Generate Forward: Enabling deployed RCN assets to provide strategic capability abroad

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Crowsnest - Winter 2017 / February 1, 2017

By Darlene Blakeley

It began as a multinational exercise in the Norwegian Sea, but soon turned into an unanticipated real-world operational patrol in support of NATO.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Submarine Windsor had been participating in Exercise Dynamic Mongoose with over 3,000 sailors and air personnel from eight allied countries last summer when the call came to support a classified NATO operation. With the concurrence of the Government of Canada (GoC), Windsor was rapidly re-tasked and able to remain in theatre for an additional two weeks before returning home.

“This request, and Windsor’s quick response, highlights the value that having a submarine already deployed brings to Canada and its allies,” says Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

VAdm Lloyd was impressed with Windsor’s contribution to the major exercise and the ease with which it transitioned to the new operation. “HMCS Windsor’s deployment proves once again the tremendous capability and agility of Canada’s navy operating forward,” he says.

The RCN calls the concept “Generate Forward”, and it maximizes the operational use of limited personnel and materiel assets, conducting force generation abroad in order to also be readily available in strategic operations. A driving force behind current and future planning, it allows RCN assets away from home waters to work with partners in developing relationships, friendships and ultimately trust. It also allows the RCN to be geographically close and therefore much more quickly responsive to any GoC directive to re-task an RCN asset as a first responder in areas of the world where it might be needed.

“The mission success of Windsor was directly attributable to the broad, balanced skill sets of our sailors, combined with the geographic positioning of the submarine while it was conducting other activities,” says Captain (Navy) Jamie Clarke, Commander Canadian Submarine Group.

The RCN is a globally deployable, multi-mission capable enterprise readily available to meet the strategic priorities of the GoC both at home and abroad. However, producing mission-ready force elements is a complex process. The inherent nature of force generating personnel, equipment and training into combat-capable teams requires significant resources and extended time at sea in order to be operationally ready.

“Generating forward will leverage the unique capabilities of our sailors and ships to conduct much more force generation further offshore than we have done in recent years, while concurrently providing a readily available RCN capability for achieving strategic GoC priorities, from a demonstration of military resolve to humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” adds Capt(N) Josée Kurtz, Director Naval Operations and Plans at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa.

Strategic pre-positioning of assets

As to where RCN assets will deploy at any given point in time, the GoC provides overarching strategic direction through the Global Engagement Strategy (GES), which defines planning for priority regions and countries based on Global Affairs Canada advice. The Department of National Defence then executes operational command of assets and personnel congruent to the GES, and finally the RCN provides assets to meet these strategic objectives. The exact location and nature of employment for RCN resides with the Commander of the RCN, based on the advice of the RCN Global Engagement team on his staff. When urgent events occur, RCN assets will respond under the direction of the appropriate operational authority.

Many of the RCN’s forces are capable of generating forward, depending upon the area of operations and the potential missions and tasks. While it will primarily apply to Halifax-class warships and Victoria-class submarines, specialized elements including clearance divers, the Maritime Tactical Operations Group, and Naval Security Teams all have a role to play in creating opportunities for capacity building and maintaining readiness while deployed in strategically important regions of the world.

“The strategic pre-positioning of RCN assets provides options in response to any emerging crisis,” explains Capt(N) Kurtz. “The availability of RCN ships as they conduct their tasks throughout the world can often be leveraged to support developing emergency situations.”

For example, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Vancouver was available at short notice to assist New Zealand following a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck the South Island on November 14. Vancouver was in the vicinity of Auckland, NZ, at the time of the earthquake, preparing for a goodwill visit to celebrate the 75th anniversary of New Zealand’s naval forces with other allied naval forces. At the request of the Government of New Zealand, the ship diverted to the region affected by the earthquake to contribute to relief operations.

As part of a multinational naval task group, Vancouver contributed to the evacuation of approximately 900 people and the delivery of more than 216 tonnes of food and emergency supplies such as generators, portable pumps and portable chemical toilets. The ship’s involvement in earthquake relief efforts fell under Operation Renaissance, which is the rapid deployment of the Canadian Armed Forces to the scene of a disaster overseas, as directed by the GoC.

As another example, an RCN submarine pre-positioned off the coast of South America can provide the government with strategic response options to intercept illicit trafficking.

“Time and space considerations are often detrimental to timely response of naval forces and strategic response options for the government,” says Capt(N) Kurtz. “The RCN concept of Generate Forward will help to mitigate these concerns should the need arise.”

Professional development opportunities

Forward-deployed RCN assets also provide an opportunity to integrate with global partners, facilitating unit and individual training objectives through mutually beneficial training and exchange opportunities. Professional development opportunities for naval personnel are achieved through bilateral training and exchanges during all Generate Forward activities.

“Training and exchange opportunities maintain institutional credibility by ensuring that naval personnel acquire valuable at-sea operational experience and advance training and qualifications at all levels,” says Capt(N) Mike Knippel, Commander Naval Personnel and Training Group in Esquimalt, B.C.

In the future, RCN strategic global engagement, through the concept of Generate Forward, will continue to expand and leverage the production of mission-ready forces while facilitating Canada’s diplomatic relations and regional partnerships in support of higher GoC strategic intent. And while deployments such as Windsor’s can change on a dime, others are planned. HMC Ships Ottawa and Winnipeg will be conducting an Indo-Asia-Pacific deployment in 2017 employing the Generate Forward concept with anticipated engagements in numerous locations.