Well before and long after the navy’s new ships under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy take to sea, many of their requirements will be assessed by the Canadian Forces Maritime Warfare Centre. From the current modernization of the Halifax Class frigates to the new Arctic offshore patrol ships and surface combatants, every ship in the Royal Canadian Navy undergoes evaluation in the centre’s sophisticated modeling and simulation facilities, first to determine its capabilities and later to validate and update its tactics.

Drawing on the expertise of experienced sailors, defence scientists, and the larger science and technology community, Captain (N) William Quinn commands a centre he calls a tactical warfare think tank. The former commandant of the Canadian Forces Naval Operations School and commanding officer of HMCS Calgary spoke with editor Chris Thatcher about the CFMWC and its role in navy tactics and doctrine.

How has this warfare centre evolved from a maritime training school?

We did not want to lose the tactical knowledge we had gained through WWII, so this place was designed to teach those tactical lessons. It started to evolve into a warfare centre of excellence during the ‘80s and ‘90s, but it’s only been in the last ten years, with the advances in modelling and simulation, that we’ve really taken on that role.

I think it started when we received the new Halifax Class frigates and the updated Iroquois Class destroyers, which were quite a technological leap from our steam driven destroyers and escorts. We had new missile technologies, the SM2 standard missile and the Sea Sparrow, and we didn’t have a lot of experience with those kinds of systems. As with any new program when it starts out, there are bumps, and we experienced problems that we had to overcome. The modelling and simulation capability grew out of that.

Initially, the technology was ahead of us. But we’ve developed the expertise to catch up and then get ahead of the technology, which is where I think we are today. The centre is different from many other military institutions because of the seniority of the workforce. We have very experienced and knowledgeable lieutenant commanders and commanders with a lot of operational experience who are real subject matter experts in certain areas of warfare. We also have a large civilian component, many retired military, who have become worldwide experts in anti-air, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare.

How does the centre contribute to a new ship?

Our main product is tactics. We have a robust modelling and simulation capability (M&S) and, based on what we think the threats are going to be, we use M&S to try new tactics or see how current tactics work. Compared to real world exercises M&S is cheap. We’ll do literally thousands and thousands of runs under all types of different conditions until we find a couple we think might work. And those we’ll test at sea with live assets. We’ll do data collection on the live test, and then reconstruct it here and compare it to the model that was used to prove the model is correct. Once we are happy with that, then we’ll make tactical recommendations.

Our other product is force development advice. For example, the Statement of Requirements (SOR) is being developed for the Canadian Surface Combatant and we’re heavily involved with the Director of Maritime Requirements (Sea), the procurement guys developing the SOR, on a range of different capabilities. We’ll provide that advice to the force development folks who will incorporate that into the SOR that will eventually become part of the bid process.

Take me through the process. At what stage does the centre become involved?

At the beginning and the end. Pre-acquisition, when we are developing the SOR, all of the tactical requirements that will go into the surface combatant, for example, are looked at by us. When we say we need X number of guns that have this kind of capability to engage this kind of target doing this kind of speed in these kinds of ranges with these kinds of arcs of fire, all the models are simulated here. The SORs are based on M&S and our latest threat information.

We’re not involved in the actual procurement at all. But once a platform or system is delivered, that’s when the test and evaluation process starts. We’re involved in the acceptance trials as an observer, advising on the process. We have a lot of expertise designing trials and operational tests. And once the new item is acquired, and then for its entire lifecycle, it will be tested continually. We’re always going back and trying our anti-ship missiles against a different type of threat, our torpedo counter measures against a different type of threat. Those tactics will continually evolve in response to the threat. It will go through the operational test and evaluation process so we fully understand its limitations and capabilities. Once it goes into operational deployment, we will sometimes do operational tests, which are larger scale tests not necessarily on a piece of kit but, for example, on how we do the entire anti-ship missile defence. So not just how a jammer such as RAMSES works against a missile but how our entire anti-ship defence tactic (hard and soft kill) works against that missile, what we call smart kill.

If everything works well, the Maritime Warfare Tactical Authority, who is me, blesses the doctrine and says the tactic is good. We’re continually doing tactical development. There is always a cycle of ships being deployed, being tested, the results of tests being evaluated, and then the results fed back into more tactical development. Doctrine is constantly changing. Look at the pace at which computers are advancing. Those same computers are going into missile warheads, missile seeker heads, torpedo seeker heads and electronic warfare gear.

If the pace is changing so rapidly, how quickly do you have to revise doctrine?

Typically it can take a long time for some of these lessons learned to get back in this process. Our tactical doctrine takes a bit longer because there is a refresher cycle. But if we develop a new tactic, and we’ve done this recently, we will immediately send it out to the fleet and we will brief the Naval Operations School that teaches it to students. Twice a year I have my experts go to each coast and do tactical updates for the fleet. But when it comes to a critical tactic, we’ll send it out immediately; we can turn it around in hours if it’s a matter of changing a procedure.

That requires first-rate data, beyond modelling and simulation.

