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The Canadian Forces (CF) (French: Forces canadiennes; FC), officially the Canadian Armed Forces (French: Forces armées canadiennes), are the unified armed forces of Canadamarker, as constituted by the National Defence Act, which states: "The Canadian Forces are the armed forces of Her Majesty raised by Canada and consist of one Service called the Canadian Armed Forces." This singular institution consists of three main branches: Maritime Command (MARCOM), Land Force Command (LFC), and Air Command (AIRCOM), which are together overseen by the Armed Forces Council, chaired by the Chief of the Defence Staff. At the pinnacle of the command structure is the Commander-in-Chief, who is the reigning Canadian monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, represented by the Governor General.

The current incarnation of the Canadian Forces dates from 1 February 1968, when the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force were merged into a unified structure. Its roots, however, lie in colonial militia groups that served alongside garrisons of the French and British armies and navies; a structure that remained in place until the early 20th century. Thereafter, a distinctly Canadian army and navy was established, followed by an air force, that, because of the constitutional arrangements at the time, remained effectively under the control of the British government until Canada gained legislative independence from the United Kingdommarker in 1931, partly due to the performance and sacrifice of the Canadian Corps in the First World War. The Canadian forces were then heavily involved in the Second World War (which, as with the previous world war, involved conscription) and Korean War, and, from the 1950s on, adopted more the role of a peacekeeping force within United Nations sanctioned conflicts. The nature of the Canadian Forces has continued to evolve, and they are currently engaged in Afghanistanmarker, under NATOmarker ISAF.

The forces are today funded by approximately $20 billion annually ranked 16th, and are presently ranked 74th in size compared to the world's other armed forces by number of total personnel, and 58th in terms of active personnel, standing at a population of roughly 67,000, not including the 26,000 reservists. These individuals serve on numerous CF bases located in all regions of the country, and are governed by the Queen's Regulations and Orders and the National Defence Act.

Defence Policy and Command structure

Canadian Defence Policy

Since the Second World War, Canadian defence policy has consistently stressed three overarching objectives: 1) The defence of Canada itself; 2) The defence of North America in cooperation with US forces; and, 3) Contributing to broader international security.

During the Cold War, a principal focus of Canadian defence policy was contributing to the security of Europe. Toward that end, Canadian ground and air forces were based in Europe from the early 1950s until the early 1990s.

However, since the end of the Cold War, as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has moved much of its defence focus "out of area", the Canadian military has also become more deeply engaged in international security operations in various other parts of the world - most notably in Afghanistan since 2002.

Canadian defence policy today is based on the "Canada First Defence Strategy", introduced by the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper after it took office in 2006. Based on that strategy, the Canadian military is oriented and being equipped to carry out six core missions within Canada, in North America and globally. Specifically, the Forces are tasked with having the capacity to:

  • Conduct daily domestic and continental operations, including in the Arctic and through NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defence Command);
  • Support a major international event in Canada, such as the 2010 Olympics;
  • Respond to a major terrorist attack;
  • Support civilian authorities during a crisis in Canada such as a natural disaster;
  • Lead and/or conduct a major international operation for an extended period; and
  • Deploy forces in response to crises elsewhere in the world for shorter periods.

Since 2006, the Government has initiated a major re-equipment effort to rebuild the Forces after the serious defence cuts of the 1990s. This program has already involved the acquisition of specific equipment (main battle tanks, artillery, unmanned air vehicles and other systems) to support the mission in Afghanistan. It has also encompassed the renewal of certain so-called "core capabilities" (such as the air force's medium range transport aircraft fleet and the army's truck and armoured vehicle fleets). In addition, entirely new capabilities (such as C-17 strategic transport aircraft) have also been acquired for the Forces. The program of capability renewal is ongoing and over the next twenty years aims to:

  • Increase the number of military personnel to 70,000 Regular Forces and 30,000 Reserve Forces;
  • Replace the Navy's current support ships with more capable vessels;
  • Build 15 ships to replace existing destroyers and frigates;
  • Acquire 10 to 12 maritime patrol aircraft;
  • Order 65 next-generation fighter aircraft;
  • Strengthen readiness and operational capabilities; and,
  • Improve and modernize defence infrastructure.

