Interview article

LGen Angus Watt

Investing in the Future
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Sep 15, 2007

In a July ceremony, Lieutenant-General Angus Watt (right) was welcomed as the new Chief of the Air Staff by Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, General Rick Hillier. In September, FrontLine joined those congregating in Halifax for this year’s DEFSEC conference, where the new CAS laid out his plans and priorities for members of the defence community. Shortly afterward, Editor Chris MacLean sat down with him for more in-depth discussions on some key topics.

During his frank and unexpectedly humour-filled speech in Halifax, LGen Watt declared to industry representatives that “we probably need you a little more than you need us… we rely more and more on industry to do the in-service support… and I continue to demand better performance.” Showing an understanding of industry frustrations, he acknowledged that “we are not an easy customer,” and asked the audience to “recognize that we are spending taxpayer’s dollars – this imposes certain responsibilities that not all of you in business understand, but I’m sure, as taxpayers, you applaud. We are not a business, and the pure business case doesn’t make the most sense for us. We don’t do things for profit and we don’t necessarily do things the cheapest – we provide the best value for Canadians, and do our best to make rational long-term plans.”

Watt, who recently served a 6-month tour in Afghanistan as the Air Component Commander for ISAF, incited a standing ovation for the troops when he addressed the DEFSEC audience: “I can tell you that Canadians over there are truly national treasures – you can be very proud of what they’re doing, under very difficult circumstances. And the Air Force has many sons and daughters in harms way on your behalf doing what the people of Canada have asked of them, I ask you now, on behalf of all of them, to pause, think about what they’re doing. Let’s have a round of applause for all of them.”

Canada’s Air Force has kept itself very active in contributing to the overall CF objective. This has proven a valuable asset for the Government of Canada. Right now, for instance, in addition to support for our own contingent in Afghanistan, Hercules aircraft stationed there provide 75 hours per month of inter-theatre airlift directly in support of Canada’s obligations to the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The main contribution is to supply transport aircraft bringing troops and supplies to Kandahar, but hey also coordinate the main support piece, through which most troops and materiel are supplied to Afghanistan. At the present time, 350 to 400 of the 2500 Canadian Forces troops in Afghanistan are Air Force personnel. One of their priorities is to make sure all options are ready and available if and when the Operational Commanders request it.

As political debate continues, Canada’s commitment in Afghanistan is set to end in February 2009. In the meantime, Canadian troops continue their mission with complete dedication while industry wonders what long-term investments to plan.

Recalling the unpredicted fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the disaster of September 2001, Watt tried to explain his challenges. “We are subject to the changing winds of politics and the evolutions of the international security environment – such huge changes ultimately affect us, so when you see us occasionally ricocheting back and forth, in terms of long-term planning, have some sympathy for the environment that we are working with.”

To the large crowd in attendance, LGen Watt declared personal support for the need to sustain the defense industrial base – but admitted it wasn’t part of his job description. “I view it as a key element in our national capabilities,” he said, “but my job is to build the capability and capacity of the air force to meet the security and challenges of the 21st century. I have to give purely military advice on what is the best way to achieve that aim.”

As for the future of the Air Force, CAS concedes: “it’s better than it was, but I am never satisfied, I’m always ­trying to do more for Canadians, to leave a legacy of air power that will continue well into the future.”

This DND photo from 1985 shows a Soviet Union TU-95 Bear Bomber being escorted by a CF-18.

Operations (dominated now by Afghanistan), transformation, and connecting with people remain the top priorities throughout the CF. As Deputy CAS, Watt had worked closely with the former CAS, LGen Steve Lucas. An integral part of the previous team, he doesn’t expect any ­sudden change in priorities.

• Current Ops: While the army is shouldering a majority of the burden in Afghanistan, it is important to note that, on any given rotation, about 350 Air Force and hundreds more at home are also providing support – the Trenton air base, for example, provides a significant amount of support directly to Afghanistan.

Air Force personnel are at work 24/7 providing airlift around the globe. They are also greeting Russians making incursions into our airspace – “it doesn’t get a lot of attention, grins Watt, “good news generally isn’t news. But the air force cannot exist just to train,” he says, “we have to go out and do operations, the NORAD mission is part of it, we are ready, willing and able and prove our operational capability around the world.”

