Canada's Air Force in Transition
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 20 Mar 1991, p. 367-378
Sutherland, Lt. Gen. Fred, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A transition in Canada's Air Force that started about 18 months ago. A brief reconstruction of recent Air Force history. Formulating a vision for Canada's Air Force. Taking into account a comglomeration of factors which impact directly or indirectly on the Air Force: its missions, its structures, its equipment, and its people. The contribution of the Air Force in three key areas (national security, the protection of Canadian sovereignty and the national interest) as prime considerations in constructing the vision. Some examples of the kind of contribution the Air Forces make in the area of national interest. Elements of the vision. An answer to the question "what do we get from our Air Force for our hard-earned tax dollars?" including many details of specific projects and operations, and some tributes to our Air Force. Success that transcends the military dimension. Reasons for the speaker's intense pride in the people that serve Canada. A closing quote from President Kennedy.
Date of Original
20 Mar 1991
Language of Item
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Full Text
Lt. Gen. Fred Sutherland Commander, Air Command
Chairman: Harold Roberts President


Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen:

"A pompous leader was reminiscing interminably about his glorious exploits in World War II. 'I hadn't had my wings in the Air Force for a month,' he asserted, 'when I blew up four ammunition dumps and shot down nine fighter planes.' 'Oh yes,' sighed the lady next to him wearily. 'I presume that's when they decided to send you overseas.'"

Our guest of honour is a flyer who has just returned from the war overseas. He recently visited our forces serving in the Persian Gulf War, and I must confess that when we made the arrangements for this special luncheon just a few short weeks ago, there was little prospect on this side of the ocean that hostilities would have concluded quite so quickly. But thank God they have!

Our Canadian forces served in the Gulf, at sea on land and in the air, since the earliest stages of the United Nations' call to duty. They played their role as a member of the coalition, efficiently and effectively. Although our numbers were not great, they did serve on the front lines and executed a part in the war that absolutely minimized the land campaign. And they did so with no casualties.

They have made Canadians proud.

Lt. Gen. Fred R. Sutherland is the Commander of Air Command. He was in the Persian Gulf to inspect first hand the Canadian Air Operations.

Born in Halifax in 1942, Gen. Sutherland is the son of a service officer. He attended Le College Militaire Royal de Saint-Jean and subsequently graduated from the Royal Military College in 1965 with an honours B.A. in Political Science and Economics.

In 1966 Gen. Sutherland completed his pilot training at C.F.B. Gimli. From '66 to '71 his career centred in flying and flight instruction. Subsequently, he took his Master's Degree in Business Administration at the University of Western Ontario.

From then on, Gen. Sutherland has served in command and staff positions in Europe and Canada.

In July 1989, he was promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen. and on August 4th 1989 he assumed command of Air Command. In July of 1984 the General was appointed an Officer of the Order of Military Merit and in January of 1989 he was promoted in the Order to the Rank of Commander.

Gen. Sutherland will relinquish command this summer and resume his new appointment as Vice-Chief of the Defence Staff.

We welcome Lt. Gen. Fred R. Sutherland to The Empire Club of Canada and invite him to address us now.

General Sutherland.

Fred Sutherland:

Mr. President, head table guests, members of The Empire Club, ladies and gentlemen:

Let me say at the outset how very pleased and honoured I am to be here today and to have the opportunity to speak to such a distinguished group of Canadians. I feel honoured to stand at this podium in the knowledge that I follow a distinguished group of people who have had the privilege of standing here and talking to The Empire Club. Indeed I was almost in awe when I read that list. I will try my best to do justice to this platform.

Je tiens tout d'abord, Monsieur President, a vous remercier de votre invitation d'être ici cette apres-midi A Toronto et d'avoir l'occasion de vous adresser la parole au sujet de l'avion du Canada.

The theme of my remarks this afternoon is "Canada's Air Force in Transition." I would hasten to add, as a precursor to my remarks, that it is in every sense of the word your Air Force, and I would ask you to think of it in that context during my remarks.

