CUTLASS FURY – Navies Exercise Off Canada’s East Coast

There has been extensive coverage in traditional and social media about CUTLASS FURY 2016, nickname for the Royal Canadian Navy’s major multi-national exercise now occurring off the Canadian east coast.  The coverage is appropriate and good to note, as assuredly one of the objectives of the exercise is to send a message to allies and potential adversaries that the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is capable at and willing to undertake difficult large area, open seas naval operations.  This is “strategic communications,” a form of activity intensively practiced by militaries, nations, organizations, and others, these days.

In the cryptic language of the military (necessary, considering the challenges of information transmission to and from sea), CUTLASS FURY 2016 is often written as CF 16.  Some thoughts arise, and occasionally wander, in reading the various news releases and media reports about CF 16.

CF 16 is the inaugural of what will be a series of similar exercises conducted every two years.  That’s not to say that the RCN has not done this sort of exercise before.  The RCN has long conducted major multi-national, multi-threat exercises, known variously as MARCOT (Maritime Coordinated Operational Training), SQUADEX (Squadron Exercise), FLTEX (Fleet Exercise) and other names, with forces of our allies coming to the North West Atlantic to practice their capabilities in the demanding maritime environment here.  What is interesting to note is the revival of a level of training that was routine during the Cold War in the face of the Soviet threat.  CF 16 says something about how the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and other militaries view the current global situation.  Naval action is no longer just about anti-terrorism, humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HA/DR), and the conduct of maritime intercept operations.  Those are still there as areas to exercise, but with a return to practicing what some may call classic naval warfare the end result is even more demand on the men and women, ships and aircraft, logistics and communications of the RCN and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF).  CF 18 and later will build on CF 16, necessarily so, and keep our Forces in the upper tiers of capability.

It has to be noted that CF 16 is Canadian-led and not a NATO exercise (though participants are all members of that alliance).  There are no NATO headquarters, no NATO flags flying, possibly no NATO funding (though some NATO infrastructure is probably being used), and no NATO dignitaries visiting.  CF 16 is part of what the CAF calls “force generation” by which the RCN, Canadian Army and RCAF train individuals, teams, units and up to formations (groups) in the skills and knowledge they need to be “combat ready” (which encompasses non-combat capabilities, too).  Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT), the RCN formation on the east coast, is responsible for CF 16; there are similar exercises on the west coast led by Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC).  When necessary, the trained forces will be employed (“force employment”), either domestically in Canada or deployed, by the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC), a senior headquarters in Ottawa.  For naval forces, the Commander of MARLANT assumes a different responsibility (“puts on another hat”) and as Maritime Component Commander, controls their activities for CJOC.  That control is mid-level (“operational”) – a tactical commander controls local activities.  For CF 16, one can be assured that commanders and staffs at the operational and tactical levels are getting exercised too – it is not just the ships and aircraft. 

CF 16 is focused on anti-submarine warfare (ASW), operations by sea, air and undersea forces against others’ submarines.  ASW, especially in our regional waters, is extremely demanding on everyone from individual sonar operators to collaborating ships, aircraft and sensors operating across the entire area.  ASW skills and knowledge are perishable, so must be kept sharp through frequent practice.  Like building ships (and Canada has gone through that experience), it is not something to stop and start fitfully.  One has to invest, to practice, constantly.

Whilst ASW dominates as an exercise objective, there is other training ongoing.  Mine warfare (MW) is being exercised at the entrance of Halifax harbour.  MW is another demanding skill and knowledge set – hmm, there’s a theme showing here.  The Naval Reserve are a major part of Canada’s MW capability, sailing Kingston-class ships.  This emphasizes that being a balanced navy means also having smaller ships and specialized groups like dive teams.  At some point the Kingstons will need replacing, as will the small vessels of the Fleet Diving Units.  Defence procurement is not just all about acquiring large combatants, replenishment oilers and Arctic patrol ships.

