Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson 'honoured' to be named top general

Lt.-Gen. Tom Lawson, a former fighter pilot and air force veteran, is taking over the Canadian Forces as chief of defence staff, replacing Gen. Walt Natynczyk.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the appointment in a statement Monday morning. Shortly afterwards, Lawson was introduced as the new top general by Defence Minister Peter MacKay at a news conference on Parliament Hill.

"Lt.-Gen Lawson is an exceptional, dynamic leader who brings a great deal of domestic, international and operational experience to the table. He has the respect of his peers, the admiration of his subordinates and our allies and the complete confidence of both the prime minister and myself," MacKay said.

"Throughout his time in uniform, he has been deeply committed to the service of Canada through the Canadian Forces," said MacKay.

Lawson, who has been in the air force for 37 years, said he is honoured and delighted to accept the job.

"Whether at home or abroad, our men and women reflect the best that Canada has to offer," he said. Lawson said he looks forward to working with the senior ranks in the Canadian Forces and to addressing the needs of its members.

He said his priorities will be ensuring that the Canadian Forces have the training and equipment they need, looking after wounded soldiers and providing his best advice to the government.

With an air force background, Lawson is taking over the top role at a time when the government is choosing a replacement aircraft for the CF-18 fleet. He was asked whether he will champion the F-35 as the best plane to buy.

"We will continue to take our lead on the F-35 from the government," he said. When asked for a more clear response on whether he backs the F-35 project, Lawson responded, "The F-35 is a program that is hitting milestones and doing quite well. It will continue to contend for the replacement for the CF-18."

The F-35 program has been on ongoing source of controversy on Parliament Hill. Opposition parties have accused the Conservatives of misleading Canadians on the cost of buying 65 of the planes and the spring report from Auditor General Michael Ferguson prompted the government to revamp its handling of the file.

MacKay's department is no longer responsible for it and Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose is now leading a new group that will be responsible for the ultimate decision on whether to go ahead with the F-35.

Lawson is currently deputy commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a job he's held since July 2011. His name was among those mentioned amid speculation about Natynczyk being replaced.

The outgoing top general has held the position since July 2008. It was widely expected that he would be replaced by the end of the summer.

While there is no set time limit for serving in the role, the chief of defence staff generally holds the job for three to four years.

Lawson will be promoted to the rank of general because of his appointment.

He has been working his way up the ranks of the military since graduating from the Royal Military College in 1979 and has held several key leadership positions. He was commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton in 2006 and then was promoted to brigadier-general the following year, and also was commandant of the Royal Military College.

Lawson was promoted to major-general and became assistant chief of the air staff in 2009.

Monday wasn't his first time in front of the national media, he was often in the public eye often during Canada's mission in Libya, handling media questions at news conferences.

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