Doctrinal Shift: Air Force adjusts to new capabilities, structure and operations
This past December, the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC) published the second edition of Canadian Forces Aerospace Doctrine, a document that is serving as the foundation for a series of publications that will shape how the air force plans and operates, both as a service and with others, well into the future. It will also affect what the air force buys.
Unlike its predecessors, Basic Aerospace Doctrine and Out of the Sun: Aerospace Doctrine for the Canadian Forces, published in 1989 and 1998 respectively, which were criticized for lack of sound theory, the new manual has both the intellectual rigour and the support of the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), and draws heavily from a more robust lessons learned process and expanded concept development. Colonel Derek Joyce, commanding officer of the CFAWC, spoke with associate editor Chris Thatcher about the manual and its impact.
How has aerospace doctrine changed since the publication of Out of the Sun?
There has been an evolutionary process with respect to the air force operational level doctrine. We have done tactical level doctrine very well. But traditionally we’ve had six different air forces, often termed titanium cylinders of excellence, because each community operated in isolation: during the Cold War, the Auroras provided support to anti-submarine warfare operations, the Sea Kings were embarked on frigates and destroyers, the fighters had both a NORAD and European role, and we basically fought as individuals within an overall air force – seldom did we ever integrate our operations. Doctrine is a foundation, not rules, and it has to evolve with operations. But the air force lacked the underlying long-term commitment to continue to evolve doctrine. As doctrine was published, it quickly became stale. There was a recognition that the underpinning academic rigour was not strong enough to really bind these operational doctrines to the air force and, more important, vice versa. So six years ago CFAWC was stood up with the objective to develop operational level doctrine.
Why is the document we are building today any different than Out of the Sun? Well, doctrine changes according to modifications in capabilities, in operations and in structure, and the air force went through a significant structural change with Transformation. You can look at the slow development of the joint force air component command (JFACC) structure, which commences around the first Gulf War. That concept started to creep into CF lexicon in Out of the Sun, but it didn’t take hold. Since General Hillier’s transformation, a joint force air component commander was actually stood up. (This was done by MGen Charlie Bouchard when he was the commander of 1 Canadian Air Division.) The end result was that we gripped this concept of the JFACC. That was one of the driving forces behind our doctrinal shift.
Another is operations. We have established an air expeditionary wing in Afghanistan and we have capabilities working together in a manner which we’ve never seen before. We’ve developed air-land integration pretty successfully, but we are now talking about air-to-air integration, where we have air capabilities working in an integrated fashion to support a land operation. For example, we have Chinooks with troops in the back, supported by Griffons, which is nothing unusual, but now they are supported by a Canadian contracted-unmanned aerial vehicle, the Heron, and on top of that a Hercules capability dropping a specific type of flare to support a night insertion. That level of integration within the air force had never been done before.
A third is air capabilities. As our capabilities are evolving – with the upgrade of the CP 140, the Cyclone, and future capabilities that are coming online – they are bringing with them the potential to facilitate that air-to-air integration through a shared battlespace picture. That is one of our big challenges and doctrine will start working to describe how we are going to operate in that environment.
We’re looking at aerospace from a much broader perspective. Out of the Sun didn’t go into a lot of detail that is necessary to adequately describe how we conduct operations. There are six different functions described in Canadian Forces Aerospace Doctrine – Command, Sense, Act, Shield, Sustain, Generate – we have just published the sustain doctrine and the rest are in various stages of production. These will flesh out our capstone doctrine. But doctrine alone is not going to complete that future piece. So one of the documents we developed in the last year is Projecting Power: Canada’s Air Force 2035, a study on the future security environment, the future capability requirements for the air force and the future operating environment. This is dovetailed with the work of the Chief of Force Development. That will be followed by the future air operating concept, which will complete the picture of where we are going and how we identify capability gaps for the future. It will allow us to start looking at how our capabilities are going to operate, and operate together as an integrated air force, and how they are going to operate in a joint environment with the army and the navy. And will then drive doctrine.
Historically, air force doctrine has reflected U.K., U.S., and more recently NATO and NORAD practices. Are we now seeing something that is distinctly Canadian?
