To Lieutenant-General Jocelyn (Joe) Paul, Russia’s war in Ukraine has upheld many of the precepts guiding the Canadian Army. It has affirmed the importance of land forces and the simple fact that while navies, air forces and space assets are vital to success, only armies can hold ground. It has confirmed the tenets of the Army’s operating concept of Adaptive Dispersed Operations (ADO), of networked combat teams aggregating and disaggregating as required over the battlespace. It has reinforced the lines of effort in the Canadian Army Modernization Strategy (CAMS). And it has raised digital transformation to an imperative.
The conflict has also generated urgency to address gaps in the Army’s capabilities, in air defence, counter UAS, and long-range precision fires, among others. And its existence has placed added pressure on an organization wrestling with recruitment challenges and personnel shortages – estimate at about 10,000 across the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) – as it prepares for an expanded role in NATO: In addition to continuing to lead an enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battle Group in Latvia, Canada has committed to working with Latvia and NATO partners to surge a combat capable brigade – an augmented Forward Presence (aFP) Brigade.
While all of that would be more than enough to grab any new commander’s attention, when Paul assumed command of the Army in June, he did something unusual. Rather that issue a commander’s philosophy or guidance, or conduct a tour of Army bases and headquarters, joining soldiers on training exercises, he spent the first three months in Ottawa listening. After the past year as Deputy Commander of the Allied Joint Forces Command in Naples, and the previous two years in positions away from the Army, he knew there was a lot to absorb and relearn.
I took a different approach. I was 4th Canadian Division commander over three years ago, so I took the first three months just to listen. We all have preconceived ideas. I went against my own tendency, which would have been to go on the road and visit the troops. I purposely didn’t issue any specific guidance. I gave my verbal direction during Army Council a few weeks ago. I see my immediate priority as trying to create the conditions so that we can have the right capability. I’m investing myself much more into procurement decision making. Every single time a major Army program is presented to the rest of the department I make sure that I’m there. I’m trying to align the Army program as a whole so that our people can have the right tools in their hands a few years down the road. I’ll start visiting the troops before Christmas and into the New Year.
What direction did you put on the table during Army Council?
I’ve made it clear that, first of all, we will be implementing the Canadian Army Modernization Strategy. I told them that I was not planning on doing version 2 and 3. The time of writing is done. Now it’s time for action. We will be making some adjustments based on the lessons learned from the Ukraine conflict, but CAMS is the way ahead.
There are three buckets of decisions that have to be made. We will be tackling the first before Christmas. There are a few items in that bucket, but one we’ll be paying attention to is the mission tasks of the divisions. The Reserve mission task is a great concept. But four years in, we need to take stock, assess, and adjust. How has it been delivered? What has been effective? What are areas for improvement? And are there areas where Canada, the CAF and the Army would benefit from other types of mission tasks? One of the lessons of Ukraine (for example), has been their [effort] to go after the logistical tail of Russia. What do we need to do to strengthen and reinforce force protection for the logistical tail of the Canadian Army? In the second bucket, we’ll look at Army structure (Force 2025). Everything is on the table.
What specifically about the war in Ukraine has challenged or changed your thinking?
You need to be in a position to compress your OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop, your decision-making process, as soon as you pick up something, so that between the sensor and the effector you can bring the effect on target as soon as possible. Even if you have less capability, even if you have less guns or less tanks or less troops. That gives you a clear advantage on the battlefield. It’s not new. We’ve seen in history multiple examples of smaller armed forces defeating a much larger force. And I would offer these were better sustained, more agile, and better led. That’s what we see right now in Ukraine. And this is what the Canadian Army should be aspiring to. I like to say that we have the best small army in the world. Our people are extremely talented. We have good, well-trained leaders. We have great soldiers. But there are a few high-end capabilities that we need to procure as soon as we can.
Today’s game, and we can see that in Ukraine, is long-range precision fires. You need to be able to prosecute targets at 70, 80, 90 kilometers as a land force. But to bring these fires, you need your sensing function, and it must be a multi-layered system. You need multiple sensors, multiple effectors, and the capability of moving data. You need a digitalized environment where, instead of doing everything manually, you are able to make the management of the information more automatic and, in the future, supported by artificial intelligence. This is what we are looking at right now. All of this has been well articulated in the past, but I would offer to you that Ukraine is basically confirming that CAMS is on target.
Does the conflict reprioritize any of your capability requirements? Is what you’re seeing in Ukraine creating more urgency?
