Chapter 3: National Security and Aerospace Power (B-GA-400-000/FP-000, Canadian Forces Aerospace Doctrine)

Aerospace Doctrine

The most basic role of any national government is to protect its citizens and their vital interests.

- Canadian Senate Committee on
National Security and Defence

National Security

In Canada, national security “is the preservation of a way of life acceptable to the Canadian people and compatible with the needs and legitimate aspirations of others. It includes freedom from military attack or coercion, freedom from internal subversion, and freedom from the erosion of the political, economic, and social values which are essential to the quality of life in Canada.”[1] The fundamental aspects of these national interests are largely enduring, although they may be modified in response to internal and external forces such as those resulting from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in the United States on 11 September 2001. Promoting and protecting national interests is the essence of national security, which is inherently the ultimate responsibility of government and is achieved through the adoption of a coherent National Security Policy. The principles and priorities identified in the National Security Policy shape the Canadian Defence policy.

The Canadian Defence Policy provides guidance and objectives to the Department of National Defence (DND) for the development of a sustainable program for the performance of operations. The most recent guidance, the Canada First Defence Strategy from 2008, emphasizes a Canadian Defence Policy based on defending Canada, including thre Arctic, defending North America, and contributing to international peace and security.[2]

National Power

National power is the term that describes a nation’s total capability to achieve its national objectives. It encompasses a wide array of interrelated capabilities and includes diplomatic, informational, military and economic elements. To achieve the objectives of national policy, a nation employs those necessary aspects of national power. The successful application of national power involves coordination across many national government departments and agencies and is often referred to as a whole-of-government (WoG) approach.[3]

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Military Power

The military element of national power, often referred to as military power, “is the potential of military capabilities that a nation possesses.”[4] It is the instrument of national strategy normally exercised by the government when other means have failed or require reinforcement. Military power consists of three principal forms: sea power, land power, and aerospace power. With the shift towards employing military power within a WoG or comprehensive approach framework, the three forms of military power must be interactive, interdependent, and complementary in order to ensure success in meeting the objectives of national security and the aims of national strategy.[5] At the same time, each may be effectively employed separately to project military power as required.

Aerospace Power

Aerospace power is that element of military power applied within or from the air and space environments to achieve effects above, on, and below the surface of the Earth. In its earliest form, aerospace power was used for observation purposes to gain a perspective over the battlefield that was not achievable using surface-based assets. Over time, aerospace power has evolved from being an element of land and sea power to becoming an important and inherently flexible and dominating form of military power in its own right. History has shown that the continued modernization of aerospace weapons, platforms, and delivery systems has heightened the importance of aerospace power in the global balance of power, to the point where aerospace power can be employed independently across the spectrum of conflict.[6] It can be integrated with land and maritime forces to contribute to joint and combined operations, or it can be integrated in a WoG or comprehensive approach.

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Figure 3-1 shows the spectrum of conflict from left to right as follows: peace, conflict and war. End Figure 3-1.

Figure 3-1. The Spectrum of Conflict


In the early part of May 1916, before the big Vimy Ridge battle, in the morning soon after sunrise, the balloon ascended with Lieutenant H. and myself to about 5,000 feet. Everything was at peace except an anti-aircraft gun showing evident anger at an annoying mosquito that was buzzing over enemy country.

That bark was the only sound that made one realize that a tragic war was on. For people with jaded nerves who are perplexed with the ceaseless hurry, bustle, and noise of modern life, I recommend a few hours up aloft in a kite balloon as a tonic and respite from its cares and worries. There is a charming and attractive calm and quietness about the experience that is recuperative and restful.

Of course this is not recommended whilst there is a war on, because the clouds can harbour unseen, unknown terrors and instruments of destruction. For instance, the enemy developed an astonishing accuracy in shelling kite balloons with shrapnel. I have had some uncomfortable half-hours with this kind of attack. This morning in May one shell burst towards our balloon, only one, but it left us guessing as to when the next would be sent over, for the enemy rarely let us off with only one try, but this morning he did. He was kind to us that day.[7]

The 1991 Gulf War provides an example of how aerospace power has become an indispensable element of military power by demonstrating how control of the air paved the way for the success of follow-on military operations.

“As hostilities heightened and possible war approached, the CF18 squadron included 24 aircraft and appropriate support personnel. At its peak, the Canadian Air Task Group totaled 750 men and women serving in Qatar. War erupted on January 17, 1991, and lasted until early March 1991. By the end of active hostilities the Canadian contingent had 26 CF18s and a CC137 tanker aircraft stationed in Qatar [as well as five Sea Kings in support of naval operations]. In addition, Canada provided CC130 Hercules and CC137 airlift for all Canadian Forces operations in the Gulf region. During the conflict Canadian fighters fired their first shots since World War II but did not incur any casualties. The Canadian contingent carried out combat air patrols (CAP), sweep and escort missions, ground attack roles, and Sea King reconnaissance. The air power displayed by coalition forces was decisive and effective, setting the stage for a very brief 100-hour ground war.”[8]

It is customary in the democratic countries to deplore expenditures on armaments as conflicting with the requirements of social services. There is a tendency to forget that the most important social service a government can do for its people is to keep them alive and free.

- Air Chief Marshal J. C. Slessor

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1. W. D. Macnamara and Ann Fitz-Gerald, “A National Security Framework for Canada,” Policy Matters 3, no. 10 (October 2002) (English only) (PDF, 84 kB): 8, (accessed October 28, 2010).  (return)

2. Canada. Department of National Defence. Canada First Defence Strategy, 12 March 2010, (accessed October 28, 2010). (return)

3. Canadian Military Doctrine, 2-2. (return)

4. Canadian Military Doctrine, 2-3. (return)

5. As part of the WoG effort, it is important to note that military power is complementary and that it is not relegated to a force of last resort. (return)

6. Canadian Military Doctrine, 2-12. (return)

7. Flight-Sergeant W. S. Lewis, “In a Kite Balloon” in Everyman at War, ed. C. B. Purdom (London: Dent, 1930). (return)

8. Canada, Department of National Defence, “The Modern Era: The UN-Iraq Conflict,” Canada’s Air Force, (accessed October 28, 2010). (return)

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