That transition started about 18 months ago. Therefore, to put my remarks into perspective I would ask your indulgence as I take you briefly back to that point in time and reconstruct a bit of recent Air Force history.

I apologize to people like General Legge, General Rohmer, General Lewis and others who may have heard parts of these remarks during that time period. For them it will serve as a refresher and perhaps a memory test.

Shortly after assuming command 18 months ago, I convened a meeting of the senior leadership of the Air Force to deal with what I perceived to be triforcated problems (three part problems): First, to define and articulate my vision of the Air Force of the future; secondly to try to determine how to give effect to that vision--to implement it, and thirdly to continue to discharge the roles and missions of the Air Force as effectively as possible while we were getting from here to there. All of this against a backdrop of increasing fiscal constraint and the vexing problem of trying to manage in a climate of ambiguity engendered by omnipresent and almost exponential change.

In formulating the vision, I sought to answer three questions: What kind of Air Force? In what kind of Canada? In what kind of world? I sought also to avoid the traditional military propensity toward insularity of thought which had theretofore characterized a great deal of our planning. In the process a premium was to be placed on strategic thinking, taking into account that conglomeration of factors which impact directly or indirectly on our Air Force: its missions, its structures, its equipment, and its people. Basically, on the way we do business. In the worst case, these factors can serve to limit our freedom of action, handcuff us, if you will, and conspire to frustrate us. On the other hand, knowledge of these factors which constitute the external environment in which we operate, provides us with opportunities. In either case, we ignore these factors at our peril. You will recall, I am sure, that the key international and domestic factors operative at that time, and against which the vision had to be defined, included; the winds of change sweeping across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the fiscal realities of which I spoke a few moments ago; the trend line toward transition from a bipolar east west world to a more multi-polar world with the attendant significant implication for Canadian policies, trade, defence and so on; and an apparent public apathy in Canada vis-a-vis the Canadian forces. I add quickly and unparenthetically that I am being a bit uncharitable in that assessment because studies/surveys conducted by the Canadian Institute of Peace and Security demonstrate that yea verily Canadians did have an interest in the military, but it is fair to characterize that interest as rather benign. Certainly and understandably, defence is not a front burner issue for the majority of Canadian citizens. Numerous other factors also form part of the equation: changing demographics, changing societal values, rapid technological change and the emergence of the so-called information society.

It was against this backdrop of realities, perceptions, and change that my vision was constructed. The prime consideration in constructing the vision was the contribution the Air Force would be required to make in three key areas: first and foremost Canadian national security, and I define national security as the preservation of the way of life acceptable to Canadian people and compatible with the needs and legitimate aspirations of others. It includes freedom from military attack, 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. The second contribution was to protect Canadian sovereignty and finally to " contribute to what I call the national interest.

Let me give you some examples of the kind of contribution the Air Force makes in this area, the area of national interest.

I'm talking about such things as search and rescue, fisheries patrols, fighting forest fires, evacuating people threatened by forest fires, environmental patrols, wildlife counts, ice surveys, patrols to combat illegal immigration, counter-narcotics operations with our colleagues, the RCMP, to combat illicit drug trafficking into our country, support to events such as the Olympics, Canada Games, and enhancing Canada's image abroad through participation in numerous peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts and hopefully, in the not too distant future, the verification of arms control and disarmament treaties. In each of these areas, the salient and very important point is that air power is an omnipresent and important constant. We need a viable and dynamic Air Force in Canada

