Canada’s reserve force

The Reserve Force is composed of Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members who are enrolled for other than continuous full-time military service.

The Reserves play three key roles in the CAF:

  • Operational – trained and ready to respond;
  • Canadian Forces presence and community connection; and
  • Citizenship, leadership and commitment to country.

The Reserve Force is based on a long standing “citizen soldier” model and serves both as a strategic and operational resource for the CAF by providing depth and breadth to CAF capabilities, a vital link to communities and to Canadians. While Regular Force members are enrolled for a specified term of service, members of the Reserve force are enrolled for an indefinite period of service and as such volunteer to keep themselves ready for duty if and when necessary.

The Reserve Force is comprised of four sub-components: the Primary Reserve (P Res), the Canadian Rangers, the Cadet Organization, Administration and Training Service (COATS) and the Supplementary Reserve. It is important to note that only the Primary Reserve and Canadian Rangers have a role related to CAF operations. The Reserve Force represents a rich heritage and tradition of service to Canada with its presence in local communities throughout the country. A sustainable Reserve Force, trained and equipped to meet the needs and operational challenges of the Department of National Defence (DND) and CAF, is a critical enabler to CAF strategic and operational success.

Primary Reservists and COATS are recruited through CAF recruiting centres manned by both Regular and Reserve personnel. Attraction is accomplished through a combination of national advertising and local initiatives. Some processing is devolved to P Res units.

The Chief of Defence Staff Initiating Directive (CDS ID) Reserve Strategy 2015 announced that the Primary Reserve Force strength would grow to 28,500 by 2019 in conjunction with the 68,000 Regular Force personnel. Ongoing efforts within DND and the CAF will optimize Reserve Force resources and the force structures necessary to ensure that the critical link to communities across Canada is retained and will continue to evolve while facing the full range of defence and security challenges facing Canada now and into the future.

The Primary Reserve

The P Res is a force that consists of predominately part-time professional CAF members, located throughout Canada, ready with reasonable notice to conduct or contribute to domestic and international operations to safeguard the defence and security of Canada. This force is fully integrated into the CAF Chain of Command.

The P Res is also a diverse military community and its management has the responsibility of the environmental Force Generators (Navy, Army, Air Force, Health Services, Judge Advocate General and Special Operations Forces). Specific tasks, roles and missions flow from the Force Generators and employment and training models as well as the degree of integration varies by environment. However, common to all is the contribution to the Defence Mission and the delivery of Canadian Armed Forces capabilities.

The Primary Reserve is now established at 28,500 and the current strength is approximatively at 26,500 with an average paid strength of 21,746. The methodology of counting the P Res Force is being reviewed in order to more accurately reflect the employability of its members and to be in line with the current Reg F reporting methodology. There are over 4,000 P Res members on permanent full-time positions in direct support to the control and administration of the Reserve Force at units, training centres and headquarters across the country. The balance of employment positions has shifted to favour part-time service. Permanent full-time positions have been decreased and aligned to support the priorities of Reserve Force Generation, Support to operations, Reserve Professional Development and Support to the Institution.

The P Res sub-component consists of the following elements:

  • The Naval Reserve;
  • The Canadian Army (CA) Reserve;
  • The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Reserve;
  • Military Personnel Command (MILPERSCOM) Reserve which includes: the CAF Health Services Reserve, MILPERSCOM Primary Reserve List (PRL) and the National Defence Headquarters PRL;
  • The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command Reserve (CANSOFCOM); and
  • The Legal Reserve.

The Primary Reserve contributes to the overall CAF capability to deliver strategic effects in the defence of Canadian interests both at home and abroad. It consists of professional, well-trained and predominantly part-time CAF members who contribute to the defence and security of Canada by maintaining directed levels of readiness.

Informed by experience gained in multiple domestic and expeditionary operations, the Primary Reserve has proven to be an integral component of the CAF. The ongoing review and refinement of the roles, missions, and operational tasks within each of the services has ensured that Primary Reservists are well prepared, trained, developed, and equipped to work seamlessly alongside the Regular Force in providing the capabilities necessary to achieve operational success at home and abroad. Primary Reservists have a responsibility to train and to maintain their personal fitness and readiness. Individual training is normally conducted on a scheduled, part-time basis to meet trade or general specifications or to maintain skills (such as annual weapon qualification or first aid certification). Extensive training exercises are carried out annually as an opportunity for collective training. Courses must be structured to accommodate demands of a civilian career/school and family and innovative methods of training delivery have been utilized to facilitate training and professional development. Courses have been modularized into shorter blocks whenever possible and distributed learning is used when feasible. Generally, Reserve personnel do not normally perform the same wide variety of tasks expected of a member of the Regular Force as they are not trained to the same breadth, nor are Reservists expected to be at the same level of readiness as their Regular Force counterparts. However, many of the occupational specifications are now the same for both and P Res personnel are trained to the same standard. This integrated/common training has a positive impact on employment on operations, component transfers and has resulted in a more integrated CAF.

