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Views and Opinions

The Strategic Think Tank – Restructuring the Canadian Forces College
To Achieve an Integrated Culture and to Provide an Enhanced Strategic Planning Resource

by Lieutenant-Colonel R.D. McIlroy

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It is clear to me when considering recent operational experience, and from reading the various products from the Directorate of Land Strategic Concepts, such as Future Force,1 and Crisis in Zefra,2 that the problem in the near future facing the Canadian Army, and in fact, the Canadian Forces (CF), is not one of equipment, but one of culture and structure. That is, a culture and structure that will ensure success. This culture and structure for the 21st Century must promote the necessary social networks and intellectual capacity to deal with the complex dilemmas encountered during current and future operating environments.3

Without a doubt, the contemporary and future operating environments are multi-disciplinary (all military trades) and joint (air, land, and sea). They are interagency, employing all elements of national power to achieve strategic and operational aims, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) playing pivotal roles, as has already been recognized in the ‘3D approach.’4 The strategic and operational aims are not of just an ad hoc coalition, but have the potential for a national niche strategy nested within the context of a coalition or alliance objective – one that would require analysis, thought, and input from all Canadian stakeholders – before a commitment is made. The operations conducted in the current and future environments result in intertwined and blurred strategic, operational, and tactical outcomes. Current and future operations are not only interagency but also international multi-agency in composition, with the potential for international non-governmental agencies playing a shaping role. Operations will remain under the scrutiny of the public through embedded and pervasive media. The latest acronym used by the Canadian Army to describe this future environment is JIMP (Joint, Interagency, Multinational, and Public),5 and this term will soon permeate all aspects of Canadian military thinking, and, consequently, our approach to operations.

The JIMP environment will pervade and serve as a prerequisite for not just success in our international endeavours but for all operational considerations. We must also be ready for the potential of significant domestic operations activities that will exist within these same influences. Success in the current and future operating environments, be they domestic or international, quite rightly require a truly integrated6 or “whole of government” approach.7 Based upon this definition, if we focus only on the CF to try to set conditions for future success, we likely will not meet our mark. Furthermore, these thoughts and ideas reinforce the fact that this is not about equipment, but about a way of thinking, and about our connectivity with agencies such as DFAIT and CIDA, to name but two of them. This concept is not lost upon the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, which recently recommended the reinstitution of the National Defence College to meet this need.8 However, it is questionable whether this one factor will go far enough to truly achieve the desired effect.

When we look at the current and future operating environments, it is obvious that a cultural change is required to enhance our future effectiveness – not just within the military, but also within those other national agencies that support the achievement of overseas and domestic success. However, this is not the sole impediment to changing our culture towards a JIMP-capable armed forces and a national coordinated approach to achieving success in future missions. A recent Canadian Forces Transformation briefing highlighted another key shortcoming within our CF structure – that is, a strategic planning void.9 The CF is currently not fully structured to forward plan – to keep well out in front of current operations. Canadian Forces strategic planning was described, to a large degree, as reactionary, and focused upon those items of immediate interest, with limited personnel resources dedicated to looking at issues on or beyond the horizon. A long-term vision is required that is focused upon national strategic aims, and sufficient planning resources must be dedicated to ensure that we are at least somewhat prepared for upcoming challenges. This will be a hard objective to meet in transformation, but it is worthy of effort.

The problems of changing to a JIMP and integrated, focused culture, and providing an enhanced strategic planning capability to the CF are immense. Is there a way to alter current capabilities to realize this effect? That is, can we enhance and foster an integrated environment (encompassing a CF joint culture as well as interagency cooperation and intervisibility), and establish enhanced strategic planning resources that will greatly improve our ability to promote long-term National Strategic objectives? I believe we can.