• Transformation: CAS proudly notes that the Air Force has been a full participant in the tremendous changes that have taken place – the new command structure, the new method of operation. “We have now a full air component commander construct in our Operational HQ in Winnipeg, and we send out daily air tasking orders which cover the entirety of air missions across Canada – full support of both Expeditionary Forces Command and Canada Command – a true joint team for the very first time. It’s something that you don’t hear much about, but as a Canadian it’s something you can be very proud of.”

The Air Force is also busy transforming capabilities, one of his first duties as the new Chief of the Air Staff was to welcome the C17. Not simply a new aircraft, “it’s a brand new capability that we’ve never had in the Canadian Forces and it will absolutely transform our air mobility practices,” says Watt. “It is an amazing aircraft, and thanks to some incredible cooperation from the U.S. Air Force, we were good to go from the moment it arrived.” The C17 that CAS welcomed in Abbotsford (shown on our cover) was flown in by an all-Canadian crew. Within a week it was delivering 90,000 pounds of humanitarian supplies in Jamaica. Within two weeks, it was delivering supplies to Canadian troops in Afghanistan. The Air Force is unmistakably pleased with this “absolutely awesome achievement – this is transformation in action,” beams Watt (no pun intended). “As CAS, I’m hoping to do a three-peat: the C17, C130J and the Cyclone all welcomed during my tenure, and hopefully be under contract for ­several other airplanes as well.”

Cpl Tony Russell checks the fuel gauges during re-fuelling of a Hercules at Camp Mirage. (Photo: Sgt Roxanne Clowe)

Evidence shows the Air Force transforming organization, transforming capabilities, and Watt has set his sights on “transforming our mind set.” Change is sweeping into the Air Force. “We are truly working to make the Air Force expeditionary,” says Watt. To maximize effectiveness for deployed operations, the Air Force is developing a robust expeditionary capability. This means being trained, equipped and structured to rapidly deploy wherever it is needed and to operate autonomously for as long as it is needed.

Combined with an Air Detachment tailored to the task at hand, the permanent Air Expeditionary Support Squadron in Bagotville will form an Air Expedi­tionary Wing (AEW) to provide air power in support of the operational commander’s mission. The AESS will be composed of a command element, an Operations Support Flight and a Mission Support Flight. The Operations Support Flight will include services in areas such as meteorology, intelligence and mission planning. It will also include an Airfield Security Force to provide the necessary protection to conduct operations. The Mission Support Flight will include logistics, engineering, human resources, and communications.

The AEW is expected to realize its full operational capability, with up to 550 personnel, as early as 2015.

• People: “We have to get folks exposed to the quality, the dedication, and the competence of the great men and women in uniform,” says Watt. As the Canadian demographic evolves, the Air Force will be competing with industry for young blood. “If we are all to survive, you in industry and me in the air force,” he challenged DEFSEC attendees, “will have to attract the 17-24 year old age group – I am in a no-holds-barred competition with you, and I am going to win!”

Believing that connecting with people is key, Watt’s plan includes “exposing Canadians to the great men and women in the Air Force right now.” Called the “Speakers Bureau,” this initiative provides opportunities for serving CF members to speak to community groups that may be interested in gaining a better appreciation of the opportunities and lifestyle. People need to hear from “the corporals and sergeants and captains,” he told attendees, “those are the folks that can truly speak to my key audience – the 17-24 year olds.”

Recruiting has been very successful and targets are being met, and in some cases surpassed – yet, speculation continues on whether recruits are being trained quickly enough for Canada’s needs. “We have been chronically short of people in almost every trade for at least a decade – and that continues to be a challenge – but we have taken quite a few steps in the last few years to address that, such as Operation Connection,” notes Watt in his Ottawa office. “One of my prime responsibilities is to build the Air Force of the future, and that includes people – there’s no use having fancy equipment like the C17 if you have no one to fly it.” He readily admits that the Air Force is under-strength in some occupations. “It’s a bit of a challenge and you end up juggling resources to make sure you have all the right people in the right places. At the same time, you need to plan for the future because new people keep re-infusing the organization.”

