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Training for everything, ready for anything

Interview with Major General Roch Pelletier, Commander, Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre (CADTC), Canadian Army ahead of IDGA's Land Forces Training Conference, February 27-28, 2024, Florida

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Major General Roch Pelletier

Major General Roch Pelletier

Major-General Roch Pelletier began his career at the Royal Military College of Canada at St-Jean-sur-le-Richelieu in August of 1988. On earning his officer's commission, he served at Platoon, Company and Battalion levels within the Royal 22e Régiment. He commanded the 3rd Battalion Royal 22e Régiment, the Canadian Army Enabler Group (CAEG, now known as Canadian Combat Support Brigade), and the Canadian Manoeuvre Training Centre. He also served as the Deputy Commander of Operations for United States Army Alaska, and as the Commander of 5th Canadian Division (The Mighty Maroon Machine). Most recently, he held the office of Director General Intelligence, Operations, and Plans for the Canadian Joint Operations Command. He was appointed Commander Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre in June 2022.

Q: In terms of training, where is the Canadian Army now and where does it want to be?

A: My answer to that could take a long time, but I'll try to summarise it in saying that we have made the transition between the Afghanistan-style counterinsurgency training model that we used for many years to a large- scale combat operation model.

So, this is now fully integrated in our training system, and I think we're doing well with it. However, there's still a lot of work that we need to do. In light of the current geopolitical landscape - the crises in Ukraine and around the globe - there are many, many observations and lessons learned that we are trying to track and integrate into our training system to make it better.

We're moving forward on a few different initiatives. The first one is collective training evolution. We are moving to a collective training model that reduces repetitions. We realised that we were sometimes overtraining for particular missions and now we're trying to streamline that. We're trying to export as much of our collective training as we can.

Canada is not a big country, it's a medium-sized army, and we understand that we will always have to work with allies or integrate our forces in allied forces. For that reason, we're now integrating our light infantry battalions into the US training system, especially in Louisiana at the Joint Readiness Training Center and in Alaska, for an Arctic-type of environment.

We're also looking at training our mechanised battle groups more realistically. Instead of doing it in Canada in isolation, we want to export that training to Latvia where we will be able to train with our allies and integrate them in the formation and make it more realistic.

From an individual training perspective, we still have a lot of work to do. We're moving ahead with what we call 'training optimisation and modernisation' to also evolve our individual training system.

Q: Thank you. How are the training needs of the Canadian Army decided?

A: Well, we have a governance process in the army that definitely starts with me. On top of being the Commander of the Canadian Army Doctrine and Training Centre, I'm also doubling as the Army Training Authority.

So, under the Army Training Authority on behalf of the Army Commander, I manage the training system and I run many governance and planning conferences, with focus on initial training, collective training, and professional military education.

Those different working groups, conferences, and planning sessions lead to what we call the Army Training Council. That's where I bring in all the senior leaders of the Canadian Army to discuss where we're at, where we need to be, what we need to change, and what we need to integrate into the training system to better support troops that we need for operations.

Then, once we agree on some of the key recommendations, I bring it to what we call the Army Council, which is the governance body for the Army Commander, which makes decisions on everything concerning the readiness of the Canadian Army, but also including the training system. That's where we make those ruminations and approvals are made. Then, once it has been approved, we can move on with the acquisition of future equipment, simulation systems, and capabilities that we will need to make the training system better to train our troops for the future.

Photo: © All rights reserved. National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)

Photo: © All rights reserved. National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF)

Q: You touched upon this a little bit. How and why have these needs changed in the last five years?

A: As I mentioned, the geopolitical landscape has changed quite a bit since 2010. I think we've completely moved away from counterinsurgency, and we've refocused our training on large-scale combat operations for good reason. It looks like the world is almost on fire right now. There are crises all over the place. So, that was one of the reasons why it has changed in the last five to ten years.

But more recently, like many Western armies, we have had some recruiting problems. We have equipment that is getting close to the end of lifecycle. We have financial stewardship - we need to be very much accountable for all the public dollars that we're spending. Also, we had COVID. That had some impact on how we train and how we will train in the future.

On top of that, of course, the Ukrainian crisis definitely shaped the last two years of how we are envisioning the future for our training system and how to make sure our troops are prepared for the worst.

Q: Speaking of preparation, has the industry sufficiently responded to these needs?

A: Yes, I think the industry has a lot of very good solutions. I think they are very proactive in trying to stay connected with us and try to deliver creative ways of improving the way we train. I think that in our case, it's not necessarily the industry that is the problem. The problem is making sure that we can acquire that equipment. The need to go through the official acquisition process of our government and of the military is sometimes a bit more challenging than simply being aware of those technologies.

We need to make sure that we integrate them in our training system at the speed of relevance. This has been quite challenging as the processes that we have to go through are very thorough and demanding.