Yes. There are constraints, obviously. Some processes I do not own. But regarding everything that is under my purview and within my authority, absolutely, we’re trying to move as fast as possible. The Army programs are competing for space with programs from the Navy and the Air Force. But I must say, the fact that the government has accepted to have a leadership role of the eFP Battle Group in Latvia has certainly been acknowledged by everybody in this department. And there’s recognition of the fact that we could end up having to speed up some of these projects.
The most urgent ones have to do with air defence, counter UAS systems, and anti-tank systems. These are in the machinery and moving as quickly as they can. But these are the basic entry points. I keep reminding everybody that it’s not because you have a point air defence system on your shoulder that you have air defence – it’s just one of the many moving parts. You need to have radars, mid- and long-range fires. An M-SHORAD (Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense) system like the one we’re looking at right now is like a band aid, it’s a quick fix. What we are after is a totally integrated, much larger type of capability. But that program is going to take a while before it can deliver.
The number one thing on which I’m focused right now is C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance). Everything that has to do with command and sense. We have multiple projects that are trying to address current deficiencies. You need to be able to optimize your sensors and your shooters, [and for that] you need to draw data, convey data and analyze data. You need to provide commanders the decision-making tools they need to make the right decisions quickly. And you need to secure these networks.
But as we move toward being more digitalized, we still need to be able to do HF, VHF radio, we need to maintain the capability of laying lines. It wouldn’t take much to shut down the GPS constellation. So, just as you train to navigate with your compass, you need to be able to operate your command-and-control system with lines. I believe there’s still a place for runners in our organization, with a motocross bike or an ATV. You need to have a multi-layered system that gives you redundancy.
Is there anything that needs to be brought forward now?
Everything that has to do with the aFP brigade. If it does not contribute to deterring an authoritarian regime, I’m not interested right now.
You’ve added artillery and electronic warfare to the battle group in the past year. What other capabilities do you think need to be integrated in Latvia?
It will be a negotiation. The eastern frontier of NATO has new brigades, new divisions, and new corps. They are all at different levels of readiness. To be clear, Canada is not going to be cloning 4 (Canadian Mechanized) Brigade (that was stationed in Germany from 1957 to 1993). The Army of today is not at all the same as the Army in the early ‘90s. We will certainly have a reinforced Canadian presence in the brigade. But at this point, we can’t say whether we are going to be picking up function A, B, or C. We’ll need to have a discussion with our closest allies … and try to identify the gaps. If there are gaps, then we’re going to have a discussion with SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe), because NATO has its own force generation process.
These formal discussions have not started yet. Over the next weeks, there will be meetings with the nations that are currently contributing to the battle group. We’ll put everything on the table. And then it’s going to be a case of, ‘Okay, what is it that you can do? What is it that we can do?’ But since we are the lead nation, there’s going to be an expectation that if there’s a gap, people will look at us first to fill it.
If it’s not mass, more infantry, that you can add, does that suggest much more investment in the Canadian Combat Support Brigade. Do their specialized capabilities plug some of those potential holes?
As I was watching the conflict unfolding from my perch in Naples, having lots of discussions with Romania and Bulgaria because of the job I was filling, everybody was looking for the same type of capability: What I like to call low density but high payoff capability. The demand was always around air defence, anti-tank, electronic warfare, UAVs, long-range artillery. With some of these items, like long-range precision fires, we’re not the only country within the Alliance that has shortfalls. That’s why right now you see many Western democracies trying to build up their inventory with some of these high-end systems. So, as we go into the queue for procurement, we need to understand that we are not alone.
That would seem to suggest that programs like indirect fire modernization, which are still in the early phases of procurement, need to deliver sooner rather than later?
You can get range using different means. You can have the traditional howitzers, but you can also have loitering munitions, a drone flying on its own and waiting to engage a target. So, within that family of effectors, what is it that we have? What is it that our closest allies have? How can we integrate that? And what is it that Canada might be willing to invest in? With our fiscal reality, we cannot procure everything, so we need to make the right choices. But these choices have to be informed by what our allies can do as well.
There’s one thing that is always in the back of my mind: Any type of weapon system or piece of equipment that can deliver the same effect with less people, I’m very fascinated by it. This is the essence of being effective. I need to be in a position where I can deliver the best return on investment as an Army commander.
The artillery battery in Latvia now is experiencing that – the towed M777 is more personnel-intensive than the mobile platforms of allies.
