Credits: DND/MCpl Roy MacLellan
OTTAWA - Canada's new top general is former Royal Canadian Air Force pilot Lt.-Gen. Thomas J. Lawson.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced Monday that Lawson would replace current chief of defence staff, Gen. Walt Natynczyk.
In his first public comments since his appointment, Lawson sought to honour all branches of the military.
"I look forward to working with my senior generals and admirals in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, the Royal Canadian Air Force and special forces on maintaining their capabilities and training, and developing those capabilities in coming years," he said.
With an Air Force pilot father -- and now a son in the Air Force -- Lawson's family has strong ties to the military.
Lawson has risen through the ranks quickly since flying CF-104s and CF-18s in the Cold War era.
He was promoted to colonel in 2003, ahead of stints that included command of CFB Trenton and assistant chief of the air staff.
Just nine years later, Lawson will be promoted again to full general to take over from Natynczyk.
Still, Liberal defence critic John McKay questions whether Lawson has the "accounting" experience for handling major military procurements.
"I just think they should've got a guy from finance; instead they went to the sales department," McKay said.
Lawson has been a big backer of the F-35 fighter jet, but offered only general comments on the plane the Conservatives favour as Canada's next fighter jet.
"The F-35 is a program that is hitting milestones and doing quite well," he said. "It will continue to contend for the replacement for the CF-18."
Lawson is currently deputy commander of NORAD, but will become Canada's chief of defence staff in the next few weeks.
He'll also have to manage military budget cuts while helping to renew Canada's defence strategy - a process likely to be completed in the fall.
NDP defence critic Jack Harris says he's keen to see how the new chief handles "personnel issues" like the treatment of those injured on the job.
Meantime, Natynczyk has welcomed his successor.
"He is a great officer and gentleman who will continue to lead the men and women of the Canadian Forces with distinction," he said in a statement.
Speculation that Harper was preparing to announce a new chief of defence staff hit a fever pitch Friday, when the prime minister made what appeared to be a public farewell to Natynczyk during his Arctic tour.
"Let me use this opportunity, in front of so many of your people here, to thank you and to congratulate you on over four years of fine service as chief of the defence staff of Canada," Harper said.