Lieutenant-General ERIC KENNY

Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force

CDR’s Aviation Editor, Joetey Attariwala, recently had the opportunity to conduct an exclusive one-on-one interview with Lieutenant-General Eric Kenny, the new Commander of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Here is that conversation.

LGen Kenny joined the Canadian Armed Forces in 1989 and graduated from the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston with a degree in Computer Engineering. He completed pilot training at 15 Wing Moose Jaw in 1995 and was selected to fly the CF-18 Hornet.

Following CF-18 pilot training, he served as a CF-18 line and instructor pilot, and flight supervisor at 433 and 410 Tactical Fighter Squadrons (TFS) in 3 Wing Bagotville and 4 Wing Cold Lake.

LGen Kenny has held a number of command positions, including Commanding Officer of 409 TFS in Cold Lake, Commander of 4 Wing Cold Lake, and Commander of 1 Canadian Air Division (CAD)/Canadian NORAD Region in Winnipeg.

His staff tours consist of Deputy Wing Operations Officer at 4 Wing, A3 Fighter at 1 CAD Headquarters in Winnipeg, Director Air Force Readiness at RCAF HQ in Ottawa, and Deputy Director J7 at NORAD-United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) Headquarters in Colorado.

As a Brigadier-General, he held the positions of Deputy Commander Force Generation at 1 CAD in Winnipeg, and subsequently as Director General Air Readiness at RCAF Headquarters in Ottawa.

Lieutenant-General Kenny has deployed numerous times and participated in multiple operations. He deployed twice to Aviano, Italy, to participate in Operation ECHO (Bosnia) and Operation ALLIED FORCE (Kosovo) where he took part in combat missions, and he was the Deputy Director of the Air Operations Control Centre at the International Security Assistance Force HQ in Afghanistan.

His deployed command tours include: Task Force Commander for Operation IGNITION in Iceland; and as Detachment Commander of CF-18s, CC-130H Hercules and CC-150 Polaris in Trapani, Italy, where he took part in combat missions for Operation MOBILE (Libya). It was here where I first met LGen Kenny.

The General also served as Commander Air Component Coordination Element in Poggio Renatico, Italy, also for Operation MOBILE; and Commander of ROTO 0 Air Task Force – Iraq for Operation IMPACT.

LGen Kenny has accumulated 2,900 flying hours throughout his career, 2,200 of them in the CF-18. He is a graduate of the NATO Tactical Leadership Program, Fighter Weapons Instructor Course, Canadian Forces College Joint Command and Staff Program, United States Air Force (USAF) Air War College, USAF Combined Force Air Component Commander course, US CAPSTONE course, and has a Master of Defence Studies from RMC.

He was promoted to Lieutenant-General in August 2022 and appointed Commander of the RCAF on August 12th, 2022. As the senior Air Force officer in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), the LGen Kenny acts as an advisor to the Chief of the Defence Staff on matters regarding air and space military capabilities to meet Canada’s defence objectives.

CDR: General Kenny, thank you for taking the time to speak with CDR, and congratulations on your appointment as Commander of the RCAF. 

LGen Kenny: Thanks, Joetey. It’s good to see you again. You know, I worked for General Menzinger for four years in a row, the first two years as Director General, and the last two as Commander of 1 CAD, so I thought I knew what he was doing, and then when I got into the job, I realized there’s a lot of things he was doing that I wasn’t necessarily tracking. The biggest thing for me is the project piece which I didn’t have a lot of background in, and we have a lot of projects to deliver, so it’s been an exciting time and lots going on in the project area.

CDR’s Attariwala with LGen Kenny Credit: Joetey Attariwala

RECONSTITUTION

CDR: That’s a great place to start, General. Let’s talk about reconstitution of the Air Force. How do you manage that while having to deliver capability?

LGen Kenny: It’s a balancing act so I rely heavily on my team. In particular, my level two commanders — the Commanders of 1 Canadian Air Division, 2 Canadian Air Division, 3 Canadian Space Division, RCAF Aerospace Warfare Center, plus my headquarters team, to help me manage that. So, I say it’s challenging and exciting. It’s challenging because we lack the number of people that we need to do the jobs that are being asked of us today. We have many initiatives to increase our recruitment — the Air Force doesn’t specifically do recruitment, but we just put together an attractions team who’s also now going to manage Air Force files that are going through the recruitment process so that we can better manage those that are trying to join the Air Force occupations. It’s something that we haven’t done before, but we need to because of that focus. I have front loaded recruiting school and ab initio training instructors, while giving up some capacity on the operational side to make sure we’ve privileged the front entry, while not overburdening those that remain at the operational or other units so that we retain them. So, it’s the retention of those that are most experienced while bringing in a lot more people on the front end to build that capacity. That’s the challenging piece, and then the exciting piece is the modernization of the Air Force.