Canadian Forces College (CFC)

Currently, the CFC is the only Canadian Joint warfighting school in existence. For the most part, it is a school designed to meet instructional needs at the strategic and operational levels, and to prepare key staff and decision-makers for the future, through courses such as the Joint Command and Staff Program (JCSP), the Advanced Military Studies Program (AMSP), the National Security Studies Program (NSSP), the Canadian Security Studies Program (CSSP), and the Executive Leaders’ Program.10 Although it is joint by nature, and it provides a level of connectivity between senior staff within the three environments, it does not go far enough to create a desired impact upon CF culture. The primary and largest course taught is the Joint Command and Staff Course, which is roughly one year in duration, intended for major and lieutenant-colonel equivalents near the mid-point of their careers. Roughly 25 percent of the course is composed of foreign students, with a majority of the participants being drawn from our ABCA allies (United States, Britain, Canada, and Australia). There is currently no representation from DFAIT or CIDA, either as staff or students, other than as guest lecturers. In addition, quality of life issues exist for many of the students, with a large portion of the student body on an Imposed Restriction (IR) status while attending the CFC – many of the students either live in Ottawa or have pending an imminent posting to Ottawa. Staff manning of the school is adequate, but it could be enhanced to provide more resources and more operational experience/ exposure. Although foreign student participation is good, a question arises as to whether participation could be expanded to tie in better to specified foreign policy objectives – seeking greater representation from targeted nations.

A Soldier giving a gift to a young girl

DND photo AR2007-Z101-2

The Strategic Think Tank Concept

With this background in mind, the overall concept for a possible strategic think tank is to change the CFC, specifically through the JCSP, to be more integrated (Joint and Interagency), and to foster international and multi-agency relationships. This goal would be achieved through a lengthened version of the course – onethat would see student participation from other government agencies, such as DFAIT and CIDA. The course would also encourage increased international student participation. The professional contacts formed on this course would be further enhanced through the formation of Joint Planning Teams, drawn from all course members in a second year, given following the year of existing formalized studies for CF members only. These Joint Planning Teams, the Canadian members being armed with the previous year’s education, would then be available to augment existing CF strategic planning capabilities, and to tackle strategic, operational, or environmental planning issues for the Canadian Forces.

This broad concept already exists within the United States, embodied in courses such as the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) at the Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth,11 the School of Advanced Warfighting (SAW) at the Marine Corps University, Marine Corps Base Quantico,12 and the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS) at the Air University, Maxwell Air Force Base.13 Each of these programs follows command and staff training, and they award recognized and accepted academic masters degrees. The size of the United States military population necessitates a selection criteria and restricted attendance for this type of training – a restraining factor that would not be an issue for a similar Canadian program.

For Canada, the necessary changes could be achieved through a semester program with positions for DFAIT and CIDA, against an established professional development (PD) program designed to meet the needs of these agencies and supported by the College. A semester program would allow DFAIT and CIDA personnel to tackle the training in time-manageable portions (over two courses), and it would not require a one-time full year commitment. This is similar to semester course structures at the American colleges and universities cited above. Furthermore, and coinciding with other DFAIT objectives, increased international positions would be offered against our international long-term strategic aims, wherever they may be – sub-Sahara Africa, Central America, specific countries in Asia, and so on. Selected nations would also be offered participation in a further second year of studies against other educational objectives, such as a postgraduate education.

The main change to the existing JCSP would be that attendance on future JCSP training would require a two-year commitment composed of four semesters corresponding to the posting season. Within this two-year program, the first year would consist of the existing program, offered with some refinement. As the current course meets the requirements of our ABCA allies, the CFC would still anticipate full participation by the current group of participant nations.

The second year, or strategic think tank portion, would include joint CF teams established to tackle specific strategic issues, such as Joint Doctrine, or other strategic planning and analysis objectives. This would provide a supplemental problem-solving resource available to the CDS and the Strategic Joint Staff (SJS). Specific objectives could be tackled, such as analysis in support of individual operations (Afghanistan, Olympics, and so on), regional analysis/ country studies, domestic operations analysis, or environment (land, sea, air) specific analysis. In addition to existing academic programs, the second year would also provide an opportunity for members to participate in other educational enhancement/ upgrade training where required. For selected international students, this would entail the potential pursuit of a CF and DFAIT supported Masters Program in Peacekeeping Studies. Targeted countries/students for this opportunity would match our international long-term strategic aims.


