Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
National Security and Defence

Issue 13 - Evidence - Meeting of March 25, 2013


OTTAWA, Monday, March 25, 2013

The Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence met this day at 4 p.m. to examine and report on Canada's national security and defence policies, practices, circumstances and capabilities; and for the consideration of a draft budget to study the state of operational readiness of Canadian Forces bases and their importance to the defence of Canada and Canadian interests and, more specifically, the capacity of their infrastructure, personnel and equipment.

Senator Pamela Wallin (Chair) in the chair.

[English]

The Chair: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence for Monday, March 25. We have two different vantage points on the state of the Canadian Armed Forces today. We begin with Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin.

Transformation is really under way in the Canadian Armed Forces, in general, and it is part of a process of finding savings and efficiencies and a better way of doing business, and it is all part of how the military prepares to deal with the future. We have heard about these issues from the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Lawson, who was with us last week, and from the commanders of the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy and the new Canadian Joint Operations Command.

Today we are pleased to have before the committee the Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant- General Yvan Blondin. General Blondin has been a fighter pilot, a fighter squadron commander and a wing commander serving in Canada and Europe. He also served on the Canadian staff at NORAD HQ in Colorado Springs. He was Director of Staff at NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan. More recently, in Winnipeg, he wore two hats as Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and also Commander of the Canadian NORAD Region. He was Deputy Commander of the RCAF before assuming command last September.

Welcome. We very pleased to have you here today. I understand you have some opening remarks.

Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, National Defence: Thank you for the introduction. Madam Chair and committee members, thank you sincerely for the opportunity to address the important matter of air force readiness. Over the recent years, the operational tempo of the Royal Canadian Air Force operations has been unparalleled.

[Translation]

We deployed to Libya, to Jamaica and, most recently to Mali. We provided an airborne surveillance and interception capacity to meet Iceland's peacetime preparedness needs as part of a NATO mandate. We are returning there next month to carry out this mission again.

We operated in Afghanistan, and we are still moving personnel and equipment between theatre and Canada.

[English]

At home, we assisted during natural disasters and supported security at the Olympics and the G8 and G20 summits. Last year our search and rescue crews were tasked more than 1,000 times to assist Canadians in danger. We continue to carry out our NORAD mission, protecting North America and its maritime approaches; and we guard Canadian sovereignty.

Those are only the most visible of the activities we carry out on a daily basis.

During this time, the RCAF also underwent a significant modernization. We developed new capabilities and accepted new or modernized aircraft fleets, and we are preparing to accept more new fleets in the near and long terms.

[Translation]

Madam Chair, we all know the world is not getting any safer.

But during times of crisis, Canadians and their allies know that the Royal Canadian Air Force can be counted on to provide rapid, effective support.

We have been tremendously successful, and I have an extremely high standard to maintain.

[English]

My number one policy is to build on our successes, to ensure our continued readiness to take on whatever the government asks of us at any time and to set the conditions for continued operational excellence.

However, while we face an uncertain global security environment, our military, like the militaries of many of our allies, is dealing with fiscal realities. The RCAF must do its part to help balance the books as we adjust our activities and budgets to a post-Afghanistan context.

I am committed, therefore, to ensuring our continued operational excellence while making diligent and responsible use of taxpayers' money. Let me be clear, however. I will do this while protecting our force generation and operational readiness, as well as the knowledge and capabilities we have acquired over the past years. In this way, we will ensure long-term success.

There are a number of specific actions we are taking to achieve this balance. First, I am reviewing how we deliver on our mandate to seek areas where we can adjust our spending. Looking at the longer term, I intend to put greater emphasis on the use of simulation and synthetic environments, and to capitalize on innovation.

[Translation]

Canadian industry is a world leader in developing simulation technology. I plan to take advantage of this.

[English]

We will review our training needs and determine where and how we can increase our use of simulation. A more robust use of simulation can actually help us train more effectively, as it allows us to control the training environment and create scenarios that would simply be too dangerous to practise in real life.

Training in virtual environments will also realize operational savings in fuel expenditures and maintenance. It will reduce the wear and tear on our fleets, thereby extending their lives, and it will reduce our overall carbon footprint.

Capitalizing on innovation is about more than just embracing new technologies. We must also create a work environment that fosters new ideas and concepts. We will leverage our members' experience and brain power, and give them the support they need to develop smart, creative solutions that will make the RCAF more efficient and effective.

[Translation]

In addition to ensuring operational excellence, one of my top priorities is supporting our proud, dedicated and professional airmen and airwomen. They are the reason for our success.

[English]

We will ensure that our financial adjustments do not affect their care. We will focus on supporting our people and their families in ways that range from improved career paths to improved access to child care. This is good for our members and their families, and it is good for the RCAF. It makes economic sense to retain people rather than hire new ones. When people leave the air force, it takes years of training and tremendous amounts of money to replace them. Ensuring they and their families have our full support and the best care possible is both a leadership and an economic imperative.

[Translation]

In conclusion, Madam Chair, we will maintain our capabilities and readiness while continuing to build an air force that is both fiscally responsible and prepared to protect Canadians for decades to come.

I look forward to your questions.

[English]

The Chair: Thank you for your opening comments.

One thing we are looking at here at the committee is lessons learned from Afghanistan and the state of readiness in general. If you had to choose one — I do not know if it is hard — but where are the direct benefits of the operational tempo you talk about in Afghanistan, Haiti, Libya, Mali and the domestic operations? Is it on the recruiting side, the state of readiness or morale? What is the most important thing that has come out of that?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: It is all three; recruitment, morale and the operational tempo are certainly up. Before getting into Afghanistan and having all the other operations added to them, we went from a position of being concerned that we were getting into what we called at the time a "pipeliner'' air force; we were replacing a bunch of people retiring due to demographics with a bunch of kids being recruited, and we had to go heavy into recruitment. We were concerned about this. We were making plans for five to ten years and saying, "We need to slow down and be more careful, because we will have younger, less-experienced people with us.''

Actually, with the operational tempo and being thrown into all those operations, I ended up after five years with one of the most competent, professional, young air forces in the world. I have a combat-ready, young force that I did not dream about.

The Chair: That is great. Thank you for that context.

Senator Dallaire: General, first, I think that the RCAF in Afghanistan pulled off an extraordinary operational coup in the face of the enemy by introducing a whole new fleet — the Chinook fleet — while in theatre and doing so in a very rapid time, with great effectiveness. I gather that your colleagues in other forces were watching that, and I, from my background, can only congratulate you for being able to pull that off and being effective in supporting the ground troops. Well done for that.

I have in two questions in this round, which we are allowed. The first question surrounds the Chinook. It is interesting that you have them all sitting in Petawawa and not half there and half in Edmonton, which might have been more responsive because it is a national asset and not just an army one. Regardless, in operational theatres, the Griffons were at best able to provide some protection to the Chinooks.

Is there in your capital program and future planning any idea of bringing online an attack helicopter to be able to provide protection to the Chinooks?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Thank you for that comment. You are absolutely right; the guys did a fabulous job taking delivery of six very old Chinooks and making them into a great operational capability for three years.

As for your question about the Griffon, the Griffon is more of a utility helicopter. It was a bit limited in Afghanistan when we considered using the Griffon to escort the Chinooks. We went through rounds of taking equipment that we did not need in Afghanistan off of the airplane to make it as light as possible so that we could put some guns in and really use it as an escort helicopter. We are pleased with the result. Even in probably the most challenging environment that you can find on the planet for helicopters in terms of altitude and temperature, we did fairly well with the Griffon. This gives us a measure of comfort that, building on this, we are bringing back out of Afghanistan. If we went there with an attack aviation fleet of only utility helicopters, we are coming out of there with a utility plus escort role that has done some great work. We have put some good guns on the helicopter, and that is giving us confidence, until around 2025, in that helicopter. It is giving us the utility plus escort role to go with the 15 Chinooks we will be receiving. We are working on adding some modernized equipment to go inside the Griffon. It is mostly for avionics and communication purposes, and we have identified a requirement for a follow-on helicopter after the Griffon, but that is post 2025.

