the limit supporting their own units and isolated Provincial Reconstruction Teams scattered throughout the country, and with their efforts to control the Afghan-Pakistani border. The Canadian brigade commander calls the National Command Element and requests national support. In response, the National Command Element Commander, with the concurrence of the Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff, directs the CF naval task force to offer immediate assistance to the Canadian brigade in Kabul.

Without changing the ship’s assigned patrol route or routine tasks, the frigate commanding officer makes contact with the brigade through the National Digital Command and Control system, and puts at his disposal six land attack Tomahawk cruise missiles carrying scatterable bomblets. Following national overflight and targeting negotiations, two of these are immediately requested and, using the guidance system of a Coyote surveillance vehicle, are terminally guided onto key roadblocks barring access to the airport as a display of intent. Four others are placed on standby, as part of the Brigade Commander’s reserve. The in-theatre standby Maritime Patrol Aircraft is prepared and loaded with Joint Direct Attack Munitions (a low-cost form of smart weapon carried on external hard points and in its internal bomb bay). With its upgraded sensor pods, it is dispatched within hours to conduct a series of simultaneous missions high over Kabul. These consist of electronic warfare measures; intelligence, surveillance and target acquisition support; air control assistance; and terminally guided precision weapons support, including High Speed Anti-Radiation weapon missions for destroying radars. Finally, at Canada’s request, and with the concurrence of the naval task force, the entire Maritime Patrol Aircraft detachment is re-tasked to maintain a patrol over Kabul for the duration of the crisis.

After negotiating a strategic agreement with Pakistan regarding overflight, six CF-18s, plus associated support, depart Bagotville for the theatre, along with two additional Aurora Maritime Patrol Aircraft from CFB Greenwood. The Aurora mission is to re-establish air patrols over the Gulf, while the CF-18s are tasked to provide reinforcing high-altitude close air support with terminally-guided precision weapons, as requested by the brigade commander. As well, three Canadian Special Operations Force teams are inserted into the Canadian Area of Operations using in-theatre C-130 high-altitude precision drop techniques, to provide deep surveillance and additional precision targeting capabilities. Precision drops of supplies, again from C-130 aircraft, maintain these teams and provide essential resupply to the cut-off Canadian camps. Rented Antonov transport aircraft, loaded with replacement and augmenting munitions, start making scheduled runs to the theatre support base, and planning is initiated to lease a cargo ship should the support requirement be protracted.

Other Coalition assets quickly reinforce this independent Canadian effort, and within a week every major combat system owned by the various rebel factions has been destroyed, captured or driven into hiding. All roadblocks have been destroyed and overt rebel resistance has ceased, with rebels either surrendering or fleeing into the hills, with Special Operations Forces in hot pursuit, guided by airborne and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle surveillance assets.

This scenario illustrates that the CF does have the potential to maintain a credible independent operational-level capability over large parts of the globe with existing or planned resources. In addition to the already significant national signals intelligence capability, our contribution could include operationally deployed frigates equipped with Long Range Land Attack missiles, perhaps at the expense of some or all of their sea-to-air missile capabilities. In the air superiority environment Western-based Coalitions currently enjoy, the Aurora, with its upgraded sensors, external hard points and long loiter time, has the potential to be an exceptional multi-mission aircraft and a superb high-altitude precision bomber. The CF-18 also represents a credible rapid- response capability that can be quickly deployed around the world. It also demonstrates that Canada has the ability for independent national joint action, which would significantly increase the value of our tactical contributions to major coalitions.

Top of Page

Making Integration a Reality

Making the CF an integrated, joint force is a long-standing goal, but to achieve this will require a major change of mindset. Although we have worked hard to become internally joint, with the possible exception of domestic operations we continue to operate in three isolated realms. The irony of the situation is that all the ingredients for effective and decisive joint action already exist. At issue is whether we have the will to turn this potential into reality.

Our first requirement is to develop a ‘Strategic Mindset’, particularly in our approach to expeditionary operations. The Canadian Forces are expeditionary, by both history and nature, even though our normal contribution is at the tactical level. We have also been very successful in operations, despite the fact that most new and even recurring missions are mounted in a crisis and often in an ad hoc manner. I will elaborate on my argument by addressing each of the following areas of concern:

  1. National strategic responsibilities;

  2. Mobility (Strategic, Operational and Tactical);

  3. ‘Reach back’;

  4. Organizations/structures and joint capabilities; and

  5. Deployment readiness (expeditionary mindset and training) of our people.

National Strategic Responsibilities

Tactical deployments still demand strategic decisions. In all Coalition operations there are national areas of responsibility that cannot be devolved, and which exist regardless of our level of commitment. To make strategic decisions and properly meet our strategic obligations requires approved doctrine. It also requires the responsibility to teach national joint doctrine in our schools (the CF Command and Staff College course, the Advanced Military Studies course, and the National Security Studies course), as well as in our environmental institutions (such as the Land Forces Command and Staff College, the Maritime Warfare Centre, and the Air Force Staff Course). There is also the requirement to practice and exercise doctrine frequently, both in training (based on a Strategic Collective Training Plan) and in actual operations.

At this time, I contend that Canadian Forces doctrine does not exist for determining our strategic intent prior to deployment on new operations. For example, if we really believed we were going into Afghanistan for only a year, would we have constructed multimillion dollar mega-bases in the theatre? There is also no doctrine for National/Coalition Command and Control. Therefore, we have continuing difficulties differentiating between the National Liaison Team to the Coalition Headquarters, at the strategic level, and the operational-level Canadian National Command Element which supports national land, air, and sea contingents embedded in their respective Coalition component commands. We have no strategic Combat Service Support doctrine. So the national service support structure for overseas operations, from first line to the national Lines of Communication, must be created from first principles every time we deploy. We also have no doctrine governing our international law obligations (including rules of engagement, strategic targeting, and force employment decisions), which puts an inordinate burden on deployed unit commanders. It also imposes considerable restrictions on the utility of Canadian contingents to meet emergency response situations.

Instead of doctrine, we have partially developed policies – Standard Operating Procedures, and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs) – and thus we continually go through painful debates about strategic force structuring and the mounting of expeditionary operations without the intellectual underpinning of approved national joint doctrine.

This situation needs to be corrected. Keystone national doctrine must drive environmental doctrine, which, in turn, drives what is taught in CF institutions. Understandably, the current CF doctrine staff is small, but the writing of national doctrine is actually a joint responsibility and, therefore, NDHQ must leverage the three services to prepare and maintain approved national joint doctrine.

Strategic, Operational and Tactical Mobility

To be useful in the fast-paced world of expeditionary operations, Canada must maintain mobility at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. In reality, the CF already has a number of key qualities in this regard. We have the professional ethos, training, equipment, and credibility to effectively participate in an ‘early-in’ strategy. We have the flexibility of tactical doctrine and thought to move around in a theatre of operations, which enables us to go where the need for disciplined, professional troops is greatest. Our record in the Balkans proves this. We can be shock troops in a wide variety of missions, but if we want this important role, we have to deploy and act like shock troops.

I am not advocating the acquisition of national strategic lift resources, as useful as such a capability might be. Short of a worldwide crisis, transportation resources can be found when required. Lift will rarely constrain overseas deployments, since the political decision-making process will usually exceed the time required to achieve military preparedness. What we really require is an integrated approach to mobility in its broadest sense. Strategic decisions taken during the planning and mounting phases of an expeditionary operation radically affect operational and tactical mobility. For example, when we make the strategic decision to construct major, immobile base camps and hinder the self-sufficiency of our deployed units by restricting their structure, we essentially also restrict both our operational and tactical mobility for the duration of the mission. This creates the antithesis of mobility: we become tied to a particular sector of the mission area because of infrastructure, rather than being agile enough to meet the new challenges that always arise in a dynamic theatre of operations. This in turn then colours our interest in and ability to conduct out-of-area operations within the mission area.

