Since the release of Canadian Forces Aerospace Doctrine in 2010, the Royal Canadian Air Force has been publishing a range of functional doctrinal documents to describe how it moves, shields and sustains its operations, based on the lessons observed in recent missions.

Among those is Command, published within six months of the conclusion of the Libyan air campaign, a critical component in the RCAF’s thinking about its future networking architecture. Along with additional operational doctrine, the air force is expect to release later this year a capstone document known as Air Force Vectors that will articulate its long-term vision, and a five-year campaign plan that will address resource issues and the steps required to achieve that vision. Combined, the documents lay a framework of guiding principles for future air force capability.

Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, Chief of the Air Force Staff, spoke with editor Chris Thatcher about doctrine, the lessons learned process and some of the drivers behind future operating concepts.

The Command doctrine is a direct result of lessons learned in Libya and Afghanistan. Put it into context with the wider changes taking place in air force doctrine.

Command doctrine is an important one because it incorporates the lessons from command and control (C2) of air power on operations – especially in the joint domain. It answers how we configure ourselves to be effective without too much overhead, how we give joint commanders what they need in air power advice to execute their missions. That has always been a difficult problem to crack because no mission is ever the same as the last one, and there is always a robust debate around how we should configure air power to deliver effects with whomever we are partnered. Over the last two years, but especially in Libya, we have had a chance to test drive the 2010 aerospace doctrine, and in there are the big lessons learned about different C2 models. We have pressure-tested C2 in various domains – humanitarian, combat, domestic security – and tried different constructs of command elements to support joint operations. We now have a couple of models that I am confident will be serviceable for the future.

Are there specific outcomes as a result of this testing?

One direct result of lessons learned is the expeditionary air wing in Bagotville that will be formed this summer. Although it has been in the works since 2008, how we plan deploying has changed significantly. Even recently in Libya, we saw the need to embed more robust C2 elements inside the air expeditionary wing to be able to do the activities we did – plug into a complex coalition with what we had in hand, link back to Canada through our Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Winnipeg, and through the joint element in Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM) in Ottawa. We learned that you have to have the right bits to make it all connect at the right time. And you have to have the right skill sets. The people you deploy need to be able to quickly operate in that complex environment.

So with the air expeditionary wing, we are putting into the box the flexibility to adjust to any given environment. If there is not robust infrastructure or communications architecture, we will bring kit to enable us to connect so we can operate quickly. We rely on our people to be innovative and find solutions, but it would be nice to give them a stronger starting point when they get on the ground. The air wing is the accumulation of knowledge from operations over the last decade. More important, we are embedding the doctrinal C2 lessons, and as the operational commanders such as CEFCOM and Canada Command evolve their C2 architecture, we’ll be able to plug into that.

Are you designing and buying this architecture jointly?

There is an agreement on communications standards. That is a centrally CF-driven process. We do try to acquire common kit where it is applicable, but if it is air-specific, we buy what is portable and works for us, and works with other air powers. But we know we have to be able to execute under a common CF command architecture – we can’t have separate networks that can’t talk to each other. That is probably the biggest change in the last two years. There is a big C4ISR (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) initiative, which is the Holy Grail, but there is still a lot of work to be done so that every CF element can plug seamlessly into that network on operations. It is tied back to CF Transformation, which is building the CF architecture for command and control.

Were there other lessons?

My own air force needs to connect itself. In ‘60s through the ‘80s, we were built around NATO and NORAD constructs. Our standards and procedures tended to be functionally aligned but not jointly aligned. So our fighter force worked well within the NOARD construct and with NATO partners; it even worked well in support of Land forces. But it did not necessarily work well with our own helicopters because they didn’t have a natural affinity to work together. So over the last several years – and Afghanistan was certainly a forcing function – we had to break those so-called cylinders of excellence because we had to operate seamlessly as an air force inside a theatre of operations without having duplication of effort. That demonstrated that we needed to do a lot more team building across those cylinders. We’re not quite there yet; there are some technological limitations. Our maritime patrol aircraft work well with the navy because their datalinks, their architecture is built to do that. But as we found out in Libya, the CP-140s were not necessarily able to share the same picture with the CF-18s. They saw things through their sensors, they could talk, the information would be networked, but it was networked in the more traditional fashion rather than easily accessible shared situational awareness. That is the next step.

In Libya we worked with what we had. But we’d like to move beyond tactical work-arounds because they limit how far and how fast you can push information. We need to move it up to the operational level, so we can share that information with another platform in the same airspace, with a ship or with headquarters in Naples so everybody has the same picture at the same time. The platforms are important but if you don’t have the right network in the middle you will have less efficient platforms. We need the capacity to process, push or display information in a way that we need it. We all know those challenges but Libya has certainly reinforced them. The CF is also driving at this because we all – air, land, sea and special forces – see the same need. It would also reduce duplication of effort and eventually become a resource multiplier.

Is the Joint Force Air Component Command still key to that network?

The commander of the Combined Air Operations Centre in Winnipeg has multiple hats: he is commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and his job is to generate an operational air force; and he’s the Joint Force Air Component commander. When there is an operation requiring air support, the operational commander will turn to him for air support planning. In the past, people typically requested what they knew. Doctrine now says, don’t tell us the platform, tell us what effect do you need us to generate and we will generate the solution. Don’t be so concerned about what platform shows up to do the job; we have a lot more multi-role capable platforms. That is a fairly significant change. When we do exercises with the army or navy, we put that same doctrine to work so they get used to it. So they now know, no matter where they are in the world, the CAOC are the guys to call to deliver a solution.