Achieving this type of program would require some remarkable changes to the way we do business, and to the way we think about professional development. It would also require ‘buy-in’ from the various other participant agencies, and a rare level of inter-governmental collaboration within a training scheme. Furthermore, there are a number of other issues that would need to be tackled in order to achieve this program.

First, CFC would require more and improved staff, both uniformed and civilian. If the CFC ‘takes the reins’ in supporting strategic and operational level professional development for not just the CF but also for selected participation from other government agencies, the resultant product must be of the highest calibre, and it will require ‘A List’ personnel as instructors and supporting staff. Additional staff for an expanded first-year program (instructors and supporting staff) would be required. An enhanced second year would require new senior military appointments to control the various planning teams, as well as an increased number of permanent academics employed by the College. This would represent a substantial commitment, but it would be an investment into the intellectual foundation and strategic planning capability of the CF. And it would be done with a view to the future.

Second, a commitment from DFAIT and CIDA is essential for the interagency concept to be realized, and to attain true linkages between these agencies and the Canadian Forces. In order to accomplish this, there may be a requirement to tailor existing JCSP studies to take into consideration DFAIT and CIDA professional development needs. Furthermore, teaching billets for DFAIT and CIDA should be established to further interconnect the training.

Third, we need to bring in other colleges that are logically aligned that would also benefit from this program. This could include support from Royal Military College (RMC), and, potentially, the Pearson Peacekeeping Centre (PPC). This would go a long way toward providing the intellectual augmentation required to meet the demands of an expanded program, and also would set the conditions for an expanded second year for international officers selected against DFAIT objectives.

The following changes, specific to the CF alone, must also be considered. First, the Joint Command and Staff Program must be upgraded so that it can be regarded as the equivalent to participation in a masters degree program, and, therefore, a commitment of obligatory service must be attached to participation on the course, as is currently the case with academic upgrading. These proposed changes to JCSP can be easily substantiated, and they would represent a considerable learning opportunity for making significant connections with various elements within the federal government. In the same vein, the existing professional masters program (Masters in Defence Studies [MDS]), or, preferably, an academic masters program accepted outside the military, must be seen as a required outcome of this course, and it must produce directed research projects toward the second-year strategic planning objectives. I see these requirements as essential, as the pledge of time and resources necessitate a commitment to postgraduate work, and an obligation to the enhancement of the CF strategic think tank.

Next, one needs to address a truly emotional issue – the location of the Canadian Forces College. In my opinion, the CFC must be moved to Ottawa, the National Capital Region. Personally, I reject the concept that Toronto better serves the CFC ability to link to the various quality guest speakers that are currently sourced for the course, or that the current CFC campus provides a unique learning environment. As host city for a majority of the CF and government leadership, as well as DFAIT and CIDA, and international embassies in Ottawa, as well as two universities and a new international airport, I see Ottawa as the logical location for an educational institution of this importance. A learning environment (college setting) comparable to Toronto could easily be established in the Ottawa region. Furthermore, in order to achieve the second-year portion of the program (strategic think tank), I believe proximity to NDHQ is a necessity. In addition, as already mentioned, a majority of the CF students either reside in or are about to be posted to the Ottawa region. Once the CFC is moved and the two-year program is established, the requirement of an IR status for candidates should also be diminished, as attendance at CFC would result in a minimum two-year posting to Ottawa. This act alone also should improve the quality of life considerably for all participants in JCSP and their families. Potentially, it would enhance participation and quality of life issues for DFAIT and CIDA participants.

I would also reject any notion of moving this course along the path of a distance learning opportunity, either via Internet or other virtual learning mechanisms. Much of the value behind the JCSP and the above-noted proposed changes, including the change in location, is found in the human networks and relationships that will be formed. It is human networks that will foster interconnectivity, flexibility, and a greater ability to meet the demands of the current and future operational environments. Additionally, various spin-off benefits need to be considered.