Absolutely. It’s important that when we are drafting doctrine not to ignore the underlying principles of air operations – if we are going to be operating within a coalition environment, then we need to be able to talk the same language. But we’ve learned a lot of lessons from Afghanistan and a number of other operations – in command and control and in air integration – and those need to be reflected in Canadian doctrine. So you are certainly seeing much more of a Canadian flavour coming out in our doctrine than you ever have in the past.
Is doctrine also becoming more “joint” in its development?
Yes, in fact, we take part in the joint working group twice a year with our army and navy brethren – we are chairing one or two of the working groups. And it is not just with respect to doctrine; it’s also concept development and experimentation. We can all build upon each other’s capabilities. We sat down just a couple weeks ago to talk about the future of experimentation within the Arctic. Developing an ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) capability in the Arctic is not just going to support air force operations.
Unmanned systems are a new capability since Out of the Sun. Where do they fit within new doctrine?
We’ve had incredible success in Afghanistan with the contracted Heron project and we’ve learned a lot, which will provide us with a solid foundation for the JUSTAS (Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System) program. We’ve worked those lessons into the Sense doctrine. We’re cognizant that we’ll have a capability gap for a little while as JUSTAS moves forward, but the air force is working to mitigate it in a number of different ways and we’re working hard to ensure we retain the capability to manage unmanned aerial systems in the future.
Cyber also was not on the radar a decade ago. How is it being incorporated?
There are a couple of capabilities that are considered joint: cyber is one and space is another. We don’t drive joint doctrine but we certainly have a collateral interest in cyber and in space. As you can imagine, all of our capabilities are heavily dependant on connectivity and that is only going to become more prevalent as new capabilities come online. So we have a serious concern with any potential vulnerabilities within cyberspace. In schematics that describe the modern battle space, you often see air and land capabilities linked by lightning bolts. Those lightning bolts are critical to being able to fully deploy that capability. We’re very cognizant of any vulnerabilities to those lightning bolts because we rely on them so much.
Given new capabilities and the importance of cyber, have you changed who and how you “generate”?
You’ve touched on a topic that has captured the imagination within the air force. With new capabilities comes a requirement to reflect on whether you have the appropriate skill sets to fully optimize those capabilities. In the Sense domain, with the future potential for us to collect information through the electronic warfare spectrum, we’re asking ourselves whether we have the properly trained skill sets. We talk about creating a fusion ‘bubba’, a person or skill set that can take a number of different ‘sense’ inputs and fuse those into a picture to provide relevant battle space information to a commander. We’re not sure that we have either the numbers or the proper skill sets to do that right now, but we’re looking at it.
Do you run the risk of being overwhelmed by information?
It is very easy to become overwhelmed. The U.S. air force is experiencing a situation where they have far more collection capability than they have analysis capability. We need to make sure that within the CF air force, as we progress our collection abilities, we also progress our analysis capabilities so we don’t end up with a number of different flows of information that we are not capable of assessing.
In terms of air functions, are there specifics that have changed doctrinally as a direct result of Afghanistan?
Within the Act function, the air force has the sub-functions of Shape and Move; there has been significant modifications to both based on what we’ve seen. Our Shape doctrine is still under development, but within the context of Afghanistan we’ve seen the refinement of a Tactical Air Coordination Party construct. You can say the same about the Sense doctrine with respect to the contracted Heron.
What about command and control (C2) in that context?
The best example is the stand up of an air expeditionary wing in Afghanistan, which we had never done before. We have analyzed that new C2 construct from a doctrinal perspective and recognized that this is a new way of conducting air force operations. It has facilitated the development of the air-to-air integration piece, which is a subset of command and control. It didn’t start as a new C2 construct because we slowly trickled in assets – Hercs, then the Heron, then the Griffons and then the purchase of the Chinooks. It was an evolutionary process, a layering of Canadian capabilities to this air expeditionary wing.
On the Sustain front, was there a steep learning curve to sustaining that size of an air wing with that many components?
We hadn’t done that size of operation since Korea. Logistics is the key to any military operation, so we’ve had to be agile in how we sustain those operations through a very interesting mix of planes, trains and automobiles, literally. Those lessons, if not reflected in the current manual, will be reflected in subsequent versions of the Sustain doctrine.
