New top soldier faces challenge as Forces move out of Afghanistan
Former fighter pilot Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson has been named Canada's new top military officer, and will succeed Gen. Walt Natynczyk as the new chief of defence staff.
In his 37-year career, the veteran air force commander has served in diverse positions, from fighter pilot to academic.
It was this varied experience that Defence Minister Peter MacKay praised as he named Lawson to the job Monday.
"He's had a diverse and storied career within the CF, which has included ... time as a fighter pilot defending our skies and those of our allies, as commandant of the Royal Canadian Military College in Kingston and most recently as deputy commander of Norad, North America's Aerospace Defence Command," MacKay said at a news conference.
His appointment comes at a challenging time for the Canadian Forces, as it transitions from its active combat role in Afghanistan and refocuses on domestic operations.
Lawson will also have to navigate through $1.5 billion in budget cutbacks, as the government slashes the Defence budget as part of its overall cost-cutting measures.
Universityof Calgary Centrefor Military and Strategic Studies professor Robert Huebert said Lawson could be a good choice as the Canadian Forces makes this transition.
“He’s a very good leader, but a much quieter leader than we had in the past,” Huebert told CTV News. “In the past, given Afghanistan, we needed someone who was more of an outspoken warrior.”
Retired major general David Fraser, who has worked with Lawson, told CTV News Channel that Fraser’s key challenge will be to transition the Canadian Forces out of its decade-long mission in Afghanistan, to the challenges that lie ahead.
"Tom has to look at the organization and balance it, transform it into what we need for the future security environment, and giving our authorities all the options possible,” said Fraser, who was commandant of the Canadian Forces College in Toronto while Lawson was commandant of the Royal Military College in Kingston.
The new chief will also be aided by his ability to work well with people from diverse backgrounds, Fraser said.
"Obviously Tom has got a tremendous amount of experience operationally and working within the institution, and his current job as the deputy commander of Norad is very beneficial to both Canada as the new chief and with relations to the United States in the complex and changing security environment," Fraser said.
Another challenge for Lawson will be working with stakeholders to procure new fighter jets to replace the air force's aging fleet of F-18s.
In the past, Lawson has been a strong supporter of the federal government's campaign to purchase F-35 stealth fighters as a replacement, a program that has faced criticism for cost overruns and delays.
When asked by a reporter on Monday about his plans for the F-35s, Lawson said he would take his cue from the government, but suggested the F-35 was his pick.
"It will continue to contend for the replacement for the CF-18," Lawson said.
Lawson also paid tribute to his predecessor, saying Natynczyk is leaving the Canadian Forces in excellent shape.
"Gen. Natynczyk will pass to me a CF that has been carefully nurtured and one that displays a tremendous professionalism in all areas," Lawson said. "Whether at home or abroad, our men and women reflect the best that Canada has to offer."
Natynczyk issued a statement late Monday congratulating Lawson on the new appointment.
"He is a great officer and gentleman who will continue to lead the men and women of the Canadian Forces with distinction,” Natynczyk said. "I know he will enjoy the support of great generals, admirals, officers, and equally, all the ranks, through to the most junior privates and ordinary seamen."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed those sentiments in a statement, saying Lawson's range of experience makes him the right choice.
"Lt.-Gen. Lawson is the right leader for the Canadian Armed Forces and will bring a clear vision and strong values to the role," Harper said in a statement.
"His experience, team-building skills and collaborative approach will help position the Canadian Armed Forces for the future."
Lawson will officially take command from Natynczyk during what is expected to be an elaborate change of command ceremony, the date of which has not yet been set.
Following are some key details of Lawson's military career:
- Graduated from Royal Military College in 1979;
- Served as commander of CFB Trenton and an air squadron;
- Flew both the CF-104 Starfighter, CF-18, and the Challenger jet;
- Holds both bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering, and a master's degree in public administration;
- Was promoted to major general in 2009 and became the assistant chief of the air staff;
- In July 2011 Lawson was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed to the role of deputy commander of Norad.
With files from CTV’s Richard Madden and The Canadian Press