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FEATURE INTERVIEW – General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff

FEATURE INTERVIEW – General Wayne Eyre, Chief of the Defence Staff

BY JOETEY ATTARIWALA

CDS General Wayne Eyre and a Canadian soldier deployed on Operation UNIFIER-UK observe the training of Ukrainian recruits. October 28th, 2022 – United Kingdom

GENERAL WAYNE EYRE

 CHIEF OF THE DEFENCE STAFF

For CDR’s annual interview with the Chief of the Defence Staff, we asked Senior Staff Writer, Joetey Attariwala, to interview Canada’s top soldier. 

Procurement, CAF operations around the globe, the Defence Policy Update and the General’s recent visit to Ukraine, were some of the many topics covered in our annual interview. Here is that in-depth discussion.

CDR: General Eyre, thank you for taking the time to speak with CDR. What is your perspective of the global security situation today?  

General Eyre: Thanks, Joetey. It’s great to speak with you again. My view is one of a global security situation that is deteriorating. We see challenges to the rules based international order around the globe, and we see very aggressive and increasing willingness to take risks by Russia and by China. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has changed the norms of territorial sovereignty, and their nuclear saber rattling, which we even see today, is something that more rightly belonged in the Cold War, and so the signs are not good. Likewise, China is attempting to establish its world view, on both the region that it’s in and the rest of the world. So, the geostrategic situation is as bad as I have seen it in my career. That’s in addition to climate change related issues such as population migration and opening up new areas of potential conflict, such as the Arctic, increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters here at home, and then you couple on accelerated technological change — so we are in a period of probably the fastest technological change we’ve seen in the human era.

And there’s also tremendous change in our societies as we see norms and expectations change, as we see beliefs change, as we see the rise of disinformation and conspiracy theories and how that undermines national will and cohesion. So, all of that together paints a pretty dismal picture of the international security situation. What this means is the ‘unipolar’ moment of the last 30 years that brought such a period of peace is gone, and the international order that has underpinned our national prosperity for the last 70 years is under threat unlike any other point in our nation’s history.

CDR: There’s clearly been belligerent behavior by Russia, as recently exhibited by the Su-27 fighter jet interfering with the US MQ-9 drone in international airspace; and by Chinese military aircraft interfering with other US aircraft. What is your take on this?

General Eyre: Yeah, we’ve got different strategic cultures that we’re looking at here as well. You’ve got a strategic culture on one side that views compromise as weakness, that compromise and weakness is something to be exploited, and they value hard power. They value the ability to achieve their objectives using whatever means possible, and not necessarily playing by the rules.

It’s interesting, in 1998 two Chinese Colonels authored a book called Unrestricted Warfare which has really become a playbook for China to achieve their national objectives. In there, they talk about achieving their objectives through multiple types of warfare — lawfare, psychological warfare, public warfare, using the West’s systems of rules against us, infiltrating international organizations so that they can bend the rules to their own liking and set the norms whether that is procedural, policy, or technological. Psychological warfare to really affect the decision-making process of decision makers. And then public warfare, you know, trying to change the public narrative and the discourse in adversarial states. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that work, but it is quite illuminating.

AUKUS & SUBMARINES

CDR: Canada is very much a Pacific nation, but it was left out of the AUKUS partnership, which some refer to as simply a submarine deal, but it is much more than that. So, in the absence of being included in AUKUS, do you feel the Canadian Armed Forces has the capacity to be relevant in the Asia Pacific region?

General Eyre: I’d say relevancy isn’t binary. Our friends, partners, and allies in the region have positively commented on our Indo-Pacific strategy, and they want us there. They view us as a friend they want to have, and they want to see more of, whether that’s Australia, whether that’s Japan — they like what they see when we show up. Obviously, it’d be good to have more engagement capacity and the ability to deploy more capabilities to the region. But as we take a look at our footprint around the world, we’ll be rebalancing to make sure that we can properly deliver on that strategy.

CDR: So, let’s speak about that. Op IMPACT is maintaining a focus on the Middle East region; then there’s the war in Ukraine which puts focus on Europe; and then there’s the recently published Indo-Pacific strategy. How does the CAF rebalance itself taking into account all of these disparate areas of the world?