Second and Third Order Benefits

Although there are obvious hurdles and risks to this type of program, there are also some substantial benefits. The program would solidify the concept of a requirement for an integrated/ JIMP view of the world through actions – not just words – and it would be an influencing factor in shaping the CF culture. It would expose future senior leaders to the strategic planning that exists within the contemporary operating environment, and specifically, the strategic planning setting within the Canadian Forces. It would also institutionalize and result in the necessary interpersonal relationships and required networks (relatively early in careers) to ensure the potential for true collaboration amongst all parties well after studies are completed.14 Shaping culture at the JCSP level would also be a far more permeating approach than leaving it until participation in a proposed reinstituted National Defence College, as was recommended by the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence.15 The latter approach, although worthwhile if achieved, would limit interconnectivity to a smaller audience, and it would occur much closer to the twilight of careers. For the CF, these changes would result in the enhancement of a joint strategic planning resource, something that is currently missing. It would expand the necessary intellectual capacity to allow the CDS to deal with future issues in a forward-looking manner.

For CFC and the JCSP, the participation of FAC and CIDA students would result in better and more realistic staff planning exercises and professional debate. These students would fill designated DFAIT and CIDA roles on the various planning exercises. It would certainly open up the CF to scrutiny by DFAIT and CIDA, potentially resulting in unique ideas and suggestions for improvement and change. Conversely, a collaborative approach between the CF and DFAIT/ CIDA could result in an improved, institutionalized PD program for these agencies, where one does not exist currently.

The potential impact upon the CFC would be enormous. It clearly would be beneficial to, and would receive considerably more attention and consideration from, not just the CF but the entire government. Furthermore, CFC as an influencing factor upon an expanded international training audience – linked to foreign policy aims, would act as a potential facilitating influence for our government, and it would receive considerably more support as a learning institution. It would expand and strengthen the importance of our educational institutions, while at the same time providing a Canadian influence around the world – an approach already adopted by certain world powers.16


DND photo AR2008-T165-16


Our experiences on current operations, and our beliefs as to what lies in wait for the CF and this nation in contemporary and future operating environments, dictate that new approaches must be considered to ensure that we are ready for future undertakings. It is assumed that a JIMP environment, both domestically and internationally, will be the setting for CF operations, and that an integrated approach, employing and synchronizing all elements of national power, will be essential in meeting these unknown challenges. A change in our culture, planning capabilities, and thinking is essential now, if we hope to set conditions for success in the near future.

The strategic think tank concept is proposed as an idea that would impact upon our culture, and, as a result, would change the way the CF thinks in the future. It would also alter the way the CF interconnects and networks with key partner agencies, affecting our success during future operations. It would improve and align what the CF does successfully now, to meet our future needs. The Canadian Forces College, and, specifically, the JCSP, provide excellent vehicles to change our existing culture toward one that is firmly grounded in joint and interagency philosophy, and they would provide the integrated social networks needed to facilitate this change. Additionally, the course should be altered to provide an opportunity for DFAIT and CIDA personnel to participate, and to provide for increased international participation linked toward DFAIT international objectives.

The unique relationships formed through such a professional development program are a key to changing our culture, and in the final analysis, I believe they are the only way to implement successful integrated approaches to future problems. For CF personnel, the unique relationships fostered during a two-year program would be enhanced further through the formation of CF Joint Planning Teams that would be available following the formal Command and Staff training, and would be used to augment existing CF strategic planning capabilities. This experience would further ingrain the concept of a Joint culture, and it would provide an increased strategic planning capability to the CDS and the CF as a whole. It would also expose future senior leaders to the strategic planning environment and the challenges that exist at the CF strategic level, and it would dedicate the necessary intellectual capacity to address the complex dilemmas of contemporary and future operating environments.

To create the strategic think tank, some remarkable changes would be required. DFAIT and CIDA must commit to the concept with both students and staff. The CFC must be well supported with staff and resources in order to achieve an expanded and changed program that meets the needs of all participants. Canadian Forces students on the course would require a two-year commitment, along with the concomitant requirement for obligatory service. Finally, I believe the CFC must be moved to Ottawa to better support DFAIT and CIDA participation, to ensure successful achievement of strategic planning teams, and to improve the quality of life for participants and their families.