Command Structure

Per the Canadian constitution, command-in-chief of the Canadian Forces is vested in the country's sovereign, who, since 1904, has allowed his or her viceroy, the Governor General, to exercise the duties ascribed to the post of Commander-in-Chief, and to hold the associated title since 1905. All troop deployment and disposition orders, including declarations of war, fall within the Royal Prerogative and are issued as orders-in-council, which must be signed by either the monarch or governor general. Under the Westminster system's parliamentary customs and practices, however, the monarch and viceroy must generally follow the advice of his or her ministers in Cabinet, including the Prime Minister and Minister of National Defence.

The forces' 67,000 personnel are divided into a hierarchy of numerous ranks of commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and other non-commissioned positions. The Governor General appoints, on the advice of the Prime Minister, a Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) as the highest ranking commissioned officer in the forces, and who, as head of the Armed Forces Council, commands the CF from the Department of National Defence Headquartersmarker (NDHQ) in Ottawamarker, Ontariomarker. On the Armed Forces Council sit the heads of the three environmental commands the Maritime Command, the Land Force Command, and the Air Command who collectively oversee the operational commands of the Canadian Forces the Canada Command, the Expeditionary Force Command, the Special Operations Forces Command, and the Operational Support Command. The sovereign and most other members of the Canadian Royal Family also act as colonels-in-chief, honorary air commodores, air commodores-in-chief, admirals, and captains-general of Canadian Forces regiments, though these positions are ceremonial.

Canada's forces operate out of 27 branch-specific Canadian Forces bases (CFB) across the country, as well as six shared bases, including the NDHQ; this number has been gradually reduced since the 1970s with bases either being closed or merged into others as defence spending by the government was reduced. New recruits are indoctrinated at various training centres. officer cadet are educated and trained at two CF collegiate institutions, the Royal Military College of Canadamarker and the Royal Military College Saint-Jeanmarker. Officers may also be commissioned by joining with a degree from a civilian university. In some cases, officers may also be commissioned from the senior non-commissioned ranks.

Maritime Command

The Canadian Forces Maritime Command (MARCOM) (in French: Commandement maritime des Forces canadiennes), also called the Canadian Navy, is the naval branch of the CF and is a descendant of the Royal Canadian Navy. Headed by the Chief of the Maritime Staff, the MARCOM includes 33 warships and submarines deployed in two fleets: the Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) at the Esquimalt Royal Navy Dockyard on the west coast, and the Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) at Her Majesty's Canadian Dockyard on the east coast, as well as one formation: the Naval Reserve Headquarters (NAVRESHQ) at Quebec Citymarker, Quebecmarker. The fleet is augmented by various aircraft and supply vessels.

MARCOM participates in NATOmarker exercises, and ships are deployed all over the world in support of the Canadian military as well as in conjunction with multinational deployments, including the current Operation APOLLO.

Land Force Command

The Canadian Forces Land Force Command (LFC) (in French: Commandement de la Force terrestre des Forces canadiennes), also known as the Canadian Army, is the land based branch of the CF, and is a descendant of the Canadian Army. Headed by the Chief of the Land Staff, the LFC is administered through four geographically determined formations, or areas: the Land Force Atlantic Area (LFAA), headquartered at CFB Halifaxmarker in Halifaxmarker, Nova Scotiamarker; the Land Force Quebec Area (LFQA), headquartered in Montrealmarker, Quebecmarker; the Land Force Central Area (LFCA), located at Denison Armourymarker in Torontomarker, Ontariomarker; and the Land Force Western Area (LFWA), headquartered in Edmontonmarker, Albertamarker.

Currently, the Regular Force component of the LFC consists of three field-ready brigade groups: 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, at CFB Edmontonmarker and CFB Shilo; 2 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, at CFB Petawawamarker and CFB Gagetownmarker; and 5 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group, at CFB Valcartier and Quebec Citymarker. Each contains one regiment each of artillery, armour, and combat engineers, three battalions of infantry (all scaled in the British fashion), one for logistics, a squadron for headquarters/signals, and several minor organisations. A tactical helicopter squadron and a field ambulance are co-located with each brigade, but do not form part of the brigade's command structure.

Each land force area has, in addition to the Regular Force troops, reserve forces organized into a total of 10 reserve brigade groups. LFAA and LFQA each have two reserve brigade groups, while LFCA and LFWA have three apiece. Major training establishments and non-brigaded troops exist at CFB Gagetown, ASU Saint-Jean (now attached to CFB Montreal), and CFB Wainwrightmarker, which is home to the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre and provides state-of-the-art force-on-force training in preparation for overseas deployments.

Air Command

A CF-18A fighter jet.

The Canadian Forces Air Command (AIRCOM) (in French: Force aérienne des Forces canadiennes), is the aerially operating branch of the CF. Led by the Chief of the Air Staff, the AIRCOM is deployed at 13 bases across Canada, under the overall direction of 1 Canadian Air Division, and constitutes the Canadian NORAD Region. Major air bases are located in British Columbiamarker, Albertamarker, Saskatchewanmarker, Ontariomarker, Quebecmarker, Nova Scotiamarker, and Newfoundland and Labradormarker, while administrative and command-control facilities are located in Winnipegmarker and North Baymarker. A Canadian component of the NATO Airborne Early Warning Force is also based at NATO Air Base Geilenkirchenmarker near Geilenkirchenmarker, Germanymarker. Wings vary in size from several hundred personnel to several thousand.

AIRCOM and Joint Task Force Northmarker (JTFN) also maintain at various points throughout Canada's northern region a chain of forward operating locations, each capable of supporting fighter operations. Elements of CF-18 squadrons periodically deploy to these airports for short training exercises or Arctic sovereignty patrols.

Canada Command

The Canada Command (CANCOM) is an operational element created on 31 January 2006, to improve response time to domestic terrorism and natural disasters, and is commanded by a commissioned officer who reports directly to the CDS. CANCOM is responsible for the management of NAVCOM, LFC, and AIRCOM to ensure national security, both in emergency and routine situations, and is analogous to and works closely with the United States Northern Command, as well as the United States Department of Homeland Securitymarker. The command directs operations through six regional joint task forces, with Joint Task Force Northmarker responsible for activities previously carried out by Canadian Forces North Area.

Expeditionary Force Command

In response to the international security environment of the time, the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command (CEFCOM) was created on 31 January 2006 in order to plan and conduct all CF international operations, with the exception of operations conducted solely by the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). The organization brings together, under one operational command, maritime, land, air, and special operations forces assets to conduct humanitarian, peace support, or combat operations wherever they are required internationally. CEFCOM was also made responsible for setting standards to ensure units and personnel selected for deployment are fully qualified and ready to conduct overseas duties.

The organizations under command of CEFCOM include: a standing contingency force (SCF) capable of rapidly responding to international crises, mission-specific task forces (MSTFs) task-tailored to meet mission-specific requirements, and the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART).

Special Operations Forces Command

The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) is a unit capable of operating as an independent formation, but is primarily focused on generating Special Operations Forces (SOF) elements to support CANCOM and CEFCOM, and includes Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), the newly-formed Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR), the Joint Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence Company (JNBCD), and a special operations aviation unit based on 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (SOAS) at CFB Petawawa.

Information Management Group

Among other things, the Information Management Group is responsible for the conduct of electronic warfare and the protection of the Forces communications and computer networks. Within the group, this operational role is fulfilled by the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group, headquartered at CFS Leitrim in Ottawa, which operates the following units: the Canadian Forces Information Operations Group Headquarters (CFIOGHQ), the Canadian Forces Electronic Warfare Centre (CFEWC), the Canadian Forces Network Operation Centre (CFNOC), the Canadian Forces Signals Intelligence Operations Centre (CFSOC), the Canadian Forces Station Leitrimmarker, and the 764 Communications Squadron.

Canadian Forces Reserve Force

The Canadian Forces have a total reserve force of approximately 50,000 primary and supplementary that can be called upon in times of national emergency or threat.

Primary Reserve

Approximately 26,000 citizen soldiers, sailors, and aircrew, trained to the level of and interchangeable with their Regular Force counterparts, and posted to CF operations or duties on a casual or ongoing basis, make up the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve. This group is represented, though not commanded, at NDHQ by the Chief of Reserves and Cadets, who is usually a major general or rear admiral, and is divided into four components that are each operationally and administratively responsible to its corresponding environmental command in the Regular Force the Naval Reserve (NAVRES), Land Force Reserve (LFR), and Air Reserve (AIRRES) in addition to one force that does not fall under an environmental command, the Health Services Reserve.

Supplementary Reserve

The reserve force is enlarged by the Canadian Forces Supplementary Reserve, which comprises a voluntary call-up list for trained former CF regular- and reserve-force personnel who can be considered for reactivation in the event of a national emergency. There are approximately 23,000 Supplementary Reserves.

Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service

The Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS)) consists of officers and non-commissioned members who conduct training, safety, supervision and administration of nearly 60,000 cadets aged 12 to 18 years in the Canadian Cadet Movement. The majority of members in COATS are officers of the Cadet Instructors Cadre branch of the CF.

Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers, who provide surveillance and patrol services in Canada's arctic and other remote areas, are an essential reserve force component used for Canada's exercise of sovereignty over its northern territory.


Though the Canadian Forces are a single service, each of the three environmental commands possesses a distinctive uniform, each sub-divided into four orders of dress: Ceremonial Dress, including regimental full dress, patrol dress, and Service Dress uniforms with ceremonial accoutrements such as swords, white web belts, gloves, etc.; Mess Dress, which ranges from full mess kit with dinner jacket, cummerbund, or waistcoat, etc., to Service Dress with bow tie; Service Dress, also called a walking-out or duty uniform, is the military equivalent of the business suit, with an optional white summer uniform for naval CF members; and Operational Dress, an originally specialized uniform for wear in an operational now for everyday wear in garrison. Generally, after the elimination of Base Dress (or Garrison Dress for the Army), Operational Dress is the daily uniform worn by all members of the CF, unless Service Dress is prescribed (such as at the NDHQ, on parades, at public events, etc.). Also, most army and some other units have for very specific occasions a regimental full dress, such as the scarlet uniforms of the Royal Military Collegemarker.

The beret is still the most widely worn headgear, is worn with almost all orders of dress (with the exception of the more formal orders of Navy and Air Force dress), and the colour of which is determined by the wearer's environment, branch, or mission. Soldiers in Highland, Scottish, and Irish regiments generally wear alternate headdress, including the glengarry, balmoral, tam o'shanter, and caubeen instead of the beret.

Military expenditures

The Constitution of Canada gives the Federal Government exclusive responsibility for national defence, and expenditures are thus outlined in the federal budget. For the 2008 2009 fiscal year, the amount allocated for defence spending was CAD$18.9 billion. This regular funding was augmented in 2005 with an additional CAD$12.5 billion over five years, as well as a commitment to increasing Regular Force troop levels by 5,000 persons, and the Primary Reserve by 3,000 over the same period. In 2006, a further CAD$5.3 billion over five years was provided to allow for 13,000 more Regular Force members, and 10,000 more Primary Reserve personnel, as well as CAD$17.1 billion for the purchase of new trucks for the LFC, transport aircraft and helicopters for the AIRCOM, and joint support ships for the MARCOM, though the latter was later postponed indefinitely.


Origins and establishment

Prior to Confederation in 1867, residents of the colonies in what is today Canada served as regular members of French and British forces, as well as in local militia groups. The latter aided in the defence of their respective territories against raids conducted by other European powers, aboriginals, and later American forces in the American Revolution and War of 1812, as well as in the Fenian raids and North-West Rebellion. Consequently, the lineages of some Canadian army units stretch back to the early 19th century, when militia units were formed to assist in the defence of British North America against invasion by the United Statesmarker. The responsibility for military command remained with the British Crown-in-Council, with a commander-in-chief for North America stationed at Halifaxmarker until the final withdrawal of British Army and Royal Navy units from that city in 1906. Thereafter, the Royal Canadian Navy was formed, and, with the advent of military aviation, came the Royal Canadian Air Force. These forces were organised under the Department of Militia and Defence, and split into the Permanent and Non-Permanent Active Militias frequently shortened to simply The Militia. By 1923, the department was merged into the Department of National Defence, but land forces in Canada were not referred to as the Canadian Army until November 1940.

The first overseas deployment of Canadian military forces occurred during the Second Boer War, when several units were raised to serve under Britishmarker command. Similarly, when the United Kingdom entered into conflict with Germany in the First World War, Canadian troops were called to participate in European theatres. The Canadian Crown-in-Council then decided to send its forces into the Second World War, as well as the Korean War. Since 1947, Canadian military units have participated in more than 200 operations worldwide, and completed 72 international operations. Canadian soldiers, sailors, and aviators came to be considered world-class professionals through conspicuous service during these conflicts, as well as the country's integral participation in NATOmarker during the Cold War, First Gulf War, Kosovo War, and in United Nations Peacekeeping operations, such as the Suez Crisis, Golan Heightsmarker, Cyprusmarker, Croatiamarker, Bosniamarker, and Afghanistanmarker. Battles which are particularly notable to the Canadian military include the Battle of Vimy Ridgemarker, the Dieppe Raid, the Battle of Ortona, the Normandy Landingsmarker, the Battle for Caenmarker, the Battle of the Scheldt, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, and the strategic bombing of German cities.

