Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre was surprised as anyone when he was asked to take command of the Canadian Army in August. But two months into the job, he has visited a few bases in Canada and operations in Iraq and is finding his feet as he reconnects with an institution he has been away from for the past three years, serving most recently as commander of Military Personnel Command. Among his first acts was a Command Philosophy document to the leadership of the Army, an outline of the context and environment in which the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) now operates and his leadership expectations.
While he insisted there is nothing new in its overall direction to soldiers, the document serves as a reminder of what needs attention and an indication of how he intends to approach the job. On a fall morning less than a day after moving into his new office at the Carling campus in Ottawa, he sat down with Canadian Army Today to explain some of his guidance.
You recently served as the deputy commander of United Nations Command in Korea, a very different deployment from previous leadership roles in the Balkans and Afghanistan. What did your time there tell you about the readiness and force structure required by the Canadian Army?
It was a fascinating and very unique opportunity that I was given the privilege of undertaking. To see the tectonic forces at play in that part of the world, the great power rivalries and how one miscalculation could lead to devastating conflict – that has implications for Canada. Northeast Asia is an incredibly important part of the world for economic, military and political reasons, and we need to be engaged there, we need to understand what’s going on, and we need to be prepared to operate there.
It showed me the willingness of great powers to intervene in other states, to affect popular will, to undermine the respect for the rule of law, to get after their own national interests and objectives. These great powers are operating just below the threshold of armed conflict to achieve their aims. This is classic Sun Tzu, achieve your aims without fighting. Canada has to be able to respond and, as a subset of that, the Canadian Army has to be able to respond. I’ve been thinking, how does the Army manoeuvre in that space just below the threshold of armed conflict to achieve national aims, to precipitate behaviour change in potential adversaries?
Close Engagement (a revised capstone operating concept) was just published and I’m a huge fan. When I was a battalion commander, I wrote about the requirement to engage and suggested changing the role of the infantry, not just to close with and destroy, but also to close with and engage. We’re not fighting on a sterile battlefield. Wherever we will be, it’ll be hugely populated areas, even megacities, so we have to be able to engage with the population, to determine friend from foe.
The other focus of Close Engagement was adaptive dispersed operations. We’re doing that now. I just came back from Iraq and in Kuwait where we have smaller teams out there doing great things. That’s the way of the future. So how do we super empower these teams to engage, be it in an advise or assist role, or with lethality, with reach-back communications, reach-back intelligence, reach-back sustainment. As I wrap my head around modernization priorities, that’s going to be at the top of the list.
Does the Army have the force structure to readily meet that?
I had that discussion this morning with the team about developing a modernization strategy. We’ve got a lot of the parts in play right now, from operationalizing the Army Reserve, to concept development work, to some major capital projects. But putting our arms around that in a coherent framework, a strategic framework, and then being able to communicate that, is what I want to do.
The concept development piece is something I want to put a little bit more thought on. Close Engagement is good, but the world is changing very fast. I mentioned the ability to manoeuvre below the threshold of armed conflict: We’ve got to put on our thinking caps and really consider how the Army does that.
That ties into wider CAF efforts on information operations.
Exactly. We need to really operationalize our information activities capability. Our adversaries are using that to affect the popular will, to affect the fabric of our societies. This is a national issue, but the Army’s got to be able to manoeuvre in the information environment at the operational and tactical levels.
Have you identified a few key areas you want to move forward?
I’ve been wrestling with the idea of modernization priorities versus modernization themes. There’s a couple of themes that go across a number of different priorities. One is networked soldiers, getting the network right to enable adaptive dispersed operations. Another is increasing soldier lethality. That’s everything from the personal equipment to the effects that they can call upon to be tremendously lethal small teams. Our allies are investing heavily in this, and I think we’ve got a great opportunity to collaborate with them. I’d add our tactical logistics — everything from equipment to concepts, to people needs reinforcement. And we need to take a look at our force structure and get a better balance between the field Army and the institutional Army, making sure our fighting echelons are robust enough for conflict, but at the same time we have the institutional balance right, so that we’re not constantly robbing Peter to pay Paul.
That gets into retention. The sense I have is that every new capability, every new mission, every new headquarters position, is calling upon the same leadership cohort, those with 10 to 15 years of experience. To do security force capacity building, you have to have the experience. To train others, you have to have the experience. At the same time, if our schools don’t have enough instructors, we’re calling upon the same cohort. Consequently, the pers tempo of our mid-level leaders goes up and that starts putting undue stress on them. We need to bring balance back into it.
Is there one critical piece of equipment that is needed based on your experience?
I haven’t been briefed in detail on the status of each of the projects yet, but one that comes to mind from my experience in Korea is air defence. Having lived the last 15 months with a Patriot ballistic missile defence system just outside my headquarters, that was a bit eye-opening in that threat environment. And we saw what just happened in Saudi Arabia with the drone attacks on their oil production facilities. We’ve got to be able to defend against that. So that is one project that I’ll be taking a very close look at. The network piece is another. We have to wrap our heads around how we stay up with technology. We need a procurement process that is agile enough to quickly get the latest in the hands of our troops and at the same time maintain interoperability with our allies.
In your Command Philosophy, you wrote about the need to preserve the fundamental skills as you’re introducing new technology. What’s the concern?
We cannot make technology the single point of failure, because technology will fail. If we become overly reliant on the network and being plugged in, when it fails, we have to be able to react. We know our adversaries will target the network and all of the enabling capabilities that we have. So, when the network goes out, when GPS goes down, we still have to be able to fight and win.
Have the fundamentals, though, been disrupted by rapid change?
