“Check Six”: An update on the RCAF’s past year

Three men wearing military uniforms sit behind a tartan covered table, holding pens with documents on the table in front of them.
Lieutenant General Al Meinzinger (left) assumed command of the RCAF from Lieutenant-General Mike Hood (right) at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa on May 4, 2018. General Jonathan Vance (centre), Chief of the Defence Staff, presided over the ceremony. PHOTO: Ordinary Seaman Alexandra Proulx, SU05-2018-0419-080

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By Joanna Calder

On May 4, 2018, Lieutenant-General Al Meinzinger assumed command of the Royal Canadian Air Force. He inherits an Air Force that has seen substantial developments over the past months, including the crucial release of Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s Defence Policy in June 2017.

“I am extremely optimistic as I look to the future,” said Lieutenant-General Meinzinger during the change of command ceremony. “Our defence policy acknowledges the importance of air and space power to this great country. The policy commits significant new resources to supporting our personnel, introducing new capabilities to enable operations, including our critical sovereignty, search and rescue, and NORAD roles, to name a few.”


On the operational front, the RCAF is deploying a Task Force this summer to support the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) for a period of 12 months. Canada’s Task Force-Mali will include CH-147F Chinook helicopters to provide transport and logistics capacity, as well as CH-146 Griffon helicopters for armed escort. In addition, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) personnel will provide a forward aero-medical evacuation capability for United Nations forces on the ground.

“We look forward to joining 57 MINUSMA partner countries in our collective efforts to bring sustainable peace and stability to Mali and the Sahel,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told the United Nations Security Council in March 2018. He also noted that “last November, we committed a C-130 Hercules aircraft to provide tactical airlift support for the UN’s Regional Support Centre in Entebbe [Uganda]. Preparations for deployment are currently underway. This contribution speaks to our support in helping to enable the UN’s rapid deployment capacities and effective delivery in the field.”

Meanwhile, the RCAF’s contribution to Operation Impact, the CAF’s support to the Global Coalition against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, continues with deployed air assets, aircrew and support crews. Air Task Force-Iraq (ATF-I) currently comprises a CC-150T Polaris air-to-air refueller, and two CC-130J Hercules tactical airlift aircraft supporting the movement of Coalition personnel and cargo in the region. The ATF-I also includes an aviation detachment of up to four CH-146 Griffon helicopters that carry Canadian troops, equipment, and supplies in theatre. The Griffons can provide casualty evacuation as required, and they are fitted with a variety of self-defence weapons. The CP-140 Auroras were part of ATF-I from October 2014 to December 2017 with the last Aurora crew returning home late last year.

The RCAF periodically deploys assets on Operation Reassurance, the CAF contribution to NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Central and Eastern Europe, to help keep NATO air space safe. Most recently, from September to December 2017, four CF-188 Hornets and associated personnel took part in Block 45 of NATO enhanced air policing in Romania.

Also in 2017, from May 18 to June 16, Air Task Force-Iceland contributed to the NATO – Airborne Surveillance and Interception Capabilities to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs mission. Six Hornets patrolled Iceland’s airspace, providing a continuous air surveillance and interception capability. The deployment also included aerospace controllers and aerospace control operators who analyzed information from various sources to develop a common picture of the situation in Iceland’s airspace at any one time. They also served as air intercept controllers, communicating with and directing pilots.

The RCAF regularly contributes CP-140 Aurora aircraft to Operation Caribbe, along with CH-124 Sea King helicopters that are embarked onboard Canadian naval ships. The operation is Canada’s support to the U.S.-led Operation Martillo, aimed at stopping illegal trafficking in the Caribbean Ocean, Eastern Pacific Ocean and international waters off the coast of Central America. In 2017, Operation Caribbe contributed to seizing or disrupting approximately 11.5 metric tonnes of illicit drugs.

