In July, Lieutenant-General Marquise Hainse assumed command of the Canadian Army, stepping into the role at a time when it is closing out its training mission in Afghanistan and dealing with ongoing budget constraints.

Hainse brings a blend of operational and staff experience, including deputy commander Regional Command South in Afghanistan and, most recently, deputy commander of Allied Joint Force Command Naples, as well as an understanding of army training and education as commander of Land Force Doctrine and Training System. He spoke with editor Chris Thatcher about what those operational and budget challenges represent as the army aligns for the next decade.

How have you approached the first few months?

What I have tried to do in my first couple of months is understand the sandbox – what is being done in the army, what needs to be done – and I have created an army operating framework to capture the main activities. I have told my people: make sure before you put resources, time and effort into any initiative that it is linked to one of those activities.

It is my job to make sure we protect the army capabilities and I will do what it takes to maintain those capabilities. Training will be protected, our readiness will be protected and we will maintain a strong Reserve force, which is key. We have to make sure all army members understand the army narrative and we need to own Army 2021, the concept of adaptive dispersed operations, which I think is asymmetric right now within the army.

Given your career experience, how do you view Army 2021?

I look at Army 2021 as a spectrum. At one end you have the current task of three roles and six missions that the Canada First Defence Strategy provides, and at the other you have Army 2021, which is informed by what we think the future security environment will be and by what we think the force employment model should be. Once we understand this, then we can start building a structure that will bring us to Army 2021. It’s not a destination, it’s a point on a journey. It’s a planning tool that will help guide our effort.

I am not trying to reinvent the wheel, I want to make sure that we are well aligned. So my first priority is to get that alignment, in terms of CFDS, that we all have the same understanding of the future security environment, and we agree that adaptive dispersed operations still works, and where we are in terms of the capacity build to get there.

My predecessor [LGen Pete Devlin] organized it in three phases: 2013, 2016 and 2021. I am comfortable with this. What does 2013 provide me? Intellectually, the challenge was to capture what we learned from both our pre-Afghanistan conventional war training and then the lessons of Afghanistan. And I feel that we have done so. 2016 involves ensuring we have placed those new skills and capabilities we acquired from our Afghanistan experience at the right level: should they be at the battle group or the brigade level, for instance?

2021 is: how do you transform this from 2016 to 2021? You need to align yourself, and we are doing this. We have to ensure we understand the security environment and that we have the right structure, which speaks to another priority of mine. I am a symmetric guy, not asymmetric. With the size of our army, I don’t see the need to be too specialized with various units. I am a big proponent of having similar organizations that can be versatile. So if I have to produce battle group after battle group or brigade headquarters after brigade HQ, we don’t have to retrain, it is already a package that exists that is common to all. Geography and budget will play a role in terms of the sustainability of this, but I believe that structure will help make sure we are transiting successfully to 2021.

How do you retain the enablers and skill sets you have acquired when you don’t have the challenge of a large-scale mission? At a certain point, training is just training for your young leaders.

It is always easier to retain those capabilities when you have a focused operation. As you rightly point out, we do not have that. But we will always have those little operations that remind us why we need those enablers. Take the recent deployment of the DART [Disaster Assistance Response Team]. One of the key enablers we have evolved in the last couple years is government engagement, influence activities. Engagement is key to the DART. We still need to work at it, but we now have a division [1st Canadian Division] that is well suited and really the leader in that joint, interagency and multinational piece. When you look at our response to the Philippines, we could not have done it that quickly if we did not have an organization like 1st Cdn Div that maintained that engagement and influence activities through exercises.

I do plan on a yearly basis when we do our road to high readiness to invite the other agencies to join us. And the joint piece will also be there. We will continue to practice those engagement capabilities that now need to be integrated into the way we do business, the same way the artillery or armour are integrated.

We have talked about this challenge before. How hard is it now to get other departments involved in exercises without the immediate demands of a mission, given their own time and budget constraints?

It is harder, but since we talked in 2009, things have evolved. Then, they were really conceptual. Now we actually have some nascent organizations in every army division and we need to keep building on them. I am confident that we will be able to maintain that expertise, especially for the division that will be on the road to high readiness. For me, that speaks to maintaining army capabilities and these are capabilities we cannot afford to lose.

You are also introducing new assets such as Chinook helicopters and vehicle fleets. How are they built into the Army 2021 game plan and do you have resources at the moment to manage them?

It is built into the game plan. It is all part of alignment, which is why alignment is a first priority. What I want to understand for that family of land combat vehicles, for example, is where are they going to be fielded, how are they going to be filled to have a symmetric army that is polyvalent and versatile. I have been through that process. It is a key part in the future structure. I’m not claiming we have it 100 percent right, but waypoint 2016 will help us understand where we are and where we want to be in terms of the distribution of the vehicles as they come in.

The Chinook will give us a lot of power to protect ourselves, which is a key characteristic of the future security environment. We are talking about longer distance, about having more autonomy, about having dispersed operations, about an enhanced network – this is all the basis of the employment concept of adaptive dispersed operations.

