The Royal Canadian Air Force Lessons Learned Programme (RCAF Journal - SUMMER 2014 - Volume 3, Issue 3)


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By Major Dax Chambers


In the spring 2011 issue of The Canadian Air Force Journal, an article titled “Lessons Learned: The Air Force on Its Way to Continuous Improvement”[1] provided its readership with a background and summary of what was then a recently achieved, coherent Lessons Learned Programme (LLP). That article, complete with flow chart, organizational diagram, and colourful graphic, described in deliberate detail a number of subjects: the five-step process of the LLP and its components; the roles and responsibilities of the Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre (CFAWC); programme governance; and finally, a summary of the Operation (Op) HESTIA Project. As one may recall, Op HESTIA was Canada’s contribution to humanitarian relief in support of the nearly one-third of Haiti’s citizens in the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake and its associated aftershocks in January 2010. A post-operation analysis of lesson observations conducted by CFAWC personnel revealed a number of areas for improvement. Without going into too much detail here, lesson findings revealed problems in airlift command and control as well as in doctrine and operating processes.[2]

This article will provide a brief overview of the status of the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Lessons Learned Programme. It is intended as an informative piece more so than the educational-themed report of 2011. Imagine, if you will, this article like a sequel to a good film; while the former blockbuster was enjoyed by many, movie goers will not be disadvantaged should this be their introduction to the franchise.

The act of change

Much has happened in the RCAF during the past three years. Command teams have rotated into and out of office, and organizational charts have been revisited and modified. The Air Force has again proven its value as a versatile force generator as demonstrated in the contributions to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization–led arms embargo and no-fly zone imposed on Libya (Op MOBILE) and in facilitating humanitarian support to the Philippines during Op RENAISSANCE 13‑01. And, not the least of recent developments, we have firmly reprised our heritage simply by adding the term “Royal” to our title; thus, discussions surrounding the likelihood of rejuvenating associated ranks and insignias are in the news. The simple fact is change is inevitable, it is ongoing, and we are all affected by it.

Why lessons learned?

The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) is a sizeable organization employing tens of thousands of men and women. The role of the CAF is vital to the defence of Canada and to our government’s ability to project its influence both at home and abroad. Considering its political importance, span of operations, and the number of resources necessary to sustain it under present conditions, the CAF is arguably an ideal organization within which to institute a lessons learned programme. Who in their right mind would not agree with the potential benefits of identifying and understanding problems, and taking the necessary actions to mitigate their recurrence, while also promoting best practices?

The RCAF, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Navy maintain lessons learned programmes. Although these programmes are unique to each environment, all rely on the chain of command to steer implementation and execution, assisted by qualified lessons learned staff officers (LLSOs). The goal of these lessons learned programmes is also the same: the pursuit of organizational cultural change so as to become effective learning organizations, with a Canadian Forces warfare centre in the middle, focused on taking an active role in joint lessons learned processes.

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Programme implementation

In December of 2011, an implementation directive towards operationalizing the RCAF LLP was published by the Commander RCAF. This document marked the transition from planning and concept building to “doing.” The Air Division commanders now had the necessary direction and guidance to deliver their orders and so on down the chain of command. Finally there was focus, a need for establishing lessons learned staff structures as well as developing strategic- and operational-level plans for collecting information commensurate with the Commander RCAF’s needs. CFAWC, as the RCAF lessons learned centre of excellence, provided on-call mentoring assistance to the cadre of wing LLSOs, through its Analysis and Lessons Learned (A&LL) Branch. Efforts were focused towards developing collection plans / communication strategies and emphasized the importance of sharing information across communities.


Implementation of the RCAF programme has not been all smooth sailing. As one reads further, it is necessary to acknowledge that, with any considerable organization, cultural transition will take time. Often in this regard we have witnessed parallels drawn between the lessons-learned programmes and flight-safety programmes. So what are these so-called “challenges,” exactly?

Establishing a pan-RCAF battle rhythm has been slow going, and it has proven difficult to source trained LLSOs for deployment on exercises and operations. A&LL personnel have filled many of these positions, but the expectation is that eventually the requirement will be met by tasking from the pool of more than 150 individuals already trained by CFAWC. A major constraint of the LLP is the fact that all resources (personnel, funding, and equipment) must come from existing capacities. Budgetary restrictions and the reality of a great organization that is simply not blessed with an abundance of extra bodies, let alone the personnel who may possess the necessary operational and staff experience to truly enable the LLP, are facts that speak for themselves. Consider this: the majority of qualified lessons learned staff selected by their applicable commanders, commanding officers, and senior staff have primary duties that exist outside of the LL domain.

Discussions surrounding existing challenges with the RCAF LLP would not be complete without considering the five-step process (see Figure 1[3]).