General Eyre: We’ve got to take a look at where the demand signal is, and working with government to prioritize where we invest capabilities. We’ve got an increasing demand signal in the Arctic and Indo-Pacific, and we’ve got a continuing demand signal, which is more acute now in Europe, especially Eastern Europe. So, we look at our capabilities — you know, from my time in Korea, I very much came to realize that the Indo-Pacific theater is very much a maritime and air-centric theater. There’s not a lot of absorption capacity for large-scale ground forces in that theater, and so we’re going to be focused mainly on the maritime environment, but to a certain extent the air environment as well, and the land environment for capacity building, but we’re not talking about sizeable forces there. On the other hand, Eastern Europe is more of a land and air demand — air is everywhere, but more so in terms of concentration of larger land units, so that’s where I see the focus. And then the Arctic for all three. So, case by case, capability by capability — for example, in the maritime domain you’re going to see more frigates go to the Indo-Pacific, and we’ll be looking at other capabilities to go to Europe such as MCDVs and submarines.

CDR: While I’ve got you on submarines, I recently spoke with a company that was saying that Canada’s future with respect to submarines is unclear at the moment. Can you shed some light on the importance of submarines and the future of submarines in Canada beyond the Victoria class?

General Eyre: I can talk to the importance, but I can’t talk to the future yet, because that is very much a government decision, so it’s pre-decisional. One of the things about the future of conflict, it’s going to be characterized by signature management. So, if it can be seen, it can be targeted – and if it can be targeted, it will die. That’s the same in all domains — air, land, sea. We’re seeing evidence of that in Ukraine with significant targeting, significant use of drones and ISR. It’s the same in the maritime environment as well. The subsurface domain, underwater, is one of those domains that can better defeat sensors, and having a capability that can operate in that domain for the future conflict is going to be very important, not just for being able to project into the Indo-Pacific, but also for our own continental security, especially in the Arctic, as more attention is drawn to it.

A soldier from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment describes de-mining techniques to General Eyre, during his visit to Poland. March 4th, 2023 Credit: Corporal Marco Tijam

VISIT TO UKRAINE 

CDR: You just made your first visit to Ukraine since its invasion by Russia. How has the war in Ukraine evolved your view of the modern battlefield?

General Eyre: What we’ve seen with Ukraine is the resurgence of large-scale conflict, a conflict that some thought had gone away with our last quarter-century focus on counterinsurgency and the like, but we’ve got to take the long-view of history. Russia’s brutal war of aggression in Ukraine has reminded us of some truisms of warfare. Great power or large power war is very often not short, much longer than those who started it believed it would be, and so we’re seeing that now. We’re seeing the truism that war destroys militaries and thus, regeneration – the reconstitution of militaries – is essential. The ability to mobilize one’s national power, whether it is people or industrial capacity — these are some of the truisms that we have tended to neglect since the end of the Cold War, and arguably even before that.

We’re seeing shortfalls in our own industrial capacity, for our own ability to produce arms and ammunition. When I say we, I mean the collective we in the West. So that is driven home — something that has not gone away. The will of the people and the importance of leadership — the nature of war has not changed, it continues to be a human endeavor, one that is characterized by the contest of wills, and we’re seeing that play out right now. The human will is far more important than technology. Human will coupled with technology makes a big difference.

Speaking of technology, the other thing that we’re seeing in Ukraine is the mixture of legacy capabilities with cutting edge digital technology to produce great effect. So, the concept of adaptation under fire is a truism of war. The side that can adapt the fastest is often on the winning side. We have seen some significant innovations happen on the Ukrainian side; we have not seen the same adaptation on the Russian side, in fact, we’ve seen some reversion, where they’ve gone back to almost First World War tactics — mass artillery, human wave charges, soldiers going into battle not properly armed, lacking arms and ammunition with the hopes of picking it up off the dead. We’ve seen a lot and there’ll be years of analysis on this war, because it is the biggest war in Europe since 1945.

CDR: What more can the Canadian Armed Forces do to assist Ukrainian forces over and above the $1.2 billion already provided in military aid?

General Eyre: That’s something that we are continually asking ourselves and looking at the demand and seeing what we have to provide, and seeing what we can purchase from industry — this goes back to my point on industrial capacity. A success story is the training that we provide. So where else can we train? Where can we provide value added training for Ukrainian Armed Forces as they reconstitute? You see that now with a number of different aspects of Operation UNIFIER, whether that’s the recruit training that we’re doing in the UK; the engineer training that we’ve got going on in Poland; the training on the various capabilities that we have done, whether it’s M777 artillery systems, whether it’s the tank training that’s ongoing now, and whether it’s the ACSV training that we’ve given. We’ve trained Ukrainian forces in the use of Excalibur rounds for long-range precision strike; and we’ve recently started medical training for tactical combat casualty care.

