Canada’s current Special Operations Forces are generated and commanded by the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM). CANSOFCOM is a high-readiness organization, ready to deploy Special Operations Forces on very short notice to protect Canada and Canadians from threats to the national interest at home and abroad.
CANSOFCOM is capable of contributing to Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) operations across the full spectrum of conflict, from peace through to war; therefore, CANSOFCOM provides special operations support to CAF operations abroad when required.
CANSOFCOM’s primary mission is counter-terrorism, which involves conducting rigorous and specialized training and working with local law enforcement agencies, as required, to protect Canadians from the threat of terrorism.
Commander CANSOFCOM reports directly to the Chief of the Defence Staff, it is important to note that the Leadership of the Canadian Forces and the Department of National Defence maintains full oversight on all CANSOFCOM operations.
CANSOFCOM is organized into a headquarters element and five units: Joint Task Force 2 (JTF 2); the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR); 427 Special Operations Aviation Squadron (SOAS); the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit – Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CJIRU-CBRN); and the Canadian Special Operations Training Centre (CSOTC).
CANSOFCOM has five strategic tasks:
- Provide advice on special operations to the Chief of the Defence Staff and other CAF operational commanders;
- Generate deployable, high readiness Special Operations Forces (SOF) capable of deploying as part of a broader CAF operation, or independently;
- Conduct and command SOF operations on behalf of the CDS;
- Continuously develop SOF capabilities and tactics; and
- Maintain and promote relationships with Canadian security partners and allied special operations forces.
In support of these strategic tasks, CANSOFCOM personnel are organized, trained, equipped and always ready to conduct a wide variety of operational tasks. These tasks include:
- Hostage rescue;
- Direct action;
- CBRN crisis response;
- Sensitive site exploitation;
- Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction;
- Maritime special operations;
- Support to non-combatant evacuation operations;
- Special protection operations; and
- Defence, diplomacy and military assistance.
The small size and unique capabilities of CANSOFCOM provide Canada with an agile, adaptive, and rapidly deployable military response.
Special Operations Task Forces
CANSOFCOM employs an integrated operating concept that combines the capabilities of all units in a Special Operations Task Force (SOTF) capable of completing assigned missions and tasks. Therefore, depending on the tasks at hand, various combinations of personnel from JTF 2, CSOR, 427 SOAS and CJIRU are assembled into a Special Operations Task Force, as appropriate, to accomplish assigned missions.
The Commander selects which task force or team will be deployed based on several criteria, including:
- The scope of the problem;
- The required response time;
- What effect needs to be achieved; and
- The level of precision required.
Based on the requirement to respond to specific standing tasks assigned to the CAF by the GoC, such as respond to a terrorist attack, an international crisis or a CBRN threat, CANSOFCOM has developed several standing Special Operations Task Forces:
- Immediate Response Task Force (IRTF). The IRTF is the highest readiness task force available to the Government of Canada; it is deployed on extremely short notice to address issues that could affect national interests. It is comprised of personnel from all CANSOFCOM units and is led by JTF 2. Its primary focus is counter-terrorism operations, domestic or international.
- Tasks include, but are not limited to: Hostage rescue, direct action, CBRN response, sensitive site exploitation, counter-proliferation, maritime special operations.
- Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Task Force. This Task Force is based on the personnel and capabilities of CJIRU and includes the CANSOFCOM contribution to Canada’s National CBRNE Response Team, led by the RCMP. The CBRN Task Force provides a short notice response to crisis or major events within Canada and is primarily focused on counter-terrorism that involves Chemical, Biological, Radiological and/or Nuclear elements. It provides technical response to CBRN incidents and can be enabled by the capabilities of other CANSOFCOM units as required. At the request of the Government of Canada, the CBRN Task Force can also conduct counter-proliferation operations and be deployed internationally.
- Tasks include, but are not limited to: Reconnaissance, surveillance, sampling, limited decontamination for Task Force personnel and sensitive site exploitation.
- Task Force Arrowhead. TF Arrowhead is a scaleable, agile force able to respond to threats and incidents around the globe on short notice. While it is internationally focused, it can also be deployed in Canada. It is a high readiness SOTF capable of quickly deploying to a crisis for short periods of time. It is comprised of personnel from all four units in the Command and is led by CSOR. TF Arrowhead represents an initial response that could be a pre-cursor to the deployment of another SOTF or conventional task force.
- Tasks include, but are not limited to: Direct action, CBRN response, sensitive site exploitation, counter-proliferation, support to non-combatant evacuation operations, special protection operations.
- SOF Teams. Small teams of CANSOFCOM personnel perform tasks that fall outside the scope of the three standing task forces. SOF teams generally deploy for short periods of time, typically not longer than six months. SOF teams are made up of personnel and capabilities from all four units.
- Tasks include, but are not limited to: Defence, diplomacy and military assistance, strategic advice, planning and liaison, strategic reconnaissance and security support to operations of other Government of Canada organizations.
The IRTF, CBRN Task Force, Task Force Arrowhead and the SOF teams do not represent the full extent of CANSOFCOM capabilities; CANSOFCOM is capable of generating additional forces for specific needs as required.