March 2020 - Canadian Armed Forces 101
This page was proactively published to meet the requirements of the Access to Information Act. It is a historical record which was valid when published, but may now contain information which is out of date.
This briefing note provides an overview of the Canadian Armed Forces, including its leadership and rank structure, organization, relationship with the Department of National Defence, and core missions.
- The National Defence Act establishes the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces as two separate and distinct legal entities. The National Defence Act stipulates that the Minister of National Defence has the management and direction of the Canadian Armed Forces and provides authority for a Deputy Minister and Chief of the Defence Staff. The Canadian Armed Forces is comprised of approximately 68,000 Regular Force and 27,000 Reserve Force members, increasing to 71,500 and 30,000 respectively under Strong, Secure, Engaged − Canada’s defence policy, as well as 5,200 Ranger Patrol Group members.
Leadership and Rank Structure
- The Chief of the Defence Staff, who, subject to the regulations and under the direction of the Minister of National Defence, is charged with the control and administration of the Canadian Armed Forces. Unless the Governor in Council otherwise directs, all orders and instructions to the Canadian Armed Forces that are required to give effect to the decisions and to carry out the directions of the Government of Canada or the Minister of National Defence shall be issued by or through the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, who is appointed by the Chief of the Defence Staff, has the control and administration of the Canadian Armed Forces in the event of the absence or incapacity of the Chief of the Defence Staff.
- Military members’ positions in the command structure are determined by their rank. Rank reflects a level of ability, capability, experience, and knowledge. Military members are categorized as commissioned members (officers) and non-commissioned members. It is important to understand the special relationship that exists between officers and non-commissioned members. Although, officers are higher in the rank structure than non-commissioned members, experienced non-commissioned members play a vital role in the development and training of young officers, and often act as advisors and disciplinarians.
- The Chief of the Defence Staff is the highest ranking member of the Canadian Armed Forces. All other members of Canadian Armed Forces serve under the Chief of the Defence Staff’s chain of command, regardless of their location and type of employment.
- The Canadian Armed Forces is comprised of Regular and Reserve Force Members. All Regular Force members are employed full-time in the Canadian Armed Forces and make up the bulk of personnel employed domestically and abroad on operations. Regular Force Members are posted to bases and wings across the country, depending on their trade, career progression, and environment (sea/land/air/special operations).
- Most Reserve Force members are employed part-time in the Canadian Armed Forces, typically working one night per week and one weekend per month; these members are known as ‘Class A Reservists.’ The Reserve Force exists to augment the Regular Forces, meaning that it contributes trained personnel to operations at home and abroad to help sustain and support Regular Force activities. To do so, some Reserve Force members are employed on non-operational (Class B) and operational (Class C) full-time employment contracts. Class C reservists can be employed on routine and contingency operations both at home and abroad; the Chief of the Defence Staff determines which operational scenarios warrant Class C service. Most Reserve Force members are employed with designated Reserve units in the Canadian Army, however, there are Royal Canadian Navy, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Special Operations Reserve Force members and units as well.
- The Canadian Armed Forces are divided into Force Generators and Force Employers. Oversight and command of these elements is provided by the Chief of the Defence Staff and Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, supported by the Strategic Joint Staff and Judge Advocate General.
- Force generators ‘own’ the soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen of the Canadian Armed Forces. They are responsible for their training, career progression, welfare and are the subject matter experts within their environments. Force Generators include both Regular Force and Primary Reserve units.
- The Force Generators within the Canadian Armed Forces are:
- Royal Canadian Navy;
- Canadian Army;
- Royal Canadian Air Force;
- Chief Military Personnel;
- Assistant Deputy Minister (Information Management) (for cyber capabilities); and,
- Canadian Forces Intelligence Command.
- Force Employers are assigned personnel from the Force Generators to perform specific missions and operations. They employ the Force Generators’ personnel to achieve the mission objectives. Force Employers are responsible for the planning and conduct of operations, as directed by the Chief of the Defence Staff, in order to meet Government of Canada requirements.
- The Force Employers within the Canadian Armed Forces are:
- Canadian Joint Operations Command;
- Canadian Special Operations Forces Command; and
- North American Aerospace Defence Command.
- The Canadian Joint Operations Command is responsible for conducting full-spectrum Canadian Armed Forces operations at home, on the continent of North America, and around the world. With its integrated command-and-control structure, Canadian Joint Operations Command directs these operations from their earliest planning stages through to mission closeout, and ensures that national strategic goals are achieved. The only Canadian Armed Forces operations in which the Canadian Joint Operations Command does not engage are those conducted solely by Canadian Special Operations Forces Command or North American Aerospace Defense Command.
Core Missions of the Canadian Armed Forces
- Canada’s defence policy – Strong, Secure, Engaged – outlines eight core missions which the Canadian Armed Forces must be capable of performing. Ensuring the Canadian Armed Forces has the capabilities, equipment, and personnel to perform these missions is central to the organization, functions, and activities of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces. The core missions of the Canadian Armed Forces are:
- Detect, deter and defend against threats to or attacks on Canada;
- Detect, deter and defend against threats to or the attack on North America in partnership with the United States, including through NORAD;
- Lead and/or contribute forces to NATO and coalition efforts to deter and defeat adversaries, including terrorists, to support global stability;
- Lead and/or contribute to international peace operations and stabilization missions with the United Nations, NATO and other multilateral partners;
- Engage in capacity building to support the security of other nations and their ability to contribute to security abroad;
- Provide assistance to civil authorities and law enforcement, including counter-terrorism, in support of national security and the security of Canadians abroad;
- Provide assistance to civil authorities and non-governmental partners in responding to international and domestic disasters or major emergencies; and
- Conduct search and rescue operations.
- The core missions of the Canadian Armed Forces contribute to the vision of Canada’s defence policy − Strong, Secure, Engaged. The Canadian Armed Forces conducts various activities toward this vision, some examples include:
- In Canada:
- Patrolling coastlines;
- Monitoring airspace;
- Surveillance and control in the Arctic;
- Leading aeronautical search and rescue missions;
- Assisting civil authorities with disaster relief;
- Supporting major international events in Canada; and
- Support to counter-terrorism.
- In North America:
- Surveillance of maritime and air approaches in cooperation with the United States; and
- Coordination through North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
- Combat operations;
- Regional security operations;
- Peace-support and stabilization operations;
- Training and advisory operations;
- Humanitarian operations; and
- Non-combatant evacuation operations.
- In Canada:
Additional Information on Canadian Armed Forces Capabilities
- Enclosed is an infographic featuring some of the current and future equipment of the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Army, and Royal Canadian Air Force.
Key equipment (non-exhaustive)
Royal Canadian Navy (RCN)
12x Halifax Class Frigates
1x (of 8) Harry de Wolf Class Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) [Forthcoming 2019]
4x Victoria Class Submarines
12x Kingston Class Coastal Defence Vessels
1x Interim Auxiliary Oil Replenishment Vessel - Asterix
Canadian Army (CA)
76x Leopard 2A6 Main Battle Tank
494x Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) 6.0
463x Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (TAP-V)
1217x Medium Support Vehicle System (MSVS)
Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF)
76x CF-188 Hornet
29x CC-130 Hercules J & H Transport
14x CP-140 Aurora
14x C-177 Globemaster
16x CC-295 Fixed Wing Search and Rescue [Forthcoming 2020]
15x (of 28) CH-148 Cyclone
83x CH-146 Griffon
15x CH-147F Chinook
14x CH-149 Cormorant
- Date modified: