The Canada Forces Today: Part 4 of 4 – The Navy Charts Its Course

May 1, 1999 by Legion Magazine

by Bill Fairbairn

The need to improve the quality of life for Canadian Forces personnel has been a recurring theme throughout this four-part series. In Part 4, the head of Canada’s navy explains why he thinks it is so important to address this concern.

Vice-Admiral Greg Maddison believes that no matter how modern or sophisticated your equipment is, it is the sailors and their families who must be taken care of first. “Pay is the core issue in addressing Canada’s sailors and their families,” he told the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs last year.

Maddison says the issue of higher pay had been his number 1 concern until the federal government announced last February that $525 million would be used over three years for increased pay and benefits for the Canadian Forces as a whole. Defence Minister Art Eggleton said the money would be used to increase pay and improve housing and support for families and the injured. Critics, however, were quick to point out that the injection of cash fell short of the $700 million recommended last year by the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence and Veterans Affairs (A Critical Time For The Military, January/February).

Overall, the navy’s portion of the Defence Department’s $10.2 billion budget in 1998-99 was $1.8 billion compared with $2.6 billion of an $11.2 billion budget in 1988-89. The drop to 18.6 per cent today from 23.3 per cent 10 years ago came after the acquisition of frigates and maritime coastal defence vessels (Two Times A Lady, March 1995, and A Challenge For The Naval Reserve, May/June 1997). The navy’s operations and maintenance budget now stands at $440 million and has increased significantly as responsibilities and funding are decentralized from headquarters to coastal commanders to operate the new ships.

Currently, the Canadian navy has 9,000 regular sailors, 4,000 reservists and approximately 4,000 civilians. Its fleet comprises four modernized destroyers, 12 new frigates, 12 new maritime coastal defence vessels, two replenishment vessels, two fleet diving vessels with minesweeping capabilities, the Oriole sail-training vessel and three Oberon-class submarines. Next April, the first of four Upholder-class subs is expected to arrive from Britain and eventually Canada’s Oberon-class subs will be replaced (Four Of A Kind, September/October 1998). Canada’s total fleet is now fairly evenly divided between east and west coast ports.

Maddison says he is proud of Canada’s ships and the people who sail them. To him, the frigates cut the sea like a hot knife through butter. “You have to remember they were built as multi-purpose ships to fight submarines, other ships and airplanes. They have an integrated communications system that United States ships do not have and their command control is the best.”

The vice-admiral says when the Canadian navy visited Simonstown naval base in South Africa a couple of years ago, the South African navy commander told him that of 31 navies sent there since the early 1990s, the Canadian ships were the best in technology and quality of people. Maddison believes the frigates are the envy of Canada’s allies, although he says the ships would be a lot better if they were equipped with three-dimensional radar screens instead of two- dimensional screens.

The navy also wants to replace its 30-year-old Sea King maritime helicopters that fly from the frigates and destroyers. Sailors say the Sea Kings require 30 hours of maintenance for every hour of flying and that their communication and sensor systems are no longer efficient. Mechanical failures have plagued the Sea Kings in recent years, but as of late March there was still no word on whether new ship-borne helicopters would be ordered. On March 16, a Sea King was forced to make an emergency landing at Canadian Forces Base Shearwater, N.S., after a generator failed.

Maddison says the new maritime coastal defence vessels don’t have the best mine clearance capability even though one of their missions would be to ensure that major ports and coastal routes are clear of mines during wartime. “We have the best mine equipment, but it’s not on all 12 vessels. However, the equipment we have is located on both east and west coasts and these vessels are very flexible. We were capped at a certain amount of dollars and so mine-clearance equipment is moved around as needed. We are hoping to get more mine-clearance equipment.”

On the subject of the four Upholder-class subs, Maddison said the first group of Canadian sailors to be trained on the subs left for the United Kingdom in March. The diesel/electric subs displace 2,455 tonnes submerged, can dive to 750 feet and have a range of 8,300 nautical miles, although this can be increased. The Upholder-class is designed to handle the rigours of northern ocean operating areas, and its fat teardrop hull provides excellent manoeuvrability. It also provides two decks down below that improve habitability for the crew and allow for a large combat suite. Legion Magazine reported last year that the design emphasis on automation reduces the crew to 47, approximately one-third fewer than each Oberon.

Ships and equipment aside, the navy has updated its command structure. In the summer of 1997, the headquarters for Maritime Command, MARCOM, was relocated to Ottawa to align the navy closer with command and control of the Canadian Forces. Maritime Command’s two formations are Maritime Forces Atlantic and Maritime Forces Pacific. The former is located in Halifax and is headed by Rear-Admiral Dusty Miller. The latter is in Esquimalt, B.C., and is headed by Rear-Admiral Ron Buck.

The Canadian Naval Reserve, meanwhile, continues to build on its 76-year history at its 24 divisions across Canada. Headed by Commodore Ray Zuliani, the naval reserve headquarters are located in Quebec City. The Canadian navy, of course, is also supported by maritime air components in Halifax and Esquimalt (The Canadian Forces Today, Part 3, March/April).

Maddison, a Nova Scotian, says the navy’s sailors are “tremendously talented, professional and well educated.” He says when it comes to recruitment, the navy is looking for “the best of the best” and that includes women as well as men. A navy booklet entitled Vision 2010: The Integrated Navy, has his stamp of approval. The booklet states that navy women are a success. Though total integration of women is not yet complete, Maddison believes the job won’t take until 2010. One of the problems, he says, is that the average attrition rate for women in hard sea occupations is much higher than that for men. Attitudes among personnel are being surveyed to get more than a gut feeling, but Maddison even wants to know if there is any reason why women should not serve in submarines.