How do you see the role of the modernized Light Armoured Vehicle, the Close Combat Vehicle or the tanks in that context?

Again, you have to look at it as a spectrum: tanks, CCV, LAV, indirect fire, all those vehicles will ensure that we are able to play a role within the spectrum of conflict, be it humanitarian, peace support operations, counterinsurgency or pure war fighting. When you get in that messy middle between peace support operations and all out war, which is part of that security environment consideration, that is where we need to have flexibility. So to me, having those type of capacities will allow me to be more versatile, to use those when needed, if needed. If I don’t need tanks, I don’t use them. But I know that if I lose expertise on the tanks and I need them, I can’t just bring that back. Many armies that are getting rid of their tanks are building a CCV-type capacity that is much stronger. I think we are too small an army to be too specialized. But if we maintain our ability to be versatile and have all of those capabilities to a certain number, I think we will be able to face the future.

I should add that I have had the chance to meet with my American, European, Asian and Americas counterparts lately, and we all share pretty much the same view of what the future will hold: operations that are more asymmetric than symmetric, but we must not lose the capability to do foundation war fighting.

Specific to the network piece, the army has been going through a digitization process. Looking over that next five-year horizon, are there critical elements you need addressed?

I think we have come a long way in building that digitized battle space. Afghanistan has proven that we can do it, but we need to bring it one step further. Our land support control system right now needs to be improved. Right now we rely a lot on the main base. We are able to command and control forward but I wouldn’t say we have solved the code yet to be able to have units or subunits at the same level of digitization that we had at Kandahar HQ, for example. You will always need a place that is static to base your digitization, but how do I enable the subordinate HQ to be well connected and be able to project forward and still have the same level of digitization? This is where we need to improve in Horizon 1 and 2.

The Canadian Armed Forces stood up the Arctic training centre this summer, a partnership with Natural Resources Canada. What is the longer–term goal for the army and the training you can provide?

The Arctic has been a priority for a while and we now have a firm base that we did not have before. The army has been appointed to lead that effort. So now we are going to resource it – if we are not at operating capacity, we are very close. It will allow us to take advantage of our Arctic response company group and start to train on a rotation basis. We also have one more tool in the toolbox for search and rescue. Our Rangers have a role in SAR and the centre gives us another place from where we can draw assets. The future will be to expand training and exercises and to grow our presence. The joint piece is crucial because nothing happens in the Arctic by itself.

Are there any plans to make that a training centre for other countries that might be looking for assistance in Arctic operations?

We are not there yet. Could that be a possibility? There is certainly interest from countries that I have talked to that would like exposure to the Arctic. My response has been, we’ll bring them to the cold first – let’s start with Edmonton or north of Quebec City and then we can talk about the Arctic.

What has been the most significant impact of budget reductions?

This is the reality of fiscal constraint – we have to roll up our sleeves and contribute like the other departments. It is not business as usual, not just because of the budget but also because we are in a post-Afghanistan era and we don’t have to produce a battle group every six months. So we have to readjust our managed readiness plan over a one-year period. We need to have a different cycle that makes sense for the time being, but still protects the operational capability of the army. So I have a few lines that we need to be very careful not to cross. Training at the team level is key to me, what we call level 5. We have a 36-month cycle and if you are on the one-year road to high readiness, you will do concentrated training every three months. We used to do this every six months.

I think we have accepted that not all forces need to be at high readiness all the time – just a portion within each division, such as the first reaction unit. If you are not on the road to high readiness and not one of those designated response units, then you will be subject to reconstitution and training at a lower level, which is acceptable.

Have budget reductions affected your ability to train and exercise abroad?

I think we need to be wiser. We need to leverage opportunities and one is the joint piece. With budget constraints, we have an opportunity to look at who is doing what, where and contribute together. Let’s synergize a bit more than we have done in the past and leverage joint opportunities. With regard to big exercises, we will have to reduce it one level, but I’m a proponent right now of smaller unit exchange, which is what we used to do before Afghanistan. But I think that’s okay as long as we protect that road to high readiness and leverage joint exercises that are happening Canadian Forces-wide.

You have met recently with your counterparts in Latin America. Given some of their similar budget issues, are you discussing sharing training opportunities?

The American armies have a bit of a different view, but I think there are opportunities for a lot more exchanges than we have done in the past. Is there an opportunity to share the load? I think that is still very nascent at this point. On exchanges, though, we have done that with Brazil and Belize. Could we do a jungle type exchange with Columbia? Possibly. More with Chile in terms of small unit exchange as I know we share some of the same equipment? Likely. We are still working on this with like-minded countries. It is more sharing experience than sharing the load at this point. They are very interested in disaster relief operations. There are working groups in the Conference of American Armies looking at those types of initiatives. For instance, we have offered to lead a working group on post traumatic stress disorder. We all have the same issues and it’s an area that many leaders are starting to think about. We have all agreed that this is something that can be done in the future.