In addition, RCAF assets often deploy on Operation Renaissance, the CAF’s mission to respond to another nation’s request for humanitarian assistance. Last year, an Air Task Force, as well as embarked Sea Kings, provided assistance and support to our partner nations in the Caribbean region following the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

May 12, 2018, marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the NORAD agreement, which created the most successful bi-national alliance the world has ever seen, aimed at ensuring the common defence of Canada and the United States. NORAD has three missions: aerospace warning, aerospace control, and maritime warning. The Defence Policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged – notes that Canada will “meet its NORAD obligations, with new capacity in some areas” and “work with the United States to ensure that NORAD is modernized to meet existing and future challenges”.

I have . . . pledged to the deputy-commander of NORAD that my vision moving forward is to work in lockstep with this key command,” said Lieutenant-General Meinzinger.

NORAD maintains the North Warning System, a series of 11 long-range and 36 short-range radars that lie along the entire Arctic coast of North America and are tied in with other NORAD radars. The SSE further notes that Canada will “collaborate with the United States on the development of new technologies to improve Arctic surveillance and control, including the renewal of the North Warning System” and that “studies are ongoing to determine how best to replace this important capability as part of the overall NORAD modernization”.

The RCAF took over as functional authority for the Joint Space Defence mission in 2016. Focused on the space objectives highlighted in Strong, Secure, Engaged, this new RCAF leadership role includes Space Domain Awareness, and the development, delivery and assurance of space-based capabilities in support of joint warfighters at home and abroad. Recently, the Canadian Space Operations Centre, which is DG Space’s operational arm, assisted international partners in the tracking of the Chinese space station Tiangong-1, which re-entered earth’s atmosphere on April 1, 2018. Last year also saw the selection of Lieutenant-Colonel Joshua Kutryk to join Colonel Jeremy Hansen as Canada’s second active astronaut from the RCAF.

At home, the RCAF is a regular contributor to Operation Lentus, the name given to the CAF’s support to provincial or territorial authorities in response to natural disasters in Canada: forest fires, floods, ice storms or hurricanes. Operation Lentus was put into action several times in 2017, with the RCAF responding to forest fires in Manitoba and British Columbia as well as floods in Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador. In April of this year, the RCAF assisted in the evacuation of residents of Kashechewan First Nation in Ontario, which was threatened by rising flood waters.

Of course, no survey of RCAF operational missions would be complete without making mention of aerial search and rescue operations, which Strong, Secure, Engaged confirms as a core CAF mission. This dynamic, ongoing and vital mission operates around the clock to assist Canadians in danger. Alongside the Canadian Coast Guard, the CAF responds to more than 9,000 search and rescue calls annually, approximately 1,000 of which result in the launching of search and rescue air assets. In April 2018 alone, the three Joint Rescue Coordination Centres issued taskings to conduct SAR operations 63 times.

Procurement and investment

A major procurement project took a giant leap forward in December 2016, when Canada awarded a contract to Airbus Defence and Space to provide a new fixed-wing search and rescue (SAR) fleet to replace Canada’s Buffalo and Hercules SAR aircraft. The initial contract is for a period of 11 years, and includes the acquisition of 16 C295W aircraft with associated training systems, the construction of a new simulator-equipped training centre in Comox, British Columbia, and the first five years of maintenance and support. The first aircraft is scheduled for delivery late next year. The aircraft will be located at four main operating bases: 19 Wing Comox, 17 Wing Winnipeg, 8 Wing Trenton and 14 Wing Greenwood.

Construction is underway for the state-of-the-art training centre, which includes ten classrooms as well as sophisticated training devices such as a full-flight simulator, a cockpit procedure trainer, a sensor station simulator and an aircraft maintenance trainer. In addition, Strong, Secure, Engaged pledges to “sustain domestic search and rescue capability, to include life extension of existing systems, acquisition of new platforms, and greater integration with internal and external partners”. That’s all great news for the search and rescue community.

Reaffirmed in Strong, Secure and Engaged, the Department of National Defence and its partners continue to work on procuring a fighter capability of 88 jets, along with associated equipment, weapons, and sustainment set-up and services, to replace the Hornet fleet. The first aircraft is anticipated in 2025 with the fleet continuing in service beyond 2060. The competition was launched in December 2017 and, in February 2018, the suppliers’ list was published: Dassault, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Airbus. Supplier engagement began in March with meetings to discuss the procurement approach, sustainment requirements, infrastructure requirements, aircraft and associated system requirements, and industrial and technological benefits, among other topics.