In international operations, the role of the P Res is to augment, sustain and support deployed forces. P Res personnel comprised up to 20% of deployed forces during recent international operations. With respect to domestic operations, the P Res provides the personnel for coastal, air, and arctic operations and the Territorial Battalion Groups. Reserve units are located in cities across Canada, and as residents of those communities, P Res members support local first responders when called upon in the event of an emergency. P Res domestic operations response has included Disaster Relief Assistance, Search and Rescue, Security and Sovereignty Operations, Support to law-enforcement and Support to major events. There will continue to be significant opportunities for P Res to serve in current and future operations.

Progress has been steady to improve care of Reserve ill and injured members and their families as well as access to a wide range of DND/CAF and Veterans Affairs Canada programs and services. Work continues on the integration of Reserve Force considerations to harmonize policies and programs across the CAF improving and updating internal management policies and directives pertaining to the Primary Reserve.

Reserve contributions to operations and connections with Canadians are critical to the nation and to the environments and communities in which they serve. We must ensure that we attract, develop, support and retain a ready, capable, motivated and relevant P Res force as both a strategic and operational resource for Canada and the CAF well into the future. The Primary Reserve will provide continued support to deployed operations and have demonstrated leadership and professionalism by continuing to respond when called upon for operations, emergencies and exercises at home and around the world.

Primary Reserve elements

The Naval Reserve

The Naval Reserve generates trained sailors for employment at sea and ashore, providing a sustainable strategic source of personnel for CAF operations within a "One Navy" concept. Implementation of a new Command and Control construct is now in place. Additionally, a review is ongoing to determine and implement the optimum occupation and organizational structures that will ensure a sustainable Naval Reserve ready to fulfil its primary role as an augmentation force capable of employment across the operational spectrum. This will facilitate the generation of personnel and improve support to maritime operational readiness sustainment and force element production. As part of this process, emphasis will remain on a traditional model of part-time reserve service, thereby fostering close alignment with CAF direction on employment of the Primary Reserve.

The Naval Reserve, through its 24 nationally distributed Naval Reserve Divisions, provided Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) representation at numerous CAF appreciation events and conducted multiple attractions and local leadership engagement activities, supporting the CAF and RCN’s strategic communications, recruitment and outreach efforts. The current strength of the Naval Reserve is 3,206.

The Army Reserve

Canada's Army Reserve is organized into 123 units, located in 117 cities and communities across the country. The role of the Army Reserve is a part-time force that provides local engagement and a responsive integrated capability, at home or abroad, in support of the Army mission.

The current strength of the Army Reserve is 18,807 part and full-time Reservists. The Army Reserve continues to provide formed capabilities at the unit, sub-unit and sub-sub-unit level as well as individual augmentation to the Regular Force, for domestic and international operations.

Domestically, the Army Reserve trains through Territorial Battalion Groups (TBG), Domestic Response Companies (DRC) and Arctic Response Company Groups (ARCG). These capabilities represent the force employment framework through which the Army Reserve will leverage existing unit structures and capacities to conduct domestic operations as directed.

Internationally, the role of the Army Reserve has expanded to provide up to 20 % of required land force personnel to expeditionary operations through individual and formed capability augmentation on sustained operations.

The Royal Canadian Air Force Reserve

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Reserve is employed in total force RCAF establishments throughout Canada, working side-by-side with members of the Regular Force and other departmental employees. RCAF Reservists receive the same training as their Regular Force counterparts and Air Reservists maintain their occupational skills through a combination of specialized training opportunities and routine support of daily Air Force operations. The close integration of the RCAF Reserve into total force establishments provides a surge capacity to ensure that the RCAF is able to deliver strategic effects for the CAF. The RCAF Reserve continues to offer an operating model that beckons enquiries from foreign services. 