We need to re-think camp construction and utilities in operational theatres. Our current base-camp mentality significantly restricts tactical mobility. We must take a ruthless approach to both austerity and modularity. Everything we put into a camp should be capable of being moved, relocated or recovered at some time in the future. We have to avoid putting money into fixed installations and trying to build permanent camps to Canadian Forces base specifications. The understandable desire to improve quality of life in mission areas is also making us immobile. Tactical combat units are capable of living out of their vehicles or under austere conditions for days, weeks, and even months at a time, and must be prepared to do so. We need to reduce our ‘footprint’, make our equipment and facilities modular, and standardize our space requirements. That is the price of an ‘early in/early out’ concept, and of tactical mobility in a theatre of operations. Some ideas on how to change this paradigm follow:

Top of Page

  • Command Post in a Box. Unit and sub- unit headquarters, National Command Elements, and National Support Element headquarters, as examples, should be standardized and self- contained, and be sea-container based. With fixed wiring for information technology and communications workspaces, these command posts could provide an instant, state-of-the-art, mobile headquarters for deployed formations and units. Where absolutely necessary, line or wireless systems run from this fixed hub could provide remote access to tent space or rented office space.

  • Specialized Sea Container Accommodation. Tent trailer-style sea containers (with wind-up tops, collapsible furniture, and wired for electricity, heat, computers and communications), adaptable for a variety of purposes (such as offices, mobile workshops and tool cribs) offer real potential. Quick-erect tentage could augment this core capability, where required. Set-up and tear down must not require specialized equipment or personnel, and must be possible within specified times.

  • Hard Standing. Airfield repair-type decking should be used to create hard standing rather than building strategic reserves of gravel all around the world.

  • Rear Link Communications Packages. Vehicle-mounted or sea container rear link communications packages that can be moved, erected and torn down by the rear link detachment itself are essential.

  • Utilities. A fresh approach to utilities is needed, to include self-generating power to reduce fuel consumption, recycling as an approach to water, sewage and garbage, pre-packaged above-ground wiring, and standard quick connect/disconnect electrical services.

  • Personnel Services. All personnel services (including Internet access, gyms and libraries) can also be set up in modular sea containers, augmented, if necessary, by tentage.

  • Modular Infrastructure. We need to design workshops, field hospitals and Combat Service Support components that are easily deployable, reusable, and adaptable to mobile, static or shipboard operations.

  • Personal Lockers. Standardized personal lockers should be provided for deploying personnel. These should include a foldout desk, a folding chair, a lamp, a closet, storage space for a cot and personal equipment, and electrical outlets with external quick connects. These need to be stackable to fit in sea containers.

  • Force Protection. We need to address force protection from the same standard and utilitarian point of view. We should have standardized plans for camp construction, standard plans for security measures and standard plans for force protection (including sensors, communications, and guard/observation towers). This, coupled with standardized camp security doctrine, would also facilitate pre-deployment decisions about organization and equipment.

Modularity leads to other possibilities. With modular construction, any leased commercial roll-on/roll-off ship can become an expeditionary craft with rear link communications in a sea container strapped on the deck. Airfield engineers can erect modular helicopter decks laid over the ship’s existing deck. A sea container-based National Command Element, a field hospital, workshops, supply areas, laundry and bath, and personnel support facilities can be set up inside. A battle group’s worth of equipment, with supplies for 90 days, can be carried on deck and internally. We could easily have an entire camp tied up alongside or floating offshore in a littoral area, and likely for less money and personnel than many of our missions today. For the deployed battle group, the ship becomes the base camp, hospital, and recreation area, all in one location. By ensuring a modular approach, the possibilities of deployment and sustainment become almost endless. Conversely, when it comes time to put the National Command Element and National Support Element ashore, it will be a seven-day job that does not require weeks or months of construction and an entire engineer squadron to achieve.

Some guidelines the CF could adopt to assist in achieving the desired level of mobility might be as follows:

Strategic Guidelines:

  • Given the small size, but professional capabilities of the Canadian Forces, ‘early-in’ is Canada’s preferred strategy. This plays to our strengths and recognizes that our soldiers want to be challenged; that they rapidly come to dislike stale and generalized routines.

  • The Canadian Forces’ standard will be austere and mobile camps with limited fixed infrastructure, so as to save money and maintain our operational and tactical mobility.