Also in December 2017, the government announced that the RCAF’s Hornets would be supplemented with Australian F-18s until the future fighter fleet is procured. The Australian fighters, which are of a similar age and design, can be integrated quickly into the existing fleet with minimal modifications, training and infrastructure changes.

On the maritime helicopter front, 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, based at Shearwater, Nova Scotia, conducted its final operational flight of CH-124 Sea King helicopters in January. Squadron personnel are now fully engaged in transitioning to the CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter. 423 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, based at Patricia Bay, British Columbia, will conduct Sea King operations on the East Coast until the Sea King retires at the end of this year. The first Cyclone detachments are scheduled to be onboard Royal Canadian Navy ships by the middle of this year.

Training and Professional Development

As the RCAF’s training authority, 2 Canadian Air Division (2 CAD) is committed to delivering RCAF training and education, responsible for executing foundational individual training and education for RCAF personnel, including ab-initio training for most Air Force occupations. The division seeks to advance professional air power mastery and enhance air power mindedness throughout the Air Force.

Since reaching initial operational capability in 2009 and steady state operations in 2010, 2 CAD has continued to advance the yardsticks in the quality of training for Air Force personnel.

Recent initiatives include the Airpower Operations Course, which was established in late 2016 and has run through five iterations to date. The course develops airpower-mindedness in Regular and Reserve Force officers in air occupations or occupations that directly support air operations. Students learn about aerospace warfare fundamentals, theories, functions, capabilities and doctrine in addition to the operations planning process. They also learn how to plan, task, execute, assess and brief integrated air operations in various levels of conflict, including non-combatant evacuation operations, disaster response and full-spectrum warfare.

The past year also saw greater agility built into the five blocks of the Air Force Officer Development program that broadens knowledge of RCAF roles at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. Students acquired the ability to self-enroll in the first block of the five training blocks of the program and they can complete the course online. In addition the hours it takes to complete the first four blocks was significantly reduced—from 240 hours to 135 hours. Beginning this summer, completion of the program will be mandatory for officers in air-managed occupations in order to be promoted to major.

2 CAD is also exploring and exploiting synergies between officer and non-commissioned member (NCM) professional development (PD), ensuring that NCM PD incorporates similar initiatives as the officer PD in areas such as integrated air force operations, operational planning, and staff and writing skills—to lead to similar professional airpower mastery and enhanced airpower-mindedness.

Several initiatives have been undertaken to modernize training delivery, notably under the Modernization of Basic Air Technician Training project, which began in 2016 and is scheduled to be completed by 2020. For instance, under this project, computer-based training is now being implemented on aircraft technician level 3 courses, thereby saving classroom time and providing additional opportunities for technicians to learn hands-on skills.

There have been other advances in the use of simulation tools. For example, 402 Squadron recently acquired a procedural crew trainer. With the new equipment up and running, 402 Squadron can now cover more training at the school for the air combat systems officers (ACSO) and airborne electronic sensor operators (AESOP), thereby making the training more efficient, reducing training burden and time at the operational training units and producing more proficient ACSOs and AESOPs. A new Bell 206 helicopter simulator at 3 Canadian Forces Flying Training School (CFFTS) will have similar effects as the device enters service in the near-term as part of the training curriculum.

There has been a renewed focus on validating the training delivery standardization across all technician and aircrew training at both 1 CAD and 2 CAD units. This involves the implementation of a five-year review cycle of all qualifications standards under the RCAF training authority umbrella, as well as bi-annual visits by 2 CAD staff.

In 2017, 17 Wing Winnipeg was transferred from 1 CAD to 2 CAD, bringing schools in Winnipeg under the Wing’s command. In addition, “while 15 Wing [Moose Jaw] flying training units worked diligently to increase pilot production safely and effectively, they transitioned 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron to 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, and welcomed the Canadian Forces Snowbirds, 431 Air Demonstration Squadron, to their chain of command,” said 2 CAD’s commander, Brigadier-General Dave Cochrane at the end of 2017.