Having a diesel submarine, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Windsor, for the exercise is extremely valuable.  Though ultimately submarines are strategic assets for countries like Canada, and confound non-friendly states and enemies who might otherwise consider operating submerged in our regional waters, submarines are also great training aids.  The availability of a diesel submarine attracts allies to send their forces to exercise with us, which improves the quality of our training.  This attraction is especially so when our allies do not have their own diesel submarines, just nuclear-powered ones.  Detecting and localizing a diesel submarine is a major accomplishment for any ship, aircraft or ‘nuc’ sub.  There will be many failures in the attempt during CF 16.

Amphibious operations briefly showed in early reporting as an exercise objective but apparently was not included in the actual exercise.  The fact that it was even considered is significant.  The CAF and the RCN have been at the edge of this capability for a while, with a recent course at the Maritime Warfare Centre showing the Navy’s interest in getting smarter about it.  There is history with amphibious ops for the RCN but not a major capability at present.  To develop it is going to cost.  The US Marines will tell us – it takes a lot of effort, even if what the RCN ends up doing is more along the line of ‘sealift’ for HA/DR then ‘Pacific War’ landing assaults.  Keep an eye on this.

Whilst assuredly air, surface and underwater drones are being employed in CF 16 as targets, apparently there are no advanced drones in the exercise to conduct surveillance and simulated attacks.  Acquisition and use of advanced drones by the RCN and RCAF is essential.  The future of operations at sea will be a mix of manned and unmanned platforms.  Our allies are already conducting exercises focused on drone employment.  Hopefully future CF exercises will see much greater participation by Canadian and allied drones.

And lastly, the name CUTLASS FURY is interesting.  It has a nautical flavour, and ‘Fury’ relates it to TRIDENT FURY, a major MARPAC exercise.  Probably planning staff came up with CUTLASS FURY to make that connection; certainly it serves as part of strategic communications.  Exercises are supposed to have two word nicknames, and there is not the same discipline to have a bilingual name (exercises by Quebec-based units often have French names) as there is in naming operations.  That is why operations, distinguished by a one word nickname, often have a Greek word.  It is great whenever Inuit words are used for Northern and Arctic operations and exercises.  Canada is rich in First Nations, and it would be good to see more use of their words rather than a foreign ones.  

It is often said that the value of an exercise is as much in the planning and post-exercise analysis as it is in the actual practice.  Assuredly CUTLASS FURY 2016 is a major achievement for the RCN and others of the Canadian Armed Forces.  Canadians have a right to be proud of our Navy.

Resurrecting the KGB

A 19 September 2016 Moscow News article “According to Reports, the Kremlin Is Basically Planning to Resurrect the KGB” suggests that the Foreign Intelligence Service and Federal Protection Services will be combined in a new service with similar powers and mandate of the old KGB (“Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti,” in English, Committee for State Security).   As the article suggests, the biggest issue will be financing the new organization.

Elections in the Duma the day prior saw only pro-Kremlin parties elected, with as well the United Russia Party, formerly headed by Vladimir Putin, achieving over 50% of the vote and at last reporting gaining 343 seats out of 450.   94% of the vote was delivered to pro-Kremlin parties, however, the voter turnout was reported less than 60% and may be considerably less.  Voter apathy might be explained by the lack of real alternatives as the Electoral Commission and the Kremlin (read Vladimir Putin) decide which parties can run thus effectively eliminating any real opposition.  The United Russia party was supposed to lose ground according to polls but achieved essentially a landslide victory.

It seems Russia’s ongoing spiral to a form of dictatorship continues unabated.  The economy continues to sputter.

A gloomy article for a gloomy day.

The Canadian Navy’s Submarines – Great Value

Regrettably, Al Vitols (Letter to the editor, Globe & Mail: “Down Periscopes”, Sept. 9) shares the widespread misbeliefs about the serviceability of the Canadian navy’s submarine fleet.  He comments that these submarines are “atrociously expensive” and are simply clockwork mice for war games.

Canada purchased four British Upholder-class submarines and the accompanying training infrastructure for less than the cost of a single submarine.  Canada then transformed these boats into superior vessels that are quieter and stealthier than the US Navy’s Virginia-class subs, the world’s most modern fleet of nuclear submarines.  Our Victorias can track surface traffic farther than 10 km away with such accuracy that they can identify many ships by name.

