The Reserve Force

What is the Reserve Force?

The Reserve Force is a critical component of the Canadian Armed Forces that consists of officers and non-commissioned members who are enrolled for other than continuing, full-time military service when not on active service.


The Reserve Force has four sub-components:

Canadian Rangers

Canadian Rangers provide a military presence in sparsely settled northern, coastal and isolated areas of Canada.

This sub-component has approximately 5,000 members.

Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service

Cadet Organizations Administration and Training Service consists of Cadet Instructor Cadre Officers, General Service Officers and General Service Non-Commissioned Members whose primary responsibilities include the management and administration of the Cadet Program.

This sub-component has approximately 8,000 members.

Supplementary Reserve

Supplementary Reserve consists primarily of former Canadian Armed Forces members who, while inactive, can be offered to return to service in the event of a national emergency.

This sub-component currently has approximately 15,000 members.

Primary Reserve

Primary Reserve is largely comprised of part-time soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen who work in armouries, Reserve units or with Regular Force units across Canada and overseas.

This is the largest of the sub-components at approximately 27,000 strong.


Breakdown of the members of the Reserve Force

The total strength of the Primary Reserve Force is  26,780. Seventy-one percent is Army, 12 percent is Navy, seven percent is Air Force and nine percent is other (e.g., Military Personnel Command Primary Reserve List which includes the CF Health Services Reserve and the National Defence Headquarters; the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command Reserve and the Legal Reserve).

The Primary Reserve Force

Who are members of the Primary Reserve?

The Primary Reserve is made up largely of members who have other full-time civilian employment or who attend school, and who dedicate themselves to the military on a part-time basis.

Members of the Primary Reserve are men and women who contribute to the defence and security of Canada. They train to qualify for their selected professions, and subsequently, to prepare for domestic or international operations.

Age, gender and years of service statistics

The majority of Primary Reservists are male (83 percent), under 40 years of age (72 percent) with between five and 14 years of service in the military (42 percent). Thirty-eight percent have less than five years of service; 13 percent have 15 to 25 years of service; and seven percent have 25 years of service or more.

How and where are members of the Primary Reserve employed?

The Reserve Force is a voluntary force. Members of the Primary Reserve can be employed on three classes of service:

Class “A”

Short periods of service up to a maximum continuous duration of 12 consecutive calendar days.  The majority of members of the Primary Reserve are Class “A”, normally serving one evening per week and one weekend per month.

Class “B”

Periods of service of 13 or more consecutive days. These are used for temporary full-time periods of employment, such as for members undertaking training, instructing at a training establishment, in support of training activities or for full-time positions within a unit. The Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces divide Class “B” service into periods up to 180 days and more than 180 days.

Class “C”

Periods of service used when the member is on full-time service in a Regular Force establishment position or is employed on operational duties approved by or on the behalf of the Chief of the Defence Staff.

For more information on Reserve employment, see the Defence Administrative Orders and Directives 2020 Series and Canadian Forces Military Personnel Instruction 20/04 “Administration Policy of Class “A”, Class “B” and Class “C” Reserve Service,” which are available on the National Defence Intranet site. If you do not have access to the internal network, you may contact our Office to obtain a copy of the instruction.

Primary Reservists serve in communities across Canada. Many are situated in large urban centers while others are located in isolated areas from coast to coast.  Though Reserve units are supported by a Canadian Armed Forces base or wing, many are not in close proximity to those establishments or the services that are provided by them.

Do members of the Primary Reserve participate in domestic and international operations?

Members of the Primary Reserve have and continue to participate very actively on domestic and international operations.

Members of the Primary Reserve may be called upon to serve, with consent, in domestic operations such as providing security at events, search and rescue as well as responding to natural disasters. Examples include their participation in providing security at the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, providing assistance during forest fires (Saskatchewan) and floods (Winnipeg, Calgary), and relief in Newfoundland after Hurricane Igor.

Reservists who voluntarily apply and are then selected for an international deployment are generally sent to augment Regular Force capabilities; they may be the only one, or one of few, from their home unit participating in the mission. Over the last 25 years, Reservists have participated in international operations in the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, and in humanitarian crises such as in Haiti and the Philippines. Reservists were heavily involved in the combat mission in Afghanistan where sometimes more than 20 percent of the troops was a Reservist. In 2010 alone, nearly 1,900 Reservists were redeployed or were about to deploy to Afghanistan.

“In international operations, the role of the Primary Reserve is to augment, sustain and support deployed forces and up to 20% of deployed forces during recent international operations have been Primary Reserve personnel”

~ Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed ForcesReport on Plans and Priorities 2015-2016

Deployment statistics for the Primary Reserve

Since 1994, just over 13,000 Primary Reservists have deployed on expeditionary operations and 8,087 have deployed on domestic operations.

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