Part 2: Interview with Gen. Jonathan Vance, chief of defence staff

The CDS had been in his position for 10 months when he agreed to an interview. Over the hour LGen Michel Maisonneuve (retd) spent with the general, the two main themes the CDS spoke on were: support to the troops and relations with the government. 

In  Part 1 of the exclusive interview, Gen. Vance talks about the importance of adjusting personnel policies to today’s world. Now, the CDS focuses on policy, procurement and his working relationship with government.

MM: Everybody arrives in a new job with a vision for the future of the institution. After ten months, have you changed that vision?

JV: Honestly, no. I saw my role and any good that I can do fall into two or three categories. One is operations, with which I was quite comfortable and remain so. So I’m committed to making certain as we develop options for government, that those options have tangible deliverables, that we don’t over-promise.

MM: How do you find your relations with the new government, are they getting their feet under them? Are you getting the direction that you need?

Jonathan Vance

JV: Yes! First, it is kind of a privileged position to be a senior official in government as a new government comes in and goes from campaigning to governing. That has been a lesson in civics and I feel privileged to have been a part of it. In my working world, the government consists of the senior officials, the Deputy Ministers and Assistant DMs across government that I work with. Then there is the political level, the Ministers’ office, and the PM’s office and sometimes touching one of the other Ministers depending on the file.

I’ll tell you that I’ve found a whole new world looking at this through the eyes of the Chief of Defence Staff for the first time. First, I was happy and amazed at how respected we are. From the PM down there has been incredible respect. There may in some cases not be a full understanding of some of our specifics and so there is learning that occurs but the learning and the attitude toward the Armed Forces have been nothing but absolutely respectful.

That’s a pretty good feeling to be able to experience. It’s amazing that we have Harjit Sajjan as our Minister. We’ve been on operations together so I’ve watched him go from being a citizen to an elected official to a Cabinet Minister really fast and the journey continues; he’s doing a great job.

MM: What about the Defence Policy Review?

JV: I think the government was wise, to undertake a policy review. It’s a different government and the world has continued to change since Afghanistan. A lot of the vision I had when I was first appointed is necessarily held in abeyance right now, but it’s still present in the factors underpinning the policy debate. I still present my views but as we are going through this process it is kind of a privilege thing. I’m a respected player in the process; the influence that I have, and so on. There will be national policy decisions, political policy decisions that will underpin defence, how much money we are going to spend, how much bigger we are going to be, all those big macros, yet to be decided. I think the government is committed to a pure process, one that is based on what is it we want to achieve out there, what outcomes we want. So I’m delighted at the prospect…though it’s going to be a lot of hard work…woman in Canadian military

 

MM: It is very quick…

JV: Oh yes! The battle rhythm is intense. The public consultation is ongoing right now, I think we’re being loyal to that, allowing the consultation to occur and I’m looking forward to when we start to get to the anchor points in a policy that will ultimately provide the shape and form of where we are going to go in the future. What I think we are all interested in is making sure that we don’t have a policy that far outstrips out ability to achieve it. And so I think it’s a very healthy time for us. And I pinch myself a little bit to say hey I’m going to be a part of this…!

MM: If you had to say what is our biggest priority, our biggest need at this moment for the Canadian Forces?

JV: I think it’s our ability to be able to run operations globally in a much more contested dangerous space. It’s command & control, force protection, the ability to deliver in a globally dispersed and much more dangerous space. So I’ve said that we need to be able to deploy with the C2, with the bandwidth that will allow us to communicate, the intelligence, a sure force protection, to have a globally dispersed, adapted dispersed kind of lay down.

If you look at Army doctrine about Adapted Dispersed Operations, and I’ve discussed this with [Lgen] Marquis Hainse [Commander Canadian Army]. I feel like we are on the verge of Adapted Dispersed Operation on a global scale, not just on a theater scale. You can identify all the tenets of sharing information, making sure that we are agile, making sure that we can account for threats that go up and threats that go down, including here at home. And we’ve got to be able to command of control that because these things just don’t run on auto-pilot anymore. They need constant feeding of intelligence for force protection, for decision making.

To me, that reinforces the importance of connectivity, intel, the ability to see, the ability to report, the ability to share information; to put together the information necessary for that targeting cycle. Decide, detect, act, all to happen very very fast so that we are successful.

Royal Canadian Air Force members of Air Task Force-Iraq and several members of the coalition participate in the SHAMAL SERIALS, a combat search and rescue exercise held for personnel of the Middle East Stabilization Force, currently conducting operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a training area in Kuwait on March 16, 2015. Photo: Op Impact, DND

Royal Canadian Air Force members of Air Task Force-Iraq and several members of the coalition participate in the SHAMAL SERIALS, a combat search and rescue exercise held for personnel of the Middle East Stabilization Force, currently conducting operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a training area in Kuwait on March 16, 2015.
Photo: Op Impact, DND

MM: So we are really looking to continue our success in operations…

JV: Exactly; we’ll see this play out in Iraq; we are not there with the kind of combat power that will allow us to assume battlespace control. We are truly advising someone else; our fate is their fate…and their fate is our fate, to a certain degree. We just simply don’t have the capacity to manage that battlespace on our own, like we did in Afghanistan.  At that time if we got in trouble we could move the battlegroup in, then take over the problem; we can’t do that now. It’s okay, that’s how it works, that’s how the Allies have operated for a long time so we can do it too, and we can protect ourselves, individually, to get the mission done. So, imagine the kind of C2 that we need to have: a pipeline of information, sharing information, and also understanding if what is happening in that theater affects Canada. Are there any threats to Canada from there and anywhere else? So: hyper-connected, and then to be able to make sense of it and issue the correct orders; that to me is essential.

