The Chief of the Maritime Staff's statement to the Standing Committee on National Defence (SCOND), which convened on 22 Nov 06. CMS appeared before this Committee with the Chief of the Air Staff.
VAdm Drew Robertson (Chief of the Maritime Staff, Department of National Defence):
Mr. Chairman, committee members, thanks for providing the two of us with the opportunity to speak to you today.
I intend to focus my comments in three areas.
First I will talk about what our Navy is doing to support the Canadian Forces’ operations in Afghanistan; second about what your Navy is doing to meet Canada’s obligations regarding maritime defence and security; and third about the state of readiness of Canada’s maritime forces.
Let me begin with Afghanistan. Our men and women in Afghanistan certainly fill me with pride and humility on a daily basis. I have pride in their skills regardless of their occupation, certainly pride in the effectiveness of our army in a highly complex and continually evolving situation with a tenacious adversary, and humility in the face of selfless acts of courage, and also in their determination to see the mission through.
Mr. Chair, our experience in Afghanistan shows how complex modern operations have become and have forced us to adopt new ways of thinking so that we can get the most out of our Canadian Forces’ capabilities.
I can assure you that your navy has responded where it could, and it will continue to do so. Thus, we've seen naval officers, both regular and reserve, contribute to the strategic advisory team that General Lucas just spoke of. We seconded staff to the U.S.-led Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan to assist in the transition between American forces and NATO forces that occurred earlier this year. We've deployed a wide variety of personnel--military policemen, doctors, cargo movement specialists, drivers, supply techs, and so on--into the country, and we've sent others to Wainwright to contribute to the training that's ongoing there. We've dispatched our specially skilled naval clearance divers to the critical and highly dangerous function of defeating improvised explosive devices in theatre because they have, as I said, special skills.
Mr. Chairman, our people in Afghanistan deserve that we consider novel technical means of providing for their protection. Accordingly, for some time, naval technical and operational experts have been assisting the Chief of the Land Staff to determine the feasibility of deploying what's called the Phalanx close-in weapons system, or CIWS, you would have heard about. It's a devastatingly accurate Gatling gun, and it's our destroyers' and our frigates' essential last defence against anti-ship missiles, which the CIWS destroys in the very last seconds before impact. The question is whether we can turn a few of them to the purpose of defending selected installations in theatre from inbound mortar or rocket fire. While it remains to be determined whether or not CIWS can be usefully employed in such a role, it signals the naval and land staffs' collective resolve to meet such challenges in Afghanistan together.
Of course, Mr. Chairman, the campaign against terrorism is also waged more broadly, and our navy is playing a role in those efforts, as it has since October 2001 when Canada dispatched a naval task group and maritime aircraft to the Arabian Sea, where we defended the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps force that seized Kandahar from the Taliban.
Beyond the campaign against terrorism, the country is dealing with other problems of defence and security, but I know that your committee is quite aware of this, especially in the context of recent events, such as those in Lebanon and Iran, not to mention the Korean Peninsula.
As sailors, we understand that the free use of the seas, on which our economic prosperity depends, is also honourable. Many would like to take advantage of it to cause us great harm.
Accordingly, our first priority is to defend the nation. That's why, as part of the CF's ongoing transformation, the navy has led in standing up a Joint Task Force Atlantic and Pacific to support Canada Command, and they're making sure that the right maritime forces can be positioned in the right place at the right time to uphold our sovereignty.
Mr. Chairman, our domestic security begins off other countries' shores. As but one example, let me cite the work of HMCS Fredericton, deployed for nearly two months, back in the spring, as far as the west coast of Africa. She was deployed in a covert counter-drug operation to break up a drug ring that operates in the east end of Montreal. The successful conclusion of the operation led to the interception of 23 tonnes of cargo worth close to $0.25 billion. This, as I said, occurred in the Gulf of Guinea, a long way from our waters.
This wouldn't have been attempted by the RCMP without the assurance provided by Fredericton's ability to operate unseen, as well as her ability to apply overwhelming force at a moment's notice, had that been needed by the RCMP to back up them up. Although these actions occurred at a great distance from our shores, the actions that were taken contributed to the security of Canadians directly, while also interdicting a drug-smuggling chain that likely began in the poppy fields of Afghanistan.
Mr. Chairman, the fact that domestic international maritime security can be provided at great distance from Canada is also why HMCS Ottawa is deployed to the Arabian Sea as part of a coalition force. Ottawa is the 20th ship to be deployed to the region since 9/11, initially under Operation Apollo; we've now changed the name to Operation Altair. She's there to underscore Canada's enduring interests in the region; to interdict those who would use the seas for unlawful purposes, including terrorists; to further Canada's objectives in preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; to reassure regional friends and security partners; to deter those who would act against our interests; and to prepare for eventual follow-on operations, should deterrence fail.
The importance of maritime security operations in distant waters is why HMCS Iroquois is serving in the Mediterranean tonight as flagship of NATO's premier rapid response maritime group, currently engaged in counterterrorism and counter-proliferation operations under the alliance's Operation Active Endeavour. For the last nine months that group has been commanded by a Canadian, Commodore Denis Rouleau, a testament to the fact that Canada is recognized by navies large and small for its capacity to exercise international leadership at sea.
That's also why our west coast task group has just completed working with an American battle group as the latter prepares for major operational deployment in the coming months. That's why, off North Carolina over the weekend, the CF completed a tactical trial to examine a concept of operations for a possible future Canadian sea-based expeditionary capability. It's why that experiment also involved a Canadian and an American naval task group under Canadian leadership, whose ships worked to keep to keep the force safe from the types of threats Canada expects to encounter in the future's contestable littoral waters around the world, an environment which the recent successful missile attack by Hezbollah against the Israeli frigate back in July served to illustrate with dramatic and deadly effect.
In total last week, we had over 2,600 sailors at sea in the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Arabian Sea. I think that's a measure of our ability to make an ongoing contribution to international maritime security and provide credible options for potential contingencies worldwide, including as an integral part of joint CF operations in the littoral, if needed.
Let me turn very briefly to readiness. That we've accomplished so much over the last few years is a tribute to our successors in husbanding and marshalling resources through a tiered readiness approach; however, I think we're probably reaching the limit of what's achievable. Some of that work may be undone if we cannot address readiness challenges that face all of us today, and, in the case of the navy, they will be aggravated during fleet modernization and renewal.
The government's support for the joint support ship program marks a significant and highly important turning point towards a recapitalized fleet for Canada. That project is expected to enter a new phase shortly; two teams will complete funded proposals to design and build the ships, and this, I have to say, is great news for the navy. The challenge that I and my successors want to face will be to improve the readiness of the balance of the fleet so as to maximize return on investment, as represented by our ships and our skilled crews.
In the face of the challenge of keeping the Canadian Forces versatile and fit for combat, we appreciate the support of this committee and of all parliamentarians.
In closing, Mr. Chairman, permit me to reassure the committee that your navy has been making a contribution in Afghanistan and stands ready to provide additional support within its means while continuing to provide for the maritime security of our nation, both at home and working with our allies abroad.
Let me thank you again for the opportunity to appear before the committee. Both of us would be pleased to take your questions.
Canadian Navy: Strategic Issues