In this critical time of transformation, all these changes are in ‘the realm of the possible,’ and they represent significant action – not just words. These modifications would result in an enhanced joint and integrated culture, would achieve greater interagency cooperation and inter-visibility, and would establish an enhanced strategic planning resource. The CF, and specifically the CFC, would clearly benefit. It would receive considerably more attention and consideration by the government as a whole, and the CFC would obtain significantly more support as a learning institution – one that truly creates an integrated culture.

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Lieutenant-Colonel Rob McIlroy, an infantry officer of the Royal Canadian Regiment, is currently Senior Staff Officer Doctrine at the Canadian Forces Land Force Doctrine and Training System Headquarters in Kingston, Ontario.


  1. Canada, Department of National Defence, Future Force (Director General Capability Development Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2003), available at <http://armyapp.forces.gc.ca/dlsc-dcsot/Documents.asp>.
  2. Canada, Department of National Defence, Crisis in Zefra. (Director General Capability Development Kingston, Ontario, Canada, 2005), available at <http://armyapp.forces.gc.ca/dlscdcsot/Documents.asp>.
  3. A good description of the complexity of the current and future operating environment is addressed in Gareth Evans’s “Conflict Prevention: Ten Lessons We Have Learned,” Closing Keynote Address to the University of Toronto Peace and Conflict Society Conference, entitled, Before the Crisis Breaks: Conflict Prevention, Crisis Management and Preventive Diplomacy in the 21st Century (Toronto, 4 February 2007), available at <http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=4653&l=1>. And for a review of the concept of social networks, see Howard Coombs and General Rick Hillier, “Command and Control During Peace Support Operations: Creating Common Intent in Afghanistan.,” in The Operational Art: Canadian Perspectives, Leadership and Command, Allan English, (ed.) (Kingston, ON: Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2006).
  4. The 3D Approach, as articulated by National Defence Minister David Pratt in his Keynote Speaker Address at the 20th Annual Conference of Defence Associations Institute Seminar, entitled, “The Way Ahead for Canadian Foreign and Defence Policy,” 26 February 2004, at <http://www.cda-cdai.ca/seminars/2004/pratt.htm>.
  5. JIMP: Term used in accordance with the Army Terminology Repertoire. The term is yet to be approved by Director General Land Capability Development (DGLCD), available at <http://lfdts.army.mil.ca/dad/Terminology/term.asp?term=956& lang=english&type=acdb&search=&B1=submit&getit=now>.
  6. For a description of the intended integrated approach, see Canada, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, Canada in the World: Canadian International Policy, available at <http://geo.international.gc.ca/cip-pic/ips/ips-diplomacy6-en.asp>.
  7. Whole of government approach – as provided by Howard Coombs – a record of discussion at Canadian Forces Air Warfare Centre/Defence Research and Development Canada. Effects Based Operations Conference, Cornwall Ontario, 27/28 November 2006.
  8. Canada, Interim Report Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, Managing Turmoil: The Need to Upgrade Canadian Foreign Aid and Military Strength to Deal with Massive Change (Ottawa: Queens Printer, 2006), Appendix II – Index of Recommendations, p. 108.
  9. Briefing by Major-General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of Canadian Forces Transformation, and Ken Ready, Chief of Defence Institutional Alignment, Canadian Forces Base Edmonton, 3 March 2006.
  10. See Canadian Forces College program list at <http://www.cfc.forces.gc.ca/programmes_e.html>.
  11. Command and General Staff College, School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS), available at <http://www-cgsc.army.mil/sams/amsp/ Course_Description.asp>.
  12. Marine Corps University, School of Advanced Warfighting (SAW), available at <http://www.mcu.usmc.mil/csc/saw/index.htm>.
  13. Air University, School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS), available at <http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/schools.asp>.
  14. Howard Coombs and General Rick Hillier. This article provides a commentary upon the importance of interpersonal relationships to the outcomes of current and future operations.
  15. Canada, Interim Report Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, Managing Turmoil: The Need to Upgrade Canadian Foreign Aid and Military Strength to Deal with Massive Change (Ottawa: Queens Printer, 2006).
  16. Loro Horta, “Defense and Military Education: A Dimension of Chinese Power,” in Power and Interest News Report, 29 September 2006. A report on the National Defence University (NDU) of the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA), available at <http://www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report& report_id= 562&language_id=1>.

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