Q: What were the technologies that had the most impact on training?

A: I would say that recently, as we're looking at the way we conduct our training, virtual simulation has a huge impact on individual training. We are really trying to look at replacing some of the former field training exercises or practical training on the equipment by simulation, or virtual simulation, as much as we can.

We want to do everything we can in simulation where we don't have to deploy the troops in the field. This both saves us time and saves us money. Then we can really focus the capabilities we have for real demanding field training exercises.

I would say constructive simulation is also very important. We've been using it extensively to train our command posts at all levels. We never deploy any of our command posts at subunit, unit or brigade level without making sure that they can perform up to the standard in a constructive simulation environment, to make sure we don't waste time. When they deploy to the field, they know what they're doing, and they can be more effective. We can also shorten the time that they must be in the field with troops to achieve the same objectives and the same standards.

Finally, I would say that once we make it to the field, we have augmented our training with live simulation at all levels, to make sure it's much more realistic. Realistic training, so the troops fully understand the threat on the battlefield. So that they don't just learn to survive, but thrive and succeed on a very demanding battlefield that is constantly in evolution with the integration of new technologies and capabilities like drones and electronic warfare - all we see right now happening in conflicts around the world.

Q: What future technologies have shown promise?

A: I think there are many of them and I'm looking forward to going to Orlando to learn more about those technologies. I would say that my team is closely tracking the future of how we can integrate artificial intelligence in training. That's one that we're really looking at.

For the rest, I think that any new innovations in some of the simulation technologies that I've talked about already: whether virtual, constructive, or live simulation. If that could make our training better, shorten our initial training time and make it more realistic, including in the field, it is certainly something I'm looking at. I'm always trying to make our training system more efficient and more effective in the future.

Q: You touched on this. The future combat environment will arguably be evermore demanding. Have these demands been translated into training needs?

A: Yes, we are constantly working at this. We have a team at my headquarters that we call Army Lessons Learned that are a fully-connected network with some of our members that are deployed throughout the world. They are also connected with our key allies, like the U.K., the United States and those key allies are constantly gathering all the observations.

New technology and new innovations that we see on the battlefield - we are now bringing back here to Canada. We are constantly assessing those, as well as looking at our doctrine, looking at our techniques, tactics and procedures, and trying to integrate any changes into our training system as rapidly as we can.

It's very challenging because a lot of things are changing and moving, but I have a full team dedicated to try and force us to evolve to what's happening in the world as fast as possible, so our soldiers are trained realistically with the threats that are out there on the battlefield right now.

Q: How did you set limits for training? We can't have a full force of special operation operatives, but the rank-and-file soldier needs to be able to handle the complexities of future combat environments. How is this balance achieved?

A: As I mentioned, the training governance aspect is a place where we discuss risk. It's all about risk. How much risk are you ready to accept? Of course, we cannot all train as special forces operators, that's too demanding. So that's just for a select group which I'm not involved with, because it's done through another command in Canada.

For my part, I'm mainly focused on conventional army forces. It's always a balance of what we need to achieve against some of the challenges we have right now, especially when we look at recruiting, retention, equipment, and the need to train our forces for a battlefield that is merciless and very lethal.

It's a challenge every day and it's a process that we go through. We make risk assessments and we're trying to deliver the best possible training with our current constraints and make sure our troops are always as ready as they can be to face those threats.

Q: The Canadian Army messaging indicates that it is building a force ready for anywhere and anything. Does this mean the Canadian forces will for the foreseeable future look for technologies and ideas on how to improve training?

A: Yes, we do, we are constantly doing that. We have many initiatives right now in the training system to look for new technologies, new ways and innovations that we could better train our forces. So, it's first more effective, more efficient, but also more realistic with the current environment. So, yes, that's an everyday battle for us. We are constantly looking at how we can improve the training system.

Our collective training evolution, our individual training optimisation and modernisation are all ongoing right now. I have a lot of people every day who are working at trying to figure out what new technologies and ways to train our troops we could integrate to make it better for everyone.

Q: What are you most looking forward to getting out of the conference?

A: Well, I think networking is very important. I think getting to know the people that are driving innovation and technology that can better support our training is super important.

Also, networking with our allies. Many of our allies are in the same bed that we are. Some have different ideas or more creative ideas, so we need to share. We need to share those ideas because sometimes we don't want to start from zero. If I can learn from the industry, from our allies, and I can come back here and integrate that or save time by using what's out there already, that's a win.

Of course, looking at what the industry has to offer. They're very creative and innovative so they always impress me. I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what they have to offer this year - what could make our training more realistic and more efficient in the future? To make sure that I can maintain the high standard of our army soldiers that are considered top-of-the-line soldiers, with a training system that is more effective and efficient.

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