Rigorous recruiting and retention marketing strategies were reviewed and further refined to help stem a high rate of compulsory retirement age attrition, and to greatly increase recruiting of young Canadians. An analysis of future capability options has resulted in an RCAF Reserve Strategy 2025 designed to ensure the RCAF Reserve component of the RCAF personnel family, is aligned with RCAF priorities and CAF requirements, while focusing the hiring and training of new personnel in areas where the RCAF requires part-time assistance. This, along with a concerted effort to integrate Regular and Reserve Strategic manning, will endeavour to achieve a total RCAF Reserve strength of approximately 2,300 personnel, up from 2,000 at this time.

The CF Health Services Reserve

The CF Health Services Reserve (H Svcs Res), with a strength of 1,371 is organized into two functional groups – 14 Reserve Field Ambulances (Res Fd Ambs), and the 1 Canadian Field Hospital Detachment Ottawa (1 Cdn Fd Hosp Det Ott). Res Fd Ambs force generate trained personnel to support, augment and sustain the CF Health Services Group (CF H Svcs Gp); provide health services support to the Primary Reserve; and conduct community outreach activities. 1 Cdn Fd Hosp Det Ott specialist clinicians provide depth and breadth to the H Svcs Gp clinical capability on international operations and in military clinics within Canada. Within the CF H Svcs Gp HQ, the Directorate of H Svcs Res (D H Svcs Res) remains focused on strategic planning and readiness, recruiting, training and retention, resolving Primary Reserve care issues, and performance measurement in support of the H Svcs Res.

The clinical capability of the Res Fd Ambs and 1 Cdn Fd Hosp Det Ott continues to be enhanced through targeted recruiting and a harmonized recruiting and training plan. Participation in the H Svcs Annual Military Occupation Review (AMOR) ensures synchronization with the overall recruiting strategy of CF H Svcs Gp.

Total Force healthcare-focused international collective training opportunities continue to build readiness, interoperability with allies, and the domestic and international operational response capability to meet Defence imperatives. Domestically, H Svcs Res train in partnership with Canadian Army Reserve Canadian Brigade Groups (CBGs) to prepare for ARCG and TBG tasks. H Svcs Res contribution to expeditionary operations is targeted at 10% of CF H Svcs Gp missions. D H Svcs Res continues to coordinate the response and follow up to the Ombudsman 2015 report on health status of Primary Reserve (P Res) members. The CF H Svcs Gp is conducting a trial of an updated P Res Medical Readiness Assessment Tool as a means of indicating the medical readiness status for domestic deployment/training and short term employment of P Res members to the chain of command. The trial will be conducted over a two year cycle beginning in September 2017. The H Svcs Res will grow by 100 new positions under the CDS ID on Strengthening the Primary Reserve. As part of that initiative, new clinical capabilities will be added, employment models for part-time members will be reviewed, and optimization of the H Svcs Res force structure will be undertaken.

The H Svcs Res continues to focus on quantifying Reserve activities, for integration into the broader CF H Svcs Gp Performance Measurement Framework. Data collection and assessment seek to convert H Svcs Res potential and capacity into operational capabilities and to provide a comprehensive review of all aspects of the H Svcs Res.

The Legal Reserve

In FY 2016-17, the Office of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) has achieved a Primary Reserve List (PRL) fill rate of 76%, with Legal Reserve officers occupying 51 out of 67 positions. During the reporting period, reserve JAG officers provided legal support to CAF units as well as to domestic and international operations. Of the 51 occupied positions, 48 JAG PRL legal officers were employed on Class A and short term Class B.

The Supplementary Reserve

The Supplementary Reserve (Supp Res) is a sub-component of the Reserve Force comprised of CAF members who have previously served in the Regular Force or a sub-component of the Reserve Force. The Supp Res provides a cadre of personnel who are not required for annual training, but who may choose to return to service voluntarily or, under specific conditions, may be placed on active service to augment the Regular or Reserve Force. This sub-component provides the CAF with additional capacity where and when needed.

The Supplementary Reserve currently consists of 8,795 members. The Supplementary Reserve Instruction limits the period of service to 5 years.

Canadian Rangers

The Canadian Rangers (CR) are Reservists, who provide a military presence in remote, isolated, and coastal communities of Canada, report unusual activities or sightings, and conduct surveillance or sovereignty patrols as required. Canadian Rangers contribute to the Government's sovereignty and security objectives in the North by providing a military presence in those sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada which cannot conveniently or economically be covered by other elements of the Canadian Armed Forces. Canadian Rangers also support the Junior Canadian Ranger (JCR) youth program, sponsored by the CAF for youths 12 to 18 in remote and isolated communities. The CR has grown to 179 Patrols and their current strength is approximately 5,000 nationwide. An analysis of the CR is currently underway under the auspices of the Government of Canada’s Northern Strategy. The goal is to identify potential growth, and to determine if there is a need for increased capabilities within this sub-component of the Reserves.

Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service

The Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service (COATS) is composed of Cadet Instructors Cadre (CIC) officers, General Service Officers and Non Commissioned Members whose primary duty is the supervision, administration and training of cadets 12 to 18 years of age.

The COATS mandate is to ensure the safety and welfare of cadets while developing in them the attributes of leadership and citizenship, promoting physical fitness and stimulating their interest in the sea, land and air activities of the CAF. COATS personnel are not subject to Universality of Service and have a unique training and career progression structure. They are not employed in any other CAF capacity beyond the Cadet Program and may serve until age 65.

Employer Support for the Reserve Force

Members of the Reserve Force must balance the demands of military service, family, and their civilian careers or studies. In concert with a network of volunteers from across Canadian businesses, academic institutions and industries, the CAF has developed a comprehensive set of employer support programs, information packages, policies and recognition for employers and educational institutions to ensure that Reserve personnel are available for military service without penalty to their civilian career or educational pursuits. Employer support is an important force enabler for the CAF and was proven critically important in the last two decades where there has been a high proportion of Reservists serving on domestic and international operations. 

As the number of Reservists on domestic and international operations increases, employer support and engagement programs evolve to meet the new challenges.  Employer Support Programs have expanded to include Canadian Rangers and COATS and our partners include academic institutions, small and large businesses and corporations, industry and organizations across Canada. 

In the past ten years we have enhanced our employer support tools beyond programs and information to include federal and provincial job protection legislation for Reservists, employment programs and an employer compensation program.

In 2017, a new program entitled the Compensation for Employers of Reservists Program (CERP) will be introduced. This program provides compensation in the form of grants to eligible civilian employers and self-employed Reservists, in order to offset costs incurred to their businesses while a Reservist employee is deployed on a named operation. The CERP is designed to augment and strengthen the suite of existing employer support and engagement programs that contribute in sustaining and enhancing a robust and effective CAF. 

Canadian Forces Liaison Council

The Canadian Forces Liaison Council (CFLC) is a Canada-wide network of more than 120 senior civilian business executives and educational leaders who volunteer their time and effort to promote the primary Reserve Force by highlighting the benefits of Reserve Force training and experience to the civilian workplace. Supported by a full-time secretariat and a national network of Reserve officers, CFLC assists individual Reservists as well as Reserve units in matters related to employer support.

The mandate of the CFLC is to enhance the availability of Reservists for their military duties by obtaining the support and co-operation of organization leaders in Canada. By increasing the pool of trained and available Reservists for operations, CFLC’s programs directly contribute to the operational readiness of the CAF, while fostering a culture of national support for the CAF as a whole. The CFLC National Council comprises 15 national, provincial and territorial chairs who coordinate and guide strategic programming of the organization in accordance with departmental objectives and initiatives.

The Council has encouraged civilian employers and educational institutions to grant Reservists military leave on a voluntary basis, without penalty, to participate in their military activities, duties and training. To achieve its mandate, CFLC facilitates visits of civilian employers and educators to bases and training establishments, in addition to organising targeted outreach with civic, business and industrial leaders across Canada. These longstanding programs have been refined over time, and are designed to provide participants a clear understanding of the requirements of Reservists, while also highlighting the many tangible benefits employers receive from their Reservist-employees. The CFLC also serves the entirety of the Reserve Force through a national network of liaison officers who directly support the Environmental Commands. This is done through reserve unit visits, providing employer support training to key unit personnel, and directly supporting individual Reservists on a case-by-case basis, through advice and guidance on employer support issues.

There are currently six core employer support and engagement programs. The ExecuTrek and the Outreach programs generate awareness and education of employers, academic leaders and other organizations of the value of Reserve service. The Reserve Assistance Program (RAP) and Reserve Unit Support Program (RUSP) that support Reservists in engaging employers when there may be challenges regarding a Reservists request for military leave for operations or training. The Awards and Recognition Program recognizes Canadian businesses and academic institutions who demonstrate outstanding support to their Reservist-employees. Finally, the Compensation for Employers of Reservists Program (CERP) helps employers claim financial support if they allow a Reservist to deploy on a domestic or overseas operation.