[Translation]

Senator Dallaire: In any event, there was a lot of discussion about the speed of the Griffons in terms of following the Chinooks and not putting the Chinooks at risk. But apart from that, it was satisfactory.

My second question is about the air force's methodology in taking the lessons learned on the ground and how they are integrated into the teaching, the doctrine and, ultimately, the redeployment.

Do you have a structure similar to the army's, and even the navy's, through which you can react to experiences on the ground and modify your operational data and tactics?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: To an extent, the Royal Canadian Air Force has copied what the army had done in terms of lessons learned.

We have used what the army and the air force have developed over the years with our flight security system, which is a system that gathers information from the ground and which can synthesize information from our incidents and activities and move it upwards.

The system we have put in place is a kind of hybrid of the two. We use our air force Air Warfare Centre in Trenton. We have developed a system where they gather all the information that comes in each day from the units, both overseas and at home, and draw lessons from it. Then they send those lessons upwards so that the chain of command is able to follow and gather useful information at the right level. There is some information I never see because it is synthesized at operational level and stays at that level. But the information that needs to be filtered and sent to my level is certainly sent. We put it in place in Afghanistan and it is a very good system.

Senator Dallaire: Is that quick enough? Does it meet the needs quickly?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: It is a lot better than we had before.

[English]

Senator Lang: I would like once again to congratulate the women and men of the Royal Canadian Air Force that you represent for your contribution, as Senator Dallaire said, in Afghanistan, and, of course, in Libya and now in Mali. We are very proud of the work you do. When we have hearings such as this, it gives Canadians a good perspective of what your job is and what your responsibilities are.

I would like to refer to your comments. You stated, "Capitalizing on innovation is about more than just embracing new technologies. We must also create a work environment that fosters new ideas and concepts.''

I want to inquire about the utilization of drones by the air force. My understanding is that there have been discussions about the air force acquiring drones. Perhaps you could update us on exactly where the air force is in respect to that and how it would relate to search and rescue and surveillance in the High Arctic and perhaps also along our borders.

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: We certainly went a long way with using drones when we were in Afghanistan, introducing them, starting to use them and seeing the incredible amount of information and use you can get out of drones. This being said, the drones have a specialized task and effect, and we have a program within the air force, post-Afghanistan, to try to acquire a fleet of drones. It is called JUSTAS. It is actually an option analysis. We are trying to look at what is available out there as well as trying to define exactly what would be required for the future. For drones, we are looking at the requirement to work from home to be able to do maritime patrol, to do a bit of what the Auroras are doing and be able to patrol the coast. Our area of responsibility goes at least 1,000 miles out to sea for maritime patrol and for search and rescue. As well, we need it in the Arctic. I need to use the drones. They have got the range and endurance to be able to go on long patrols and be our eyes in the sky in the Arctic. It is a Canadian requirement. That is, first and foremost, why we want to get some drones.

Tied to this, I would like to have a fleet of drones that will permit me to do the deployed operations as well. When we talk about deployed operations, they are not necessarily wartime operations. Deployed operations are things like Haiti. I could have used some drones when we were working in Haiti to give us a picture of what roads were open and what was happening there.

I would like to have a drone that can carry some equipment, whether it is weapons or other equipment, to be able, when it is patrolling the Arctic, to carry a search and rescue package that I can drop any time I want or need to. A drone that is flexible, that can do many missions, whether they go from doing simple patrols to receiving information, passing information, dropping kits or being deployed when we do operations such as Haiti, or that, when we go to Afghanistan, allows me carry some weapons on it is the kind of drone that we are looking for. We are trying to develop the options right now.

Senator Lang: That is very interesting. I would like to turn to another area, and this of course, once again, applies to the North. It is the question of weather and communications. That is, obviously, very important to those who live there, as well as to yourself with respect to your responsibilities. I understand that a lot of work has been done on the Polar Communication and Weather satellite system and that perhaps the air force is involved in the prospect of a satellite being put up in the North. Could you update us on that, as well, with respect to where it is at?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: The air force is only one of the potential users of that system. Certainly, we have identified the need. If I am going to be flying in the Arctic, I need to be able to communicate. It is not just radio. I need to be able to pass on pictures. If I see some video, I need to pass it, in real time, back home, so, certainly, the satellite communication is a link that is identified as a Royal Canadian Air Force requirement for our operations in the North. Where do they stand now in the project? I do not follow this, so I do not have the details of where exactly they are. I just pass on the requirement, but I do not work the acquisition part.

Senator Lang: Can I just follow that up? Has the air force made the commitment to play a part and contribute to that satellite, on an ongoing basis, if they proceed with it?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Absolutely. We will be using it.

[Translation]

Senator Day: Good afternoon, General. Thank you for coming to our meeting today. I am going to start with a question about NATO. I would like to know why we decided not to continue with the AWACS program. Was it for financial reasons?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: We have been discussing our commitment to the AWACS system probably for a number of years now. For several years, the air force has supplied about 200 people who worked with NATO on the AWACS team and we had about 100 people working with the Americans and NORAD on AWACS.

We have always considered our relationship with NATO and NORAD as something to be reviewed for a number of years. Do we want to invest so many people for what we get out of it? Would we be better off operating in one place, with NORAD, and reducing the NATO level a little? At a time when we are developing new capabilities, such as drones, or Chinooks, or capabilities that I did not have beforehand, do I increase the size of my air force or do I move resources from one place to another? This has always been discussed as a potential place for reductions.

When we began to develop the HES Program with NATO, which was about getting drones for NATO in Italy, the discussion was easy. We told ourselves that we were going to reduce our involvement in AWACS and move a hundred or so people to AGS. At the time, this was because we felt that we putting in a little more than we were getting out.

During the operations in Afghanistan and Libya, we found all kinds of restrictions that come with a NATO involvement, whether it is with AWACS or with the NATO drones. Using AWACS in Afghanistan took a year of discussions with various countries because they were all flying with the aircraft. If one country does not want to take part in the NATO operation, it is a problem.

When enough countries take part and agree to use the asset, there is the discussion as to where the aircraft's operational base will be. Then several countries turn down an AWACS aircraft because there are personnel from certain countries that are not necessarily acceptable.

That causes a lot of complications and means that it is not as useful as we would like. When we saw the same thing was going to happen with the drones, we preferred to study the development of our own drone program, which would be much more under our control and which would provide much more support for our own operations, the operations of which Canada is a part.

[English]

Senator Day: Thank you; that was very helpful. Are you satisfied that our Armed Forces, at this stage and not in the future as drones are more developed, will have the same level of information that you need in order to conduct exercises as we had when we were partners in the AWACS program?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: I am satisfied that we will probably have more because we kind of pulled out of the AWACS program but have slightly increased the number of people we have on the American AWACS program. By being part of the bilateral program between the U.S. and Canada, we have access to much more information that there is available for the NATO countries over the AWACS program. Therefore I am not at all concerned about this, and I am satisfied that I am getting the right experience I need, through the American NORAD exchange that we have with the AWACS program, so it is working well.

Senator Day: I am glad to hear that.

My second area of questioning is in relation to simulators, and you referred to that here. You admit that in being fiscally prudent will result in fewer flying hours for our pilots, but then you go on to talk about simulators. Can you, for the record again, let us know what the flying hour requirement is in order to stay current as a pilot on a particular aircraft and how much that is being reduced percentage-wise or hour-wise? With respect to simulators, are we at the stage where simulators have gone beyond just simulating an individual or a team crew flying an aircraft to a number of aircraft participating in an exercise together? Are we into that stage in simulation?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: We certainly are. I am a big proponent of increasing our use of simulation. I have flown F-18s for 25 years, and when I started flying F-18s we were doing 5 per cent to 10 per cent simulation compared to the total number of hours we would be flying, and the training was done in flight. In order to train air combat or intercept, I needed other airplanes to use as targets. Sometimes many other airplanes are needed to simulate combat conditions. It was the way to do the business because you could not realistically simulate all this. However, today, with the simulation advances, I am expecting, especially with the new generation of fighters and the new generation of simulation that goes with them, that I will be able to do better training in the simulator, although there are some things I am not going to be able to simulate.

