Commander RCAF: “Preparing the Air Force of 2030”

News Article / May 26, 2017

From Lieutenant-General Michael Hood

On April 11, 2017, the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force, Lieutenant-General Mike Hood addressed members of the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries at their annual “Air Force Outlook” day. Here are his remarks.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a real honour to join you here today. I am delighted to address you today as the commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

First of all, I need to comment on this past weekend. I had the great privilege of being part of the Canadian delegation at Vimy Ridge [in France on April 9, 2017]. And, I can tell you, there’s probably not a day in my life I’ve been prouder to be a Canadian than this past Sunday.

The weekend started at Hill 70, where they dedicated a monument to a battle that has long been forgotten, but it was almost equally as difficult for our country. Notably, Billy Bishop had three of his kills over at Hill 70.

Now, there were many Canadian airmen in the Royal Flying Corps or in the Royal Naval Air Service. Best estimates: over 20,000 Canadians served, and over 1,400 airmen lost their lives. In fact, the lead-up to Vimy Ridge—from the 4th to the 9th of April—was really the beginnings of air power and the importance of aviation in terms of allowing the ground campaign to move forward. The allies lost 75 aircraft and 105 personnel in those four days before Vimy Ridge.

I was very, very happy to see—and many of you watched it [on television]—the Vimy Flight, which was the flight of five replica Nieuport 11s and Sopwith pups [over the Canadian Memorial at Vimy]. We took them to France in a CC-177 Globemaster.  

It’s interesting; I was at the Abbotsford air show in 2015, where a very old friend of mine who was on 434 Squadron was [there] with his vintage plane, and he told me this story about how they were going to get to Vimy Ridge and do a flypast. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s quite impressive. Good luck, because I imagine it’s going to be quite a challenge’. But I got interested and I certainly got involved. And I promised him support and I helped… and I know some in industry here have supported them as well. But I can tell you, watching those airplanes fly over Vimy Ridge was a pretty proud moment for the commander of the RCAF. Captain Brent Handy is a CF-188 pilot who has been with the Snowbirds for many years [and is at]. He’s in Moose Jaw [with 431 Air Demonstration Squadron] as the Tutor standards officer. I wanted to have one of our serving officers fly at Vimy, so Brent Handy, who had some “tail-dragging” time in a Pitts Special that he owns, joined them over there. It was pretty special [and] a great weekend to be a Canadian.

But enough looking to the past; let’s talk about the future and part of why I’m here today to speak to you all.

Now those of you had an opportunity to hear me speak previously may have noted that I often say my most important role is to build the Royal Canadian Air Force of 2030 . . . setting the conditions now for what we’re going to need to be successful in 2030. Are we going to have changed roles and missions? What are the challenges going to be, to government financially or the problems facing the world that we’re dealing with? What is the equipment we’ll need? Importantly, what are the human skills and capabilities?  I’m responsible for raising, training, and equipping the Air Force of the future.

But I’ve come to think a lot more in the last year –what about the success of the Canadian aerospace sector in 2030? I believe that it’s critical to my and the Air Force’s success, hence my intent is to push more aggressively this relationship of ours, and how we can work more closely together in the shared defence of our great nation. I don’t believe the Air Force can be successful if the companies represented in this room aren’t successful as well.

Now we’re often confronted on how we should prioritize the three services in Canada. I know that you, like me, recognize how important air power is to the success of Canada. But I’m often confronted with that question, and what I typically say is:  ‘You know, the Earth is covered 75 per cent  by water and 30 per cent by land, but 100 per cen tby air and space?’ So I tend to let people decide for themselves, but it’s kind of self-evident.

Now I do believe that RCAF’s most important role is as the guarantor of Canadian sovereignty. We alone possess the means to reach, surveil, and act in every square foot of Canadian territory and air space. We can do so with speed and agility that’s unmatched. So this is why the North Warning System and our fighter force are so important. It’s why we ask for long-range tanks on our F-model Chinooks. It’s why we continue to expand the operational capability of the Globemaster to operate in the Arctic. It’s why the Royal Canadian Air Force has the highest percentage of its force on high readiness among the three services – a fact not well known. It’s why our operational integration with the U.S. Air Force and NORAD is so important.

The guarantor of Canadian sovereignty. Canadian geography, sovereignty and history are meshed with the RCAF’s history – air power history. It drives our doctrine, our roles, and our understanding of our responsibilities as that guarantor. To protect Canadian sovereignty in the world today and into the future, we must do three things: we’ve got to deliver air power, we have to invest and, most importantly, we have to innovate.

I’ve talked a lot about delivering air power and air power in formation with our partners across government, with our allies, and with industry. We’ve got to continue to be agile and integrated with the reach in power essential to Canadian Armed Forces operations. Air power!

Investing. I believe the government is investing. The RCAF is growing [and] we are bringing on world-class capabilities. But this trend has to continue.

And most importantly, we have to innovate. This is an area of particular focus and emphasis for me. We must innovate and nurture an innovative mind set within the Royal Canadian Air Force and amongst those who enable us in our missions.

Now we have a tremendous legacy of innovation, as does Canada. And if you haven’t seen it yet, I would highly recommend to you this fantastic book called Ingenious, just released last month. Written by the Governor General and Tom Jenkins, the newly-minted honorary colonel of 409 Squadron in Cold Lake, it’s a collection of brilliant Canadian innovations that have made both our country and the world a better place. And I think if you look through its pages you’ll be surprised at some of the things you may not have known were Canadian. The book explores the conditions for innovation and clearly illustrates that Canadians have been and are and will continue to be innovators and pioneers.

Now some great RCAF examples are included, and I want the RCAF to once again be an innovation leader in Canada. Some of the examples: in 1917 the Royal Flying Corps came to Canada to recruit and train Canadians for service in the First World War, and we pioneered skis on aircraft. We’re going to celebrate that 100th anniversary of the Royal Flying Corps Canada in Borden in June for those of you that are around.

In the 1940s, the University of Toronto pioneered in aviation medicine. Wilbur Franks developed the G-suit. In the late ‘40s the most powerful jet engine of its time, the Orenda, came out of Canadian research to test how jet engines performed in cold weather, and it eventually led to the foundation of the A.V. Roe Company.

But innovation can be more than just pure technology. Many of you recognize RCAF Colonel Chris Hadfield. Well in 2013 he pioneered some pretty innovative ways to talk about space and, I would submit to you, inspired a generation of Canadians to follow in his footsteps. I see the Royal Canadian Air Force as a pathway to space, a pathway to the stars. And I’m proud to say that, of the 32 candidates that remain in competition to be our next astronauts, eight of them are members of the Royal Canadian Air Force. [Editor’s note, since this speech was delivered, the number of astronaut candidates has been whittled down to 17; the eight RCAF members are still in the running.]

Many of you in this room will know that last year the RCAF took over space as a function. It’s one of the areas where I’ve been surprised to find that, amongst the Five Eyes Allies, with the exception of the U.S., Canada is a leader. We are innovators, and I want to make that connection as close as I can.

We need to accelerate the exploration and implementation of innovative solutions for our air power needs. You know, my rationale is that it’s great for defence and the RCAF, it’s great for Canadian sovereignty, it’s great for industry, and for academic institutions. We need to be attractive to millennials, our current recruiting demographic. They’re job seekers. They’re drawn to organizations that embrace change, encourage ideas, and seek the best talent.

Our allies are innovating, and interoperability among the closest allies remains key to our operations’ success. Our adversaries are innovating. State and non-state actors are more and more technologically sophisticated. Thus there’s three key ways I think we can create the conditions for innovative success: intellectually, practically, and institutionally. I’m going to talk about these just for a second.

Intellectually. We have a saying in the Air Force: ‘Great Ideas Have no Rank’. We’re really trying hard to develop a culture of innovation. Every month we put out an article [by email] that invites anyone in the Air Force to comment on. We have a pretty lively discussion. Everyone from our youngest aviators to myself have commented, and we’re creating conditions for that debate.

We have a monthly ‘Vector Check’ – I call it the Dragons’ Den –where anyone in the Air Force can have 10 minutes. We do it by VTC with myself, all the generals here in Ottawa and the commanders of the Air Divisions in Winnipeg. We sit down and we listen to a pitch. And maybe we’ll buy your ‘company’ or a portion of it. Or maybe we’ll invest and, infuse your ideas into our program. We’re starting to see success.

We talk about air power mastery and we’ve created fellowships and post-grad opportunities in diverse organizations, placing people in the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy and other think tanks. We’re trying to broaden people’s perspective.

