Strategic Overview of CAF Operations


  • 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, Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE), 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 SSE continue to be valid; however, the negative trends it predicted have accelerated in recent years.
  • In most 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 some rare cases, the military may be uniquely called upon to act in Canada's interests. 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, Policy, and Legal assist the CDS in translating government objectives into clearly articulated orders while enabling 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 governmental 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.

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 factors in determining what level of authorization is appropriate. 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 builds and maintains 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.

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