That’s the importance of deployed ships – it’s key data for us too. You can only exercise so much, and you can’t really recreate the kind of stresses and overloading of information that a ship might get off Libya than when you’re doing a tactical exercise off of Halifax. When you send a ship where there are 30 other coalition warships and aircraft and UAVs flying around and conducting bombing strikes, the data is key to see stresses in a way that we could never have created. The feedback from the real world is vitally important. It’s very often a validation of our testing but it is sometimes a wake up call to say we’ve got to look at this because we never used the system with these many contacts before.

What role do you play shaping NATO tactics and doctrine, and helping other navies?

When it comes to the reconstruction of live firing missile events to determine their effectiveness, we are definitely world class. We do some things with reconstruction of events that no other countries do. There are two drivers: you want to have the best tactics because of the cost of failure; but the other is bang for the buck. We’re not the biggest navy in the world and we want to take advantage of all the technologies we have. That’s also a key part in our advice to procurement: we want to make sure we are getting value for dollar. If a company says its technology does X, then it actually does or, if it doesn’t, we understand what we’re getting and we’re a more informed buyer.

We have lot of expertise in anti-ship missile defence – we’ve influenced how NATO navies tactically do that. We also have expertise in torpedo countermeasures because we put a lot of effort into modelling and live testing of different tactics, and we are the custodian for seven NATO tactical publications. There is much tactical doctrine – anti-surface, anti-air and anti-subsurface – that we have had a significant influence on. But a caveat: it’s a very cooperative environment in NATO. When doctrine is amended, it is a collaborative effort. We’ll have suggestions, but countries will accept or not accept according to their own needs and capabilities.

We also link with other navies, especially the Four Eyes community (Australia, Canada, United States and United Kingdom), on new technology. We have quite an open forum of information exchange. We bring some things to the table that they don’t have, which gives us access to some things we don’t have. There is a lot of allied cooperation in tactical development that probably evolved from Sea Sparrow missile firings.

Given the Navy’s involvement in PANAMAX and the government’s interest in Latin America, is there more cross-pollination with South and Central American countries?

We’ve done a lot of work with Central and South American countries. I was recently part of the delegation for the multilateral war game in Brazil, an annual game involving the U.S., Canada, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and now Mexico at the strategic operational level. When it comes to hard tactics, the kind of stuff that the warfare centre really develops, there is less sharing outside the Four Eyes community, certainly outside the NATO community, because of the nature of the security classifications. But there is a lot of cooperation with other nations at the strategic and operational level, things like the operational planning process, how we conduct exercises and organize task groups.

As defence budgets constrict, does the value of a warfare centre increase? Are you seeing greater demand at the strategic level?

Computer time is relatively cheap. At some point you have to go through live testing to validate your models, but modeling and simulation can narrow down what you test live to such a degree that there are significant savings. We don’t usually stray into the operational and strategic level. Our focus is more at the tactical level, for current and future concepts. Although, we cross that realm a bit with C4ISR because that crosses all layers. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more demand. The thing I have found with M&S is that the more people are exposed to it, the more they realize the power of it. You can design it to do anything you want such as finding the optimal way of doing some operational task. You can do M&S to reduce procurement risk because you have a better idea of what you’re buying. As with any business, the challenge is capacity and resources. Everything comes with a cost.

If participation on exercises and operations is crucial to doctrine, how will aging ships and replacement gaps affect your ability to collect that key data?

It’s a challenge because there is a high demand for sea days for different things and it’s more difficult to get a ship to do what I’d like it to do than it was 10 years ago when we had more ships. I don’t make those decisions on the priorities of what our ships do, but I try and get as much out of it as I can. Every exercise we do we put a lot of effort into collecting all the data we can. So an exercise like the American’s Submarine Commander’s Course that we frequently participate in, we get an amazing amount of valuable tactical data out of that. Any exercise that we can plug into is a gold mine of data to improve our own M&S, test and evaluation, and our own tactics.

What do you see on the horizon for the next 5-10 years? Does anything in the Navy’s soon-to-be-released Horizon 2050 suggest new areas of emphasis for the warfare centre?

The main threat of the war game in Brazil was a cyber attack on our system, and there is certainly work to be done there. There are all kinds of growing areas: unmanned vehicles is a growth area; naval fire support to forces ashore is an area we are starting to work on; there is always the at sea ballistic missile defence issue, the capabilities for ships to shoot down ballistic missiles that are aimed at carriers; amphibious type operations – are we going to develop a more amphibious type ability with the aim of having a more capable response for disasters or humanitarian relief? I can see us becoming involved in that.

We need to get much more involved in the lessons learned process. That is something that we are doing now. We have something called the Maritime Warfare Authority, which we are reinvigorating, streamlining and making more effective over this next year. I think the army has been doing lessons learned exceptionally well, but they have had the pressure of losing people in Afghanistan. We don’t have the same capacity that they do but we are working toward it. We also have a knowledge management system the CF has mandated; we are trying to get reports out of filing cabinets and into the knowledge management system, which we’ve used to help prioritize our operational efficiencies. That’s a big growth area and something we need to get better at. We’ll do the collation of information and hopefully that will identify issues that perhaps we need to model and simulate.


An interview with Captain (N) William Quinn