  • The CF will adopt universal deployment standards for all CF members, based on the standards of either land or sea environments, in addition to any specific job-related requirements.

  • To mitigate the risks of ‘early-in’ deployment to unstable and dangerous areas of the world, we should consider creating a joint high-readiness standby augmentation capability, based in Canada, that is able to support all deployed missions in an emergency.

Operational Guidelines:

  • All deployed combat elements will be tactically self-sufficient units.

  • The National Command Element will be tasked to continuously validate in-theatre force requirements and provide advice on how and where the Canadian contingent can best be employed.

  • The Canadian Forces must adhere to the principle of operational mobility, and be willing to move our contingent and to deploy troops out of area when required.

  • Canada must endeavour to hand off established tasks as soon as possible to other nations who prefer stable, functioning missions as a pre-condition to committing their troops.

Tactical Guidelines:

  • Canada will always deploy combat contingents that are tactically self-sufficient at unit and sub-unit level, and ensure ongoing analysis of force protection requirements and the ability to move up and down the scale of readiness.

  • Units will deploy in austere conditions in return for high mobility and new and continuing operational challenges.

  • Canadian combat contingents will be structured to provide a mission/sector ‘force of last resort’ in all cases.

Top of Page

Reach Back

To reduce the size of their ‘footprints’ in a theatre of operations, many nations are choosing to ‘reach back’ into home-based national systems to augment theatre intelligence, signals, logistics and other capabilities, essentially linking together tactical and strategic systems. The small size and integrated nature of the CF gives us an incredible advantage from a national ‘reach back’ perspective. In fact, it is often not well understood how close and numerous our tactical to strategic ‘reach back’ capabilities really are, from both operational and administrative perspectives. This provides the CF with enviable potential, but we have not yet developed doctrine that will ensure an integrated approach to ‘reach back’ that would allow us to fully exploit this advantage. We have many independent digital information systems that do not operate together. We have ad hoc reporting systems and technical nets for exchange of information that are not formally controlled. And we do not have the integrated information management system necessary to permit customized access to the growing mountain of nationally-held information.

Joint Capabilities

Many of the capabilities and equipment within the CF are actually useable across the entire spectrum of joint operations. We continue to demonstrate this reality on almost every national domestic operation. This is, however, only possible because the command and control backbone of each environment spans the nation and, therefore, permits interoperability. However, when it comes to expeditionary operations, we tend to function as single service entities. This is unfortunate, and artificially limits our national capability.

To operate jointly overseas, we need to write doctrine and then experiment, train and practise joint operations. The reality is that we have no joint doctrine. We struggle to maintain even the semblance of national joint study in our service schools, and we have a very limited joint capability at our ‘joint’ staff college. There is very limited national joint participation in our major annual environmental exercises, and even the scenarios we use in training rarely foresee Canadian joint participation in Coalition operations. We do not insist on national joint approaches to fundamental issues such as command and control (such as radio, digital systems, information management, and information technology). And, we conduct very limited research to ensure that environmental systems can in fact speak to one another, as our current priority of effort is to ensure that we can talk to potential Coalition partners.

There is no joint approach to acquisition to ensure a general-purpose approach to major pieces of equipment. The helicopter project is a good example. Canada has already acquired 15 Search and Rescue helicopters and will soon acquire an additional 30 heavy lift maritime helicopters that will have incredible utility far beyond just Search and Rescue and maritime requirements. This fleet should be viewed as a national resource, but from the outset will likely have restricted expeditionary utility. For example, will it use the common Electro-Optical Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition package being proposed for the Griffon helicopters and the Auroras? Will it be able to sling loads? Will it have air defence warning systems? Will it carry door guns? Will it have communications compatible with the Army, or at least the capability for installing them? Can it be used for non-combatant evacuation, combat search and rescue or Special Forces operations? This is just a short list of the type of questions that would be asked in a truly national joint environment.

We need to take a systematic look at the joint or general-purpose nature of virtually every major capability and all equipment in the CF. The potential uses of every piece of our equipment need to be catalogued and set in priority, and, where feasible or necessary, equipment must be modified and people need to be trained to meet potential tasks.