As part of increasing pilot production, 2 CFFTS has continued to deploy for short periods to Lake Havasu, Arizona. The last 2018 winter detachments flew close to 800 sorties during their two two-and-a-half week detachments, which enabled on-time completion of the largest single Phase III jet class the history of the NATO Flying Training in Canada program – 14 students.

He also noted that 2 CAD stood up a dedicated “basic training list” management section to provide ab initio students with better oversight, meaningful employment, and professional development opportunities while they await occupation training.

A CAF-wide comprehensive plan was previously implemented to streamline and modernize the CAF Individual Training and Education (IT&E) system. The goal is to give CAF learners the ability to learn anywhere, anytime, on any device. A key enabler to the success of the IT&E modernization agenda was the establishment of the RCAF Learning Support Centre (LSC) this year under 2 CAD, linked to all 40 RCAF training establishments and a pan-CAF LSC network. The RCAF LSC will promote a collaborative approach to performance improvement, training development and delivery, and education initiatives.

In April 2018, the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Studies in Winnipeg, which trains nearly 2,000 RCAF personnel annually, became the W/C William G. Barker VC Aerospace College. The College teaches a variety of courses including the year-long Aerospace Studies Program, the Operational Test and Evaluation Course, AFOD and many more. In 2018, the College took responsibility for delivering the Modelling and Simulation course as well as Instrument Check Pilot and Human Performance in Military Aviation training.

RCAF History

Over the past year or so, the RCAF has celebrated several major historical milestones.

The most significant was the consecration and presentation of new RCAF Colours—Queen’s Colour and RCAF Colour—on September 1, 2017, in Toronto. The new Colours reflect the Air Force’s restored identity as the Royal Canadian Air Force and its new badge. The retired Air Command Colours are laid up at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, where they are visible from both the interior and exterior of the building. They are, in all likelihood, the most publicly visible laid-up Colours in the history of the Canadian Armed Forces.

The RCAF has also marked the 100th anniversaries of the Battle of Vimy Ridge (April 2017) and the establishment of the Royal Flying Corps Canada (RFCC) (January 2017). The RFCC was set up to recruit and train Canadian aircrew for service in the RFC (later the Royal Air Force) during the First World War. It represented the first pilot training conducted by the military, for the military in Canada. The legacy of the RFCC provided a foundation for the establishment of a Canadian Air Force and influenced the organization and function of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in the Second World War.

The search for nine 1/8th scale models of the famed CF-105 Avro Arrow, which were launched over Lake Ontario during testing of the aircraft’s design in the 1950s, will continue this summer. At least two models have been identified on the lake bottom and the expedition leaders, with support from the RCAF and RCN, anticipate finding more and raising some or all of them this summer.

It is clear that Lieutenant-General Meinzinger will continue to put an emphasis on the importance of history and heritage within the Air Force, saying that it is “our proud history that inspires us, gives us purpose, and guides us toward the future”.

Shortly before the change of command ceremony, he travelled to the U.K. for the opening of the Bomber Command Memorial Centre in Lincolnshire. There, he met “one of our Canadian heroes: 95-year-old Stuart Vallières, who was shot down on his 33rd Halifax bomber mission in the summer of ’44”, and, indicative of his recognition of Mr. Vallières heroism and the importance of honouring those who went before us, invited Mr. Vallières to attend the change of command ceremony as his guest.


Innovation has become a keystone concept over the past months, both for the RCAF and the Government of Canada writ large. In 2017, the RCAF established an innovation hub – dubbed the “Flight Deck” – at Communitech, which is dedicated to “world-leading collaboration and innovation”, near Waterloo, Ontario. The goal isn’t necessarily to solve the air force’s technology challenges – though all solutions will be welcomed – but to immerse non-commissioned and junior officers for a three-month period in an entrepreneurial environment where they can learn best practices and develop “an innovation mindset”. In addition, the RCAF negotiated fellowship programs at Canadian universities, and secondments at several technology companies, to give mid-career officers and non-commissioned members educational and work experiences that could return more creative thinking to the air force.

