A Different Journey: Attending a South American (Air Force) Staff College (RCAF Journal - FALL 2015 - Volume 4, Issue 4)

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By Lieutenant-Colonel Loïc Roy, CD, MSc


The aim of this article is to increase the situational awareness of Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) officers with respect to recognized foreign staff colleges in South America and to provide a taste of what attendance at them entails. As the number of RCAF officers that have attended a staff college in South America is fairly low, I hope this article will provide useful information to help an individual’s decision-making process in considering and potentially applying to a South American staff college.

Canadian Armed Forces attendance at recognized foreign joint command and staff programme in South America

I had the privilege to attend the Argentine Escuela Superior de Guerra Aérea (Argentine Air Force Staff College) in Buenos Aires from January to December 2011. It was the first time an RCAF officer officially attended this course. There is a three-year cycle for Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) officers attending South American staff colleges, and this cycle can be summarized as follows:

  • 1 x RCAF officer sent to the Brazil Air Force Staff College for a one-year course (given in Brazilian-Portuguese);
  • The following year, 1 x Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) or 1 x RCAF officer sent to the Argentine Air or Naval Staff College (courses given in Spanish);
  • In the third year of the cycle, 1 x RCN officer sent to the Chilean Naval Staff College (course given in Spanish); and
  • The cycle starts again.

This is obviously a great opportunity that perhaps not every RCAF branch advisor, chain of command supervisor, career manager or RCAF officer is aware of. It is important to note that if the selected CAF candidate does not speak the required foreign language, some language training (usually one year) may be required at a Canadian Forces language school.

The Argentine Air Force staff-college experience

The audience

In the 2011-class serial, there were 54 air-force students, of which seven were foreigners from Brazil, Chile, Canada, Dominican Republic, United States of America and Venezuela. The students’ backgrounds ranged from air-force operators (e.g., pilots, navigators and intelligence) and air-force support trades (e.g., maintenance, logistics and communications) to specialty trades not held in our current RCAF structure (e.g., anti-aircraft artillery officers and special forces). During discussions and exercises, this occupation diversity provided the entire group with a wide range of experiences and opinions. Rank wise, students ranged from senior captains to lieutenant-colonels, while the directing staff ranged from majors to colonels.

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The syllabus

Similar to the Canadian Forces College (CFC) Joint Command and Staff Programme (JCSP) in Toronto, key topics covered included air doctrine, leadership, operational and air campaign planning, geopolitics, maintenance and logistical-support concepts, just to name a few. Also, there was a requirement to write an academic paper (master’s level) in Spanish on a related theme. The syllabus included syndicate work on literature analysis and reviews as well informational seminars given by recognized Argentine scholars on a variety of topics. Most exercises centred, not surprisingly, on the infamous 1982 Falkland’s war.

Where this course differs from CFC’s JCSP is in the Argentine / South American flavour to most discussions taking place and the fact that the focus of this course is on the Air Force, with little consideration of joint operations. This issue constantly resulted in questions from the audience, given that the principal failure in the Argentine defeat during the Falkland’s war was clearly and openly attributed to the lack of “jointness” within their three services. Despite a presidential decree ordering the Argentine Armed Forces to adopt a joint posture back in 1983, there is still significant internal resistance at the higher levels to execute this badly needed internal transformation.

The Argentine / South American operational planning process

All three services of the Argentine Armed Forces use an operational planning process (OPP) called the Proceso de Planificación de Comando (PPC) or, in English, the command planning process. The essence and the sequence of this process are fairly similar to the ones of the CAF OPP with a few key exceptions.

One key structural difference is that unlike the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or Canadian systems, most South American nations’ headquarters (component or joint) are structured with a joint/air (J/A) code going from J/A 1 through J/A 5 as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 depicts the hierarchy of South American armed forces headquarters. At the top is the commander. Reporting directly under the commander is the chief of staff. Under the chief of staff are the five joint/air components: 1 (Personnel), 2 (Intelligence), 3 (Operations and Plans), 4 (Logistics), and 5 (Communications). End Figure 1.

Figure 1. Typical headquarters structure: South American armed forces

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The second key exception has to do with how they generate their courses of action (COAs) during their PPC process. In the step preceding the establishment of COAs, their process calls for the enumeration of all potential factors that could have an effect on the success of the mission (geographical, friendly and enemy resources and capabilities, meteorological, logistical, etc.). For the scenarios in which we were involved, this meant establishing and listing over a thousand factors. Once all factors were identified, they were combined through analysis into 10 to 15 critical factors that were briefed to the commander for approval. Once approved, these critical factors were then to be used as the basis for COA development. Of note, every single one of these critical factors needed to be accounted for in each COA. The takeaway from this when we compare their system with ours is that their process is clearly based on a situational approach versus a centre-of-gravity technique. This key difference was a paradigm shift for both the United State Air Force (USAF) officer and me, generating a lot of discussion in class. As a trial and using the same scenario, the USAF officer and I developed COAs using the NATO-standard OPP approach, while the South American officers used the process learned in class. It was interesting to see some key differences in the final COA generated, depending on the process used. From this example, and since both approaches looked at the problem from different perspectives, we were able to assess the pros and cons and get a sense of the respective limitations of both approaches.

Final thoughts

My overall experience in Argentina was truly remarkable—from the professional experience gained as well as the new friendships and South American contacts I have made. Luckily, following my posting in Argentina (with the Spanish language in my back pocket and a fairly good understanding of South American military affairs), I was posted to Canada Command / Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) in the Western Hemisphere Strategy section, an interesting and challenging job that provided the CAF, in my opinion, with an excellent return on investment. In 2014, I was posted to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City as the Deputy Canadian Defence Attaché, a great posting and, once again, one that capitalizes on the return on investment of everything I learned in Canada Command / CJOC and, more importantly, while I was in Argentina.

I hope that this article has increased your situational awareness and provided you with a flavour of the potential South American staff college opportunities for RCAF officers and the subsequent potential postings. The skills and experience acquired during this course can lead to unusual but extremely interesting postings.

Lieutenant-Colonel Loïc Roy is an aerospace engineer presently employed at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City as the Deputy Canadian Defence Attaché. He has been employed on the CF188, CC130 and CC130J; in Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel); and in Canada Command / CJOC. He attended foreign JCSP in 2011 at the Argentine Air Force Staff College.

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CAF―Canadian Armed Forces
CFC―Canadian Forces College
CJOC―Canadian Joint Operations Command
COA―course of action
JCSP―Joint Command and Staff Programme
NATO―North Atlantic Treaty Organization
OPP―operational planning process
PPC―Proceso de Planificación de Comando
RCAF―Royal Canadian Air Force
RCN―Royal Canadian Navy
USAF―United States Air Force

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