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Last Updated: 05 June, 2016


1.0     Introduction

Canadian Patrol Pathfinder (1)This article provides an overview of the recruitment, selection and training process for the Canadian Patrol Pathfinder (PPF) Course.

The PPF Course has “…long [been] hailed as one of the most challenging course[s] in the Canadian Army…” (Shields, 2008).

These Commandos do not form part of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM or CSOFC) Special Operations Forces (SOF) community, a “fourth service” (Horn, 2012, p.48) of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF).

The Primary mission of the PPF is to move ahead of the main force and prepare various types of landing zones as required by the mission objectives. However, other suggested roles include (Downey & Deshpande, 2013):

  • Assume the follow-on force’s mission if it is unable to insert or reach an objective.
  • Humanitarian assistance.
  • Evacuation of non-combatants.

As such, the PPF capability is deemed essential to the safe and effect establishment of Drop Zones behind enemy lines. In this capacity, the PPF can establish austere airstrips to allow a force to quickly bring substantial forces and supplies into an isolated operations area.

A PPF grouping, which can range in size from a detachment to a platoon, is inserted through various means, usually well forward of friendly lines. It is currently envisioned (2013) that PPF with supporting enablers will be grouped together as a platoon sized brigade-level asset. In garrison, PPF personnel are typically organised at the section-level within a Reconnaissance Platoon, within each Infantry Battalion (Downey & Deshpande, 2013; The Maroon Beret, 2013).

It must be emphasised that a candidate must be physically fit at the beginning of the PPF training process if they are to stand any chance of success. The training requires far greater expenditure of physical energy than is normally required in other peace time training. It is essential that candidates arrive fully fit, carrying no injuries and with a sound grasp of basic navigational techniques.

1.1     Aim

The aim of this article is to describe the fundamental entry requirements, selection process and training for personnel seeking to become a qualified Canadian Patrol Pathfinder.

1.2     Women and the Patrol Pathfinder Course

In accordance with current Government policy on the employment of women in the Canadian Armed Forces, military service as a Patrol Pathfinder is open to male and female volunteers.

1.3     Brief History

Canadian Patrol Pathfinder (2)Prior to the Canadian Airborne Regiment’s disbandment in 1995, the Pathfinder capability resided in the airborne reconnaissance force of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. Since this time the Pathfinder capability has struggled forward without any clear strategic guidance nor any official establishment within the CAF (Downey & Deshpande, 2013).

In 2008, the PPF course experienced a reduction in duration from 12 to 8 weeks, concentrating on advanced methods of insertion for land forces (Shields, 2008). The training programme was divided into three distinct phases, with a view to being complimentary to the training provided by the Advanced Reconnaissance Patrolman course. At the time, there was a perceived overlap in the training delivered by these two courses which meant the chain of command not releasing personnel to attend the PPF course, resulting in the cancellation of that year’s course (Shields, 2008). The three phases of the course included:

  • Phase 1: Ground-based methods of insertion including dismounted patrolling, establishing landing zones, drop zones and austere airstrips.
  • Phase 2: Amphibious operations including establishing beachheads, swimming from warships and conducting operations from submarines.
  • Phase 3: Unknown.

“Although the current operational context has narrowed our primary target audience to the special operations community, the training remains open to the Regular Force.” (Shields, 2008).

In contrast to Shields, Downey and Deshpande (2013, p.53) inform us “After a training gap of five years and significant reconceptualization, a pilot serial took place at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa in 2011, and it graduated ten candidates.”, having started with “17” (Krasnuik, 2011, p.8). They also state (2013, p.54) “The Patrol Pathfinder possesses a set of skills that are related, but distinct, from those of an advanced reconnaissance patrolman.”

By 2012 the course was 6 weeks in duration and started with 33 candidates, with 20 being successful (The Maroon Beret, 2012). Elements of the course were located at the Canadian Forces Base in Petawawa and Halifax in Nova Scotia.

During this iteration of the course, candidates completed the tactical precision parachuting element prior to course start which enabled them to conduct precision parachuting insertions throughout the course and during the assessed field training exercise (FTX). This iteration of the course was delivered in three modules:

  • Module 1, Pathfinder Insertion and Extraction Operator: Candidates began the first task of the first week with a 20 km loaded march. Candidates’ were not informed of the duration/end location of the march in order to simulate the mental and physical challenges they would face whilst operating in the field.
  • Module 2, Pathfinder Operator: Insertion and extraction methods including tactical airlift, small boats, parachute insertions, helicopter (fast rope, rappel, landing and helicast), and naval platforms (surface vessels and submarines).
  • Module 3, Pathfinder Leader: Survival training including a survival exercise in which candidates had to extract across enemy territory.