No maritime vessel can remain at sea for 365 days, and no vessel can conduct sustained operations without regular maintenance and upgrades, and our Victoria-class, arguably more complex than the space shuttle, is no different. We have one in full operation, another about to re-enter service and two others in deep refit.  This begs the question: do we have enough subs to do the job?

These boats contribute a number of advantages to Canada’s maritime security. With 90 per cent of the world’s trade conducted on the ocean commons, the Victoria-class submarines certainly provide anti-submarine warfare training for Canadian and allied navies.  But they also conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations; maritime power projection in Canada’s littoral and regional waters; sea control and denial and; when necessary, coercive and lethal force to protect Canadian interests, shipping, trade and innocent passage.

Undersea operations are incredibly complex, and information is shared only among allies with submarines in the water.  If we are not in the water, then we are not at the table and have no voice in whose submarines travel through our waters.

Tim Dunne
Chair, Security Affairs Committee
Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia

Featured image by Bill Gard, RUSI(NS).

An edited version of this letter was published in the Globe & Mail, 13 September 2016.

Into Africa – Peace Operations 2016

The Toronto Star’s 28 August 2016 editorial “Canada finally dusts off its blue helmet” has the subtitle “Canada is ready to assume its rightful role as a nation dedicated to UN peacekeeping following a welcome new commitment of troops and money.”  The helmets never got dusty; to so state is an affront to those who deployed the last decade.  And there is no ‘rightful role’ – no one gave Canada that right.  Intervention, with expenditure of lives and national treasure, needs to be based on something more than ‘it is the right thing to do.’  What are the national interests involved?  What is Canada’s Africa strategy?  Really, what is Canada’s peace operations strategy other than the country is committed to doing them? There needs to be a lot more information out in the public, and there need to be public debate, before Canada commits its Armed Forces.  It would not be good for our troops to be undertaking challenging and protracted activities in countries where connection to our national interests is tenuous.

But at least the editorial recognizes that peace operations now are not what peacekeeping was when it started (and from which there has been continual and far development).  There should be no call for a return to peacekeeping.  That time is past.  It’s 2016.

Airships and Canada

There’s a certain attraction to these huge airships.  That attraction has both historical and current aspects.  Reading articles and viewing photos about airships, one wonders whether modern engineering and technology will allow for their general re-introduction and practical employment.  Could a suitably built airship serve in the Canadian Arctic as a transport or surveillance platform?  Lots of challenges in that inhospitable environment, and not just in the air.

Apparently the Royal Canadian Air Force recently had an aerostat capability (there’s a language there, of balloons, blimps, zeppelins and airships, that needs to be understood), believed to have been one of the Canadian Armed Forces’ surveillance systems in Afghanistan.  What happened to it?  Aerostats do show up in current RCAF thinking and writing, see the Air Force’s “Arctic Alternative Futures” and Defence Research & Development Canada’s “Air S&T Strategic Road Map Methodology.”

Comments on:
Airlander 10: Aircraft leaves hangar for first time
Airlander 10: is this the dawning of a new age of the airship?”
The Airlander 10, the world’s largest aircraft, nicknamed the ‘flying bum,’ takes off for the first time

RCAF Aircraft Colour Schemes

A recent photo of Canadian soldiers embarking in a Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CC-150 Polaris transport aircraft is interesting for the colour scheme of the aircraft.  It appears the aircraft is painted for government use and not in the usual RCAF colours.  Interest is piqued what with the soldiers flying into an area of operations in an aircraft with non-tactical colours.

Polaris CC-15001 (note 1) received that colour scheme a few years ago when it went in for scheduled heavy maintenance (the RCAF’s blue is a different pantone from that of the then-Government, something that has had to be repeatedly stressed).  Jim Belliveau, graphic designer for 410 Tactical Fighter (Operational Training) Squadron, 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, was the creator of the inspired design.  (For more about Jim Belliveau, see “High-flying design.”)

Whilst 01 was the aircraft intended to be used for high-profile flights (Governor-General, Head of Government, trade missions), it was made clear that 01 was still a RCAF transport.  And its first mission in fact was to fly Forces soldiers off on a deployment, just as pictured here.

As an aside, the term ‘livery’ is used in connection with civilian aircraft and airlines, and largely by UK-based aviation magazines.  In North America and for RCAF aircraft, the term ‘colours’ is more widely used.

