Strategic Overview: Canadian Armed Forces Operations and Activities

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  • The global security environment is shifting under tremendous pressures with many threats transcending national borders. Instability abroad can have an indirect manifestation in Canada requiring a robust domestic defence posture and resiliency, as well as active international military engagement strategies.
  • The Canadian Armed Forces carries out domestic and international operations and activities to defend Canada’s security, interests, and values and to contribute to international peace and stability.

Strategic Overview

  • Canada’s 2017 defence policy was informed by the challenges and opportunities of a complex global security environment and defines how the Government of Canada will support and employ the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) to defend Canadian interests and contribute to a more secure and peaceful world. In accordance with this policy, Canada’s military instrument of national power is used to ensure we are strong at home, secure in North America, and engaged in the world.Footnote 1
  • The characteristics of the global security environment articulated in Strong, Secure, Engaged continue to be valid; however, the negative trends it predicted have accelerated in recent years, while the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare fundamental ideological incongruities with some states employing all elements of national power in malign ways to achieve their revisionist objectives.
  • In many cases, CAF military operations and activities are applied as part of a coherent, coordinated, whole-of-government effort in concert with diplomatic engagement, humanitarian and development aid, and other comprehensive measures. In all cases, CAF activities comply with domestic and international law.
  • Three organizations are responsible for the command, control, sustainment, and management of CAF operations and report directly to the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS):
    • The Canadian Joint Operations Command is responsible for all domestic and international missions, less North American aerospace defence and Special Forces operations.
    • The binational North American Aerospace Defense Command is responsible for aerospace warning and control of North America, and maritime warning in its surrounding waters.
    • The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command is responsible for all domestic and international special operations missions.
  • The Strategic Joint Staff (SJS) works closely with these operational commands to consolidate input from across the CAF providing the CDS with comprehensive analysis and decision support for all CAF missions. SJS (along with Policy and Legal) assist the CDS in developing clearly articulated orders to enable her/him to effect strategic command.
  • The Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy) is the lead for policy advice to the Minister of National Defence related to operations, in consultation with DND/CAF and other government departments.

Domestic and Continental Operations and Activities

  • Defending Canada is the CAF’s top priority with two main lines of effort. The first is to provide CAF elements and capabilities to defend Canada’s sovereignty, including through surveillance and control of Canadian territory and its approaches. The second is to assist civilian authorities in natural disaster response, search and rescue, pandemic response, and other domestic emergencies.
  • Several operations are conducted in support of the first line of effort with the NORAD mission being the most notable. Forces are postured across Canada 24/7/365 to ensure the CAF can respond to any challenges to our sovereignty on very short notice. Despite our isolation from some of the world’s conflict zones, North America is no longer a sanctuary due to technological advances in weapons systems of our potential adversaries requiring focus, resources, and renewed investment in the capabilities needed to protect the continent.
  • Support to civilian authorities is the second line of effort and is governed by the national Emergency Management framework with authorities granted by the Minister of National Defence upon receipt of advice from the Deputy Minister and CDS following receipt of a Request for Assistance from a province/territory or another Minister of the Crown. Operation LENTUS is the CAF response to natural disasters in Canada.  Operations LASER and VECTOR are current domestic operations of strategic importance. They are the CAF support to the Canadian whole-of-government pandemic response and national vaccine roll-out, respectively.
  • A full list and map of active or episodic domestic operations is enclosed.
  • Long description of Map of Operations – Domestic

    This material shows domestic CAF operations on a map of Canada. Operations are listed on the left side of the map, along with their respective locations.

    The map includes numbers to identify some of the operations that have a specific location, shows the CAF three search and rescue regions (Victoria, Trenton, Halifax) as well as the six CAF regional Joint Task Force Headquarters (Joint Task Force Pacific, Joint Task Force West, Joint Task Force Central, Joint Task Force East, Joint Task Force Atlantic, and Joint Task Force North).