Training is a combination of lectures, demonstrations, candidate exercises and assessments.

On the 2015 course, 12 candidates successfully graduated the PPF course (Lee, 2015).

1.4     Tier 1 or Tier 2 Status

“…Canadian PPF are not considered special operations forces.” (Downey & Deshpande, 2013, p.54), and therefore does not have a Tier 1 or 2 classification.

Special Operations Forces (SOF) units that undertake direct action missions are typically classified as Tier 1 units. Other SOF units are referred to as ‘Tier 2’ units because, typically, they fulfil a supporting role for the Tier 1 units.

1.5     The Aim of the PPF Course

The aim of the PPF course is to enable:

  • PPF-qualified personnel to execute insertion/extraction techniques by sea, air and land in the context of adaptive dispersed operations in hostile environments;
  • Personnel to perform the tactical marking and securing of a Drop Zone (DZ), Landing Zone (LZ), and Beach Heads, as well as Airstrips used for Tactical Airlift Operation for follow on forces; and
  • Qualified Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs) and Commissioned Officers to plan, coordinate, conduct, and advise commanders on PPF Operations.


2.0     Introduction

Information regarding the basic requirements for enlistment or commissioning in the CAF can be found by clicking on the link, which the reader is advised to read if not already familiar.

The CAF does not accept direct entry applicants, i.e. civilians with no prior military experience, for the PFF course. As a result, volunteers for the PPF course may be accepted from both CAF military personnel (both officer and enlisted) from any branch of military service to serve with the CSOR.

Consequently, there is only one recognised pathway to becoming PPF qualified:

  1. Attend and complete the PPF course.

2.1     Recruiting Unit

Although the PPF Cell is the ‘recruiting’ unit, candidates must volunteer for service through their chain of command.

The PFF Cell is commanded by a Captain (OF-2), who is assisted by a Warrant Officer (OR-9).

The PFF Cell is located at the Canadian Army’s Land Warfare Centre (CAAWC) in Trenton, Ontario.

2.2     General Requirements and Eligibility for All Candidates

Subject to the requirements outlined below, all CAF officers and enlisted (other ranks) personnel are eligible to attend the Patrol Pathfinder training programme.

General Requirements for all candidates:

  • Completion of Basic Reconnaissance Course;
  • Obtain approval from chain of command;
  • Complete the Drop Zone/Landing Zone Controller course prior to the PPF (Krasnuik, 2011).
  • Candidates will be additionally qualified as precision parachutists in the form of a Static Line
  • Square Canopy (SLSC) course qualification prior to the start of PPF (Krasnuik, 2011).


3.0     PPF Selection and Training Phases

The journey to becoming a qualified PPF is not easy, and training is rigorous and highly selective, but the courage and strength individuals will gain as a candidate will stay with them for their entire life.

The PPF Course is the selection and training process for all candidates wishing to join the Patrol Pathfinder community.

In addition to Phase 1 (Basic Combat) Training, candidates must also have completed Phase 2 (Advanced Individualised) Training and volunteer for airborne training (unless already qualified) to be eligible for PFF selection and training.

All PPF candidates will undertake a number of distinct phases of training (Table 1), in which candidates are taught the fundamentals of CAF special warfare through formal CAF schooling and on-the-job training.

Table 1: PPF training pipeline
Serial Sub-course/Element Duration
1 Meet eligibility criteria Variable
2 Drop Zone and Landing Zone Controller Course ?
3 Static Line Square Canopy (SLSC) Course ?
4 Patrol Pathfinder (PPF) Course 6 weeks
4a Module 1: Insertion and Extraction Operator 3 weeks
4b Module 2: Pathfinder Operator 2 weeks
4c Module 3: Pathfinder Leader 1 week

There is a selection process for candidates (Canadian Forces Photos, 2014), but unfortunately I do not know any details.

3.1     Training Hierarchy

Candidates undergo training delivered by the CAAWC whose mission is to support the generation and deployment of combat forces through the training of personnel for operations in complex terrain and unique joint operations.

3.2     Drop Zone and Landing Zone Controller Couse

The Drop Zone and Landing Zone Controller Course is delivered by 6 Platoon of the Advance Mobility Company, located at CAAWC.

“The aim of the Drop Zone and Landing Zone Controller Course is to provide soldiers with the skills and knowledge that will enable them to effectively control a drop or landing zone and austere the airstrip during joint operations.” (The Maroon Beret, 2013, p.8).

3.3     Module One: Insertion and Extraction Operator

Module One of the PPF course is known as the Insertion and Extraction Operator module.