Note 1: An aircraft of the RCAF is type designated with two letters indicting primary role (CC = Canadian transport [‘cargo’]), three numerals for the specific type of aircraft (150 = the Airbus A310 in RCAF service), and two or three numerals for the particular aircraft.

Comment on “Western Canadian soldiers relieve Quebec-based counterparts on Operation UNIFIER in Ukraine.”

Further, 9 August 2016: RCAF staff have brought attention to “The True North Strong and Free – New Look for the RCAF’s CC-150 Polaris Aircraft 15001.”

Multi-national Tank Programs

Multi-national tank programs have a rocky history.  A previous attempt, the US-German MBT-70 had all the qualities of a committee tank in that it was overpriced and delayed due to various problems caused by its revolutionary design (F-35 anyone?).  The entire crew was housed in the turret and as a result the driver became nauseous and the 152mm gun did not function as designed.  When the Germans pulled out they went on to develop the Leopard 2, and the Americans developed the M1.  The Israelis had been hoping to buy the MBT-70 but instead created the Merkava.

It will be interesting to watch the Franco-Polish-German program.  The Leopard is serving the Canadian Forces well, and there does not appear to be any reporting of a replacement in the Forces’ capital program, or any speculation on need of a replacement.  Besides any lessons from the multi-national programs, the main lesson, emphasized in the last decade or so, is to bear in mind the necessity of retaining a tank capability in the Canadian Army as part of being a balanced combat-capable force.

Comment on the article “Franco-Polish-German Tank

Holding on to Older Aircraft

Comment on article “Air Force works to keep older planes in air longer”

Sadly, the situation the United States Air Force finds itself in is due to a number of factors.

First is the national debt which climbed from 9 trillion dollars in 2009 to 19 trillion today. The result was the closing down of the F-22 Raptor fighter production line, the elimination of numerous fighter wings, reducing the force from 42 to 26 wings, and no plans to replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft and other role specific aircraft.

Second was the sequestration implementation by the Obama government which drastically reduced operational readiness, training and needed upgrades.

Finally, for the past 15 years, combat operations and indeed logistic resupply et al have been conducted without an enemy air force threat of any kind. Complacency resulting from these postponed the need for forward thinking and for pursuing a doctrine of future air dominance should a real air war take place against a high tech enemy. The last minimal threat faced by the USAF was the Kosovo air war, and they faced a third rate enemy.

Overhauling and updating the current older aircraft will not stand the rigours of facing a determined enemy with fifth generation fighters with a significant inventory, e.g., the Russian federation and the Chinese.

The F-22 production line be reopened at the expense of futile upgrades and there should be a push ahead with all three versions of the F-35 Lightning II fighter for all three services. And more fighter wings and squadrons should be re-established with the additional aircraft.

There is a lesson to Canada here is that continual upgrades for an ancient airframe (the CF-188 Hornet) will not enable our pilots to fight and win the next war.

Large Guns in Frigates

The United Kingdom Royal Navy sees the utility of procuring a large gun (5″ or 127mm) for their future frigates. It is evidently for naval fire support ( = shooting at targets ashore). There is a point there for Canada and procurement of the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC), a globally-deployable general-purpose frigate (though the Royal Canadian navy has not announced the ship type as such). A big gun would provide more options in situations short of major combat at sea for naval commanders and for national decision makers. It is much preferable to put a few kilos of explosive into a situation rather than one of a limited number of large missiles carried onboard. It can be hoped that whatever proposal is made by industry for the CSC includes such a gun.

Undersea Warfare for the 21st Century

In response to: CIMSEC July 22, 2016 – Putting It Back Together Again: European Undersea Warfare for the 21st Century

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) used to be very good at theatre and local anti-submarine warfare (ASW). How they rate now is not going to be something available to the general public, as ASW is one of the very classified areas of defence. The Canadian public will see how good the RCN and RCAF are these days if and when there are public reports of submarines off our shores including the Arctic. ASW was and remains a high end capability that Canada can contribute to our alliances, especially now that there seem to be more frequent not-friendly submarine deployments in the sea approaches to Canada. It will be interesting to see what mention ASW gets in the outputs from the current defence policy review.