For example, with the F-35 and where we need to go with the next generation of airplanes — and I am not saying we need to go with the F-35 — where everybody is going, the technology is about sensing. The airplanes are not necessarily going faster, they are not necessarily more manoeuvrable than generations before, but the sensing capability of those airplanes is what makes them the next generation.

These airplanes can sense everything that around them; they can synthesize the information and make it so easy for a pilot to understand the environment. However, in order to practise this, because that airplane is about sensing, I need to be able to sense something when I train, whether it is other airplanes or radars on the ground or missiles being shot at me; I need to be able to see this when I train.

When you are flying north of Bagotville in an F-18 at night, there is not much to sense out there; there is nothing, and Cold Lake is the same thing. If I want to be flying and seeing a bunch of radars and airplanes, the simulator will be the place to give me all this and simulate this environment and give me a realistic environment. As well, because I am using a bunch of sensors of the latest technology, a lot of those systems I will not want to turn on when I am flying because I do not want to advertise my signal so that satellites can pick up and be able to know exactly what capabilities I have. The only place where I am going to be able to do it safely is in a simulator.

With the next generation of fighters, we are looking at 50 per cent of my training being done in a simulator from day to day. I will get better training through that simulation. We are looking at simulators that are networked together so I can fly fighters out of Bagotville that can meet another group of airplanes coming out of Cold Lake. We will be receiving fuel from a tanker in Trenton in flight and doing a combat mission. Everyone is doing this through simulation. It is there. It is just a matter of putting it in place.

Senator Day: Can you give us a sense of the reduction in the number of actual flying hours that are being substituted by simulation?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Right now I am flying 16,000 F-18 hours. I am planning to reduce not by 50 per cent but to reduce this to between 10,000 and 12,000 hours of actual flying and add in 10,000 to 12,000 hours of simulation. There will be more training total, but 50 per cent flying and 50 per cent simulation. Of course you cannot just reduce the flying hours because when it is time to go to war you need the hours to fly. It is actually a concept of reduce while you are in garrison, with the concept of hours on demand. I have the maintenance capability to produce 16,000 hours, but I will fly only 10,000 hours unless I go on operation, and then I use the hours.

Senator Mitchell: General, I am very impressed that you highlighted one of the advantages of simulation, and you did highlight a number, but one is that you will reduce your carbon footprint. I am very concerned about climate change and I say good for you.

I am interested in the F-35s, or whatever it is that replaces them. Can you give us some idea of how you will keep the F-18s in the air until you get them? What is your input into this new process of acquisition of the new jets?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: I am very comfortable in flying the F-18 until 2025. When we did our studies about 10 years back on the expected life of the F-18, we came up with 2020. That is the official date that we have used for the last 10 years. It was based on the way we were flying the airplane, pushed into the future.

When I came to Ottawa last year, I asked to review this. I had fighter experience, and I knew that we had changed the way we had done flying over the last 10 years. The first 20 years of flying, we used to do a lot of low-level flying. You will remember that. That is the way we used the F-18, flying low. With the advance of systems, we progressed into an air force that was flying at a high level and not going into low level anymore but using precision-guided munitions. As soon as you start going high level, you reduce the fatigue on your airplane and you increase its life, except we never computed that. In the last several years we started to look at this, and I feel comfortable that we can do this.

The guys are starting to work on the details. As part of the work of the secretariat, they are trying to put some fidelity into this and to come up with a new date and some ways of flying between to 2020 and 2030, what will be required. The airplane can fly easily until the mid-2020s, but there are some systems that we may need to modernize, depending on how far we go into the 2020s.

Senator Mitchell: Last fall the committee visited Comox and had a remarkable experience with the search and rescue crew up there. It was very impressive.

One of the issues that arose was the possibility of replacing the Buffalo. In one text a remarkable person said, "Can you just do everything you can to get a ramp off the back so we do not have to jump out the side of the plane with whatever replacement you get?'' If he is listening, I did it.

Can you give us some ideas of where that replacement process is, if it is pending, if it is necessary? What are your thoughts on a ramp out the back?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: The ramp is a requirement that has been identified. We need an airplane with a ramp in the back. That was a discussion point a couple of years back with Bombardier, trying to discuss the requirement for the ramp or not. We have confirmed the requirement. I need a ramp in the back.

We have the fixed wing search and rescue airplane program going on. It has taken longer than we would have wanted. It is into the definition phase right now. We expect to go into requests for proposals in 2014, sometime next year.

Right now we are still discussing with the industry exactly how we will word and build the program for the proposals.

Senator Mitchell: Thank you very much.

The Chair: To follow up on that, what is your sense of what the issue is in terms of the slow, late, delayed delivery of so many of these pieces of equipment?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: A few years back we probably went a bit too far in identifying a requirement that was so precise that it was felt not enough companies could compete for this aircraft. We went through a third-party review of how we could do this differently. Actually, it was based on stop giving all the details but give more options to the industry to come up with different solutions. This is what we did, but that took time to review the safety requirements and build it in a way that more companies could use their imagination and novel ideas to propose how we do search and rescue.

With this new program, we have been discussing with the industry and we are still trying to refine it so that companies can compete. Instead of saying we need so many airplanes and this is what the airplanes need to do, we need to say in general what we need to be able to do. That is, you tell us how many airplanes, whether it is one or two fleets of aircraft; whether they can be based on the existing bases we have now or are you proposing to create some new bases to do this; and, while you are doing this, figure out how much it will cost because we need to compute all this. As soon as you open the door to different solutions, of course it will be more difficult to compare. If one company arrives with one fleet and this is what I will be doing, but a different company arrives with a proposal that it will be two fleets but I will base them differently and will need to build some hangars, what cost do you put on that? Is it the cost of the new places that you will open? What about the savings in the place that you will not be operating in? We need to define how we will be comparing all of this. That makes it a bit more difficult and longer in terms of time.

Senator Campbell: Thank you, general. It was interesting listening to you. I must tell you that, like many of us, we were happy to hear Royal Canadian Air Force back as an entity. My father served overseas in 26 missions with Bomber Command, and I know that wherever he is — he has passed on — he was celebrating it. I would like to say in heaven, but he is a Campbell so one is never sure where you will end up.

One question that I have — and every once in a while, it seems to come out in the media — is regarding the defence of the North. The question that seems to percolate up to the surface is whether you need two engines on a jet or whether one is sufficient. I am sure that one would always like to have two so you have a backup, but that is not always possible. Could you comment on that?

Senator Lang: I think you want two.

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Some people want to do this and get back to when we selected the F-18. Reference was made that we selected it because it had two engines, which is not right. When we selected and compared the F-16 and F-18 the overriding factor for selecting the F-18 was because it could do an air-to-ground mission as well as an air-to-air mission, while the F-16 could only do an air-to-air mission and was not geared yet to be able to do the air-to-ground missions. The fact that it had a second engine was nice to have.

A fighter is a compromise. If I could have the ideal fighter it would actually have four engines. It would be big enough to carry all the fuel I need to go to Europe and back. It would be small enough so that no one else could see it. It could carry all the bombs I need for a mission, but then it would be so small that I could manoeuvre it if I were being attacked.

There are all kinds of requirements in a fighter. It is not necessarily one factor but a combination of many factors. When you talk about comparing it, you need to compare everything and the effect of all of it on what you want to do.

For me, one engine or two engines — I am very comfortable with one engine. If I can have a second engine as well, that is nice to have. However, if to do this I need to have a bigger airplane and now it is easier to see and I can be shot at earlier because someone else can see me earlier, then I am not sure I want to go for size because my safety needs to be in play. It is a compromise between all of this.

