Vanguard Magazine

Aug/Sept 2014

Preserving capacity, General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff, Keys to Canadian SAR

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Pletz is in the midst of conducting a training mission with the Romanian Air Force while also preparing to transition his task force to a Baltic air policing mission in Lithuania that begins in just a few weeks. So de- mands on his time are high. But the chaos one might expect under such circumstances is rarely evident. Pletz is commanding Canadian Air Task Force (ATF) Romania, the Royal Canadian Air Force contri- bution to Operation Reassurance, which also includes Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Army operations: HMCS Toronto recently replaced Regina on patrol in the Mediterranean Sea while the army continues to conduct exercises primarily with Polish forces in East- ern Europe. The ATF, located at the Romanian Air Force 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii, is an important symbol of Canada's commitment to NATO's response to Rus- sian annexation of Crimea and ongoing operations along the border of eastern Ukraine. But it is also an important marker in the development of the RCAF's air expeditionary capability. Stood up at 2 Wing Bagotville, the Air Expedi- tionary Wing (AEW) has been in development since 2008, adapting the lessons of Libya, Afghanistan and Haiti to provide a fl exible and scalable construct that can be rapidly deployed to any austere or semi-austere environment, at home or abroad. While a portion of the AEW was deployed along with the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the Philippines in November 2013 in response to the destruction of typhoon Haiyan, Op Reassurance marks the fi rst time the air wing's full complement of resources has been utilized: a command and con- trol (C2) element for tactical-level command support; a mission support element; an operational support element of enablers; and an air movements detach- ment that is now coordinating the ATF's transition to Lithuania. As Lieutenant-General André Deschamps, then commander RCAF, explained in 2012, lessons from Libya in particular had pointed to the need for a more robust C2 capability and people with the right skill sets to plug into coalition networks, which are rarely exactly the same from mission to mission. "With the air expeditionary wing, we are putting into the box the fl exibility to adjust to any given environment," he said in an interview. "If there is not robust infrastruc- ture or communications architecture, we will bring kit to enable us to connect so we can operate quickly. We rely on our people to be innovative and fi nd solutions, but it would be nice to give them a stronger starting point when they get on the ground." For Pletz, the assimilation of those lessons was evi- dent from day one. From initial deployment on April 29, led by 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron from 3 Wing Bagotville, through to the AEW portion of 2 Wing just days later, the six CF-18s and the ATF were set up and supported and conducting missions with the Romanian Air Force by May 12. Capturing lessons learned is fundamental to every operation, and Pletz has been cognizant of that as the mission has progressed. While his team has en- countered the usual assortment of unexpected chal- lenges, nothing has threatened operations. "To me, that means that on exercises and everything we have been conducting since this concept was fi rst thought of, we have actually been doing a very good job of implementing those lessons learned," he said. His for- mer chief of staff, the deputy commander of 2 Wing, called the deployment "the smoothest they have seen to date in all of their other exercises and endeavours. To me, as the commander and knowing what we have in terms of a mandate, it was seamless." Op Reassurance is an opportunity to continue refi n- ing the concept, which can be quickly scaled up or down depending on the type and number of aircraft involved and the nature of the mission. Pletz says the C2 and networking challenges of Libya that prompted LGen Deschamps's directives to the AEW have largely been resolved, so much so that he is able to share CF- 18 and NATO AWAC data with 1 Canadian Air Divi- sion in Winnipeg. "I have an incredibly robust system considering the semi-austere environment we are working in," he said. "I'm not missing anything." The general's intent to give his people a "stronger starting point" is also playing out. The ATF comprises almost 200 personnel, with recent replacements for some positions arriving in June from 17 Wing in Win- nipeg and 8 Wing in Trenton. Pletz says the plug-and- play construct has allowed them to resolve any issue. "One of the key enablers for us is the quality of our people and their ability, resourcefulness and creativity to surmount so many of the little challenges. During exercises and deployments, there are things you can't predict that are going to happen and our folks have been able to navigate through that. Between all the networking and various types of communications that we require, they were able to get that up and running in very short order." Building new links In addition to launching the full AEW, Op Reassur- ance is also the furthest into Eastern Europe Canadi- ans have been deployed since the Second World War and the fi rst time the RCAF has conducted a mission of this nature with an Eastern European ally. As a force well versed in coalition operations, inte- grating with new partners is common practice. But it still requires adjustments. Learning the nuances of A Air ExPEdiTionARy AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 13

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