You are more vulnerable when the counter battery fire comes in. The M777 is a great piece of gunnery. I have used it extensively. But [it] was procured as an urgent operational requirement, not a major capital project. It was something that we quickly surged because we needed it in Kandahar. But mobility is key. And we’re not the only Army looking at this. The U.S. Marine Corps has announced that it will be parking very shortly many M777s, but it will be investing in long-range precision fires. (The Marine Corps’ Force Design 2030 plan would reduce the number of active duty M777 tube artillery batteries from 21 to around five and add more High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems.) That phenomenon is visible with most of our allies.
As you look to replace equipment like the M777 and Carl Gustav rifles that have been provided to Ukraine, do you restock or is this an opportunity to consider alternatives or other ways of achieving the same effect?
In the case of the M777 it is very simple – the production line is closed. If I wanted to procure an additional 25, I would have to go to the secondhand market. So, this is where we need to look at protection, mobility, effectiveness, connectivity, and moving data. And when it comes down to indirect fire, it’s all about precision. As a Western democracy, we care about collateral damage. Whatever we do as an army has to be surgical.
Do you have an indication yet of what might be asked to surge the battle group?
By next spring we’ll have a good idea of our commitment to the aFP brigade. It could be anywhere between 2,500 to 5000 troops. There will be people deployed on six- or nine-month tours, but there will also be a lot of what we call fly-in, fly-out positions – you may go and do a collective training event, and then go back to your home garrison. It’s going to be a mix of everything.
There is an ongoing defence policy update that will be presented to the government. We’ll see then how much treasure the government is willing to give us. Because, as I like to say, a vision without the resources is just a hallucination. If I don’t have the money, if I don’t have the people, if I don’t have the kit, it’s not going to happen. Until I know how much resources I’m allocated, it’s kind of difficult to reorganize.
Related to your C4ISR priority, you recently published an Army digital strategy that shifts digital transformation from one of many priorities among four lines of effort in CAMS to what you are calling the vital ground. What needs to happen more quickly for you to see the sort of transformation you outline?
You need to have people with grey hair like me embrace it. For the youth, the leadership of tomorrow, programming, computing, moving data is something that is more natural to them. We need to ensure that at the mid-leadership and higher leadership level, we have an open mind to the importance of that transformation. Personally, I never miss an opportunity to sit down and listen to the young men and women who understand that aspect of the business much better than I do. Every single time I do, I learn something new. Data is like the new currency. I do not want to become too centric on data, on digitalization – we need to be redundant – but we need to acknowledge that the OODA loop has been compressed so much that it’s almost like a military revolution. If you’re not at the forefront of it, you don’t want to be the horse cavalry of the next conflict.
Given your personnel shortfall, are you in a scenario where you need digital transformation to attract the youth, but at the same time you need youth to drive digital transformation?
As a country over the last 30 years, the average age has increased by about eight or nine years. This is a national problem, a western world problem. It’s a societal choice that we all made collectively. We are competing with the private sector and unemployment is so low that youth have many different opportunities. To attract that talent, we need to give them a positive experience. When they join the team, we want to ensure that they are well lead, well looked after, with the right type of benefits. It’s not only about money; it’s also about positive leadership, about team spirit. This is why culture is so important. As with retention, there’s no silver bullet; it’s going to be the cumulative effect of many different initiatives at different levels to mitigate the challenge.
Indigenous communities have been among the fastest growing in this country. In your role as the CAF champion for Indigenous Peoples and given your background [Paul is a member of the Huron-Wendat First Nation] do you see yourself in a position to influence more Indigenous youth to consider the military?
Enhancing recruiting is something that I would like to be able to help Chief of Military Personnel [the senior CAF officer responsible for human resource programs] with. I want to ensure that our four summer training programs are optimized. We had a great turnout on Bold Eagle this year, more than 90 graduates. My own nephew graduated from Carcajou in Quebec. If you want to have a healthy army, you need first and foremost to have a healthy Reserve, because many opt for a component transfer like I did many years ago. The summer Aboriginal program will certainly contribute to this.
For Aboriginal youth, it’s about having a great experience as a serving member. In the aftermath of the First and Second World Wars, many of our Aboriginal veterans, when they came back to their communities, ended up being the future leaders. They ended up doing greater things. When I talk to Aboriginal youth about my own experience, I always tell them, “Whether you do one or two years as a Reservist, four or 30 with the Regular Force, when you go back to your community, you will have leadership skills, you will have had the opportunity of traveling, and you will be a better human being.” Education is the key to improve our collective quality of life in the Aboriginal community. With education comes economic opportunities. I think the Army and the CAF can certainly play a critical role in that regard.