When you look at the F-18, the Super Hornet and the F-35, one has two engines; the other has one engine. For me, that would not be a factor in my decision. It would not make a difference to me. The engines are so advanced compared to the way we did business 50 years ago that I would be very comfortable with one engine. I am much more interested in what kind of equipment I will have and how it will be protecting itself.

Senator Campbell: Thank you very much.

The Chair: Second round now.

Senator Dallaire: I would like to move to strategic lift, please. The American C-5As ended up being a real problem because they were so overused and became such a significant asset that everyone wanted it and could not get access to it.

The C-17s are being used fairly extensively. What is your assessment of the level of use of the C-17s versus their anticipated mid-life or whatever? You also have your Airbuses that are coming close, I expect, to end life or something of that nature. Are you seeing that fleet also being used to the extent where you will have to replace it soon or have to rent out?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: The C-17 is just getting to the point where we are using the maximum amount of yearly hours that we anticipated using. Up until last year it was still building a number of crews and being able to ramp up to its maximum capacity. We are not in a problem of overusing. I am in a situation where I just reached the optimum capacity of the airplane.

I am still using about 300 hours of training, but I would like to be able to move this into simulation and turn those 300 hours into employment hours, but I am not getting into the excess capacity. We are very careful in limiting what we are using in the CF.

We are looking at about 2025 as the time when we need to make a decision on the Airbus; that is, whether we need to invest money to modernize it and extend its life the way we do with many fleets, or whether we go for something different. It is tied to which fighter we get, air-to-air refueling, and this is what we will need to adjust or figure out what is the best way ahead.

The Airbus has another 10 or 12 years of use, and it is steady. We have a yearly flying rate that we use that the Commander of Joint Operations uses and it is working well. There is an allocated yearly flying rate for the two fleets that they use out of Ottawa, and if they need more usually they supplement with commercial airlift.

Senator Dallaire: When it comes to quality of life — and you mentioned it in your presentation — and the scale of attrition in your flight crews and technical staff, there have been times when that has been at a critical level, with people leaving because they simply had no life left and so on. I do not know how many F-18 pilots I have seen flying Challengers, and I do not see the satisfaction in that except the answer I always get is "quality of life.''

What is your status in relation to sustaining and retaining flight crews and technical staff, who are certainly in demand out there?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Compared to years before where we had a problem, I do not have a problem with retention. You give my pilots and my technicians operations and new equipment and they just love it. They want to stay. They have all gone through all kinds of operations, and they see the need still being there and they are staying.

I am probably lower than the CF average of attrition, which is good for me because I am not getting my production yet at the point where I would like to have it. Actually, for the last three years, we have been counting on people who have left for us to go work for Air Canada and other companies who are coming back to us. Close to 7 per cent or 8 per cent of my actual recruitment is coming from pilots who are coming back and saying, "Well, it is not that green out there.''

Senator Lang: Could you perhaps update us with respect to the helicopter procurement itself in relation to the helicopters with General Dynamics? Where are we? Is it a case of ensuring that these particular machines do what they are supposed to do? If they get to that point, are we committed to proceed with the purchases?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: I believe you are talking about the American helicopter program, the Cyclone. Of course I cannot comment too much on the contract and discussions. PWGSC takes care of that; I am not involved. They are involved with ADM(Mat) in assessing what the company is giving. I am not part of this discussion.

What I have seen is a helicopter that is doing a good job as a helicopter flying. There are two parts to that: There is the helicopter itself and then there is the back end that is supposed to be doing the job and software and computers to do the mission of anti-submarine warfare, et cetera.

I do not know where they are. I know they are working on trying to deliver on this with General Dynamics, but I am not sure where they are. I only know that they are late and it is not there yet.

Senator Lang: I want to move into another area in search and rescue. Perhaps you would update us regarding the fundamentals of the search and rescue program and how we do it. I do know that in other countries in some cases they have privatized at least a part of their search and rescue responsibilities. Has any serious consideration been given from our point of view to going in that direction so that we can meet the responsibilities you have?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: That is a great question and a great discussion that we keep having. I had a discussion with some of my colleagues in NATO about search and rescue. Some of them are using some civilian assets. That is a bit different from the concept we have in Canada. If you take a European country, they kind of mix the traditional search and rescue as opposed to what the RCAF does, which is air search and rescue. We look for airplanes that have crashed or ships in distress, while ground search and rescue for someone who is lost or someone who is in a snowstorm is not part of RCAF's responsibilities. That is a provincial responsibility.

In European countries the search and rescue tends to be more on the ground search and rescue and taking care of their people inside a much smaller country, a much smaller coastline and not necessarily the tremendous empty distances that we need to cover in Canada. The Canadian requirement is actually to fly over the second largest country in the world, a country that is bigger than the whole European continent. When you look at where we need to patrol, the requirement is different. It is about flying and about having the assets to be able to do the searches and then to be able to rescue in an austere environment.

We have always managed to do it with military people. If we wanted to do it with private companies, it would cost a lot more because it is much different from the requirements that other countries have. I do not pay overtime. I send my guys when they need to go.

There are costs that are saved by using the military. I do not pay risk premium. I evaluate risk and, as long as I will not kill my guys, we will try to rescue people. If you use a private company you need to value the risk and how much you are willing to pay.

There have been discussions before; there are still discussions happening. I would suggest that the privatization is probably more useful when we talk about ground search and rescue and when you talk about what the provinces are doing, more than what the RCAF is doing with air search and rescue and sea search and rescue.

Senator Mitchell: General, can you give us an idea of what percentage of your pilots are women, what percentage of your force is women and whether you have a special focus of any kind on trying to increase those percentages and move women up the ranks?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: I do not have any numbers with me; I can get them for you. I would say that the air force probably has the highest ratio of women in the Canadian Armed Forces. We are probably close to 25 per cent of women operating all this.

On the air crew side, I am probably close to about 10 per cent of my air crew flying being women, and they are doing an outstanding job.

Senator Mitchell: Back on the Cyclone issue, we were in Shearwater in September and, again, we were being told that there were at least two and maybe four Cyclones right there. We could touch them and look at them and maybe we even climbed on them, but you could not drive them.

We were being told then that it is pending — it is any day now that we will take possession of these things — but now we are seven or eight months later and nothing is happening. At what point do you start to get concerned with ADM(Mat)? When will this get done?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: We have four helicopters in Shearwater. I am being told it is still a matter of days or weeks until we will be able to use them for training. I am confident that this is coming.

I am not necessarily concerned about this. Every time I get through a program or a fleet, there are always some delays. No matter what fleet you will be talking about, the fleet that does not have a delay is an exception. I am hoping the Chinook will be that exception, coming this summer, but you never know.

What it means for me is that I always need to be prepared because there will always be delays. It is not like I am planning to park the Sea King in July and I have a problem. I am comfortable flying the Sea King for the next five years. I did review this periodically, but right now, I can fly it for five years, and that gives me a measure of comfort. It gives some flexibility to ADM(Mat), PWGSC or the government to look at how we deal with the MHP issue and whether that is okay or not.

For my end of it, I do not get involved in the negotiations, but I need to protect the readiness and capability. As it will be delayed, I am assuming and assuring that there is something to do the job. I am comfortable doing the job for the next five years.

Senator Mitchell: Will it come with simulators for training?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: The MHP?

Senator Mitchell: The Cyclone.

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: The Cyclone, yes. It is coming with great simulation. The estimate I have with simulation with that fleet, if I can get that fleet flying, is that I will be able to do 50 per cent of my training in simulations. The qualifications and training to land on the deck of a ship will be done mostly in simulation.

The Chair: When you say you are comfortable for the next five years, does that mean access to a reduced number?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: It means that I can maintain the present capability and number of helicopters that I have to do detachments on the ships. I can maintain that now, but there will be increased costs and I will do more maintenance. It is getting more and more difficult, but I still feel I have the capability to maintain the same readiness and capability I have now.

The Chair: That was part of the issue that was repeatedly expressed, that there are no parts available. They are kind of making them in the basement, as it were.

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: From my end, the estimate I have is that I can fly it.

The Chair: Okay. Is there more on this topic?