August 2007 – Pod Technicians (left) from 15 Wing Maintenance on Melsbroek Airbase in Brussels Belgium prepare to mount the C-130 Open Skies Pod System (COPS) aerial reconnaissance system under the wing of the Hercules in preparation for an Open Skies observation flight. (DND Photo:WO Robert Granger)

How demanding is the pilot training program? “I made it,” he responds. “If I can make it anybody can do it. We’re not asking people to be super human, to leap tall buildings with a single bound, or to see through walls with x-ray vision. It’s well within the capabilities of your average human – but we do demand the best of Canadian society because we put incredibly sophisticated machines in their hands. We demand a lot in terms of cognitive ability and judgment – we’re looking for the top layer of Canadian society and I make no excuses for that – I want the best.”

Long-Term Focus
Recruit, train, and equip – with the reorganization of the CF, these three words sum up the responsibilities of the Chiefs of the Air, Land and Maritime Staffs. “I don’t do domestic operations, that’s done by Canada Command, I don’t do overseas operations, that’s done by Expeditionary Command. I develop and foster; I train people and deliver the capabilities to the operational commands. It’s a long-term focus, but it’s one where the consequences are greater, the costs are higher, and it demands a level of insight far beyond what you need for everyday operations. It requires thinking things through to the second, third and fourth-order effects and sometimes at least a decade downstream. In this way, my success as CAS will be measured by the success of the CAS in 2017.”

As industry knows, it’s tough to maintain that long-term view, especially with a somewhat “difficult customer” and in an environment that changes so often.

Watt likens the Bell-curve of demographic distribution in the Canadian forces, and the Air Force in particular, to a two-hump dromedary. “We’ve got a lot of baby boomers, then a big valley, and then a lot of new people. The problem is, when that first hump retires, I’ve got a valley. We need to pay a lot of attention to people issues – we need to attract the right people, train them, develop their abilities, and then retain them for a full career.”

On training, Watt admits “we’re sort of half way between the cold war and the 21st century – a lot of our training practices are very risk-averse. The more train the lower your risk, but that costs money. We’ve got to focus those resources where they’re needed the most, and in many cases it’s a different way of doing business – simulators for example.”

A lot of Air Force training is being converted to the simulation environment to maximize value for training dollars. In this way, the crews are well-prepared before they begin flying. “Unfortunately,” said Watt in Halifax, “I still have to get beyond the mindset of the average pilot who considers the quality of his years by the number of hours in his yearbook, but we’re going to drag the air force into the 21st century.

The “Big Six”
LGen Watt lists six equipment programs as key priorities – all are in various stages of maturing, programs and funding. “None of them are a done deal,” he adds, “I don’t take any of them for granted, we have to compete within the department for other programs.” As a Sea King pilot, he has learned never to take anything for granted.

• C130J: “I need the C130J as soon as possible because I’m losing Hercs – it’s a simple matter of fatigue. I am not willing to pour a lot of money into a 40 year old plane, so I’m looking to get that C130J contract and retire the E-model Hercs. We’re currently in negotiations with Lockheed, and hope to be under contract soon, which is a good thing because our E-model Herc’s are older than our Sea Kings and nearing the end of their operational life – we desperately need to replace them, so the C130J should be coming within the next few years.”

Capt Mark Chlistovski (right), an Aeronautical Engineer employed as a Sensor Officer with Open Skies Canada, examines aerial film shot over the Russian Federation. With over 30 nations currently participating, the Treaty on Open Skies provides a regime of unarmed aerial observation flights over the entire territory of its participants. A wide-ranging international effort promoting openness and transparency of military activities, it enhances mutual understanding and confidence by giving all participants a direct role in gathering information about military forces and activities of concern to them. The Lockheed-developed surveillance system – Special Avionics Missions Strap-On Now (SAMSON) sensor pod – is housed in a pod beneath the (C-130) aircraft’s wing, in place of an external fuel tank, and can be installed in approximately six hours. (DND Photo: WO Robert Granger)

LGen Watt has flown the C130J. “It’s a wonderful aircraft,” he says, “I flew them in Afghanistan, and I flew British Js and the Italian Js. Although it has a C130 designation, it’s almost a completely different airplane, it looks similar but has several generations of technological advancement over our Es and Hs. We’re through the RFP (request for proposal) stage, and are in negotiation with Lockheed right now to finalize – we hope to be under contract by Christmas. This of course is subject to many events that I do not control and so I’m working hard to assist in whatever way I can to ensure that we do get under contract.”

