Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to be here today to discuss the Royal Canadian Air Force and our readiness, particularly in the context of the defence of Canada and of North America.
I am very pleased to be offered this opportunity, because informing Canadians about our air force's role and contribution to the safety and security of our citizens is an essential part of my responsibilities as commander.
Readiness, in its simplest form, is about being able to deliver on our government's domestic and international defence commitments in a highly complex and ever-changing environment. Readiness includes our people, our aircraft and systems, and the other resources that, together, provide the air power capabilities the government requires to serve Canadians and Canadian interests. This is a very important concept. We have many no-fail missions. Canadians depend upon us, and this is the reason we strive to excel at all we do.
I'd like to begin my remarks by discussing our core air power capabilities. Air power is agile and fast, and has the range required to protect Canadians at home and abroad. We are tasked by government to provide five principal capabilities.
The RCAF is tasked to conduct surveillance and reconnaissance. The situational awareness of Canada's vast land mass, maritime approaches, and airspace is a critical task essential to guaranteeing Canadian sovereignty.
We control our airspace and are ready with the power necessary to act in control of that airspace in the defence of Canada and North America, or when deployed on NATO or coalition operations.
That power to act leads to our capability to attack as required, based on the assigned mission. This controlled use of force, when our government chooses to use it, is a key aspect of military air power, distinct from civil resources.
We also provide air mobility for personnel, equipment, and systems to be deployed anywhere in Canada or around the world as part of Canadian Armed Forces missions and in support of other government departments. We enable the government to reach far and fast, thereby contributing to Canada's reputation as a valuable international player.
Last, we provide critical support capabilities, whether to joint operations with our sister services, or to civil authority in the form of humanitarian aid or essential search and rescue missions.
The 18,000-strong women and men—regular, reserve, and civilians—span the gamut from pilots and air crew to maintenance personnel, logisticians, and engineers, based in Canada and across the world. They execute and support our critical missions—NORAD, search and rescue, or support to the United Nations—wherever we are called upon to further our nation's priorities. These air power capabilities must be available to the government whenever needed, on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is the readiness of our people, their education, training, and commitment, that makes this happen.
The Royal Canadian Air Force strives to be an inclusive, agile and integrated organization, led and filled by those with the professionalism, expertise and airpower mastery that Canadians both need and expect from us.
It is needless to say that our foremost defence priority is the defence of Canada and Canadians. This requires that the RCAF is aware of any potential hostile activity occurring within Canadian territory, ready to protect all of the approaches to it, able to effectively deter threats, and able to respond to contingencies anywhere in the country, from hurricanes in the Maritimes, to floods on the prairies or environmental issues in the Arctic.
While protecting Canada's sovereignty requires close collaboration among all the constituent parts of our military, it is clear that comprehensive surveillance is best done from the air and from space. Thus, our airpower capabilities represent a key and critically important component of Canada's overall response to any potential threat, given the agility, speed, reach and power of the RCAF.
Furthermore, in the event of a natural or man-made disaster anywhere on Canadian soil that threatens public safety, air power is a key enabler to provide immediate, coordinated, and sustained military support to other government departments and agencies, as we have done in many continental contingencies. Our readiness includes our primary responsibility for aeronautical search and rescue. Last year the rescue coordination centres received 9,534 calls for help. Of these, 962 were tasked to the Canadian Armed Forces, resulting in 661 aircraft launches by the RCAF. This is a no-fail task that we deliver daily to Canadians.
The defence of Canada also requires a defence of North America. The principle that North America is indivisible from a defence perspective is reflected in the existence of the NORAD command, which was established in 1958. Our binational military organization was established to monitor and defend North American airspace. NORAD monitors and tracks, validates, and warns of potential attack against North America by aircraft or missiles, or of potential damage from space debris.
Since 9/11 NORAD defends against potential asymmetric air attacks involving civilian aircraft through Operation Noble Eagle and has a role in support of security for major events like the Vancouver Olympics or the G7 and the G20 both in Canada and in the U.S.
Canada contributes financial resources, physical assets, and personnel to NORAD, and commands one of the three NORAD regions, the Canadian NORAD region, out of our RCAF operational headquarters in Winnipeg. Canadian NORAD region maintains fighter and tanker aircraft on alert, operates and maintains the Canadian portion of the north warning system, the radar chain in the north, and operates four forward-operating locations to support fighter operations in the Arctic.
Together, Canada and the United States also monitor our maritime approaches under the maritime warning role of NORAD. As a result, Canada's defence and security responsibilities are also shaped by the overarching requirement to be seamlessly interoperable with our U.S. air force counterparts in the air and space domain. We have Canadian and American personnel embedded in each other's command structures throughout the three NORAD regions. This interconnectedness and interoperability contribute to the fact that we are a well-known and trusted air power partner at home and when operating together abroad.
We maintain units at high levels of readiness for expeditionary operations. Uniquely, at any given point in time, we can immediate deploy the majority of our air power capabilities, contributing with speed to accomplish government objectives. To be clear, though, our readiness for NORAD and search and rescue operations take precedence.
In conclusion, airpower provides one of the most flexible military instruments available to the government. Airpower offers the ability to project power quickly and precisely and to rapidly deploy and respond anywhere in Canada or around the world.
The RCAF has at the ready, and employs, capabilities for the surveillance and control of the Canadian airspace. We have the power and reach to critically contribute to the shared defence of the continent, Canadian interests, and Canadians.
We meet these responsibilities daily and prepare for the challenges of the future, because of the extraordinary Canadians in the ranks of the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Your air force is ready, and I am ready to take your questions.
Thank you very much.