Let me now turn to the elements of the vision. First, fleet---rationalization. When I assumed command of the Air Force, it consisted of some 800 planes spread across 23 fleets and one does not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that that was costing us in terms of logistics, training, spare parts, and so on. So we had to reduce the number of fleets of airplanes. One of the casualties of the Gulf War was the trip I was supposed to take to the Soviet Union to visit my counterpart in response to a visit he had made to Canada last summer. I couldn't go because of the war but some of my staff went and it was interesting to note that my counterpart, General Malakoff, isn't back from the same program. I'm not sure if this is good news or bad news. The second element is flexibility. If we're going to rationalize or reduce the number of fleets of aircraft, we had better make sure that the fleets we have or the fleets we acquire have the flexibility of employment. Its a logical and a necessary corollary that the CF-18 is a glowing example of the flexibility of which I speak. The third element is the maintenance of a core of expertise across the broadest possible spectrum of air operations. We had learned in the early '70s that if we lost a capability it was very difficult to retain it and, indeed, in the case of our 104s it cost us airplanes and, regrettably, lives. It is incumbent upon me as a commander that I don't deny subsequent commanders or subsequent governments the capability that it may well need in the future. The fourth element is synergy with the industrial base in Canada It seems self-evident to me that if we're going to buy airplanes or equipment, every effort should be made to ensure that Canadian industry plays a part. The fifth element is that the Air Force of the future will be a total force Air Force comprised of both regulars and reserves. The presence here today of Colonels Scanlan and McCague (head table guests) exemplifies that total force concept. The result will obviously be a leaner and hopefully more cost effective Air Force.

That vision was not ethereal, it was pragmatic and it has not found its way to the floor or the waste basket but has been translated into a blueprint defining the Air Force structure, organization, equipment requirements and personnel framework It is a vision which, in my view, will also pass the litmus test of consistency with government policy, achievability, realism, affordability and acceptability both within and without the Department of National Defence. It will result in an Air Force which, again in my view, will be professional, well quipped and relevant; relevant to the Canadian population and, equally or more importantly, relevant to the people who choose to serve in it. I hasten to add it is not necessarily the kind of Air Force that Fred Sutherland would like to have if the world were perfect. But we had to do our best to sublimate our parochial interests and to apply our best professional military judgement to define the kind of Air Force we think Canada will need, not the kind of Air Force I think I would like to have, but the kind the country needs. To do otherwise would have been, in my view, a dereliction of duty. I am confident we have succeeded in this regard and, indeed, we are already embarked on implementation. You will have seen announcements in the media over the past couple of weeks about the disbandment of squadrons and the phasing-out of fleets. Very tough, very difficult, very emotional decisions but very necessary decisions. Some of you will probably say, "Well General, that sounds fine for the future but what about today?" I am sure that those of you with business backgrounds or associated with organizations with a focus on the bottom line, are probably asking yourselves the question about value for money. In other words, what do we get from our Air Force for our hard-earned tax dollars? I am both pleased and proud to answer that question.

It is the kind of Air Force that, as we lunch here today, has transport aircraft deployed around the globe, in a variety of missions including the on-going repatriation of our forces from the Gulf, which has helicopter and fixed wing resources on standby across this country ready to respond to any emergency by sailors, or airmen or any other Canadian in distress. Last year, we responded to nine thousand such incidents and saved numerous fives. We have maritime aircraft on exercise in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Mediterranean patrolling our coasts and patrolling our Canadian Arctic. We have helicopters on standby to support the RCMP in counter-terrorist operations or in any other contingency for which these special resources might be required. We have fighter aircraft on alert to make sure there are no unknown incursions into our air space. These happen more frequently than the average Canadian believes. We have an Air Force which operates, in my view, the finest pilot training system in the world. It is also the kind of Air Force which quietly but effectively provided over 3,000 helicopter hours in support of General Foster's land forces during the crisis last fall at Kahnesatake and Kahnawaki. And, of note, the air reservists flew fully a third of those hours (the people that Colonel Scanlan and Colonel McCague represent) safely and effectively bringing great credit to our organization in underlining the importance of the reserves to the Canadian forces. It is the kind of Air Force which, during 1990, provided eight helicopters in the peacekeeping operation for the United Nations in Central America. They flew 3,000 hours under very difficult circumstances, very challenging conditions of high heat, high humidity, and high altitude. Operating from Tegucigalpa in Honduras they successfully carried out their peacekeeping duties. During the middle of their mandate, they were asked by the United Nations to participate in the disarming of the contras. They rose to this task and in a very short period, they were responsible for the gathering and destruction of 22,000 weapons.

In a typically Canadian way, they went beyond what they were asked to do. Let me illustrate. The contras in returning to their farms in Nicaragua found a lot of them occupied by squatters. They were unable to feed themselves. They were in danger of starving. Canadian forces, on their own initiative, airlifted thousands of pounds of foods and other vital supplies to enable them to survive until the land situation sorted itself out. People also found time to discover an orphanage in a place called Venus Las Angeles which means "Valley of the Angels" which I can assure you is a misnomer. They adopted this orphanage. They literally rebuilt it. They painted it. They replaced all the sanitary facilities. They replaced the water reservoir to ensure a safe supply. They provided medical care. They gave money from their own pockets to support the orphanage. I had the opportunity to visit that orphanage as part of my visit to Central America to present peacekeeping medals to our troops in November and I cannot begin to describe the emotion. Indeed, it still raises a lump in my throat when I think about it--when you see and feel for the 155 young Honduran orphans begging for Canadian sponsors and benefactors. Sgt. Perron (head table guest) served in this organization and proudly wears the United Nations peacekeeping medal.

Finally, it is the kind of Air Force that performed with singular professionalism, singular dedication, singular courage and singular effectiveness in the Gulf. Most of you were able to follow their activities through media coverage, therefore I will highlight only a few of their achievements. They responded to government direction to provide air forces in the Gulf within seven days. Only one day after arriving in the Gulf, they flew their first operational mission. They flew nearly 6,000 CF 18 hours without accident in three demanding roles: combat air patrol protecting ours and coalition ships against Iraqi fighters with the deadly Exocet missile. When operation Desert Storm started, they started to provide sweep and escort for Allied Coalition forces ingressing Iraq and the Kuwaiti theatre of operations. Finally, they transitioned in the final phase of the war to the air-to-ground role and were successful in destroying many Iraqi forces including tanks from the Republican Guard. They transitioned from each of these roles, back and forth, very quickly and very effectively and this reinforces the point I made earlier in my vision of the Air Force--the requirement for flexibility of employment in our equipment.

Perhaps the ultimate tribute paid to our pilots in the Gulf was paid by the United State Navy. When the Midway carrier battle group transitioned into the Gulf and went through the Straits of Hormos, they don't fly during that transition because of the confined space. They are very vulnerable to air attack During that period, the United States Navy called upon the Canadian Air Force to provide top cover for them. That bears far better witness than any words of mine of the esteem in which our pilots were regarded in the Gulf operation.

Our Boeing 707 Tanker flew 78 air-to-air refuelling missions of our airplanes and coalition aircraft. Two days after their arrival, they saved two American F14 aircraft who were in danger of ditching in the Gulf because they had run out of gas and couldn't make it back to their ships. Our tanker provided them with fuel and saved those two airplanes. Our Sea Kings were embarked on Admiral George's ships in the Gulf. They flew nearly 3,000 hours in very demanding situations, mostly at night, and it is interesting to note that our Navy and our Air Force on those ships represented three percent of the naval resources in the Gulf, yet prosecuted fully 25 percent of the interdictions and the boardings during enforcement of the UN sanctions.

Our transport fleet of Boeing and Hercules flew over 7,000 hours and airlifted over 5M pounds of freight. For those of you keeping tally, that's over 15,000 hours of very demanding flying during very challenging circumstances without accident and, more importantly, without loss of life. Major Bill Motriuk, on my left, represents all of our people who participated in our operation. He was on the United Nations coalition's air planning staff in Saudi Arabia and served with distinction.

Yesterday at a very meaningful and emotional ceremony in Ottawa, I participated with the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and hundreds of other Canadians in welcoming back our nine CF 18s, our tanker and 270 people who participated in the field hospital in Saudi Arabia. As I said to them and as I had said to them earlier during my visits to the Gulf, I have always been proud to wear the uniform of my country but never prouder than I am today. So ladies and gentlemen, that's the kind of Air Force you get for your money--proud and professional.

