Royal Canadian Air Force Overview
Who we are
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) provides the Canadian Armed Forces with relevant, responsive and effective air power capabilities to meet the defence challenges of today and into the future. The commander of the RCAF ensures that trained personnel, along with the necessary equipment and support, are available and ready to carry out air operations at home, in North America and around the world when called upon by the Government of Canada.
Although the RCAF generates these operational forces, they are generally employed by other organizations such Canadian Joint Operations Command, NORAD, NATO or the United Nations.
The Canadian Armed Forces has three key defence roles, which are described in the Canada First Defence Strategy: defend Canada by delivering excellence at home, defending North America by being a strong, reliable defence partner and contributing to international peace and security by projecting leadership abroad.
To defend Canada by delivering excellence at home, the Royal Canadian Air Force provides control and surveillance of Canadian territory, airspace and maritime approaches, participates in integrated operations (operations that may also involve the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army or partner organizations that are involved in security operations), conducts search and rescue missions that aid those in distress anywhere in Canada on a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week basis, and assists in crisis response across the country and its maritime approaches.
To place those responsibilities in context, it’s important to remember that Canada has the second largest territory and airspace in the world, which includes many remote areas, and is bounded by a vast three-ocean coastline that is the longest in the world. Therefore, monitoring Canadian territory and responding to potentially threatening or unauthorized activity makes the capability offered by the Air Force a key aspect of the overall response. These monitoring activities include guarding against military threats, protecting our natural and economic resources, watching for polluters and illegal fishing, counter-drug surveillance and keeping watch for illegal immigrants.
When a natural or man-made disaster occurs on Canadian soil, the Air Force can help meet the geographical challenge posed by our immense territory and many remote, difficult to reach locations. Meeting these challenges has a growing level of significance in Canada’s Arctic, where the Air Force will continue to play an important role in conducting surveillance, carrying out search and rescue operations and asserting Canadian sovereignty.
Learn more about the Air Force’s presence in the Arctic on the RCAF in the North webpage.
Canada’s most important security and defence partner is the United States of America. Our nation is committed to the defence of North America by being a strong, reliable and credible defence partner with the U.S. in the defence of the continent. The bi-national North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD) Command is responsible for aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America. This includes the detection, validation, and warning of attack against North America – whether by aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles – over both land and our maritime approaches.
The Canadian NORAD Region (CANR), headquartered at 1 Canadian Air Division Headquarters in Winnipeg, Manitoba, is responsible for defending Canadian airspace. The other two regional NORAD headquarters are located at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, and Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
In our increasingly interconnected world, instability and conflict in one part of the world have a real potential to threaten the basic quality of life here in Canada. Over the last decade, the Canadian Armed Forces have contributed to a wide range of actions that contribute to international peace and security by projecting leadership abroad.
For the Royal Canadian Air Force, international operations range from participating in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and drug interdictions; to enforcing embargoes and no-fly zones; to contributing to both peace-support and combat operations. Our experiences demonstrate the value of a relevant, responsive and effective Air Force and highlight the need to make the RCAF of the future even more expeditionary in nature.
More about current Canadian Forces operations.
For more about past Canadian Forces operations, visit either the CJOC website or the Directorate of History and Heritage operations database.
The Royal Canadian Air Force comprises 13 wings, as well as other installations, that are located across Canada. Ten of the Wings also include a Canadian Forces Base that house other operational and support units; three are “lodger” units located on bases owned by the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army or the Chief of Military Personnel. The Wings conduct Air Force operations under the direction of the commander of 1 Canadian Air Division and the Canadian NORAD Region.
The Royal Canadian Air Force’s fleet of aircraft including fighter jets, helicopters and training aircraft.
The Royal Canadian Air Force includes approximately 13,000 Regular Force personnel and 2,400 Air Reserve personnel (both Primary Reservists and officers of the Cadet Instructors Cadre, who are responsible for the supervision, administration and training of members of the Royal Canadian Air Cadets). Approximately 2,000 civilian public servants are also employed within the RCAF organization.
Learn more about the Air Reserve.