• Chinook: “We’re in negotiations, we’ll be in contract later this year, hopefully.”

• FWSAR: “Fixed wing search and rescue is a high priority for me. We are not under contract, and we do not have a well developed program there. We have a good specification and are working to re-energize the debate. FWSAR has been operating with a combination of Hercs and Buffalo aircraft. The Herc fleet is in decline because we’re running out of structural life on the airplanes and that’s why we are working on the C130J program – but that doesn’t address the fixed-wing SAR portion of what the Hercs are doing. We’re working to repackage the program to make it more palatable and because it did run into some procurement challenges. We recognize those challenges and are working to get it moving forward. In the meantime, we will take 13 of our newer H-model Hercs and use them to do the search & rescue mission and, with some investment in the Buffalo fleet, keep it flying until we can get the fixed-wing SAR program back on track – I need a new fixed wing Search and Rescue aircraft. The key for me is to have an honest specification and a true competition, and to get a bunch of aircraft to compete against our specification.”

Watt suspects it will be into the next decade before Canada has a new FWSAR platform – that’s when the H-model Hercs will hit maximum fatigue. He would prefer a solution before hitting that ­milestone, but knows “a lot of it depends on things that I don’t control. My job is to advocate for these capabilities and do the best job I can in providing that advice.”

• Utility Aircraft: “We need to replace our twin otter fleet up in Yellowknife, I’m open for ideas, send me your best ideas.”

• CMA & Aurora: “Don’t mistake recent decisions on Canadian Multi-mission Aircraft for us abandoning the Aurora aircraft for the ISTAR capability. The aurora aircraft will be with us for a long time to come and we will continue to invest to keep it operationally relevant and effective, but we need a bridge to the future without abandoning the old. So the ISTAR intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance that the Aurora does best, is going to be with us for a long time. We are truly committed to a manned platform – the techno enthusiasts that want to replace it with UAVs and space-based surveillance systems are just going to have to wait a generation, the technology isn’t there yet. We’re going to have another generation of manned platforms to replace the Aurora, the key is to find the sweet spot between maintaining the current capability and investing in the new one.”

Staff Sergeant Jerry Efird from 211 Rescue Squadron, and loadmaster for the American HC-130 Hercules aircraft, looks out the door as the Herc circles 19 Wing Comox in preparation of SAR Technician jumps during Arctic SAREX 2007 – a tri-national search and rescue exercise. (Photo: MCpl Robert Bottrill, CF Combat Camera)

The Aurora modernization (AIMP) has four blocks. Almost through the second block now, “the third block is under a suspend-work order until 20 November while we re-examine the future of that capability.” Watt stresses the word “capability” because they are trying to “get away from constantly talking about the platform (the aircraft) – we’re trying to invest in the long-term future of the capability.” Many companies are eager to provide a means to prolong the life of the platform, but the Air Force is more interested in prolonging the capability. The challenge for CAS is to “make prudent investments in the current platform but at the same time start to invest enough resources so that I can ensure the long term viability for that capability. Because once again, the Aurora has a finite structural life and we’re running out of hours on that airplane, and extending that structural life is an extremely expensive proposition. The Aurora is a 25-year-old airplane – still capable, still safe – and through the modernization, it is still an operationally effective and viable platform, but that won’t last forever. We’re looking at prudent investments in the Aurora, but with an eye to the future. And the future is, notionally, we’re calling a Canadian Multi-mission Aircraft (CMA). We’re still in the very early conceptual stages of that program.”

• Fighter capability: “The F18 is a fine aircraft but it is once again similar in vintage to the Aurora, we have just gone through a modernization program so it’s good for another 10 years, but 10 years will be gone like that. At the rate that we normally get aircraft (the C17 being an exception), I have to start advocating right now for a replacement. There are a lot of options out there, many are reasonably attractive but money is tight and we have to make a good case.”

Other key initiatives
• Cyclone: The Air Force is strangely quiet on this one, but confidential sources hint that Sikorsky is experiencing difficulties with the fly-by-wire technology and mission computers on these helicopters. Will the 2008 delivery schedule be met?