Three of the fundamentals have been with us for thousands of years: Shoot, move and communicate. But based on our experience over the last several decades of conflict, I believe we’ve introduced several more. One is engage – we have to be able to engage the population. That is a fundamental skill for all of our soldiers. Another is the survival skills that we’ve learned, the tactical combat casualty care that has really revolutionized how we treat casualties. Then there is countering improvised explosive devices. Given the globalization of information, knowledge about these types of devices is ubiquitous.
You observed that the role of soldiering is now much more demanding. How so?
I compare the training when I went through as an infantry officer and as a platoon commander to what we expect of platoon commanders on operations today. I have a vivid memory of Afghanistan 2007, I was commanding an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team, our advisory mission with the Afghans, and saw a Canadian rifle platoon with a contracted South African dog handling team for sniffing out mines, an engineer section attached, an American joint terminal attack controller attached, a human terrain team of two American anthropologists attached, an Afghan platoon partnered with them, with Canadian or American advisors, support overhead by Dutch F 16s. That was one Canadian lieutenant commanding this and that was 12 years ago. We continue to see this downward proliferation of combined arms. It’s inline with adaptive dispersed operations, these small teams operating with a whole bunch of capability. But what this also means is this young leader has got to have the same sort of educational understanding – political, economic, geography, history – that perhaps a brigade or division commander in World War 2 had.
What’s the training and professional development requirement to meet that?
We’ve got to have much more emphasis on continual learning, continual professional development. A day in the Army where we don’t learn something new is a day wasted. Before going on any operation, you should be reading a lot and reading deeply. In [Gen James] Mattis’ new book, he says if you haven’t read hundreds of books on your subject, you are functionally illiterate and you’re doing your soldiers a disservice because you have not learned from previous experiences. It’s our duty as professional leaders, because the stakes are so high, to understand everything we can about the environment.
You’ve emphasized the importance of mission command, articulating intent and then empowering subordinates. Is that challenged in some way by how effectively an adversary might target that individual platoon leader through information operations?
It is always easier if you understand the why, the purpose of the operation. And in that context, with everything revolving around you, it is often the individual at the front end that understands things the best and can make those decisions. But mission command has got to be within the context of discipline, so it’s not initiative run wild. Mission command isn’t binary, it’s back and forth. It’s a discussion.
You write about empowering innovation. Is there a particular reason for that?
Because things are changing so fast, there’s not one individual that is the fount of all knowledge or all good ideas. And just because you have the highest rank in the room doesn’t make you the smartest or the authority on everything. Many of our great ideas come from the field, from the lowest levels. I want to empower those. Let’s experiment at the local level to see if they work. If they fail, then fail fast and learn from it. The greatest teacher is failure.
You also urge the Army to challenging the status quo in order to be more agile.
We can’t be wedded to our doctrinal structures, to certain ways of doing business. In Afghanistan, we formed the provincial reconstruction teams and the operational mentor and liaison teams. Those were nowhere in our doctrinal structure. We had to adapt. We had to take a look at what the mission was calling for, and then we reconfigured ourselves for that. Future missions are going to be the same. They are going to call for things that don’t look like artillery batteries or reconnaissance squadrons, but the individual building blocks might be the same. We have to have an agile mindset, that ability to rapidly adapt in terms of structure, in terms of tasks and how we do those tasks, to be robust enough to take shocks to the system and yet still continue. That’s all part of agility.
You note that the Army can’t afford to bleed talent. Within the lanes that you have as Commander, what are you able to influence?
I was in Military Personnel Command for almost two years, so I got deeply involved in all things people. I view that as a strength in this job. Everything we do in the Army is based on our people. So, as I look at the modernization of the Army, people are going to be front and center. It became apparent to me that most of our personnel system is rooted in the industrial age. We’ve got to take a much more personalized approach to each individual rather than having a cookie cutter solution for a career. And that means more hands-on in terms of senior leaders looking after more junior leaders, who are then looking after their troops in terms of career choices. A lot of it is providing some modicum of predictability, and this is as much for the family as anyone else. Short term predictability: What’s our training schedule for the next six months? Then longer-term career predictability: What am I doing in two or three years? Now, that can be extremely difficult to do given the dynamic situation we live in. But we should be able to tell soldiers of the types of things that we’re looking out for them down the road.
The challenge is going to be to maintain the ethos of service above self, because there will always be service requirements that have to be met. I drew this out for the Army staff when I briefed them about balancing the requirement for service above self and then when do you have to look after yourself first? This is part of work-life balance. It’s not 50-50, it’s being able to concentrate on one or the other as the situation determines. We as leaders need to embrace that and look for out-of-the-box solutions for individuals who may need a break.
I notice you are wearing the prototype uniform pattern. You’ve got to make a decision relatively shortly on that?
This is a good news story. The time from telling the team to look at another camouflage pattern to actually getting it in the hands of troops for a trial was about eight months, and initial feedback appears to be good. This is the four colored one and we’re going to trial a five colored one as well. Camouflage is always a compromise, because you’re operating in so many different terrains. What we’ve got now for arid and temperate woodland is some of the best in the world. But the aim here is for this to fill more of that middle spectrum, so we get more bang for the buck out of one type of camouflage.
Lastly, what book are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading The Allure of Battle: A History of How Wars Have Been Won and Lost. It is a deep study on the myth that decisive battle actually determines the outcome of wars. And it goes back a number of centuries, debunking even the Napoleonic myth that some of his battles decided the outcome. I think it’s going find its way onto some Staff College reading lists because one of the key roles of the general is to advise when not to fight.