As the Canadian Armed Forces anticipates future expeditionary operations, it sees a future not dissimilar to its recent past: full spectrum Canadian contributions and leadership to multinational coalitions, with their full range of military capabilities, working in collaboration with other government agencies, NGOs and indigenous forces.

While the CAF frequently exercises the interoperability of land, air, maritime and special forces, it has had far less experience training as Joint Task Forces, including operational level and national headquarters. In JOINTEX 2013, which concluded its fifth and final Stage in June, the CAF integrated three live Army, Navy and Air Force exercises with a complex virtual environment to exercise the relationship between a coalition headquarters, a Canadian-led Combined Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (CJIATF) – as ¬well as the national command and support elements deployed – all connected to the national Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) in Ottawa.

Lieutenant-General Stu Beare, Commander of CJOC, refers to it as “playing it out here before we live it out there.” He spoke with editor Chris Thatcher about the exercise and some of the lessons learned.

What were you replicating and how different was it from other training events?

You have three major muscle movements going on in JOINTEX. One is in a coalition context in which we have contributed maritime, air, land and special operations forces (SOF) to a multinational operation. Also, we are commanding forces of other nations. And, notwithstanding how much coalition leadership we put down range, we still need to project our national command and control (C2) systems, intelligence architectures and sustainment forward so that back home we can monitor operations, provide C2 and intelligence to our people, and support the forces we send. We do not typically exercise national C2, intelligence and sustainment if we are not in an operation. So JOINTEX became a replication of an operation that allowed us to exercise national command, not just coalition command; national intelligence, not just coalition intelligence; and the sustainment procedures that we would use in a real-world operation. So the training audience for JOINTEX included my headquarters, our Command at large.

The coalition leadership was displayed in Afghanistan and Libya: did you identify specific lessons that needed to be addressed?

We knew we needed to continue to exercise use of force and rules of engagement (ROE). So we put everybody from the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) on down into the same use of force and ROE environment, which has to be practiced. Then, informed by our ROEs, we exercised targeting and the application of lethal and nonlethal force to achieve campaign outcomes. Just because you can see it doesn’t mean you can shoot it. There is a lot of intelligence preparation, ‘weaponeering’ and operational and national commander decision-making involved in use of force. We were able to exercise those procedures, informed by the C2 and intelligence architecture we built for the exercise.

The third piece was sustainment. Land forces travel with an echelon, air squadrons travel with an expeditionary wing, ships are sustained by fleet logistics services, but what is the sustainment framework for the entire CAF contribution to operations at large? We were able to deploy the Joint Task Force Support Component (JTFSC) to provide real sustainment to the real forces involved in the exercise, but also exercise procedures as if we were supporting over 15,000 CAF within the 80,000 strong virtual forces that were in the exercise scenario.

In the scenario, MGen John Collin, commander of 1st Canadian Division Headquarters (1st Cdn Div HQ), was working for a three star coalition commander played by LGen (Ret’d) Charlie Bouchard. He was the combined force commander and commanded an air component, a maritime component and three land joint task forces (CJIATF). MGen Collin commanded one of those CJIATFs with one live brigade (1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group) in Wainwright, 5 CMBG (virtual from Valcartier) and a 3rd brigade (U.S. and virtual). He used air, maritime and SOF capabilities to execute his operations, some real/live but most virtual. While we may have committed 7,500 real men and women to the exercise, since MGen Collin’s forces were predominantly virtual and he was being confronted by a virtual enemy, the majority of his C2 challenge was not the live force in Wainwright but his virtual forces being played by headquarters and simulated across Canada.

What makes this a first is that we were able to connect the live and virtual forces to a shared scenario through the systems and technology the CF Warfare Centre put together, connecting our maritime component HQ in Halifax, the Joint Force Air Component Commander in Winnipeg, the Combined Aerospace Operations Centre in Cold Lake, the CJIATF, deployed national command element, the Air Expeditionary Wing, JTFSC in Wainwright, the Naval Task Group in Victoria, the virtual 5 Brigade HQ in Valcartier, the virtual U.S. brigade at our warfare centre and my CJOC headquarters.

How conscious were participants of the ‘reality’ unfolding in a largely virtual environment?

They became conscious very fast. If you were the commander of 5 Brigade sitting in Valcartier, you saw the same battle space as General Collin, you participated in the same planning, battle procedure and operations – you were in his daily battle rhythm.

Some folks got so into the scenario that, if you were in the JCIATF HQ, you’d swear the virtual forces were real. You’d get frustrated when both virtual and ‘real’ things don’t go like you’d want them to. The training environment was very immersive, to the point where even here in my HQ, when we were doing the targeting, we knew it was virtual, but it was, “show me the operational necessity, the risks, the collateral damage, and where this fits in the commander’s design.”