Well, it would be a lot easier if they just filed flight plans and told us they were coming, because then we wouldn't have to go up there and see them, and we've asked them to do that. In fact, the commander of NORAD has asked them, “Why don't you just file a flight plan and we'll come by”, because it's international airspace outside of our ADIZ.
When I look at the RCAF and I think about Canadian sovereignty, what does sovereignty mean? There are many pieces. There is data sovereignty. If I look at the basic sovereignty, the RCAF is the principal guarantor of that, given the size and shape of our country. That, in my mind, is a no-fail task.
I talked about search and rescue being no-fail. Guaranteeing our sovereignty should be a no-fail task. That is why we would write a statement of requirements, to allow us to have an operational advantage against potential adversaries. I can't imagine what that may look like—well, I could imagine. Let me give you a couple of scenarios.
Is it inconceivable that someone would drop an oil platform 12 miles off the coast of Canada's Arctic? Of course not. We've seen this in the South China Sea, where you have countries plopping oil platforms, and others. That is not inconceivable. How do you respond to those types of threats?
A deterrent is the ability to respond, so I think Canada being prepared.... The RCAF, in particular, as that guarantor of sovereignty, needs to be ready for a whole panoply of potential outcomes, because to do otherwise would be ceding that sovereignty to someone else.
Thank you, gentlemen, both of you, for being here and giving us your expertise, but also for your service to the nation. We are grateful for both.
I want to go back to control of airspace and deterrence, and pick up a little bit on what my colleagues Mr. Gerretsen and Mr. Paul-Hus said earlier, to put to you the question of the shifting threat environment.
My first question will put a more domestic lens on. It's to put to you the testimony we've received here as a committee that one of the most worrisome threats, if not the most worrisome threat, is the increase in the risk of domestic terrorism. My question is about deterrence and proximity to that threat, looking at the west coast in particular. My colleague raised the Vancouver Olympics.
I want to suggest that maybe this threat is even a bit more systematic than just a single event, that our large cities are exposed to a threat of domestic terrorism, and that there would be airborne or aerial deterrence opportunities. If that is the case, then we would want to be as close to the possibility of that threat, physically, to be able to deter.
My question goes back to the location of our fighter aircraft in Cold Lake, and the fact that the United States Air Force is conducting, pretty regularly if not systematically, directed landings on Canadian soil. I wanted to get your thoughts on whether, in light of what I am suggesting is a shifting threat environment, our fighter aircraft are deployed well in Cold Lake, or whether more should work out of Comox. I am not suggesting a relocation of the base, but just a shift in the threat assessments under a domestic lens. I wonder if you have any thoughts on that.
That's the 10 minutes. We're going to go to a free round. I have a lot of questions, and I'm going to take one.
I wasn't going to ask about this, but based on what we heard today, I'm going to throw it out there. I want to talk about the engine situation, very quickly. I think most people would agree that for modern engines on airplanes the probability of engine failure is greatly reduced. I think it's safe to say that's the case.
I think we might be a little too dismissive with regard to technology. I'm going to make a couple of statements, and I want to get some feedback. The newest airplanes being built in other countries right now as far as fighter airplanes go, in Russia and China with the PAK FA, the J-31, and the J-20, are all two-engine airplanes. They have the latest technology and they're moving forward. They're not building single-engine airplanes; they're building two-engine airplanes.
In Bagotville in 2008, as was mentioned earlier, we did deploy to Alaska to cover off when the entire fleet of F-15s was grounded. Certainly CONAR could have covered that; they have F-16 assets, more than we could ever imagine. NORAD chose to take those resources from Bagotville and put them in Alaska. We demonstrated incredible flexibility in doing that, but CONAR could have done it with F-16s, and they made a conscious decision not to do that.
The F-35 has had an engine failure already and actually has burned to the ground. The A380 airplane is brand new, with a Trent 700 engine, and it has failed.
I was talking to Billie Flynn recently, who said—he's not DND but Lockheed Martin—that the airplanes going into Eielson, as originally announced, won't be participating with NORAD, not today, although that may change in the future.
All that said, the probability of engine failure in a single-engine airplane is greatly reduced. If it fails, the outcome for a pilot in the Canadian north will be catastrophic. I've been up there. Mr. Balfe's been up there. I would like some reaction to that. In light of the fact that the newest airplanes being built on the fifth-generation side are all two-engine planes, I'd like you to respond to that.
I'm going to do a quick one here before I give it to Mr. Garrison.
We've talked about tankers quite a bit. I think anybody whose been in this business knows that the tanker is probably one of the biggest force multipliers when we have fighter airplanes, for all sorts of reasons given the number we have and the size of the airspace we have to operate in.
I noticed earlier, sir, that you mentioned there is a plan for a replacement tanker. I'm not aware if that plan is funded. We have lots of plans that may or may not see the light of day. I'm also aware that we had a significant gap in capability for strategic tankers. The 707 is declining, and the Airbus is ramping up, which hurt us a little bit in terms of our capability. We had to scramble to make that happen, but we did.
The only higher priority that we have, other than NORAD, is our own indigenous Canadian sovereignty, our ability to operate within our own borders autonomously without any help from anybody.
There are five options that we could be looking at potentially, maybe more, in a replacement airplane. If we don't get something that's compatible with our current fleet, what's your view on our being able to be sovereign within our own borders without help from the Americans? Also, given our current infrastructure and the fact that I'm pretty sure a tanker is not funded, and even it is, given our procurement history this thing is a decade away, maybe even longer realistically.
In terms of operating within our own borders as a sovereign nation without any help from the Americans, are you concerned that if we buy something, we may not be able to do that?