If network operations are the bedrock of your future operating concept, how are you addressing the challenge of information analysis? Do you have the people?

That is the 64 million dollar question. The answer right now is no. We need to figure out how to differentiate between intelligence and information management. They are not necessarily the same thing. Intelligence is a “so what” activity, seeing something and linking that to an outcome. Fusion is gathering information and putting it in packages for those who need to make decisions on effects. Right now we tend to blur intelligence – it’s all treated as intelligence. The problem is that we don’t have enough intelligence operators. That’s a refined skill set. We have to gain a more sophisticated view of how to do that process, and that requires either more people or technology.

In the air force, as we gain more powerful sensors, there needs to be a certain degree of fusion before information goes into that joint environment. The CAOC is the central point for that, but that can become people-intensive and we can’t really afford that. Our goal is to create the network architecture that allows us to centralize this function so that we can concentrate these skill sets. We are tracking toward that model. We’re not there yet because the infrastructure, all the things that allow you to pull information to one central node, is not quite there. There’s an expense to that as well. It goes back to C4ISR: we’re working to build at least the air force connectivity so that we can manage our assets in centralized fusion. We may not be able to do it with all of the older platforms, but we will as we introduce new systems.

In recent presentations, you’ve noted the challenge of cyber and knowledge management. Do you require new skill sets?

We don’t have a trade called fusion tech. We also don’t have a trade called cyber and cyber is another domain that we are still at the early stages of developing a force structure that would be useful in that domain. Cyber is a joint issue for the CF but there is a large air force element. We are very dependent on networks and we’re vulnerable if we don’t have a good understanding of how cyber could affect our capability. It will probably mean evolving some of our trade structures to specialize people in those domains.

Given the cross-service requirements, is there more emphasis on developing doctrine jointly?

The main purpose of the Chief of Force Development is joint doctrine. They have been working on the joint doctrine piece, the right command and control architecture and common standards, both for training and equipment. That process has always been there but it is getting more robust because, as we get more into space-based issues, complexity is evolving. The joint domain is going to become more prevalent in our procurement. Anything we buy has to go through a joint procurement board where it is assessed against interoperability, CF joint standards, and joint doctrine.

You’ve expressed concern about the lessons learned process. How is it changing?

The aerospace warfare centre was created in 2005-06 to bring a long-term institutional perspective. The challenge has always been to create the skill set at the tactical and operational levels so that people actually understand what they are supposed to do in the lessons learned process. The warfare centre has done a great job of building a structure, and I think we have found a way of teaching lessons learned that doesn’t become overbearing to the tactical level. We now teach courses to help get into a lessons learned mindset rather than, here’s the manual, go ahead and do it. That is where we failed in the past.

But we also have to validate if a lesson is in fact a better way of doing something. So we have a more robust experimentation cycle now that allows us to test out concepts in advance of. The warfare centre has allowed us to do more experimentation, often connected with the Canadian Forces Warfare Centre, through advanced software. As that progresses, we’ll be able to simulate all key elements in a joint environment where we can all get online at the same time and practice what we say we are going to do.

Experimentation is a big part of our process to institutionalize lessons learned, which feeds back to doctrine – if they identify the right tool, it gets put into the tool box, and taught at our schools. And that drives procurement. When we do operational requirements, it is based on reality and doctrine: here’s what we need to do, this is typically how we’d do the job, do we have the tools? If we don’t and we can’t modify what we have, then it becomes a procurement initiative.

Speaking of procurement and networking, how close are you to a decision on JUSTAS? You have been experimenting with UAVs for a number of years now.

We’re in the options analysis phase. We’re approaching the point where we can go to government and seek approval to start spending some money on definition and then implementation. Actually, it’s been good to build a bit of experience with UAVs; a few years ago we would have been very challenged because technology hadn’t quite caught up. Sometimes the longer you wait the better off you are because technology actually moves so fast that you get a different option. The downside is that the longer you wait, inflation keeps eating away at your money. There is a fine balance between waiting for the perfect solution and going with what you know is going to be sufficient to meet your needs. I think we are in that window now where we feel there is sufficient technology to meet all our needs.

There has been recent talk about a pilot shortage. How significant is that?

We’re getting people in the door, our challenge is to train them and get them operationally effective. That is where we have had some lag. There has been good progress on some of our trade training in Borden, especially our technician trades, using technology to shorten the time it takes to develop a certified aircraft mechanic, for instance. It used to be about four years; we’ve got it down to around two and a half. On the pilot side we’ve had technical problems that have caused certain fleets to stop flying for a while until we fixed it. We haven’t solved all the problems but we’ve got most of our training fleets squared away. We’re still working on some issues with our CT-155 Hawk jet trainer, which is challenging some of our throughput. We expect to solve that but in the meantime I can’t produce as many pilots as I would like to make sure we keep up to demand.

There has always been a shortage of 200-300 pilots in the institution because our pilots are part of the officer corps and they have to man positions in staff, and a lot of those are pilot-based occupation skills. So we have to train them, develop them and put them into staff jobs. So when we say we have a pressure of 300 short pilots, our cockpits are actually full; we are short in the institutions because we can’t generate enough folks through the pilot process to fill all the places we’re supposed to. We’re probably a few years away from stabilizing that, but we’re on the right path.