Through almost a century of maritime aviation, there is a well understood relationship between the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). From long-range patrol to coastal surveillance and the pioneering use of ship-borne helicopters, the two have aptly demonstrated the effects of air-sea power.
Rear-Admiral John Newton would like to see a similar synergy between the navy and the Canadian Army, what he calls a “land-sea” effect.
Newton is the commander of Joint Task Force Atlantic (JTFA) as well as Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT). Together with his deputy commander, Brigadier-General Nicolas Eldaoud, who is also the commander of 5th Canadian Division (5 Cdn Div), he has sought opportunities to generate greater mutual appreciation and understanding of people and capability that both services can provide to manage the consequences of a range of events throughout Atlantic Canada and into the Subarctic.
“We have an inherent relationship with the air force,” Newton explained during an interview at his headquarters this fall. “Airmen and women have served aboard our ships in a close environment and the effect, especially the surveillance effect, that we get from aircraft is part of the maritime package. What we lack is a similar coherence with the Canadian Army.
“So working with 5th Canadian Division and with the Canadian Rangers, who come under 5 Div in Newfoundland and Labrador, we have created a series of exercises where we have teased out the relationship between the army and the navy.”
Take Coastal Ranger, for example. Held in July in St. Anthony on the northern peninsula of Newfoundland and Labrador, the exercise involved the search for a missing piece of surveillance equipment owned by Defence Research and Development Canada.
Though the Rangers already play a vital role in maritime search and rescue (SAR), the exercise brought them, and thus 5 Cdn Div, into a new SAR context, tasking them with near-shore maritime surveillance in a networked environment that included patrol aircraft and patrol ships, as well as the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Halifax, the Regional Joint Operations Centre Halifax and Trinity, the MARLANT Intelligence unit.
“It was the first time we had engaged [the Rangers] in this way, fusing their information products right into ours,” Newton said, adding that “synergizing the information flow” of all the participants through an operations centre led to “real-time” information processing and communication with an overall better coordinated search.
Integrating the Rangers into this kind of networked environment, which included streaming imagery directly from a CP-140 Aurora aircraft to long-line finishing boats, “opened up a whole Pandora’s box” of legal issues that we now know need to be resolved,” Newton said, but it “enabled” the Rangers in a way never done before.
Almost as impressive was the impact the small force of 100 soldiers and sailors had on the community of St. Anthony, and the immediate recognition within JTFA of the response capability that could be developed to address a range of issues affecting northern coastal communities.
“Here we were at the last jumping off spot into the Subarctic and we came across a really vibrant community with big fisheries and new tourism – cruise liners and icebergs and whale watchers – and many of their needs relate to our work in consequence management in this big operating environment: search and rescue, surveillance, environmental change, their feasibility as a maritime port. To hear that outpouring, we immediately saw the rationale for a different type of exercise, a greater focus on the open stretches of coastlines and a move away from our larger, urban exercises.”
The harsh winter in Atlantic Canada last year was also a reminder of the vulnerability of the supply chain throughout much of JTFA’s area of responsibility and the tasks it might be called on to perform.
In an exercise last April known as Staged Response, 5 Cdn Div and its Reserve elements grappled with managing the consequences of two severe storms striking in rapid succession, knocking out power and causing extreme flooding across the Maritimes. That built on the lessons learned at Shipping Blues, an exercise held in March for municipal, provincial and federal government emergency management agencies in which JTFA participated. This exercise tested the response of these agencies to a marine-related incident in the remote Newfoundland town of Lewisporte.
A similar network of agencies was engaged six months earlier during Frontier Sentinel 2013, an exercise devised to test the CBRN (chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear) response of the various levels of government, the RCMP, local police as well as the Canadian Army, RCN, RCAF and Special Forces to a scenario where a merchant ship, which presents a high terrorism risk, enters a small port. Held in Pictou, Nova Scotia, it activated the Canadian Joint Incident Response Unit to neutralize the threat and assess the cargo as well as the army’s CBRN decontamination capability from Valcartier, Quebec.
“It was an eye opener for us,” Newton said. “We were shocked by the scale of decontamination capability and the security enterprise that comes with it. And understanding how much of the provincial and federal government is activated in a chemical or biological scenario was a big lesson.”
Central to all of these exercises is the importance of personal relationships and a firm understanding of each organization’s capability. As he described the details of each exercise, Newton emphasized the need to know what others “can bring to the fight,” whether it is the navy working with the army or with other government agencies. “You have to see it, experience it and build relationships with those who operate in it so that when a crisis does occur, you know how to coordinate and cooperate. You can practice this until the cows come home in scenarios, but the future never pans out the way you exercise, so it defaults to person-to-person relationships and knowing each others’ capabilities.”
As an example, he noted that many in the army perceive Trinity, the JTFA intelligence and data fusion centre, as solely a naval resource and fail to capitalize on its strengths. “It’s all about understanding who the operators are and the type of information they are used to dealing with. If you don’t know what they can deal with, you don’t know what to ask for. So a lot of this was relationship building, but some of it was real capability demonstration.”
Generating a land-sea effect does not necessarily require permanent army-navy teams, but Newton notes that the shared experience of, for example, army counter-IED engineers and navy UXO (unexploded ordnance disposal) clearance divers means they are less likely to “strike off in different directions, developing new capabilities and advocating for technologies in purely an army or navy stream. It’s about being able to come to the fight with common procedures and tactics, knowing what kind of communications and bandwidth others have to share information. It brings us together with a shared understanding, which I always consider to be the most important element.”
One of the most recent illustrations of a powerful land-sea effect has been the interim introduction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) aboard Halifax-class frigates. Newton says that as with helicopter aircrews that, half a century ago, became part of a ship’s company, members of the army’s air defence regiment have adapted to life at sea and are establishing themselves as a vital part of the crew. The navy is still determining how to proceed with its next generation of UAVs and their operators but he believes “there will always be a relationship with the army.”