The vice-admiral has a lot of confidence in his sailors, and so he was perturbed by a front-page story in the Ottawa Citizen last February that reported how the navy had failed missile tests during separate exercises in 1996 and 1997. The story stated that sailors’ knowledge of high-tech weapons was weak, and noted that training cutbacks were to blame for such things as an off- course missile that landed near the frigate Vancouver.

Maddison says steps were taken in 1998 and 1999 to prepare Canada’s ships after difficulties firing missiles. He says missile firing is no sure success. “However, I am confident we have mitigated risks. Our ships are extremely capable platforms and our sailors remain among the best in the world.”

He says the Canadian navy uses surface-to-air missiles, electronic counter-measures, close-in weapons systems and rapid-fire guns, which together should provide necessary defence. Additionally, maritime aircraft and a task group concept contribute to capability.

Looking back at the changes that have occurred within the navy in the last few years, Conference of Defence Associations Program Co-ordinator Robin Corneil believes the navy has done well “because it desperately needed to do well. It had reached a point some years ago where its ships were antiquated,” says the retired naval commander. Corneil credits Chuck Thomas, chief of maritime defence and operations in the mid-1980s, for dovetailing the navy for the future. Conference of Defence Association Executive Director Alain Pellerin, a former infantry soldier, agrees with Corneil. “The navy is the most modern of the three services, although it is spotty in places.”

Vice-Admiral Gary Garnett, the Canadian Forces vice-chief of defence staff, says a 1997 document entitled Adjusting Course: A Naval Strategy For Canada charts the way ahead for the navy over the next two decades. He says the document also promotes dialogue and public understanding of maritime security policies. “The expanding scope of our national maritime interests, exemplified by the Ocean Act’s…proclamation of a 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone, requires that we pay increased attention to safeguarding our maritime resources. The fundamentals of sovereignty and good stewardship require robust maritime forces with long-range and good sea-keeping characteristics to complement the efforts of other government departments.”

On the world stage, Canada’s armed forces are busier today than they were during the Cold War. “The end of the Cold War, despite its reductions in defence expenditures has not halted the relentless progress of destructive weaponry,” states the naval strategy document. “The spread of advanced weapons in the form of anti-ship missiles, submarines and modern surface ships, together with the persistence of older but still effective technology such as mines means that Canadian efforts must continue to upgrade our military hardware. This is especially true if we wish to participate in multinational stability operations such as those conducted in the Adriatic, and the Persian Gulf. To forgo modernization means to lose the opportunity to participate in operations of interest to this country, and to lose a venue of influence on the world stage.”

The document also points out, however, that Canada’s naval capabilities will be placed at risk unless the navy maintains a strong media and public education strategy. “In the coming years, communicating our message to the Canadian public will be as important as any operation undertaken by the navy. With intense pressure on the government to maintain many programs in the face of tight fiscal constraints, the defence budget must be fully justified. However, the collapse of the bipolar world with the end of the Cold War and the uncertainty that surrounds the emerging multi-polar system have made consensus on defence policy difficult to achieve. It is essential, therefore, that every opportunity is taken to promote awareness amongst Canadians on the contribution the navy makes to our security and quality of life, both at home and abroad.”

Maddison knows it isn’t easy for Canadians to appreciate the navy in action. “It’s our intention, as part of a Canadian Forces effort, to change this.”

Part of that job will involve making Canadians more aware of the scope in which the navy operates. National Defence says the navy has two main functions: To ensure national security and sovereignty at sea and to support foreign policy and overseas trade. When it comes to ensuring national security and sovereignty, Canada’s geography pose formidable challenges. Measuring nearly 59,000 kilometres, Canada’s coastline is the longest in the world. Almost 40 per cent of gross domestic product is derived from trade and more than 350 million tonnes of cargo move through Canadian ports every year. On the international scene, Canada’s foreign policy role is far more complex than it was during the Cold War and analysts believe that our direct involvement in NATO and the collective crisis management activities undertaken by the United Nations will grow even more.

Maddison believes the navy must do what it can to increase public awareness on these domestic and world realities and how the navy is factored into them.

The 1997 Manitoba flood and the 1998 ice storm that devastated parts of Ontario and Quebec generated pages of positive media coverage for the Canadian Forces. Maddison says the navy sent hundreds of men and women to Winnipeg to help out during the flood. “Boats and divers went into what sailors called the Red Sea.”

The navy was also very busy after last September’s crash of Swissair Flight 111 off Peggy’s Cove, N.S. Within hours of the crash, the replenishment vessel Preserver took on the duties of on-scene commander. Preserver was soon relieved by the frigate Halifax. Three other ships formed a task force along with the minesweeping auxiliary Anticosti, while naval tenders Sechelt and Granby provided surface support for diving teams. “They did an incredible job,” says Maddison, himself once a diver. “It was particularly difficult. Razor-sharp entanglements, three- to five-knot currents, poor visibility. One of our submarines found the elusive and more important of the two black boxes.”

Canadians have also read about the navy’s participation in recent multinational operations in the Persian Gulf. One of the navy’s frigates–Ottawa–conducted five patrols in the northern part of the gulf, hailed and interrogated more than 100 ships and made 35 boardings of suspicious vessels. The crew received peacekeeping service medals.

Maddison says the navy is at the right level of combat training for its ships and companies. “We go forward and board ships from our frigates, our missiles soar 60 to 70 miles over the sea, soon we will have new submarines under the sea. Ours is the only navy allowed full integration with the U.S. navy meaning that if a U.S. ship is taken out of the fleet it can be replaced by a Canadian ship. Our sailors are damned good! Canadian navy ships will be kept busy well into the millennium in Canadian waters and spanning the globe.”

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