“We will continue to focus on innovation as we look to the future,” affirmed Lieutenant-General Meinzinger. “We often say that ‘Good Ideas Have No Rank’, so we look to get ideas from the coal face of our squadrons where there’s great work happening day in and day out. Often that’s where the nugget of an innovative idea comes from, and we, as the senior leadership, need to create the space for those ideas to take root so we can capitalize on them.”

Linked to and supporting the innovation agenda, the RCAF Aerospace Warfare Centre (RAWC) (formerly the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre or CFAWC) has been confirmed as the third pillar of the RCAF construct, as an L2-level organization side by side with 1 Canadian Air Division (operations) and 2 Canadian Air Division (training). This change will support 1 and 2 Canadian Air Divisions’ abilities to respond to Strong, Secure, Engaged and RCAF institutional transformation. The RAWC’s expansion will pay dividends beyond the RCAF in terms of air-land and maritime-air integration, better focusing on joint needs as the RCAF is heavily implicated in support to other environments’ defence policy mandates.

On May 28, 2018, 434 Squadron was reactivated at Trenton, Ontario, as 434 Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron under the command of the RAWC. To centralize the command and oversight of the air test and evaluation enterprise, full command of all existing test and evaluation flights was transferred to the squadron. In addition, a search and rescue test and evaluation flight and an aerospace test and evaluation flight will be established.


In his change of command speech, Lieutenant-General Meinzinger said he intends to “maintain our sterling reputation for delivering operational excellence at home and abroad – the true hallmark of who we are . . . our success leading to the future and looking at the Air Force of 2030 and beyond will be achieved by focusing on a few things: amazing people (inspired by the likes of Stuart Vallières), our new defence policy, our program and our posture.

“People, Policy, Program and Posture will be anchor points for us as we move ahead.”

He affirmed that the RCAF’s outstanding men and women continue to be the RCAF’s greatest strength and the foundation upon which the institution’s future is built.

Looking to the future, he said that the RCAF “must deliver on the Defence policy and capital programs with discipline and determination [and] we must enhance our posture and readiness such that the RCAF remains agile and able to deliver against the heightened operational output that is expected of us moving forward.” To successfully deliver air and space power, he added, the RCAF must have well-led, robust, healthy and inclusive squadrons and tactical units.

“I firmly believe that if we can get it right within our 39 flying units and our 85 tactical units, our future will be all the brighter. I pledge that, as your commander, as I guide the organization in the years ahead – my decisions will be rooted in the understanding that the men and women in our squadrons, with their rich and vibrant history, remain the lifeblood of the RCAF.”

Ms. Calder is a public affairs advisor with RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa.

Image gallery

  • Three men wearing military uniforms sit behind a tartan-covered table, holding pens with documents in front of them.
  • Two elderly men, one wearing a military uniform and saluting, the other wearing civilian clothes.
  • Buildings and radar domes photographed from the air.
  • A group of people walk toward a large aircraft.
  • A man and a woman wearing military uniforms hold a framed photo of a brilliantly painted fighter jet between them. Canadian and American flags hang behind them.
  • A helicopter flies above a boat with a person holding onto a rope between them.
  • A person wearing a military uniform, including a helmet with a full darkened face visor, sits beside the open door of an aircraft that is in flight with a large machine gun in front of him.
  • A person wearing a military uniform and a helmet with a full face visor in the cockpit of an aircraft. The mountains in the background are on a vertical angle as the pilot banks.
  • A large aircraft with four propellers taxis on a runway with dust flying behind it.
  • a large helicopter in flgiht, with two people standing at its open door, holding a large tube.
  • A yellow and red aircraft flies above high waves in a storm.
  • Several people wearing military uniforms, three of them wearing clerical vestments, stand near two flags draped over a pile of drums.
  • An office area. A large RCAF roundel (a blue edged circle with a maple leaf in the centre) hangs above the desks.
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