However, even where some component offers the potential for joint action, it will remain only a force-in-being until it is thoroughly exercised and operational skills are perfected and, therefore, ready when the need arises. The hypothetical operation outlined in my opening scenario could not happen, when hours count, without training and practice.

A positive example of what can be achieved is the current cooperation between the Canadian Security Establishment (CSE), the CF Information Operations Group and Army electronic warfare units, which provides a seamless strategic capability right down to the tactical level, and vice versa. Work must now begin on the fourth leg of this capability – Reserve electronic warfare units, controlled by Reserve Communications Command – to further enhance this joint capability.

To build the best possible joint capability, we also need to review our list of strategic assumptions. A prime example is the question of air superiority. Will we have it or not in future operations? If we accept commonly held strategic thinking, Western Coalition campaigns will first seek to win the sea war, then the air war, and only then launch a land campaign. From this perspective, we need to revisit how our forces fight. The Army is currently re-examining air defence to meet the threats posed by Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, helicopters, and occasional fighter aircraft that might leak through the air defence net. It is developing a general purpose Multiple Mission Effects Vehicle capable of meeting a broad range of direct fire requirements, including air defence. In the same vein, perhaps the Air Force needs to look at the proportion of effort devoted to air-to-air and ground attack, and the entire issue of exactly how close air support is delivered. Precision weapon delivery, out of ground-based air defence range, can actually be done from a large variety of aircraft with precision-guided weapons. Loiter time and multi-tasking of aircraft in both surveillance and strike configurations will be essential over fixed areas of operations, while faster, standby aircraft (perhaps even based in Canada) can meet immediate self-targeting or terminal guided requirements over much broader areas of operations. From the maritime perspective, air superiority means there is less risk in reducing sea-to-air missiles and taking on long-range land attack missiles. However, short-range missiles will not provide enough capability to meet operational and strategic requirements.

Deployment Readiness and Expeditionary Mindset

When one sees a US Marine, most people make automatic assumptions about the individual’s capability and willingness to deploy and apply lethal force. But, when you look at a member of the CF, even if you know the environment, rank and trade classification, you are still left with no idea of the individual’s capability. This, unfortunately, is a reality even for CF members deployed overseas on operations today. Within the Army there are large numbers of soldiers who have no ability to apply lethal force, no ability to lead or survive in a hostile environment, and who have almost no understanding of the universality of service or unlimited liability. I have read Duty with Honour: The Profession of Arms in Canada, and believe it outlines a laudable goal for the CF – but the basic standard outlined in this manual does not exist in the CF today.

I am convinced that, from a deployment perspective, there are only two environments in the CF – Land and Sea. No one lives in the air. It is true that limited numbers of Air Force personnel work in the air for a number of hours each day and require specific training and skills for this role. However, they start that mission from the ground or a ship, they live on the ground or on a ship, and they must be prepared to survive on the ground or in a ship when deployed. The same is true for naval shore parties and all CF National Command Element and National Support Element personnel. In the maritime context, no one deploys on board a ship without the firefighting course, and everyone is assigned a duty station in an emergency. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for CF members deploying on the ground in theatres of operations. As a basic national premise, no one should be permitted to deploy overseas without a readiness to survive and to contribute to the environment into which they will be deploying.

If the CF accepted this perspective, then both basic and deployment training for the CF would change significantly, and we would easily be able to meet the intent and spirit of Duty with Honour. Such an attitude change would also ensure that the entire CF is actually available for expeditionary operations. It might also help to overcome critical manning shortfalls and the existing inequitable deployment loads.


Despite the concerns expressed here, it is difficult to argue against success. I readily acknowledge that all three services and our supporting institutions have indeed been successful. However, as military professionals, the question we need to ask is whether we are maximizing the combat capability of the CF and truly providing best value for money to both Canada and our allies. Even though defence dollars that can be devoted to joint operations capabilities are scarce, I would contend that we have a great deal of work left to do. In that we are about to launch into a significant defence review, perhaps this is an opportune time to consider many of the issues raised in this paper.

CMJ Logo

Brigadier-General G.W. Nordick is Commander of the Land Doctrine and Training System in Kingston.