In recent years, Japan has strengthened its security ties with Canada, particularly through the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). Both naval forces have strengthened their cooperation through the bilateral joint exercise KAEDEX and by ensuring the implementation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) against North Korea.
The RCN routinely conducts Operation PROJECTION, which dispatches naval vessels to waters around the world, and Operation NEON, which monitors North Korean-registered vessels for the illegal ship to ship cargo transfer at sea. These are important activities that strengthen cooperation with the JMSDF and other navies located in the Indo-Pacific region and demonstrate Canada’s presence in the region.
Thus, at the end of 2020, Yoshihiro Inaba conducted an interview with Admiral Art McDonald, the Commander of the Canadian Navy at the time (appointed as Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff on 14 January 2021). They discussed the objectives of the RCN’s recent strengthening of activities in the Indo-Pacific region and various matters concerning the RCN.
RCN, JMSDF and the Indo-Pacific Region
Yohihiro Inaba: The RCN has deepened its cooperation with the JMSDF through KAEDEX and port visit etc. What do you perceive JMSDF to be?
Admiral Art McDonald: We’ve worked very closely with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on many occasions, such as during KAEDEX, and our experience collaborating with them has always been positive. They are a highly professional navy and we are honoured to work with them on a consistent basis, exchanging best practice, sharing our skills, and promoting maritime peace and security in the region.
What is important to note is that Canada and Japan share many common values, such as promoting the rules-based international order and actively engaging in the multilateral international system. The vibrant diplomatic ties between our two countries are mirrored by the friendly and growing bilateral relations between the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the JMSDF. Before the pandemic, we had conducted an exchange of personnel in the previous KAEDEX. During that time, sailors from our two navies were immersed in the culture of their host ships and experienced life in the shoes of their fellow sailors, increasing military and cultural ties between Canada and Japan.
Yoshihiro Inaba: In the Indo-Pacific region, especially in the East and South China Seas, there is currently a challenge to the rules-based order and an attempt to change the status quo by force. In this regard, Japan and the US are trying to counter this with a common vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, but how committed is/will the RCN be to this situation?
Admiral Art McDonald: Canada is committed to protecting the underlying tenets of international law. This is important to us because our shared prosperity is based upon open sea lines of communication and the RCN does its duty, with partners such as the JMSDF, in maintaining freedom of the seas. In fact, in June last year, the Ministry of Defence of Japan and the Department of National Defence of Canada issued a joint statement on defence cooperation that made several references to Canada cooperatively engaging with partners to advance the rules-based international order in the Indo-Pacific region.
I would like to highlight that during the bilateral meeting in Tokyo on June 3, 2019, the Minister of National Defence of Canada, Harjit Singh Sajjan, and the Minister of Defense of Japan, Takeshi Iwaya, confirmed their commitment to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of all of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges, in accordance with the relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions (UNSCRs). They also exchanged their views on the recent short-range ballistic missile launches by North Korea, and confirmed that their defense authorities would remain vigilant. The Ministers shared the view that North Korea continues to violate UNSCRs, and for the full implementation of UNSCRs, they reaffirmed their intention to work together to address the evasion of the sanctions by North Korea, including illicit ship-to-ship transfers involving North Korean-flagged vessels.
Another important point that I want to mention is that during their meeting last year, the Canadian and Japanese defence ministers expressed their serious concerns regarding the situation in the East and South China Seas, and strongly opposed unilateral actions that could escalate tensions and undermine regional stability and the rules-based maritime order, including the militarization of disputed features in the South China Sea. They also reaffirmed the significance of pursuing demilitarization and self-restraint, the freedom of navigation and overflight, as well as the peaceful resolution of disputes according to relevant international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). They called for the complete and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), and underlined that the Code of Conduct (COC) should be consistent with international law including the UNCLOS and should not prejudice the rights of countries which are not involved in the COC negotiation.
For our part, we are committed to support Canada’s decision to renew its participation in a multinational initiative to counter illicit maritime activities prohibited by UNSCRs through Operation NEON, under which Canada will periodically deploy Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) ships, aircraft and personnel over the next two years.