We’ve got to recruit that talent, including in the RCAF Reserve, an area that we’re actually growing to support our challenge. We’ve got to promote innovation practically, by being alongside the best of Canadian technological innovation. If you’re ever in Waterloo and you go to Communitech – Communitech is an innovation laboratory, an innovation hub – [you’ll see that] the RCAF has a presence there. We’re working alongside many of Canada’s newest start-ups -- Canadian industry and academia who are at the forefront of technological innovation. We’re leveraging innovation best practices: accept greater risk, fail fast, move on to the next good idea. We’re trying to support Canadian start-ups in a rich and symbiotic relationship, and I look forward to the fruits of that labour.

We’re looking for more engagement with our aerospace industry partners. Several times over the last 18 months, I’ve said to the industry public and to Parliament that we need to embrace and invest in Canadian technology; it’s an opportunity to put Canada first. I used the example of the Aurora. It’s an older platform but we’re just coming through the Block 3 and, soon, we’ll have the Block 4 modification. It’s the world’s leading anti-submarine warfare solution, made with investments from Defence Research and Development Canada and the Assistant Deputy Minister (Science and Technology), working with some of you in this room. We have created a world-leading capability.

Now I ask myself, we need to start thinking about: what is going to be a successor of this? And I’ve repeatedly mentioned that I see the possibilities of the Canadian air frame – perhaps the Q-400 or C series. But not one person has picked up the phone and called me to ask me how to explore this future with me. Maybe someone in this room will.

Lastly, this leads to our institutional needs to lead innovation, to get back to that spot where the RCAF was an innovation leader that created the conditions for the G-suit and the Orenda engine and the Avro Arrow. We need to build an innovation strategy to build in the agility to embrace results of the intellectual and practical ideas that this work is generating. We need to do this in formation with both government and industry. Now, all of you know government has a very strong innovation agenda, and I’m going to tell you: we’re in sync with this. There was a strong innovation theme in last month’s federal budget to position Canada as a world-leading innovation economy. The government has asked: How can we make Canada more innovative? I’m asking: How can we make the Royal Canadian Air Force more innovative? How can we, the RCAF and industry, work together to harness this government’s innovation agenda? We have to find ways to experiment together without the risk of affecting established and contractual processes. We have to find ways to be agile in this space.

I’ve got no shortage of areas where we can do operational trials and evaluation with support from government partners and industry. You know, I’m open to virtually every idea in this space, to move forward together. If I can favour a Canadian solution, I think that’s part of my mandate as commander of your Air Force.

To the future. With Canadian sovereignty as a central RCAF role, and innovation as our key mind-set, what’s the future of the RCAF? Since last year’s CADSI Outlook Day, the RCAF has published a key document to help guide us in this journey to 2030 and beyond – The Future Air Operating Concept, which reconfirms fundamental roles and operating concepts.

We’re on the cusp of a new defence policy and  frankly, I don’t expect the fundamental roles of defence to change significantly. They haven’t, really, since I joined in 1986. The RCAF’s core mission—to provide the CAF with relevant, responsive, and effective air power to meet the defence challenges of today and in the future—will remain extant. We’ll defend Canada and serve as that guarantor of Canadian sovereignty. We’ll defend North America in cooperation with our closest partner, the United States. And of course we’ll continue to contribute to international peace and security, which links directly to our own continental and domestic defence.

So regardless of the specific mission or operation that may come out in a policy, in all cases, we’re still going to need to continue to be agile and integrated with the reach of power to achieve government objectives.

With flying in formation as a mind-set, we continue to see operational success alongside our sister services, government and non-government agencies, international partners, and allies, regardless of developments in the near-term, budget, air frames, and manning, I don’t think the basic concept will change. And we’ve got to continue to work together to demonstrate we can elevate the potency of air power – Canadian air power. Active encouragement and implementation of innovative thinking will be a critical enabler in this regard.

Keep sovereignty and innovation in your minds— as touchstones—as I look to you to assist us in achieving the greater success in our air power missions while protecting Canadian sovereignty. Let’s experiment together and find innovative technologies, ways of thinking, and approaches to advanced air power. People will always be central to that success, and they are the foundation that everything I talked about rests on. And the true strength and success of the RCAF in 2030 will be determined by our proud and dedicated airmen and airwomen, in support of their families.

This speech has been edited for length and flow.

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