We recently put out an Air Force strategy that speaks to the modernization for our strategic objectives, and one of those is modernizing for tomorrow. The level of modernization that we’re doing over the next 10 years is equivalent — I used to say, since the late 70s, but now I’m saying since World War II. Pretty much every capability we have is being modernized and/or replaced, and we’re bringing in new capabilities that we never had before like the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System. So, the system and Air Force of 2035, which is both Air and Space Force, will be a much different and much more potent and capable force.

The balance comes down to making the right decisions to privilege the future Air Force and not just today’s immediate need which is always difficult — so we’ll respond to fires, we’ll respond to floods, we’ll do those short term aspects that Canada needs specifically, with a focus on protection of North America and continental defence as our number one focus, and where capacity allows us to do things outside of Canada to support NATO and so on. So we’re reducing some operational output to allow us to do some of those other things, always mindful of what the end goal is.

CDR: The Chief of Defence Staff has directed that non-essential activities be reduced as much as possible. Is that why the CF-18 Demo Team is not flying a distinct demo aircraft this year? I ask because that is a recruitment vehicle, so it seems counterintuitive to cut it.

LGen Kenny: We’re not painting the demo jet because it takes people hours to get that aircraft ready. We will for 2024 for our 100th anniversary, that’s a big year starting April 1st, 2024, but this year, what extra value does that give us from an attractions prospective, balanced with how does that take our people away from doing their primary job, and so those are the decisions we made. The Snowbirds have just completed their training season, so we’ll see them out in full swing. An F-18 demo will occur, and it will look a little bit different in terms of the plane not being painted, but it’s still going to be the same show, so to me it hasn’t really changed, and then next year we’ll make a bigger deal of it of course.

100TH ANNIVERSARY 

CDR: Speaking of the Anniversary, what’s your vision to celebrate it?

LGen Kenny: We want to commemorate the past, recognize our personnel, and inspire the future. We’ve got multiple programs, and it’s kind of starting right now, but really the kickoff would be the fall of this year, about six months prior to our 100th anniversary date to about six months after. We see it as a one-year program. We are somewhat tying the RCAF run as kind of a kickstarter, we’ve got patches that we’ve issued that have the 100th anniversary logo on it. As we lead up into the fall timeframe, we have some synergies with NHL and a lot of sporting events that will occur throughout that year where we’re looking at having the Air Force recognized, just like the Navy Reserves has been recognized in this past year.

MODERNIZATION

CDR: The Air Force is deployed around the world so let’s talk about the global security situation today. Everyone is tracking the war in Ukraine, and it is generally recognized that China is a pacing threat. How do you look at the challenges that you’ve got for the Air Force today, and the one that you need for the future?

LGen Kenny: When we put out our strategy, we put out a new vision statement: achieve operational advantages as an agile, integrated and inclusive air and space force. Operational advantage means having operational overmatch to deter, but we’re required to fight and win, which speaks to having operational relevance, but also capabilities and upgrades to make sure that you’ve sustained that. Agility speaks to the ability to rapidly deploy and do different missions sets from an individual professional development perspective and an institutional agility. Integration speaks to ideally interoperability/interchangeability, which would be the goal. And then inclusive, so we have a team who brings their best authentic self to work and can take all ideas and perspectives to give us a better outcome from an operational advantage perspective.

So, I say all that because there couldn’t be a clearer need right now for a strong defence and security apparatus. We often get called for emergency situations, and what we’ve seen in Ukraine is one of those examples. We can’t lose sight of the fact of what’s going on in Ukraine, which is countless loss of lives for no good reason, but Russia is not the only adversary. China is a growing threat, and I think of it not just in the air, but also in the space domain. They’re putting up satellites at an amazing pace and they’re not just for commercial purposes. They’re building a very credible air, land, sea, joint cyber capability that if they were to choose to expand their borders, it would put us in a potential conflict situation. So, we want to deter that from occurring in the first place. The way you can do that is to have a credible force that can force project in the Indo-Pacific region that has everything from long range fires to the ability to work in an anti-access area denial situation with effects that are well integrated with our allies. And I don’t feel like we’re there right now, so ideally, modernization efforts need to be accelerated to get us these capabilities.

We announced the Cormorant Mid-Life Upgrade in December, and the F-35 acquisition in January, and I’m expecting a couple more announcements this year. All these have to occur, but they’re not occurring fast enough. So, now it’s the challenge of taking the reduced workforce situation we have and bringing on new capabilities at speed of relevance to make sure that we can deter potential future conflict.