There is huge value in having the live force plugged into this because live forces take a little bit more time, have a little bit more friction than digits on a screen, and are much more interactive when there is something going wrong or something they don’t understand. None of that would have been possible if we hadn’t built the C2 system which allows you to have the visualization of the operating environment, that allows people to interact with data and voice. And the distribution kept people home, made it cheaper and made it more effective.

You have spoken in the past about improving stewardship over CAF joint integrating capabilities. Does JOINTEX address that?

JOINTEX is a huge animator of the joint capability agenda. It allows you to take what you have in terms of joint capability, in particular communications, intelligence and sustainment, and exercise it. This is a “don’t tell me it works, show me it works” event. Show me the pipes work, the data is interchangeable, that we are able to reach into other intelligence sources and bring a coherent intelligence picture to commanders, that we can deploy the Joint Task Force component and interoperate between forces when it comes to health services and logistics. And by “doing,” we find where the gaps and overlaps are so we know what we need to work on.

The biggest benefactor of the JOINTEX experience, besides the people who got a hell of a ride doing something they never imagined, was the visualization of what we have and don’t have in our command and control system, and in terms of networks and intelligence. Chief of Force Development and the C4ISR world were the biggest observers. JOINTEX informs our needs and allows us to figure out how to satisfy them. And the warfare centre, as a battle lab for that C2 system, means we can keep adapting it between operations and exercises.

You now have a lengthy list of critical topics: What is your priority?

The big takeaway is that we should expect that we may be required to do something like a JOINTEX scenario, and we have just demonstrated we can. And, we can get better at this with investments in service and joint capabilities. In terms of specific capabilities, we need to continue to refine our understanding of coalition C2 and national C2, and continue to advance our national C2 system development so that it is either the backbone for the coalition or it can be easily integrated with a coalition.

How much is your evolving joint doctrine driving collective training and education?

The CAF now has JOINTEX, Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), Nanook and Determined Dragon (a continental defence exercise with NORAD and US NORTHCOM) as four exercises that form the Forces’ joint (multi-environmental) collective training baseline at the joint operational level. We are able now to take joint operations doctrine, work with the Canadian Defence Academy and Forces College on what is instructed, build it into our collective training exercises and take it for a test drive through those four exercises. Then we can take the lessons learned, re-spool the doctrine, adapt our structure, inform new capability requirements like C2 and reintroduce these into education, training and exercises.

What is striking is the amount of innovation that has gone on in joint land warfare based on recent operations: provincial reconstruction teams, observer, mentor and liaison teams, air-land integration, incredible intelligence capabilities, UAVs, airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) – operations pulled that innovation. What I observed in JOINTEX was the opportunity to innovate akin to the Afghan and other recent operations experiences. There is a huge opportunity – through these collective training events – to continue to innovate and evolve the force, and build experience in our leaders and our people, absent having thousands of them deployed.

Where are the other government departments in this?

Foreign Affairs participated and CIDA was modestly involved in Stage 4. There is room for improvement in how we integrate and involve our partners in exercises. In a real operation, they are all in but in a training environment it is hard to attract people when their day jobs are pulling them away. There is certainly interest from Foreign Affairs to incorporate this kind of activity into their training requirements.

What will you be looking for from JOINTEX 2015?

2015 will be similar in terms of its ambition. The CDS and I have gone over the big brush strokes and his Commanders’ Council will be engaged to confirm JOINTEX 15 objectives. Fundamentally, we want to recreate the opportunity to fully replicate Canadian Forces in a coalition scenario, commanding a CJIATF, owning part of an AOR (area of responsibility) in the multi-national campaign, and to fully replicate the national command, ISR and sustainment backbone. All of this is to advance our capability but also to exercise the muscle of the people who do or prepare to do the business of operations every day.

JOINTEX 15 will be informed by the lessons of RIMPAC 2014. In that multi-national live exercise, instead of having Canadians commanding a CJIATF, we are going to put people in component command positions – specifically maritime and air. And I will deploy the national command, intelligence and sustainment to take care of real people but also to plug into the scenario. While air, maritime and land forces will train within their respective components and will be supported by our national command element and JTFSC deployed to RIMPAC, we will be tracking the entire RIMPAC “in scenario” campaign back here in Canada. And I’ll be able to exercise national command and control, intelligence, sustainment, including targeting and other operational level procedures. I am incredibly enthusiastic about JOINTEX 15 as are all those who saw and contributed to this year’s incredible effort.