MM: Operations today are completely different…

JV: Yes, absolutely! We may also be enabling UN operations which are totally different. We are now, as a nation, a tier one military in the world. We’re enabling others to be successful as opposed to being a principal warfighter; we are enabling the Peshmerga, we are enabling the Iraqis, we are going to be potentially enabling UN contingency missions.

Now, an enabler just doesn’t mean hardware and high technology. I think an infantry battalion is an enabler. A Canadian infantry battalion or any part of it is an enabler because we can just bring a lot of energy and expertise to a situation that allows for the framework to get better. So I’m proud of that. Now it’s just the matter of how we are going to actually account for that.

Photo-Cyber-Attack2-300x200

But I do believe that we will be in this globally dispersed, highly-connected world and everything that we are contemplating in terms of our structure needs to account for that. Then look at cyber, then look at social media and look at space, all of these new domains. We’ve got to put horsepower onto that.

MM: In terms of acquisitions, what do you think is the greatest need in the Canadian Forces right now; obviously that is going to flow from the Defence Policy Review, but is there something right now that you think is at the forefront?

JV: I think that all of the things that are in the process right now are valid. Replacing the ships, replacing the CF-18s, replacing the “B” fleet of army land vehicles, it all counts. I guess the most important thing for the Armed Force is that that process continues to work without delay and that we get the equipment that is in the pipe. Good work has been done with the due diligence required, looking at the future security environment.

We have in the pipeline what we need to have into the future. So I’m satisfied. There is nothing new; we’ve added some emphasis on UAVs, just because it’s the nature of where we are at.

I think all the projects that we need to have loaded into our investment plan are there; there is nothing missing. But the process has to deliver. To me, that’s the thing that is most important, it is the delivery that is key; but I’m optimistic.

The areas of growth that we have not yet identified down to the project level, we are working on, in some respects, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years down range. For example, in the army the ability to actually produce light forces that are not just unequipped mechanized forces; working on making sure that we have that agility.

There are some things that we are going to need to get on the books because some of our fleets are going to peter out, for example, the Airbus fleet, we’ve got to replace that at some point. We are going to have to get refuellers in place, North Warning System modernization, etc. We know what we need, or rather we know the effect that we want to have but we don’t know what that is going to be.

CF-18 arctic

There are other questions being posed in public consultations about North American defence including BMD so, any decision-making around that are a whole other area.

But Michel I have confidence; we can work out how to get a project in the pipeline but I want to be sure that the pipeline continues to deliver. The process has been challenged but at the same time, I think it’s been sometimes overstated: we spend billions every year and we get stuff all the time. Of course, the big marquis acquisitions that make it into the press are challenging and involve a huge sum of public money.

MM: So, how about your family life, how much time do you spend in Ottawa, and how are you finding the pressure?

JV: I’m committed to certainly supporting the first year while the government gets its feet under it and we’re doing a pretty heavy Cabinet schedule. Through the summer I’ll be doing a lot of traveling, I try to limit it, to shorten trips to see the Forces or overseas but there’s also a heavy workload here in town., there is important work getting the CDS signature on stuff, that tells people this is important and you are accountable. That’s the most vital work. and the time that needs to be spent with the Government to provide the advice that is required. So, I front-end loaded here this year until the Policy Review is done, so I expect sometime next year maybe that pace will just slow down a little bit.

MM: And you are getting a whole new slate of leaders as well now?

JV: Yes; Guy [LGen Thibault – Vice-Chief of Defence Staff] is going to leave, Mark [VAdm Norman] is going to come in, Marquis [LGen Hainse – Commander of Canadian Army] is leaving, Paul [LGen Wynnyk] taking over, and I think it’s a great team. I look around at that bench strength; I mean I went to school with a lot of those guys! Everybody has their part to play and it doesn’t run by itself; you need them. I’m confident about the future!

MM: Thanks for your time.

Michel Maisonneuve

Michel Maisonneuve

Lieutenant-General (Retd) J.O. Michel Maisonneuve, CMM, MSC, CD, is Academic Director of Royal Military College Saint-Jean. He completed 35 years of service in the Canadian Armed Forces in 2007 culminating in the position of Chief of Staff of NATO’s Supreme Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, USA. He also held the position of Assistant Deputy Chief of the Defence Staff in Ottawa.  An Armour officer from 12e Régiment blindé du Canada, Lt. Gen.(Retd) Maisonneuve distinguished himself in progressive leadership and staff positions in Canada and abroad at every level.

 

 

 

(Click on the image below to open up the latest issue of the Vanguard)

Author: Nestor Arellano

Nestor Arellano is editor of Vanguard Magazine. Nestor is a seasoned journalist who has written extensively on defence and military industry issues as well as technology and business developments. He is also associate editor of Vanguard’s sister publication, IT in Canada.

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