PROCUREMENT WOES

CDR: You just spoke about industrial capacity. For years I’ve heard of the need for anti-tank weapons or long range precision fires, but the procurement process is very long and complicated, and that delays acquisitions — as we’ve seen with RPAS which started over 10 years ago. How do you think industry views the Canadian procurement process because to have industrial capacity requires industry to have faith in an efficient process, and let’s face it, nobody will build anything without a contract.

General Eyre: Absolutely, we’ve got to go back and look at our history, back to the World Wars when this was more of a team endeavor between industry and the military so that we work together on these solutions.

CDR: Do you see a path to do that? What can the Canadian Armed Forces do, or perhaps the Department of National Defence, that can streamline things because Canada has been able to acquire and provide things quite quickly for Ukraine, but it seems like that’s not the case for the CAF.

General Eyre: We’ve got to take a look at what we can learn from the process that’s used for acquiring equipment by other militaries and apply it to our own process. For instance, where can the process be shortened? Where can more risk be taken? And where can we settle with good enough as opposed to going for a great solution? We need to work closely with allies, and in doing so we need to move from a concept of interoperability to one of interchangeability where we’re using the same stuff and we can swap it back and forth, we can swap spare parts and training back and forth. As we see with the donations to Ukraine, we’re not as interoperable as we thought we were, so ‘interchangeable’ needs to be in our lexicon going forward.

DEFENCE POLICY UPDATE 

CDR: I’ve read that you strongly believe the forthcoming defence policy update must address a host of critical concerns that underpin the CAFs readiness to defend Canada and Canadian interests. So, what would be included in your list of priorities as it stands right now?

General Eyre: I can’t comment on advice that I’m giving government, but as I’ve mentioned publicly over the past six months, my focus includes fixing some of our current challenges in terms of support to people, our infrastructure, our sustainment in terms of maintenance, spare parts, ammunition, and then a list of specific capabilities in all domains that are very important. We already talked about submarines, long-range precision strike in all domains — this is something else that we’re seeing from Ukraine — the ability to reach out and deliver precision, lethal effects is very, very important. The digitalization of our force, having that digital backbone, the network that combines shooters and sensors and decision makers is extremely important, and that will underpin whatever we do – so that is vital. Additional capabilities up in the Arctic for Continental defence. NORAD modernization was great in the air, and to a certain extent the space domain, but we’ve got to be looking at the maritime and the land domain as well, especially with respect to infrastructure in the Arctic. And there’s a host of other capabilities we need to look at.

BATTLE GROUP LATVIA

CDR: Let’s talk about the enhanced NATO battle group that Canada leads in Latvia. My understanding is that it will grow to become a Brigade. Please tell me about the status of that. Are you able to sustain that, and what will be the cost to training and readiness for the brigades that are left in Canada?

General Eyre: We are working with our allies, understanding this is going to be a multinational brigade, and the training that our forces get over there is fantastic, so the army right now is looking at its training model to see if we have it right with a great big Maple Resolve Exercise before we go over there, or can we take advantage of the training that we get while we’re over there to continue to develop a proficiency to operate at that level, so the model is being looked at. We’re currently in talks with other allies about what they’re willing to contribute, and we’re pre-decisional at this point as to additional capabilities that we’re going to be bringing into that brigade as well. I’m hopeful over the course of the next number of months we’ll finalize our plan going forward on this.

CDR: Do you see an increase in CAF presence beyond the multinational brigade that Canada will lead? We have a rotational presence of fighter jets, but it’s my understanding they’re not going to be in Europe this coming year for whatever reason, so I’m wondering about the presence in Europe.

General Eyre: We’re going to carry on with other capabilities as well — for example, the ship deployments that we’ve talked about. In terms of the fighters, that’s to be determined because the Hornets are going through their life extension, and then we do the transition to the F-35’s, so the Air Force is going to get back to me as to when they have the capacity to be able to do this. We’re looking at a model of having a small number of permanent forces that are posted with their families, persistent forces that rotate, likely on six month deployments, and then surge forces with some equipment pre-positioned so that we can fly them over and they can start right away. The exact makeup of that model is still being worked, and it’ll be dependent on what allies contribute as well.

CDR: General, do you foresee that model including a Canadian base – similar to what we had in Germany during the Cold War – perhaps an airbase associated with land elements all together in one spot?

General Eyre: No, because the infrastructure that we’re looking at in Latvia really doesn’t allow for that, and likewise, I don’t see large numbers of CAF members going over there with their families as part of this. But for all intents and purposes, we’ve got a Canadianized base right now, working with Latvians, in Camp Adazi. We’ve invested in infrastructure there, and that’s where the battlegroup is based.

PERSONNEL SHORTAGE 

CDR: There’s been much coverage about the shortage of CAF personnel across all the branches. What does that mean for operational capability, because without the numbers you’re going to have to either forego some capabilities or cut things outright.

General Eyre: So, it’s a question of capacity. It means that every mission that we do, every task that comes in, every crisis in the world that we have to respond to, we look at through the lens of reconstitution. What are the opportunity costs, what are the priorities, what does it pull away from in terms of our reconstitution efforts? The critical element of reconstitution for recruiting, retention and training, is mid-level leaders. How can we achieve the strategic effect desired, while at the same time balancing against reconstitution efforts. There’s not one single silver bullet solution for this. But I’ll give you an example, understanding that we need mid-level leaders for training our own forces back home, and the way that we have traditionally done security force capacity building, especially in the land domain, is to take NCOs and officers out of our field units, deploy them overseas, leaving their troops behind, not getting overseas deployment opportunities, and that causing an attrition challenge by itself. We’ve changed that, and so we’re deploying formed elements now.

I’ll give you three examples of what we’re doing in the UK with training recruits. We’ve got a formed element over there where we’ve got young Canadian Corporals and Privates training Ukrainian recruits under the supervision of their NCOs – that is working extremely well. In Poland, with the tank training, we deployed a formed tank troop out of the Lord Strathcona’s Horse in Edmonton, that’s working out extremely well with young Canadian troopers training their Ukrainian counterparts, again under the supervision of their own chain of command. We’re doing the same thing with the engineer training. So, this is doing three things — it is economizing on our mid-level leaders, it is giving our youngest both deployment experience which they crave and leadership experience which will serve us very well in the future, and then finally producing combat capability for Ukraine. So, this is a win-win-win.

CDR: Let’s about kinetic capability. There is a growing threat of hypersonic weapons — Russia has used them in Ukraine, so it’s a great concern. When I think about kinetic weapons, I think about capability. If we have fewer platforms, whether it be ships like the Halifax class or the future Canadian Surface Combatant, or whether it be aircraft like the CF-18 or the Cyclone — I believe the limited platforms the CAF has should have as much kinetic capability as possible, and I appreciate that comes with a cost and it comes with a training bill, but what would you say to that?

General Eyre: I agree. We need long-range precision strike capabilities in all domains, so ground-launched, air-launched, sea-launched, and not just for ground strike, but for anti-ship capability as well. But we also need to take a look at exquisite, expensive strike capabilities versus lower cost but more of them, so mass as well. Going back to where we started with this conversation, in a long duration conflict, those high-end exquisite capabilities – the high-end exquisite weapons – are going to get consumed pretty fast. So, we’ve got to be able to rapidly produce simpler weapons that are still effective. I’m interested in shorter production timelines, maybe not as high-end as the other expensive capabilities but still effective. Think of ballistic missiles, or long-range rocket artillery versus some of the lower cost loitering munitions that are out there, the so-called Kamikaze drones, if you will.

EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES

CDR: How does the Canadian Armed Forces look at emerging technologies in terms of adopting them and then learning from them quickly, as opposed to trying to get a mature system that’s been tested, trialed and ready to go, which means it’s probably old by that time.

General Eyre: We have to get better at research and development, and again, with NORAD modernization, that is a key component of what we’re investing in — that’s a key component to address future threats and current threats such as hypersonics. But we’ve got to get better at just buying stuff off-the-shelf and trying it out, learning from it, and then if it fails, it fails, and if it works, then let’s get more of them. Allowing our people to innovate at the lower levels is something I believe that we need to do.

CDR: So, what would you ask of industry? Because industry will come back once an RFP is issued, but is there a way to form a collaboration between industry and the CAF where together they can be specialists in certain domains, like in the Arctic?

General Eyre: That’s a subject of conversation right now, on how we can get better at that.

CDR: Is there anything that you’d like to add as we near the end of our conversation?

General Eyre: Well, I think Canadians need to know that the CAF is a fantastic organization, it is loaded with great people, and we are growing. So, the future of this institution is looking bright. We need people from across the country to join our ranks because our country is going to need us more and more and more into the future. We’ve got great people doing great things around the world and I’m super proud of what they’re doing.

CDR: Thank you, General.

Joetey Attariwala is CDR’s Senior Staff Writer

 

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