Senator Lang: I want to follow up on the Sea Kings. Perhaps you could clarify something for us. If the procurement goes ahead in respect to the Cyclones, my understanding is that there is a real demand for the Sea Kings — that there are companies out there that are prepared to purchase them and continue to run them; is that correct?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: I would not know. I have no idea. Nobody approaches me asking me to sell the Sea Kings. That would be PWGSC.

The Chair: I think one of those distinctions we keep making in these discussions is that you put forward your requirements and your wish list, but you are not involved in the actual negotiations of the purchase.

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Yes.

Senator Day: I would like you to speculate a bit for us regarding your comment about improved career paths for Armed Forces personnel from the point of view of the announcement following the soldiers coming back from Afghanistan. There is a change in policy with respect to full-time reservists. We understand from an infantry point of view that full-time reservists may not be needed. However, they are definitely needed from an air force technician point of view. From our experience in visiting various bases, most recently Comox and Greenwood, we saw several full-time reservists working in important places in maintenance with respect to aircraft.

Are you contemplating some kind of new, improved career path that would allow some of these full-timers maybe to become regular force again but not be required to be moving around the way it normally has been the case in the past?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: In my experience in the Canadian Armed Forces, in the 30 years I have been going from squadron to office, I have never had enough people to do the job; there has never been enough money to do the job. It has always been a challenge, and that has not changed. We are asking a lot of our people, and whatever number of people they have, they could use more.

When they have access to full-time reservists, it is not about reservists or full-time, it is just one more body I can use. If we are going to Afghanistan and we have an operational tempo that has increased, it is normal to use more reservists. I had to deploy people and I have to use reservists to cover behind. Certainly, the commanding officers and the people you have visited have appreciated having those because they came to depend on those people coming in, whether they were reservists or not.

We do this and we increase the number of people because we are in a high operational tempo, but this is what a reserve is supposed to be; when I need a reserve, I call on it. When I do not need it, I need to push it back and get back to a normal state where I am operating with the resources that I am supposed to be operating with.

This is where we are. The operational tempo has been reduced. For everyone that has full-time reservists, they do not want to get rid of them because they could use them. However, I need to get this back to a level that makes sense for me. For now, I cannot ask the next time I will be in the operational tempo to be able to have additional resources if I cannot get away from them when the need is no longer there.

Senator Day: Therefore you are not contemplating any change in the basic career path. That was the comment you made, and I was giving you an opportunity to talk about some of the things that you might be doing in the future.

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Not when you are considering the reservists. When we talk about the different career paths and being able to use people better, I am referring more to the full-time guys that I have.

We have a very specialized way of doing business in the air force. I have some pilots, engineers and logisticians. Logisticians do not command the air force; pilots command the air force. The engineers usually do not have the same openings for career later on because, again, AERE or engineers do not command the air force.

As much as operational experience is required to command, I would like to be able to open up the walls that we have created. I have some outstanding people that would be labelled with an engineer label or an accountant label. As soon as you use someone in operations and give them experience in operations, you end up with terrific leaders.

I would like to have a career path not necessarily closed in around the definition of an occupation but more around the requirement for the job and the expertise and experience you can get as you go through your career. If you have a very smart engineer who starts doing operations and gets some experience, why not use them? Why could he not become a leader of the air force the way pilots are?

Senator Day: Chief of the Air Force?

The Chair: Lt.-Gen. Blondin, we are out of time, but I will ask for a brief comment about smart defence, since it is something that has been discussed here. As General Lawson was discussing last week, it is difficult for Canada because the only country to whom we are geographically linked is the United States in that sense.

Is there opportunity for smart defence in air force operations?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: What is the definition of "smart defence''?

The Chair: I guess we would say shared tasks where we would divvy up the responsibilities. That is what we do with NORAD and other things, but do you see any new opportunities there?

Lt.-Gen. Blondin: Again, it is something that is being discussed. The Europeans are really looking at getting away from a single capability, so someone could concentrate and be an expert in one, and we combine them. However, Afghanistan is a good example of what happens when it is time to go into operation. Even if we called it NATO, there were only a few countries that went there to do an operation. You either have the stuff you need for the operation or you do not. If the operation has been built without Chinook capability because when I go to war someone else will provide it for me, it will be a problem if we get to Afghanistan and it is not there.

It is always how to balance your needs when you live within alliances. Canada has done a good job because we have spent the last 50 years working within alliances. We have tried stuff, getting rid of Chinooks, and now we are in a position where we know what Canada needs. Now we have to determine if that would be good enough for us to go on operations in the future.

The Chair: Thank you very much for your comments. You have been very direct and frank with us today, and we appreciate that.

Lieutenant-General Yvan Blondin, Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force — no longer that new, you have been there since the fall — I want to thank you as well as an honorary colonel in the air force. We are very proud to see the level and quality of leadership that is emerging in the Canadian Armed Forces. Thank you very much for being here.

Honourable senators, we have invited our next guest to tell us a little about bit the annual northern and Arctic exercise referred to as Operation NANOOK. You see mention of it on your television screens over the summer period and it is always fascinating. Major-General Richard Foster has a larger responsibility as Deputy Commander, now continental, within the new Canadian Joint Operations Command.

For those who are wondering, we used to have two systems, one that looked after the home events and one that looked after the away events. That has now been combined and General Foster has moved from Canada Command into this new role.

Trained as a mechanical engineer, General Foster became a pilot and then a pilot instructor before flying with three CF-18 squadrons over 17 years at Cold Lake, Bagotville and also part of NATO's operation allied force in Kosovo. General Foster was wing commander of 15 Wing at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, home of the Canadian Forces flying training school and, of course, the Snowbirds. His staff tours include Directorate of the Air Requirements in Ottawa, Special Assistant to the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, and at 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg as Deputy Commander Force Generation.

General Foster was appointed Chief of Staff, Canada Command in 2011 and then became Deputy Commander in 2012 when Canadian Joint Operations Command, as I said, was stood up absorbing Canada Command. He was promoted to Commander Continental.

Welcome and thank you for being here. I gather you have some opening remarks?

[Translation]

Major-General Richard D. Foster, Deputy Commander (Continental), Canadian Joint Operations Command, National Defence: Madam Chair, the Canadian Armed Forces are ready to do in the North what we do in the rest of Canada, that is, to respond, in a supporting role, to a wide variety of scenarios, ranging from natural disasters to illegal activities.

We need to be able to respond quickly and effectively when called upon to assist, because, when it is beyond the capacities of our partners to respond, the Canadian Armed Forces' unique capabilities can make all the difference.

[English]

The challenges in our North are complex, and the Canadian Armed Forces are working successfully and in an integrated fashion as part of a whole-of-government process to address them, but I want to stress that the Canadian Armed Forces are not the lead.

In the North, as anywhere else in the country, we work in a supporting role with our whole-of-government partners to assist when required in addressing threats and hazards under the pillars of safety and security.

[Translation]

Naturally, all of this collaboration among and between different stakeholders, whether with government departments both federal and territorial or with northern communities, needs to be practiced and tested regularly in order to remain effective, in order to properly serve Northerners as well as to protect and promote Canadian sovereignty.

That is why the Canadian Armed Forces conduct a series of yearly northern exercises, of which Operation NANOOK is the centerpiece.

[English]

We have conducted Operation NANOOK every summer since 2007. Each year, in support of the government's northern strategy, Operation NANOOK provides a visible Canadian Armed Forces presence in the Arctic and demonstrates Canada's ability to respond to emergencies in the region. It is an excellent way to improve the Canadian Armed Forces' capabilities in the North; to enhance interdepartmental coordination with our partners in the region, be it the Coast Guard, Environment Canada, Public Safety or the RCMP; and to improve interoperability and understanding with our international allies and partners in the Arctic, such as the United States and Denmark.

More than 1,200 men and women in uniform took part in Op NANOOK 12 last August. It involved all three elements of the Canadian Armed Forces — army, navy and air force — as well as the Canadian Rangers, and it marked the largest participation of Canadian Armed Forces personnel in the operation's history.

Last year's operation was conducted in two distinct locations — in the Western Arctic in and around Inuvik and Tsiigehtchic, Northwest Territories; and in the Eastern Arctic in the Hudson Strait, Hudson Bay and its littoral area, including Churchill, Manitoba.

Throughout Operation NANOOK, we conducted continuous engagement with local government and civil society; and by doing so, we improved our relationships with communities in the North and increased the cultural awareness of our sailors, soldiers and air personnel.

The Canadian Armed Forces are doing preparatory work for this year's iteration of Operation NANOOK. This year's operation will again exercise the Canadian Armed Force's ability to work with whole-of-government partners on a disaster relief operation and expand Arctic sovereignty patrols. As we devise the final scenario for Operation NANOOK, one thing is clear: We will continue to feature significant whole-of-government involvement, continue to invite other government departments to meaningfully influence exercise scenarios with a view to building our collective capacity to address northern issues in a synchronized manner and continue to take our cue from northerners, on whose unique knowledge and expertise we inherently rely.

[Translation]

Madam Chair, for decades now, the Canadian Armed Forces have developed knowledge, partnerships and capabilities in the north.

This makes us especially suited to support the government's priorities in the north and bring valuable contributions to our Arctic security.

The success of the Canadian Armed Forces in conducting large-scale joint operations in the north such as Operation Nanook 2012 is a testament to their training, professionalism and capacity to perform in one of the most isolated regions of the world.

I am pleased to answer your questions at this time.

[English]

The Chair: Thank you very much. We will begin our questioning and get into, I hope, some more detail on what you are planning for next summer.

Senator Dallaire: General, I am looking at the capabilities that are resident in the North versus the capabilities that are brought in for periods of time to be exercised and those experiences then being brought back down south. I am wondering if there is in National Defence, DND, a document that has made the trade-off of keeping more capability in the North, as in the 1987 white paper where they were planning to put a base at Arctic Bay with permanent army, navy and air forces. You have the F-18 advanced airfields and so on.

Do you have such a document that talks about the trade-off between keeping a certain level of capability up there above what is there now with Northern Command and the training and moving of forces from south to north?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Thank you for the question. It is an interesting one you pose. We want to be able to continue to operate effectively in the North, and we want to be able to project effectively within about 24 hours.

We have been up in the North, as you are well aware, for many years, and we already have much infrastructure in place, whether with NORAD through our FOLs or even just operating with our Ranger communities that are spread throughout the entire North. We are currently looking at the best way to continue to operate in the North to leverage those existing capabilities and to ensure that we do exactly as you suggest, maximize our ability to move up there rapidly while minimizing the cost in terms of conducting operations or exercises.

For example, we have worked on identifying fuel caches so that if our aircraft are flying up there, they can access them. Another is a scenario wherein we have equipment that is pre-positioned so that we can get to it relatively quickly if we have to deal with a major disaster that occurs in the North. Those are two examples of how we are trying to leverage logistic capability in the North.

Senator Dallaire: General, because it is so significant in the Canada First Defence Strategy document, could the committee perhaps receive a non-classified — we are not allowed classified material; I do not know how we will do oversight — but could you provide a non-classified estimate that may have been done in looking at the projection of capabilities in the North and what would meet the requirement and the trade-off with moving stuff from the south to north, if that exists?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: We would be happy to provide you with what we have.

Senator Dallaire: Let me pose to you the Attawapiskat scenario, where an isolated area or a group of people, small village or something, falls under significant hard times and requires emergency capability. The idea was floated around that with the infrastructure in such rough shape up there, particularly in the Aboriginal communities, there was an idea of establishing a mix of Aboriginal and southern personnel, be they Rangers and forces, into a more permanent Canadian northern corps of engineers, like the Americans have, which would continuously be working in the North, in Arctic engineering and so on, and be continuously upgrading, working, maintaining and being available for these crises, having that sort of capability available in the North. Has anything been looked at in regards to the hard infrastructure needs of the general population up there and whether we could be more responsive and gain more experience with being engaged in that?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: With operations in the North, our job is to support other government departments in providing safety and security for Canadians who are living there. Because we have the capacity to do so logistically more than other government departments now, we are looking, as I said before, at our ability to operate effectively and quickly by determining in which locations we should pre-position material and logistic equipment in order to get to places like Attawapiskat rapidly.

We have not sat down and looked at each individual community to decide what their requirements are, and I do not think that is necessarily a Canadian Forces requirement to do so. We are working with other government departments to look at how we might leverage each other's capabilities and partner with them. A good example is in Resolute Bay with the Polar Continental Shelf Program, where we have partnered with NRCan in using their facility to develop the Arctic Training Centre. There are perhaps opportunities down the road, if we were approached by other departments responsible for communities in the North, where we might be able to help them as we develop our infrastructure to support our needs at the same time.

Senator Lang: In your opening comments you referred to Operation NANOOK. I believe the chair referred to it as well. I would like to hear what your program is for this coming year. Have you finalized it? If so, what is planned for the coming summer months?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Actually, Op NANOOK 13 is turning out to be an exciting event for us. I think it is the first time we have had complete, total buy-in by the municipal and provincial governments in the Yukon. In fact, I was talking to the Premier of Yukon and the Mayor of Whitehorse, and they were ecstatic we were going to come up there and help them figure out how they would best evacuate their city if they were ever threatened by a forest fire. That shows you how we are operating with the other government departments and with the provinces in determining what their concerns are in terms of safety and security.

We thought in the Yukon originally that the program would be based on an earthquake scenario because there is a fault line up through Dawson. They came back and said, "No, we are actually concerned about the forest around Whitehorse and a similar incident that happened in the Great Slave Lake area, where I do not think we would be able to evacuate our people quickly enough.'' We set up this particular Op NANOOK to do just that. The RCMP and the community will be the lead. We will rapidly deploy a force up to provide security and to assist that community to evacuate in a timely manner in the event of a forest fire.

They also want to look at the protocols they have with Alaska to see if they can learn lessons in dealing between a province and a state in terms of their proximity. We would also look at working with our U.S. allies, perhaps Joint Task Force Alaska, in terms of determining with a tabletop exercise how we might work together in that kind of scenario.

The other aspect of Op NANOOK 13 is that we are looking at Arctic sovereignty patrols in Resolute Bay, again working with Environment Canada, using a law enforcement scenario where we would provide assistance due to a poaching scenario. We would provide a patrol that would go out, where our officers would be delegated as peace officers in support of the RCMP in that regard.

Those are two very exciting scenarios that demonstrate our interoperability with other government departments and our ability to provide support to other government departments.

Senator Lang: That is very good news for Yukon, specifically the city of Whitehorse, because there is a real threat there with respect to the possibility of a forest fire getting out of control. Where we are situated and how the winds blow can have a devastating result for the community, and surrounding communities for that matter. We look forward to being involved in that in the summer.

Moving to another area, please update the committee on the following: Significant commitments have been made to the North on facilities and capital assets across the North. Could you update us on the Canadian Forces Arctic Training Centre? Also, how are things proceeding in the area of Nanisivik and any other area, and what is happening with regard to the DEW Line?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: I am not responsible for all of those projects, but I can give you some specifics on the Arctic Training Centre. As I said before, it is a great partnership between us and NRCan, leveraging their Polar Continental Shelf Program. By this summer, we will have a facility for about 140 personnel. The air force, the army and the navy will send their personnel up there to get trained on how to survive in the North and how to conduct themselves in the North.

This will come to fruition this summer and it will be managed by the army. Of course, Joint Task Force (North), which works for the Joint Operations Command, will provide the support to ensure that the way in which we work with the provinces is appropriate.

Nanisivik is ongoing. I am looking forward to seeing that come to fruition, because our ships operating in the North do need access to POL, or fuel, as it is a long way to go. In terms of a specific timeline, the RCN would be better able to answer that.