Navigation is an important skill for military personnel, especially those in reconnaissance. Consequently, the first week consists of a navigation threshold knowledge test (TKT) and follow-on training. Successful completion means candidates will move on to more physically and mentally intensive training, which includes:

  • Watermanship;
  • Small boat operations;
  • Fast-roping;
  • Helo-casting;
  • Fast-casting; and
  • SERE (survival, evasion, resistance and escape) training consisting of lectures and practical exercises.

Candidates will utilise the skills learned during the SLSC course by inserting tactically with precision during these various training evolutions.

Candidates will also receive one day of classes from the Fleet Diving Unit (FDU), which commences with an early morning physical training session.

3.4     Module Two: Pathfinder Operator

Canadian Patrol Pathfinder (3)Module Two of the PPF course is known as the Pathfinder Operator module.

Like navigation, communications is an important skill for pathfinders, especially in deep operations. Candidates will receive training in highly technological communications platforms, including the use of satellite for rear-link establishment.

Candidates will also learn to establish insertion zones through a combination of theory and demonstration.

During this module, candidates will begin their second-in-command (2IC) assessments. Leaders will practice under test conditions in order to prepare them for the assessments undertaken during module three.

3.5     Module 3: Pathfinder Leader

Module Three of the PPF course is known as the Pathfinder Leader module, and consists of the candidate assessment phase.

This module focuses on assessing leaders and operators in a realistic training environment under arduous conditions. Candidates require the ability to:

  • Plan a range of operations;
  • Advise and brief commanders;
  • Conduct coordination with air and naval assets;
  • Conduct mission analysis;
  • Write and issue orders; and
  • Conduct insertion or extraction missions in concert with higher-level missions.

3.6     Graduation

Upon successful completion of the PPF Course, the candidate will receive the Patrol Pathfinder Qualification Code and Torch.


4.0     Summary

The Canadian Patrol Pathfinder training pipeline is open to all male and female officers and enlisted personnel of the Canadian Armed Forces, subject to certain criteria. PPF training seeks to attract determined, highly-motivated, intelligent, reliable and physically fit individuals to serve with the Patrol Pathfinder community. This article provides the basic information to allow individuals to make an informed judgement before applying for the Canadian Patrol Pathfinder course.

4.1     Useful Magazines

  • The Maroon Beret: The Voice of the Canadian Airborne Brotherhood.
  • Pro Patria: Regimental Journal of the Royal Canadian Regiment.

4.2     Useful Links

4.3     References

Canadian Forces Photos (2014) Canadian Forces – Patrol Pathfinder Course Selection 2014 (Valcartier, Quebec). Available from World Wide Web: https://www.flickr.com/photos/69045638@N04/14005642857. [Accessed: 21 May, 2016].

Downey, C. & Deshpande, N. (2013) Carrying the Torch Forward: The Revitalization of the Patrol Pathfinder Capability. Canadian Military Journal. Autumn 2013. 13(4), pp.53-57. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.journal.forces.gc.ca/vol13/no4/PDF/CMJ134Ep53.pdf. [Accessed: 10 May, 2016].

Horn, B. (2012) “We Will Find a Way”: Understanding the Legacy of Canadian Special Operations Forces. JSOU Report 12-2. February 2012. Available from World Wide Web: http://jsou.socom.mil/JSOU%20Publications/12-2_Horn_CanadianSOF(Feb12)_final.PDF. [Accessed: 17 April, 2016].

Krasnuik, T. (2011) The Patrol Pathfinder Course. The Maroon Beret: The Voice of the Canadian Airborne Brotherhood. 2011: The Year in Review, pp.8-9.

Lee, B-J. (2015) Patrol Pathfinder Course Graduates 12 New Pathfinders. The Contact. 50(42), pp.1 & 3. Available from World Wide Web: http://thecontactnewspaper.cfbtrenton.com/archives/2015/03_October_2015/oct_23_2015/thecontact_oct_23_2015.pdf. [Accessed: 21 May, 2016].

Shields, M. (2008) Patrol Pathfinder Course Revamped! Available from World Wide Web: http://www.canadianairborneforces.ca/pdf/Patrol%20Pathfinder%20Course%20Revamped!.pdf. [Accessed: 10 May, 2016].

The Maroon Beret (2012) CFLAWC: Patrol Pathfinder Course 2012. The Maroon Beret: The Voice of the Canadian Airborne Brotherhood. 2012: The Year in Review, pp.15-16.

The Maroon Beret (2013) 3 RCR: Mike Company (Para). The Maroon Beret: The Voice of the Canadian Airborne Brotherhood. 2013: The Year in Review, pp.15.