CSC and Halifax-class Modernization
Yohihiro Inaba: It is my understanding that Canada is currently working under the defence policy “Strong, Secure, Engaged” to ensure the safe return of Canadian Armed Force soldiers from their missions. From that perspective, what is your assessment of the current military situation in the Indo-Pacific region (e.g., the emergence of the A2/AD environment) and the current and future posture of the RCN in response (e.g., the modernization of the Halifax class and the Canadian Surface Combatants program)?
Admiral Art McDonald: The RCN is taking unprecedented measures to protect our personnel and maintain our operational effectiveness to conduct mission-essential military operations. Our sailors are highly trained professionals, well-supported, and well-equipped to accomplish their tasks.
As indicated in Canada’s defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged, the Government is committed to acquiring fifteen new Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) which will ensure that Canada can continue to monitor and defend its waters and make significant contributions to international naval operations. These ships will be Canada’s major surface component of maritime combat power. With its effective warfare capability and versatility, it can be deployed rapidly anywhere in the world, either independently or as part of a Canadian or international task group. The CSC will be able to deploy for many months with a limited logistic footprint. The CSC provides the ideal foundation for the RCN’s future fleet, designed to serve Canada and the sailors of tomorrow well into the latter half of the 21st century.
With regard to your question about the Halifax-class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension (HCM/FELEX) project, this venture managed both the modernization of the combat systems and a planned mid-life ship refit program to ensure the frigates remain effective throughout their service life. This work encompassed modernization of the ships’ platform, including ships’ systems upgrades, acquisition and installation of new capabilities, such as enhanced radar, new electronic warfare system, upgraded communications and missiles integrated into a new Combat Management System. The first modernized Halifax-class frigates were delivered in late 2014, with the last ship was delivered in 2018.
Yoshihiro Inaba: HMCS Winnipeg is currently deployed in the Indo-Pacific region with CH-148 Cyclone, what is the importance of the CH-148, especially in Operation NEON?
Admiral Art McDonald: The CH-148 Cyclone is one of the most capable maritime helicopters in the world, and as such, it plays an important role in various RCN missions, including Operation NEON. In fact, it is Canada’s main ship-borne maritime helicopter, which provides air support to the RCN. The Cyclone can be used for surface and sub-surface surveillance, search and rescue missions, tactical transport and more. It can operate during the day or night and in most weather conditions to support missions in Canada and around the world.
In addition to the Cyclone, HMCS Winnipeg was also joined for Operation NEON by a Royal Canadian Air Force Detachment with CP-140 Aurora Long Range Patrol Aircraft and approximately 40 personnel, based in Kadena, Japan, in support of this effort.
Canada’s participation in this coordinated effort during Operation NEON is a demonstration of the international solidarity in support of peace and security on the Korean Peninsula. Canada is a committed and reliable player in the Indo-Pacific region, and the Department of National Defence of Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces are eager to utilize its spectrum of capabilities in support of UNSCR sanctions enforcement.
Yoshihiro Inaba: Through Operation PROJECTION and Operation NEON, Winnipeg is deployed in the Indo-Pacific region for approximately three months. In this regard, the communication with the crew and their families is especially important in the unique context of COVID-19’s expansion, but how do you ensure this with Winnipeg?
Admiral Art McDonald: People have long been, and remain, the core of our Navy’s success. The RCN places an unprecedented focus on ensuring our people and their families are well-supported, diverse and resilient – physically, psychologically and socially. We appreciate that Navy families are the strength behind the uniform and we make sure that deployed personnel have the connectivity to communicate with their loved ones back home. For example, the sailors deployed on board HMCS Winnipeg keep in touch with their families through social media, phone calls, and video calls. In addition, HMCS Winnipeg maintains a Facebook page that shows the great work that deployed members are doing.
In terms of the welfare of members during the Covid-19 pandemic, the RCN takes the health and well-being of its sailors very seriously. As such, since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RCN has taken several steps to mitigate the risk to the naval team, both in sea-going and shore-based units, ensuring Canada’s Naval Forces remain “Ready to Help, Ready to Lead, Ready to Fight.” A number of precautionary measures were put in place to protect our sailors and their ability to deploy, when needed.