Figure 1 portrays the five step of the lessons learned process. At the top is Step 1, Preparation. The next step, Step 2, is Collection. Step 3 is Analysis, which contains two sub-units: Collection Analysis and Change Analysis. Step 4 is Endorse and Direct Change. Finally, Step 5 is Act of Change. End Figure 1.

Figure 1: Five-step process


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Though positive results have emerged from efforts in the first three steps of the process, we continue to struggle with gaining the necessary traction within the realms of Endorse and Direct Change and Act of Change. Few results stemming from these steps and Change Analysis as a function of Step 3 have considerably slowed our momentum towards achieving lessons learned. Often misused in terminology, a lesson learned is declared once a change is put into effect as a result of analysis and the intended results of this change are then validated. Read further to discover what course of action will determine why our programme has not yielded lessons learned and what strategy will assist in getting us on track.

Phase 3 and beyond

As listed in the Commander RCAF’s implementation directive and further described in the lessons learned campaign plan, the LLP is being executed in four phases:

  1. establish core elements;
  2. implement the battle rhythm;
  3. validate the programme; and
  4. steady state.

The RCAF LLP must be validated before steady state can initially be recognized. The intended course of action to determine any deficiencies and/or best practices with programme implementation is for CFAWC to lead in the development of a validation plan. Once this plan is implemented, any necessary policy changes will be managed in the spirit of Steps 4 and 5 of the lessons learned process; in effect, we shall apply this process to the LLP.

While strategizing the transition of the RCAF LLP into phase 3, the A&LL Branch has begun the important process of reviewing and updating the B‑GA‑005‑780/AG‑001, Air Force Lessons Learned Programme Manual. The result will be a capstone publication more polished than the original, which still maintains the necessary depth and detail of information.


The CFAWC A&LL Branch looks forward to continuing collaboration with lessons learned stakeholders from outside of and within the RCAF. There are currently two projects with which CFAWC is assisting. The first is through support to 1 Canadian Air Division (Cdn Air Div) Lessons Learned Staff with information management and analysis of a variety of historical post-activity reports (PARs) dating back as far as March 2010.[4] The objective of this project is to identify trends in problem areas and/or best practices so as to facilitate change-management steps, as necessary. Work completed thus far has identified planning for joint and combined operations as well as training as the most common trends requiring improvement. The second project is in support of a 2 Cdn Air Div–led pilot-training system analysis. Its objective is to provide a report of findings and recommendations which could influence the future of all flying training in the RCAF.

Lessons learned is a burgeoning mechanism within the CAF and one which extends to our allies. A successful programme will not succeed with the efforts of only a few. Perhaps you, too, will embrace the notion that this great programme will one day be established as an institution of continuous learning and improvement, as it was originally envisioned. All hands on deck, as it will take the efforts of us all to see this through.

Major (Maj) Dax Chambers has been a member of the Analysis and Lessons Learned Branch at CFAWC since 2010. He was employed as the lessons learned officer for the air component coordination element during Exercise MAPLE GUARDIAN in the fall of 2011 and returned to Wainwright the following year in a similar capacity. Maj Chambers spent a combined six months in the former country of Yugoslavia as a line pilot with the CH146 Griffon Helicopter Detachment from November 2002 until July 2003. In addition to his first tour at 427 Squadron, Petawawa, Maj Chambers’ other postings while a member of the Air Force have included RMC Kingston and 400 Squadron, Borden. Maj Chambers resides in Kingston, Ontario.


A&LL―analysis and lessons learned

CAF―Canadian Armed Forces

Cdn Air Div―Canadian Air Division

CFAWC―Canadian Forces Aerospace Warfare Centre

LLP―Lessons Learned Programme

LLSO―lessons learned staff officer


PAR―post-activity report

RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force


[1]. Mario Fortin, “The Air Force on Its Way to Continuous Improvement,” The Canadian Air Force Journal 4, no. 2 (Spring 2011), 55.   (return)

[2]. For the full report, titled “AF-AP-2010-01 Airlift Command and Control - OPERATION HESTIA - Final Report,” see the Knowledge Management System (KMS), accessed June 25, 2014, Note: this site can only be accessed via a Defence Wide Area Network (DWAN) computer. (return)

[3]. This table originally appeared in The Canadian Air Force Journal 4, no. 2 (Spring 2011), 57. (return)

[4]. A PAR is defined as a “report generated after any military activity to record what happened, why it happened, and how it can be improved or maintained. Note: Post activity reports include after-action reports (AARs), post-deployment reports (PDRs), post-exercise reports (PXRs), post-operation reports (PORs), etc.” (Defence Terminology Bank, record 43732). (return)

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