I don’t only just look at Russia and China, we also talk about North Korea, we talk about Iran and violent extremist organizations. As an Air Force, we need to be able to go support the land forces, naval forces, Special Forces, Space Forces, and then whatever we can do in the cyber domain as well, in an integrated fashion that allows us to be the most effective. I think things such as NORAD allow us a unique opportunity as a binational command to have better interoperability, at least from an air perspective, and a little bit on the maritime domain as well, which we’ll need to leverage as we move forward. But I do worry that we’re not going to be able to move fast enough to modernize our force to deter our adversaries.

STTC PROJECT

CDR: With regards to modernization, the Government announced the acquisition of two A330 aircraft for the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability (STTC) project, but there hasn’t been much news since then. Can you shed some light on that project?

LGen Kenny: So, the Strategic Tanker Transport Capability was initially part of Strong, Secure Engaged in 2017. We envisioned three lines of task, which was going to be a fleet of five to six aircraft. We did invitations to qualify (ITQ) and the A330-200 was the only one that met the requirements, the MRTT. Two lines of tasks were air-to-air refueling, and one was strategic transport to the Prime Minister and Governor General. NORAD modernization last year announced additional funding to meet NORAD requirements for air-to-air refueling, which gives us two more lines of tasks. So, it’s a total of five lines of tasks — four of them for air-to-air refueling and one for strategic transport which now equates to a fleet of up to nine A330-200 MRTTs. What was announced last year was that we’re going to move ahead with the purchase of two used A330-200s, which are relatively new. The first one is slated to be delivered this summer, and the second one in the fall. We expect to start doing missions with it this fall — it’s going to come in a passenger configuration, until we can send it to the production line for MRTT conversion. We’re now in the final stages of that project, which is taking the original announcement with Airbus and the NORAD modernization, and we’re expecting an announcement as early as this summer on the total package beyond the two that were announced last year for the rapid acquisition and the A330, so I would anticipate contract soon for up to nine A330-200s.

CDR: Will the additional A330-200s be used or new-build aircraft?

LGen Kenny: I anticipate a few more used and some new, so it’ll be a combination, and what we anticipate is that the new ones will be the first ones to go through the conversion line, and then the used ones after that. We’re looking for an initial capability in 2028/2029, and a full capability by 2031/2032. The aircraft is 50% bigger than the current Airbus’ we have. In fact, the first aircraft will be flown out of Ottawa because it won’t fit properly in Trenton. So as an interim measure it’ll be flown out of Ottawa for the first two, and we have not made a decision yet as to where the final location will be for what we call the Eastern basing – whether it’s Ottawa or Trenton. There’s going to be a second location in the West because with the additional air-to-air refuellers the intent is that we, as per NORAD modernization, will do the air-to-air refueling for the Canadian NORAD region in the East and in the West holding a response posture, which is currently being done by the U.S. for us. So, Canada will take on ownership of their own air-to-air refueling requirements within the Canadian NORAD region as part of this broader plan — that’s why we’re looking at so many aircraft — so you’ll see basing in the East and you’ll see basing in the West for a total nine A330s.

CDR: I’m guessing these aircraft would be based close to the fighters, but what about bases like Comox which has a lot of unused ramp space?

LGen Kenny: For Comox, the contract that I’m hoping will be successful in the near future, will be the Remotely Piloted Aircraft System — there’s only one qualified supplier, General Atomics through government-to-government acquisition, the MQ-9B. We’re undergoing the finalization phase on that right now. The platforms would be based in both Comox and Greenwood with the aircrew in Ottawa to fly it.

STATUS OF KINGFISHER

CDR: What is the status of the CC-295 Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue fleet and the modifications that are required for certification?

LGen Kenny: I was just in Comox and I got to fly it. We just completed the initial pilot training, and we just completed the initial maintenance courses, we’ve just taken on full ownership of one of the platforms that’s out there. We’re still projecting 2025/2026 for Initial Operational Capability out of Comox, so those timelines have not been advanced, just to be clear. There’s still a lot of certification and validation work that needs to be done, but what we’ve just achieved is the initial cadre, three crews, maintenance capability, and as of yesterday we started doing the initial Operational Test and Evaluation which is another major milestone which will continue on for the next year. We still need to do some additional certification verification with a new software load into the aircraft which is called Standard 5. We’ve done low level testing and cold weather testing recently, we’ve done runway friction index testing, we need to do some semi-prepared runway operation testing, and we need to continue to work on confirmation of capability of flight in icing conditions. So, there’s still several steps that need to occur, however we’re making progress right now.

CDR: What’s the latest on the CF-18 Hornet Extension Project?

LGen Kenny: The Hornet Extension Project 2 is putting a new active electronically scanned array radar, the APG-79 — we’re on track to exceed the numbers that we thought we were going to have by December of this year. We had said as part of Initial Operational Capability we would have six F-18’s with the new radar, we expect to likely be double that by this December that we’ll have available to our squadrons.

CDR: Thank you.