Although doctrine is becoming more joint, how well is this change in air doctrine understood by the army and navy?
They understand. They get the need to continue to develop and sustain air-land integration. From the army’s perspective, what we have added to the fight has made operations safer and much more agile, if you look at the air mobile capability.
Has the requirement for a whole-of-government (WOG) approach forced you to rethink how you operate?
The requirement for secure communications in military operations is very high in many circumstances. Many other government departments have their own command and control communication devices, so for us to be interoperable with the RCMP, for example, is not a given. You can only ensure you have that capability if you train together. For example, we are working on DIRE (Disaster Interoperability Response Exercise), involving Public Safety Canada, the RCMP and the City of Ottawa police to show what is possible in a WOG context within a natural disaster, where a command post is stood up and there is a requirement to facilitate communications because cell phone towers may be down or unavailable in the area, and to provide some level of video surveillance in the area. The experiment involved a fairly basic tethered aerostat, a video camera, and a cell phone communications relay capability.
That interoperability challenge also extends to the Arctic. How does the Arctic affect doctrine? Are there unique challenges to operating there?
The government has been very clear about the importance of the Arctic to Canada, and that has certainly been reflected in the approach that the CF and the air force has taken to supporting and conducting operations up North. The Chief of the Air Staff has developed an Arctic directive in which he is very explicit about how the air force is going to develop its capability. This ISR experiment is just one of those areas. We have challenges: the distance, the lack of communications and other infrastructure, satellite communications above 70 degrees. With the JUSTAS program, we’re looking at how we’ll use UAVs, most of which are made for desert-like conditions, where we have huge icing problems and communication problems. It is going to require a layered capability, not one aircraft or radar or satellite, to solve our problems – a mix of a number of different inputs and capabilities from the army, navy and air force. And that comes back to having that “fusion bubba” and the necessary skill sets, processes and infrastructure to allow us to do that.
Do you have the necessary air assets to meet all the tenets in your current doctrine?
No one capability is going to address all of the tenets. So we have to look at air force capabilities from a much more holistic perspective. Historically, we have been good at becoming capable within our six different air forces. What this operational doctrine is doing, and what CFAWC is encouraging, is the air force conversation writ large: we need to encourage flexible and agile thinking toward how we employ air assets. For example, the F-18 has a sniper pod; if you think about it, you have a fast platform that if there is air-to-air refuelling can stay up for a reasonable amount of time and now has a video capability. While it’s not historically looked at as a ‘sense’ platform, it certainly could be employed in a ‘sense’ function. So when we approach our doctrine, we don’t talk about platforms necessarily, we talk about an effect that needs to be accomplished. We have a lot of different capabilities that can support any one of these tenants. But then again, we certainly have gaps. Many of our aircraft are flexible but flexibility can be improved.
Within the new doctrine, it’s noted that the air force has suffered from a lack of time to do concept development. Has the stand up of CFAWC allowed you do some of that serious long-term thinking?
That is exactly the direction that CFAWC is moving right now. As we come to the conclusion of the first phase of doctrine, we’ve been able to look at some of the other areas in our force development. One of those is concept development. My concept branch is coordinating the development of the future air operating concept. One of the key outcomes of that is going to be the identification of capability gaps, which will then allow us to prioritize them within the CAS staff, which will then drive our concept development process. We’re working to develop a much more comprehensive force development process.
Our mission is to ensure the evolution of aerospace power in Canada. We look at ourselves as the CAS’s think tank. We have extraordinarily capable individuals here with a lot of experience. Our mandate is almost a continuum of activities. We have the ability to look at the environment from a science, from an intelligence and from an academic perspective. To be a learning organization you have to look at what you’ve done, take those lessons and bring them forward. We are in the midst of rolling out an air force lessons learned program. It’s a cultural change, but we will be successful – there’s a huge amount of impetus here. Finally, there is an educational piece that we are developing. We’re pushing the envelope on synthetic training more and more, to the extent that we want to be able to hook up simulators from across the air force into our C2 structure so that we can run simulated exercises to ensure we maintain that air-to-air integration piece.
An interview with Col Derek Joyce.