• AIMIRS: As part of the CF-18 modernization plans, the CF began looking for 40-50 Advanced Multi-Role Infrared Sensor pods to replace previous-generation targeting technology. The AMIRS combines highly accurate laser targeting and ranging with thermal and daylight camera imaging. This technology provides surveillance capabilities for reconnaissance, can point a laser-designator beam upon which a bomb glides to the target for precision strike missions, and offers interesting possibilities for UAV applications. Canada’s existing pods are several generations older, “the ones we are acquiring much more capable,” notes Watt, “the AMIRS brings a whole new level of capability to the CF.” AMIRS is another example of Air Force capability finally entering the 21st century.

However, Public Works is involved in contract controversy over the $120 million project. Nevertheless, execution of a contract with Lockheed Martin to integrate the Sniper FLIR targeting pod onto the CF-18 con­tinues while PWGSC challenges a Canadian International Trade Tribunal decision to re-evaluate the AMIRS bids. It is possible that a re-evaluation could indicate another winner.

• JAIC: The Joint Unmanned Surveillance & Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS), a program for the ­furtherance of departmental goals for unmanned vehicles was, according to LGen Watt, “a fairly robust capability: long range, multi sensor, medium altitude, long endurance. That proved a little too complicated, a little too difficult for us to get through the system, so we walked back a little bit and the new program is called the Joint Airborne ISR Capability project (JAIC). The Airforce is managing the JAIC (a joint capability) on behalf of the Department. It is essentially the same sort of medium altitude, long endurance, surveillance capability that we can use, primarily abroad, but potentially at home as well. It is still a very capable platform, just not quite as extensive a list of capabilities as the JUSTAS.”

Low-level tactical UAVs, which the Army owns and operates, are fairly small vehicles that provide situational awareness around a local Commander. The medium-altitude JAIC project, would provide situational awareness over a broader area, such as Kandahar province rather than Kandahar city – such UAVs are very quiet and hard to detect, says Watt

• 2010 Olympics: The Air Force is in the early stages of developing a posture for supporting the coming Olympics. “I expect a situation similar to Salt Lake City. We will probably end up providing air cover of some kind, much the same as we did for the G8. For that particular mission we would have F18s, obviously, to provide cover, potentially radar aircraft which would be provided, either from NATO or from NORAD. But it’s still in the early days, we are getting those plans together.”

April 2007 – Flight Engineer Cpl Marlon Mongeon (left) and Capt Jonathan Tremblay from 440 Transportation Sqn perform an ‘A’ Check of this CC-138 Twin Otter at the Norman Wells airfield. (Photo: Sgt Brad Phillips, Army News)

Operational HQ
The Army has series of Operational HQ and the Navy has one on each coast. In the case of the Air Force, however, management of everyday operations and distribution of assets between national and international interests is achieved through a single Opera­tional Headquarters in Winnipeg. Balances force generation (recruiting and training) and force employment (operations) – the Commander shifts assets back and forth between different requirements, sometimes in the course of a single mission. Balancing operations and training can be as simple as an Aurora completing training requirements on its return from a surveillance mission. “Balancing domestic and foreign is much the same,” says Watt. “It’s Canada Command for domestic and Expeditionary Forces Command for overseas but, with one operational level headquarters, they are able to balance those competing requirements. We now have a process where we show all those operational customers what the resource is (how much air power is available). It’s not a matter anymore of unconstrained demand for air power. We are able to say ‘we have this much’ and during the year we divide up how much we can devote to those tasks and it’s managed on a day to day basis at that single operational level headquarters. It’s done very effectively because the Commander of the Air division out there wears the consequences of those balancing decisions, he’s in the best place to make them.” One challenge here is responding to many bosses – primary of course, is the Chief of the Air Staff, but also Commander CEFCOM, Commander CanadaCOM, and Commander NORAD – in order to achieve that balance.

Freed from day-to-day operational tasks, LGen Angus Watt can concentrate on his prime directive as Chief of the Air Staff – the long-term development of the Air Force, such as equipment, ­programs, interaction with the Minister, and providing advocacy and advice.
Chris MacLean is the Editor-in-Chief at FrontLine magazine.
© FrontLine Defence 2007