    Here is the list of CAF domestic operations:

    Northern Sovereignty and Capacity Building

    YT, NT, NU, NL

    Canadian Forces Station Alert Resupply

    CFS Alert

    Search and Rescue
    Aeronautical and Maritime

    Nation wide

    Response to Domestic Air Threat
    Op NOBLE EAGLE and NORAD standing Op Plans

    Nation wide

    Assistance to Disaster Response in Canada

    Nation wide

    Avalanche Control


    National Surveillance and Presence

    Various locations

    Support to whole-of-government COVID response
    Op LASER

    Nation wide

    Support to national COVID-19 vaccine roll-out

    Nation wide

    Support to Canadian Heritage upon Royal Family death

    Nation wide

    Support to Arms Control Verification in Compliance with Chemical Weapons Convention

    Nation wide

    Support to Foreign Observation Flights (in Canada) 

    Nation wide

    Support to Foreign Observation  Flights (outside Canada)


    SJS Arms Control Verification Inspections Support


    Support to Military History Commemorations

    Nation wide

International Operations and Activities

  • International operations and activities enable the CAF to contribute to a more stable and peaceful world where: threats to our national security are addressed far from our borders, military conflicts are deterred, universal values and multilateralism are promoted, and the international rules-based order is maintained. Such operations reinforce Canada’s reputation as a reliable partner and responsible global actor and allow the Government of Canada to pursue its foreign policy priorities and promote its strategic interests.
  • When the CAF operates abroad, it does so under the authority of the Crown prerogative (the powers and privileges accorded by common law to the Crown).  The Crown prerogative may be exercised by Cabinet, the Prime Minister, the Ministers of National Defence and Foreign Affairs jointly, or by the Minister of National Defence alone. The sensitivity, complexity, and risk to CAF members are some of the factors used to determine the level of authorization required. This approach also ensures Canada’s national interests and foreign policies are supported by its military deployments.
  • International operations are conducted bilaterally under the appropriate circumstances, but mostly under the auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the United Nations, or like-minded coalitions.
  • In addition to operations abroad, the CAF build and maintain relationships with allies, partners, other militaries and multilateral institutions through active defence diplomacy. These cooperative relationships enhance knowledge, understanding and interoperability, allow for the exchange of best practices, and contribute to success on operations.
  • A full list and map of active or episodic international operations is enclosed (Special Forces operations are not included and will be briefed separately).
  • Long description of Map of Operations – International

    This material shows international CAF operations on a world map, with numbers over the map identifying each operation.

    Here is the list of operations appearing on the map, with their purpose and location:

    • Op CARRIBE, support to US-led counter-narcotics operations in the Caribbean Basin and Eastern Pacific
    • Op SOPRANO, UN Mission in Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS)
    • Op CROCRODILE, UN Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO)
    • Op PRESENCE, support to Government of Canada peace operations strategy in Africa
    • Op CALUMET, support to Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai (Egypt)
    • Op OPEN SPIRIT, recovery and disposal of WW1 and 2 explosive remnants (Baltic Sea)
    • Op SNOWGOOSE, UN Mission in Cyprus (UNFICYP)
    • Op REASSURANCE, NATO assurance and deterrence measures in Europe (Latvia)
    • Op UNIFIER, bilateral training, professionalization, and capacity-building of Ukrainian military forces
    • Op KOBOLD, NATO-led peace support operation in Kosovo (KFOR)
    • Op PROTEUS, professionalizing and building capacity of Palestinian security sector (Israel)
    • Op JADE, UN supervision of Middle East ceasefires
    • Op IMPACT, Support to Coalition, NATO and partner forces to degrade and defeat Da’esh (Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon)
    • Op FOUNDATION, support to US-led counter-terrorism operations in the Middle East (Middle East, North Africa, Southwest Asia)
    • Op ARTEMIS, support to US-led maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea
    • Op NEON, monitor/enforce sanctions against North Korea (Asia-Pacific)
    • Op PROJECTION, naval forward presence supporting whole-of-government objectives (worldwide)
    • Op DRIFTNET, Department of Fisheries mandated illegal fishing patrols
    • Op MENTOR, European security via observing arms control inspections
    • Op QUESTION, European security through enforcement of arms control
    • Op VERIFY, military inspections of former Soviet Union Republics
    • Op MITIGATE, mitigate the proliferation of small arms and light weapons
    • Op RENAISSANCE, support to whole-of-government response to an international natural disaster
    • Op ACTIVE SKIES, support to and performance of international observation flights
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