Senator Day: I think I understand some of the points that are being made by Senator Lang's questions. In the past there has been activity outside of Operation NANOOK. That is one big operation, but many other activities go on throughout the year. You are indicating that that continues, I believe. One of those is the winter survival activity that the air force used to conduct in the North. Is that kind of activity continuing outside of this big operation that we have been talking about?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Thank you for the question. First, Op NANOOK is only one activity that we conduct in the North. This February I had the opportunity to deploy to Moosonee in northern Ontario. Joint Task Force (Central) deployed about 1,200 troops there and they simulated an air disaster. The relationship they built with the community and the lessons they learned with the Rangers were outstanding.

About a week later I had the opportunity to go to Schefferville, Quebec. The engineers built a runway on the lake. It was amazing to see them building a large hockey rink in the middle of a lake and then to see a C-130 land on it. They had about 54 to 57 inches.

At the same time, General Richard Giguère took the liberty of inviting all the Rangers from the northern part of Quebec to come together at Schefferville at the same time during this northern exercise and share experiences. It is amazing what you learn from these individuals in terms of their ability to provide services for forces when operating in the North and what they can teach us about survival skills.

I always worried that when our forces went up North they might not be getting good food. Then I met the sergeant from the Rangers who was cooking them caribou and providing them with a great quantity of Arctic char and other fish, and then I did not feel so sorry for them anymore.

To answer your question, there are two other major exercises, NUNAKPUT and NUNALIVUT, ongoing in the North on a yearly basis. NUNAKPUT is a sovereignty exercise carried out in the High Arctic, normally in the April time frame. This will be done this year in Resolute Bay. Last year it was done on the northeastern shoals of the Arctic Archipelago. NUNALIVUT is a sovereignty exercise along the Mackenzie River delta.

There is quite a lot of activity ongoing in the North. In addition to looking at how we conduct operations in the North and where to best put our logistical supplies in order to accomplish that, we are going to start to better synchronize exercises conducted across the North to leverage both our ability to put logistical supplies up there to be able to conduct operations in the North in the future and, at the same time, to maximize our efforts with our exercises.

Senator Day: When you say "sovereignty in the North,'' I think of someone going out in a kayak and putting a flag on Hans Island to keep the Greenlanders away, or someone in a submarine dropping a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole. Those are not the kinds of sovereignty activities that we are talking about, but they have received much attention in the newspapers.

My second area of questioning is in relation to the number of other government departments that are involved in these exercises. There are 1,200 Armed Forces personnel, and you say that you are not the lead. There must be a tremendous number of non-uniform personnel who are government employees as well as the local communities. We know that this is very costly. Many of these are natural disaster relief types of exercises as opposed to illegal activities or an invasion coming through the North, that kind of typical military situation.

Given that the majority are natural disaster relief exercises, is not possible to use simulation? Previously you mentioned tabletop exercises. Can you not do that rather than going out there, or is that going on as well and we just have not talked about it?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: First, I think we owe it to Canadians to be able to go into the North rapidly. I know that we have all travelled in the North and know that it remains harsh and difficult to travel in. The logistical challenge and the training that is required are formidable.

When we go up on Op NANOOK, at least when I have been there in August, it has been beautiful weather. Unfortunately, we all know that when we will be asked to go up and help because of a major disaster it is likely that the weather will be non-cooperative, that it will be very cold and very dark.

We can do some tabletop exercises, as we do. However, it is imperative to actually go up there and do the exercises for real. We call them exercises, and there is an exercise part, but it is part of the whole operation and logistical mounting required to get everything up there, to ensure the safety of the people while they are up there and to provide for them while up there. It is almost an operation with an exercise or several exercises going on underneath at the same time.

Senator Demers: Thank you for your French. It was very good and I appreciate that very much, sir.

General, I have a question for you. How would a reduction in defence spending affect the future of Operation NANOOK, particularly from the Canadian Armed Forces perspective?

[Translation]

Maj.-Gen. Foster: First, I am very focused on our capacity to operate in the North. When we are working to prepare the exercises, I concentrate specifically on the operational objectives I would like to attain at the end of the exercises. Once I have defined them, I consider how I am going to use all personnel to achieve them. I then look at the plans in the light of the available budget, of course. Clearly, there are always compromises, but, at the end of the day, I am always able to make sure that we are attaining the established objectives needed to guarantee that we are able to operate in the North.

Senator Demers: Thank you very much, general.

[English]

Senator Mitchell: General, with respect to the Rangers, can you comment on the following? Currently they are Class A reservists. They do not get benefits, and so on. Is there any advantage to their having some sort of full employment capacity or designation? Would that enhance the kind of activity that would give us greater presence in the North? One thought, for example, would be perhaps that they could be utilized for Coast Guard boarding and that kind of thing. Have you given any thought to a greater presence in those respects?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Thank you for that question. I think it was a year and a half ago I flew down to the Northwest Passage in a Twin Otter. I think I landed on Pond Inlet. Then I got on the Canadian North Dash 8 and did the island hop on the way down to Iqaluit and ended up in Clyde River. I had a flat tire and waited, I think 12 hours, for the replacement airplane to bring in the replacement tire. I was stuck in the airport pretty well. Other airplanes were coming in and cycling through. When each airplane landed, a whole bunch of the community would come out to meet the airplane and see families getting on the airplane and welcome people getting off the airplane. This must have gone on about four or five times. Each time that a new group of people came into the airport, one or two would come up and introduce themselves as Rangers. They would go, "How are you?'' I would go, "Fine,'' and we would have a little chat. I think I met pretty well all the Rangers in Clyde River that day.

That evening, we ended up diverting out of Iqaluit and I spent the night at the airport in Kuujjuaq. The airport was closed and the airport authority came out and opened the facility up for us and let us in. He then proceeded to invite all the ladies and all the kids to his house to spend the night. I do not know about you, but I do not know how many people would actually come and introduce themselves to me at the Toronto Pearson airport if I were in uniform. I do not know how many airport authorities would invite all the families over to their house to spend the night. I think it is important to say that because the northern culture is different. The Rangers that operate up there do so because they are passionate about helping and serving Canadians. They do it for free will.

Regarding changing the paradigm, I am not sure that is necessarily required. They do it because they want to and because they have great service for us and we use that relationship to our advantage. I think it is a good one.

To look at them for other services, I have not looked at that. I am not certain. These are community people. We use them extensively. They will be the first people we go to anywhere in the North if there is a disaster operation to make that link up and to help us integrate to enable us to do our job that much better.

Senator Day: For clarification, the preamble to Senator Mitchell's question suggested that there are no benefits to Class A reservists. However, I thought that your Class A reservists do qualify for pensions and certain benefits now. Am I wrong on that?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Class A reservists?

Senator Day: Yes, the part-time reservists.

Maj.-Gen. Foster: I can get the full information for you later.

Senator Day: Could you let us know? They do qualify for a pension plan for their time served, I believe. Maybe you could let us know.

The Chair: Medical as well, right?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Senator, I do not want to give you false information. I do know there is a difference between our Class B reservists, who can get full entitlement after a certain number of years, but how that compares to our Class A reservists — they may be able to but I do not want to give you false information.

The Chair: That is great if you could check into that.

Senator Day: If you could, that would be appreciated. If you could then tie in the regular Class A reservists, the part- timers that we are familiar with and those in the North that we have been talking about, are they treated as Class A reservists or do they have a special program?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: I can give you that information.

Senator Campbell: Welcome, general. With the continuing increase in the resource sector in the North and the opening up of the Northwest Passage, for whatever reason, there appear to be more and more possibilities for disasters of all types.

Is there any consideration for the RCAF to keep a Chinook or a Hercules up there — Yellowknife is probably the most central — to be used for search and rescue and for covering off the Rangers, who will probably be the first on the scene of any type of disaster? Has any consideration been given to that? What is your sense of the necessity for that?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Thank you for that question. I recently looked at some figures, and I think in the last 10 years the number of maritime vessels that typically operate in the North has about doubled from about 55 to probably just over 100. Some of those are adventurers; some of them are getting very adventurous. I think last year there were four jet skiers that tried to go through the Northwest Passage.