At the end of the Second World War, Canada possessed the third-largest navy and fourth-largest air force in the world, as well as the largest volunteer army ever fielded. Conscription for overseas service was introduced only near the end of the war, and only 2,400 conscripts actually made it into battle.

Unification and beyond

The March 1964 White Paper on Defence outlined a major restructuring of the three separate armed services, describing a reorganization that would include the integration of operations, logistics support, personnel, and administration of the separate branches under a functional command system. The proposal met with strong opposition from personnel in all three services, and resulted in the dismissal of the navy's senior operational commander, Rear Admiral William Landymore, as well as the forced retirements of other senior officers in the nation's military forces. The protests of service personnel and their superiors had no effect, however, and on 1 February 1968, Bill C-243, The Canadian Forces Reorganization Act, was granted Royal Assent and the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force were combined into one service: the Canadian Armed Forces.

The public explanation for the reorganization was that unification would achieve cost savings and provide improved command, control, and integration of the military forces. The then Minister of National Defence, Paul Hellyer, stated on 4 November 1966 that "the amalgamation... will provide the flexibility to enable Canada to meet in the most effective manner the military requirements of the future. It will also establish Canada as an unquestionable leader in the field of military organization." However, the then serving Liberal ministers of the Crown were accused of not caring for the traditions behind each individual service, especially as the long-standing navy, army, and air force identities were replaced with common army style ranks and rifle green uniforms. Rather than loyalty to each service, which, as military historian Jack Granatstein put it, was "vital for sailors, soldiers, and airmen and women" who "risk their lives to serve," Hellyer wanted loyalty to the new, all-encompassing Canadian Forces; this, it was said, caused damage to the troops' esprit de corps.

Over the ensuing decades, restructuring continued, with the Communication Command established on 1 September 1970, and the Air Defence Command and Air Transport Command united into the present day AIRCOM on 2 September 1975. For a period during the Cold War, the CF also maintained two bases in West Germanymarker, under the command of Canadian Forces Europe. These were themselves closed in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Unionmarker and the unification of Germanymarker, Materiel Command was disbanded during the 1980s, and Communications Command was disbanded during a mid-1990s reorganization, with its units merged into the Defence Information Services Organization (DISO), later renamed Information Management Group (IM Gp). Force Mobile Command was also re-branded at this time, becoming Land Force Command (LFC). On 1 February 2006, the CF added four operational commands to the existing structure: the Canada Command, the Canadian Expeditionary Force Command, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, and the Canadian Operational Support Command.

Defence spending and troop strengths remained high during the early years of the Cold War, but began to decline in the late 1960s and 1970s, as the perceived threat from the Warsaw Pact diminished. Throughout the 1990s, successive budget cuts forced further reductions in personnel, the number of bases, and the fighting ability of the CF. There was criticism of these budget cuts, as military spending was reduced to 1.4% of Canada's gross domestic product. However, the Conservative Cabinet appointed in 2006 made efforts through the Canada First Defence Strategy to purchase new equipment and training, as well as the re-establishment of an airborne land force, now called the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. More funds were also put towards recruitment, which had been dwindling throughout the 1980s and '90s, possibly because the Canadian populace had come to perceive the CF as peacekeepers rather than as soldiers, as shown in a 2008 survey conducted for the Department of National Defence. The poll found that nearly two thirds of Canadians agreed with the country's participation in the invasion of Afghanistan, and that the military should be stronger, but also that the purpose of the forces should be different, such as more focused on responding to natural disasters. The current CDS, Walter Natynczyk, said later that year that while recruiting has become more successful, the CF was facing a problem with its rate of loss of existing members, which increased between 2006 and 2008 from 6% to 9.2% annually.

See also

Canadian Forces

Other countries


  1. "Administrative Order: Implementation of Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service", NDHQ 1085-30 (D Cdts 6) dated 2 July 1009.


  1. "Administrative Order: Implementation of Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service", NDHQ 1085-30 (D Cdts 6) dated 2 July 1009.

Further reading

Chris Madsen, Military Law and Operations. loose-leaf publication up-dated 1-2 times per year. Aurora, Ontario: Canada Law Book, 2008.
  • The Disarming of Canada, Author: John Hasek, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1987

External links

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