These precautionary health measures include increased cleaning routines on board ships and personal hygiene for our ships companies. In order to safely proceed to sea in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, sailors embarking on an HMCS are required to observe a quarantine period according to the recommendations of public health authorities in order to ensure the health and safety of the ship’s company. They may also undergo COVID testing prior to embarkation as a preventative measure, and maintain a COVID-free ‘bubble’ that allows an element of normality on board the ship. These measures aims to ensure our sailors remain safe, healthy, and able to complete their mission.
While the ship is still coming alongside in foreign ports for fuel and stores, the approximately 240 sailors and air crew who are currently deployed onboard HMCS Winnipeg on Operation PROJECTION Asia-Pacific and Operation NEON the crew maintain a COVID-free bubble by not proceeding ashore so as to avoid any external vectors.
Diversity in the RCN
Yoshihiro Inaba: CAF is currently working on increasing women’s advancement and diversity as a whole, is there any work being done with Winnipeg on this?
Admiral Art McDonald: Canada is a world leader in both the proportion of women in its military and the areas in which they can serve. In fact, women have been serving in Canada’s military for over a century and today play a pivotal role in defending Canada’s safety and security. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) was one of the first military forces to allow women to serve in all occupations, and today is setting ambitious goals to increase representation across all trades and ranks. Our objective is that by 2026, 1 in 4 CAF members will be women. Successful recruiting efforts saw the percentage of women enrolling in the Regular Force increase from 13.2% in 2015/16 to 17.2% in 2017/18.
In the RCN, around 21% of our sailors are women as of February 2020. Our ongoing recruiting efforts focus on raising women’s awareness of the career opportunities available in the RCN through engagement and outreach, advertising and social media, media partnerships, and one-on-one recruitment efforts.
In the case of HMCS Winnipeg, 31 out of approximately 240 deployed personnel are female. The number of deployed female RCN sailors can vary between rotations of personnel, depending on individual availability and other operational requirements.
The women and men of the RCN are the foundation of our service. They are among the most professional, highly educated, and highly trained sailors in the world. The RCN knows that no matter which community an individual comes from, a respectful and open work environment is important for everyone to do their jobs well. Diversity in all its forms – including gender – and inclusion, are core values that are considered in everything the RCN sets out to do.
Canada’s participation in Keen Sword
Yoshihiro Inaba: This is the second time the RCN has participated in the exercise “Keen Sword”; what do you think this participation in this exercise means to the RCN?
Admiral Art McDonald: The value of exercising with other like-minded and partner nations, such as in KEEN SWORD, cannot be underestimated. Not only does it offer a glimpse into new warfighting tactics, it helps ensure that the RCN remains adaptive while enhancing partnerships which are critical to security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. It also builds important personal ties between our personnel and through that comes trust.
The RCN participated in KEEN SWORD for the first time in 2018 as an observer. This year, however, HMCS Winnipeg had an active role. The exercise included anti-submarine warfare serials (ASW), cross-deck landings between Winnipeg’s embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter and helicopters on board U.S. and Japanese ships, a Replenishment-at-Sea with the USNS Tippecanoe, and a final War at Sea Exercise. From a warfighting perspective, and being that KEEN SWORD is primarily ASW-focused, KEEN SWORD is an opportunity to sharpen those capabilities as well as hone the ship’s ability to integrate with other forces and strike groups in the execution of a mission.
When not participating in ASW serials, HMCS Winnipeg’s embarked CH-148 Cyclone helicopter conducted several deck landings on board other ships, including the USS Ronald Reagan and JS Kaga aircraft carriers, and the USS Shiloh. Concurrently, helicopters from the USS Shiloh and JS Kaga conducted cross-deck training on HMCS Winnipeg.
Cross-deck training is conducted to increase the interoperability of Maritime Helicopter (MH) crews and allied naval ships. Landing on ships in a unique skill to the MH community and is a skill MH pilots need to master to operate safely and effectively at sea with the RCN. Familiarization with the procedures of allied navies allows our MH crews to react to tasks requiring intra-navy cooperation, such as medical evacuations.
KEEN SWORD culminated in a War at Sea exercise, consolidating each participant’s warfighting capability in an effort to improve and practice joint and bi-lateral interoperability and mutual tactical skill for maritime operations. For HMCS Winnipeg, it is also the culmination of six months of hard work. It also allows our personnel to build upon lessons learned during RIMPAC, see how far we’ve come, and integrate with these forces and test our mettle against some of the most combat-capable forces in the world today.