I do agree with you that there will be an increase in the requirement to provide search and rescue services, but we are not seeing a significant increase, as 55 to 100 is still manageable. When you are talking about the adventures on the ground, it tends to be about the same number, to the point where it is about less than 1 per cent of any search and rescue activity annually that is required in the North.

I think you are right. We do leverage our Rangers again. A lot of them are mayors or are in a prominent position within their village, so they are the first people that sometimes get the call that there is a missing person within their community. From a provincial relationship — and it is a provincial responsibility for ground search and rescue — that relationship, again, lends itself in that we encourage our Rangers, if they are involved and they want to go out and go on a search, to do that.

Senator Campbell: Thank you.

The Chair: I would like to follow up on a couple of questions. We saw the Special Forces participate in the exercise last summer. I know you cannot comment a lot on what it is that they do, but is that relationship and allowing that to come forward a product of the closeness with which they all worked in missions like Afghanistan? Is this a new development?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: You are right. Last year was probably the first time we significantly used our Special Forces in a domestic security scenario. We need to be clear on that. That was in support of a direct vessel of interest that was coming from offshore of Canada, and then again with other government departments using intelligence services and everything, we had been following that. That was the exercise development to the point where we felt that we needed to intervene. The RCMP that was leading at that time would have made that request to us.

Would that happen in real life? Possibly. It was probably a good thing to exercise, and I think it was a good demonstration of ensuring that if some scenario like that were to occur, we had the right command and control in place and that we are able to operate effectively with other government departments to understand the law enforcement roles and responsibilities we would need to work through.

The Chair: In terms of using that expertise?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Yes.

The Chair: My other question is a much broader one and it deals with having recently had the opportunity to fly to Alert, our northerly most post. It is hard for people to imagine, unless you have been there, the vastness of this space. We all talk passionately about the need for sovereignty and to assert and maintain our sovereignty, but it is hard to imagine how we can do that with limited equipment in such a vast and amazing space.

How do you feel about that issue? Are we able to do it, or do we need the drone and satellite capability? Are you confident about where we are now? What are your views on that?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Thank you, senator, for that question. Sovereignty to me is more than just defending the nation. It is about economic prosperity, it is about our presence in the North, it is about good governance and it is about surveillance.

Enforcement is one aspect of that. Our ability to operate with other government departments and enable them to operate up in the North in some of these exercises helps to promote our sovereignty. I do agree we need to leverage space capabilities. We are seeing that with RADARSAT and hopefully with the RCM project that will come along eventually, where we will be able to monitor all of the Northwest Passage in a more efficient manner and queue some of our other assets, when required, to go up and take a closer look.

Yes, I think we need to leverage some of those capabilities in the future for surveillance. I also think that sovereignty is more than the defence aspect of it. It is about presence and the government being visible in the North.

The Chair: Thank you for that.

Senator Dallaire: Budgets and so on will have impacts on the capabilities that the forces will be able to sustain into the future, and trade-offs are being made. We visited Valcartier, where units have been training in jungle operations and mountain operations. You even have people training and deploying in amphibious operations.

Is Arctic training and indoctrination seen as a specialty or as a fundamental capability of a Nordic or northern army or military — all forces — as we are? As such, is getting that emphasis and resource base as a fundamental capability of our northern forces versus being a specialty that you try to meet with some of the members annually?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Thank you, senator. I think it will be an inherent capability that we are trying to redevelop. I am sure you are very familiar with operations in the North. We would like our soldiers to be able to go up there on a moment's notice any time during the year, in harsh winter conditions or in summer conditions, to be able to provide assistance in a security and safety environment. I think that is where the focus needs to be. We need to deliver on the core capabilities that would enable them to do that.

Senator Dallaire: We deploy in Afghanistan. I think Kitchener deployed to the Sudan to try to save Khartoum and took three months to acclimatize his troops. We do similar scenarios. The Arctic requires periods of acclimatization, and long enough that they cannot eat their chocolate bars anymore and have to survive with what is going on there.

With the militia units that have been identified, are you deliberately creating a capability in the forces of this constant level of operational readiness to be able to deploy? If not, why not make the Rangers even more effective and give them more capability and opportunity? Everything they are doing is in line with their cultural references, their background, and we will be helping them and their youth to be gainfully employed.

Maj.-Gen. Foster: Thank you, senator. You are raising some great points. I think we are doing all of those. I think that we are leveraging and encouraging our Rangers. We have increased the numbers to 5,000. We are employing them more. We are using them more to provide training to our IRUs, our immediate reaction units, and to our Arctic Response Company Groups. On every occasion that I have been or seen in the North, we leverage that capacity.

It is pretty well a mandate for all of the joint task forces to provide some kind of domestic training exercise scenario every year. We can gain some cost-effectiveness by doing it in the lower part of the North, if you will, like in Moosonee or in Schefferville, but there is still the requirement because it is quite different to go up North. Then, on a rotational basis, we will be looking at which units go up to the North. I would expect that in the coming years pretty well every IRU and JTF will have some exercise that will keep their core capacity to be able to operate up in the North at the appropriate level.

Senator Dallaire: May I add to that? It would be most useful for us to get a feel — again, an unclassified document — of exactly what the assessment has been to establish the operational readiness of troops from the South to be able to function and survive in the North. For example, the Finns needed 60 per cent of their time to survive and beat the Russians, who needed 90 per cent of their time to survive and had very little time to fight. The survival dimension is overriding in your operational capability.

Can you give us a feel for how the forces will be able to build an inherent northern capability that is constantly there and not punctual by the odd unit going and the odd exercise? If there is an ensemble to that, that would be interesting.

Maj.-Gen. Foster: I would like to clarify that when the northern chiefs of defence met last April, I never thought I would be standing on the ramp on the base in Goose Bay talking to a four-star Russian general, but there I was. When you look at those eight Arctic nations that sat around the table and talked, they all agreed that there was no military threat to the North.

From my perspective in operating up in the North, we are focused on ensuring that we can arrive at a community or wherever we need to in terms of providing disaster response and being able to survive, which is quite different than operating in a combat-type scenario.

I do think that we have set out the training requirements that would enable our forces to be able to carry that out, but I can provide you with the documentation about that.

The Chair: Thank you for that. One final quick point is that one of the things we are looking at in the discussion about transformation is the stand-up of CJOC. You were Deputy Commander of Canada Command and now you are deputy at CJOC. Is it working? Is the home game getting enough attention?

Maj.-Gen. Foster: That is a great question, and the answer is a resounding yes. When I was at the division in Winnipeg it was amazing to see the CEFCOM-Canada COM relationship where CEFCOM would be coming to the air force and asking for assets to go overseas either to Haiti or Afghanistan. Canada Command would be coming to ask for air force assets to go up North to help with some community. The reality is that one colonel in Trenton owns all those airplanes that he wants access to. By going to CJOC, now we have combined that and have one joint forces air component commander who responds to both the expeditionary and the domestic mission and we maximize the resources.

We are not necessarily limiting ourselves to today I am only working on domestic things. Whatever I need to work on for the team to get the most priority done, we will get it done. It is a lot more effective.

The Chair: Thank you for that. This seems to be a consistent message we are hearing regardless of where people enter this discussion.

Thank you so much for being here today. We have waited for this for a long time. We appreciate it, Major-General Richard D. Foster, whose responsibility is deputy commander within the new Canadian Joint Operations Command.

We will continue with the business of our meeting. We do have to pass one budget here.

Tonight we are going to appear before committee, so this budget has been distributed. This is for a special study on Canadian Forces bases. We had our mandate approved, I think, last week. Senator Dallaire did that. Does anyone have any questions about this budget and what we are attempting to do? Otherwise, we will ask for a motion to approve it.

Senator Manning: I so move.

Senator Campbell: Second.

The Chair: Thank you very much. We consider it adopted. Our meeting is now adjourned. Back to work over on the Hill.

(The committee adjourned.)


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