Let me take off my military cap for a moment and talk to you as a Canadian. It should not be lost on each of us and indeed on all Canadians, that our success in each of the operations I have just described transcends the military dimension. For at a time when there are significant centrifugal forces at play in our country, that success of which I have just spoken, represents a glowing example of Canadians from across this country, from all provinces and the Territories, from both official languages groups, from across the fabric of the Canadian cultural and ethnic mosaic including aboriginal people, all working together successfully toward the achievement of a common goal. In other words, the Air Force and the Canadian forces are truly a national institution which serves as a model of understanding, tolerance which, in my mind, Canadians would do well to emulate.

Let me go back to my initial point on value for money. I would submit for your consideration that, in the final analysis, we really can't put a price tag on national security. We can't price what is inherently priceless--our freedom. A great philosopher once said, "My end is my beginning." I began my remarks by talking about people but I have talked primarily about things--airplanes, visions, blueprints, roles, missions, flying rates, and so on. Let me draw my remarks to a close by focussing once again on people--the essence of your Air Force, the 30,000 men and women, military and civilian, regular and reserve force, hard-working, dedicated, loyal Canadians imbued with a very strong sense of service to country, willing to sacrifice, including sacrifice by their wonderful families as part of that service to Canada. When I pause to reflect upon the Air Force, in a quiet moment, the images that come to mind are not of airplanes, and helicopters and missiles, they are of people. Native children sitting in the back of a Hercules scared as they are evacuated from their homes threatened by forest fires, comforted by a crusty old loadmaster in the back of that airplane; orphans such as I saw at Valley Los Angeles, the Kuwaitis smiling, freed at last, as they greeted our Canadian ambassador, the starving contras looking up to those helicopters bringing them lifesaving food and supplies and the children at fences at air shows, in hospitals and schools when our Snowbirds come to call. These magnificent aviators--Canada's ambassadors of goodwill--whose work on the ground is equally as important as their legendary flying skills. Lieutenant-Colonel Dempsey (head table guest) represents the Snowbirds and all that is great about them. I note that Mr. Lawrence, the father of one of our Snowbirds, is in the audience today.

These 30,000 people serve as a source of tremendous pride and inspiration to me. I hope that through my remarks today I have conveyed that sense of pride to you, and more importantly, that you will share in that pride. For my part I can assure you that I feel privileged to command your Air Force. Let me close with a quote by President Kennedy talking to a graduating class at the United States Military Academy in West Point.

"What you have chosen to do by devoting your life to the service of your country is the greatest contribution anyone could make. When there is a visible enemy to fight in open combat, many serve, all applaud and the tide of patriotism runs high. But when there is a long, slow struggle with no immediate visible foe, your choice will seem trite indeed." As the memory of the Gulf fades and your attention, as it necessarily and understandably must, turns to other challenges facing our country, I would ask you simply to pause every once in a while and think of these wonderful Canadians who so proudly wear the uniform of their country. I can assure you it will make that choice seem less hard.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by M. Gen. Reginald Lewis, Chairman and CEO, TEDCO and a Past President, The Empire Club of Canada.

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Canada's Air Force in Transition

A transition in Canada's Air Force that started about 18 months ago. A brief reconstruction of recent Air Force history. Formulating a vision for Canada's Air Force. Taking into account a comglomeration of factors which impact directly or indirectly on the Air Force: its missions, its structures, its equipment, and its people. The contribution of the Air Force in three key areas (national security, the protection of Canadian sovereignty and the national interest) as prime considerations in constructing the vision. Some examples of the kind of contribution the Air Forces make in the area of national interest. Elements of the vision. An answer to the question "what do we get from our Air Force for our hard-earned tax dollars?" including many details of specific projects and operations, and some tributes to our Air Force. Success that transcends the military dimension. Reasons for the speaker's intense pride in the people that serve Canada. A closing quote from President Kennedy.