AirPower Operations Course: Building RCAF leaders of tomorrow

News Article / December 19, 2016

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By Major Petra Smith

“Canada needs to appropriately prepare members of the RCAF and others to apply air power to achieve the desired effects, and that can only happen with a fundamental understanding and appreciation of its use . . . Air-power expertise within one’s area of specialization may provide a suitable level of airmindedness for the first-tour pilot, but it would not be sufficient for an aviator who must apply the larger spectrum of air-power capabilities.”

—Brigader-General Christopher Coates, summer 2015


Today’s challenging and unpredictable security environment demands that the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) be led by airpower experts who are able to respond to a dynamic aerospace environment anywhere around the world, in any condition. Recent operations as part of Operation Impact, for instance, illustrate the need for tactical expertise in delivering air power, as well as airpower-minded officers who can plan, task, and assess integrated air operations in a dynamic and combined environment at the operational level.

The new AirPower Operations Course (APOC), delivered at the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC), develops airpower-minded officers who can thrive in complex, integrated aerospace operations – ultimately helping safeguard Canadians at home and their interests abroad.

“2 CAD is extremely proud to be a part of this important initiative to invest in the future of the RCAF,” said Brigadier-General David Cochrane, commander of 2 Canadian Air Division (2 CAD). “Our people are our greatest asset – educating our officers in the domain of aerospace operations is critical to the RCAF, as we prepare our future airpower-minded leaders of 2030.”


The genesis of APOC came about through a significant amount of rigorous analysis by RCAF senior leadership. 2 CAD conducted a front-end analysis (FEA) led by co-chairs Colonel Denis O’Reilly, commander of 15 Wing and former director air force training, and Colonel Kelvin Truss, CFAWC commanding officer. The FEA systematically and precisely identified RCAF professional development requirements for its officers at the captain and major rank levels, the end result of which was APOC.

By analyzing doctrine, lessons learned, survey data, command intent, and existing curriculum, RCAF senior leaders determined during the FEA that, while the Air Force Officer Development (AFOD) Program offers a good foundation, a crucible-type course for future leaders was required to attain operational excellence. 

“There is a requirement for RCAF officers to provide advocacy for, and to ensure the understanding of, airpower within a joint community,” Colonel Truss said. “Only through a deep understanding of airpower can RCAF officers operate more effectively as a joint partner. CFAWC staff members were involved in the service paper that suggested a course like APOC would be beneficial. The opportunity to develop content and to shape the way the course is delivered has been invigorating for our team.”


Mirroring the Canadian Armed Forces Operational Planning Process (CAFOPP), students, who were personally selected by Capability Advisory Group chairs, came from a variety of occupations and communities. The inaugural course included 24 RCAF students and three allied students from the United States Air Force, the Royal Air Force, and the Royal Australian Air Force.

A key strength of the program, Colonel Truss said, is “bringing together, in residence, a number of bright and capable professionals and giving them the opportunity to share knowledge and experience, collectively generating ideas and thinking critically as one body.”

Speaking about the unique benefit of foreign student participation, Lieutenant-Colonel Bruce Barnes, the CFAWC’s APOC director, said, “Our allied students have engaged very seriously. They have sent their best, and our Canadian students have learned from our allied counterparts.”


During the six-week intensive course, students honed staff skills, delved into aerospace doctrine, and conducted several CAFOPP cycles, based on four scenarios: disaster assistance response, non-combatant evacuation operations, peace support operation, and full-spectrum warfare.

“The intellectual capital of the RCAF needs to be pushed to the forefront, and only through active participation of eager officers will we be able to leverage this resource,” said Captain Alexandre Gignac, a pilot with 404 Long Range Patrol and Training Squadron, located at 14 Wing Greenwood, Nova Scotia. “I would strongly encourage those who seek to broaden themselves from tactical to operational thinkers to jump in – both feet!”

Students experienced integrated air operations from a variety of perspectives, including the Canadian Combined Aerospace Operations Centre (CAOC), Air Task Force Headquarters, and the Coalition/Alliance CAOC. Bringing together a variety of officers for an in-house course is APOC’s biggest strength, said Captain Samuel Trottier, a pilot with 430 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, located in Valcartier, Quebec. “The fact that time is allocated exclusively for our education and that we are all at a single location is worth gold.”

To establish a solid foundation, students began the course by learning about airpower theorists, airpower fundamentals, critical thinking, command and control, rules of engagement, law of armed conflict, electronic warfare, space, cyber, force protection, and targeting.

“APOC is an absolutely essential course at the Developmental Period 2 level,” said Captain Andrew Bowie, second-in-command of the Canadian Forces School of Military Engineering. “From the start of our careers, we are taught how to operate tactically, in small groups; changing that mindset to dealing with thousands is a different shift in scale of operations.” Developmental Period 2 is training undertaken at the captain level.

Inspiring and credible guest speakers were a highlight of the course. The students benefited from the wisdom and experience of representatives from the Canadian Forces College, the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Navy, Joint Operations Support Group, Director General Space (which now falls under the RCAF), Canadian Joint Operations Command, 1 Wing Kingston, 8 Wing Trenton, Royal Military College of Canada, 2 Wing Bagotville (Air Expeditionary Wing), 1st Canadian Division, and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).

“The students take to heart the experience of the guest speakers,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Barnes. “There is real interest; students said that they have never been on a course like this before.”

While the focus of the course was on integrated air operations, students also honed staff skills by writing briefing notes, letters of appreciation, service papers, and staff papers in addition to preparing presentations. When asked about what knowledge and skills that he will bring back to his unit, Captain Bowie replied, “How our trade fits into the cultural mosaic of the RCAF, and not just at the tactical level but at the strategic level.”

A Crucible

In addition to attitudinal assessments, student performance was graded in a range from “exceeded standard” to “below standard,” emphasizing the rigour of the program. “Student morale has been high,” Lieutenant-Colonel Barnes said. “There is a real sense of seriousness:  there is gravity. Students understand that the course content is relevant to their careers as RCAF leaders.”

The Learning Environment

Colonel Truss noted that, with a library that contains more than 12,000 airpower-centric holdings, and offers a multitude of discussion areas, a theatre, and an environment that can replicate a CAOC, the Warfare Centre is suited to deliver this training. “The workforce here is rich in experience, both in terms of breadth and depth, with many post-command senior officers” he said. “Since our business is doctrine development, concept development, and conceptual thinking, CFAWC is poised to deliver this type of training and education.”

For military personnel interested in APOC . . .

Captains and majors (pre-Joint Command and Staff Program) who are interested in APOC should advise their respective chain of command to be considered for the two upcoming serials.  Serial 2 will be held from April 20 to June 1, 2017, and Serial 3 will take place from October 19 to November 30, 2017. Student selection will be based on Capability Advisory Group Chair nominations.

For more information about APOC and other exciting professional military education opportunities, please visit the 2 CAD professional development webpage at (link available internally only, to the Department of National Defence ).


“Without a collective appreciation and under­standing of the tenets of airpower and their strengths and weaknesses, we cannot pos­sibly prevail
in our mission. Individual training and the continued professional development of expert airmen is a core competency that we must
continue to provide and that RCAF personnel must strive to achieve.”  

RCAF Vectors


Major Petra Smith is with 2 Canadian Air Division.

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