During the past decade the Canadian Forces (CF) have conducted combat operations in Afghanistan and Libya, provided disaster assistance in Haiti, and assisted government with security for the Olympics, the G8 and G20 Summits. These events however are just the tip of the iceberg in a litany of complex and varied daily activities the CF must manage.

As one small part of preparing our leaders for this environment, the CF senior leadership in April 2008 directed the Canadian Forces College to make a number of changes in the delivery of professional military education for mid- and senior-level officers.

The College, located in Toronto, provides professional military education to officers from major to brigadier general (and their naval equivalents) and civilian executives from other government departments and industry. The College is also responsible for the CF’s senior non-commissioned member professional development activities conducted in St-Jean, Quebec.

Of particular note are changes to two major programs conducted in Toronto, the Joint Command and Staff Program (JCSP) and the National Security Program (NSP).

The JCSP is primarily designed for majors and lieutenant colonels and their naval equivalents, but there have also been DND civilians and police officers attending. The stated aim of the JCSP is “to prepare selected senior officers of the Defence Team for command and/or staff appointments in a contemporary operating environment across the continuum of operations in national and international settings.” As its aim implies, JCSP is the bridge between tactical and strategic. While it bleeds into both, it does so only to understand tactical limitations and strategic realities at the operational level.

What is new for the JCSP is that it is delivered as both a 10-month full-time residential program and as a two-year part-time distance learning program. Approximately 130 students attend the residential program, 20 to 25 of whom are officers from other nations. The distance learning program has approximately 125 officers in each of the two years. Although officers from other nations also participate, what is unique and new is that both regular and reserve force officers attend.

The JCSP is delivered as seven courses. Residential students complete all courses in 10 months. Individuals who choose to complete an additional two-credit research project have the opportunity to complete a Master of Defence Studies degree. All courses delivered as part of the JCSP are graduate courses and the degree is granted by the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC) and accredited through the Ontario provincial education system.

The second program that is significant for CFC is the National Security Program. The NSP is designed for colonels, naval captains and civilian executives from government and industry. A significantly smaller group of approximately 30 is split almost equally between CF officers, international officers and civilians.

Recognizing the challenges associated with the contemporary security environment and the limitations within the existing development program for senior officers, the Armed Forces Council (AFC) direction in 2008 indicated that the aim of the NSP was to “prepare all participants for employment as strategic-level leaders and managers, and military officers as operational-level joint task force commanders and senior staff.” Based on lessons from the first two serials of NSP, the latter part of this aim has been removed and the focus is solely on the strategic responsibilities in a complex and ambiguous security environment.

Two key issues differentiate the NSP from its earlier programs. First, the AFC directed that NSP be conducted “along post-graduate study lines” with an optional RMCC Master of Arts degree as part of the package. This mandate necessarily changed the flavour of the NSP. Second, there was a clear requirement to include civilian participation in the program if the issues associated with strategic level national security were to be dealt with properly.

Similar to JCSP, the NSP courses are graduate courses and connected to a specific degree at RMCC. The Master’s degree requires an additional economics course and a two-credit research project.

The connection of CFC programs to graduate courses within RMCC supports the requirement for senior officers and government executives to think critically, deal with complexity and uncertainty and make reasonable decisions. Studying at CFC has moved from a predominantly lecture based environment to small group seminar work with significantly more time for students to read, write, prepare for class and think seriously about their profession.

Much as the security environment has changed, so too has the learning experience at CFC. Both the curriculum content and the learning environment have evolved to meet today’s challenges. For those fortunate to attend CFC, it is an opportunity to study their profession in greater depth and prepare themselves for the challenges they will face in the future.

Dr. J.Craig Stone is the Director of Academics for the Canadian Forces College.