The role of a naval Task Group Commander

Navy News / February 16, 2021

Captain (Navy) (Capt(N)) Scott Robinson, Deputy Commander Canadian Fleet Pacific in Esquimalt, B.C., is the Task Group Commander for Task Group Exercise (TGEX) 21-01, running until February 19 and largely focused on getting West Coast ships and crews ready for upcoming deployments.

As the TGEX Task Group Commander, Capt(N) Robinson is in charge of five Canadian ships, one Canadian submarine, aircraft from two Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons, and several U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard sea and air assets, all of them performing simultaneous complex maneuvers and exercises in a dynamic maritime environment.

Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Calgary is preparing for its upcoming Operation (Op) ARTEMIS and Op PROJECTION deployment to the Asia-Pacific region and Middle Eastern waters, while HMC Ships Brandon and Saskatoon are preparing for their Op CARIBBE deployments in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

A naval task group is a group of maritime vessels and aircraft working together towards a common objective. Canada, for example, sent a task group as part of its humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti.

In charge of the group is the Task Group Commander. For Capt(N) Robinson, this means coordinating all the various scenarios, boardings and maneuvers during the TGEX.

“While ships’ captains are responsible primarily for their own crews, the task group staff and I coordinate at the fleet level to ensure everything is synchronized so we can meet our objectives,” said Capt(N) Robinson. “The task group staff have a critical role in keeping tabs on our ships’ systems, provisions, maintenance, the flying schedule and liaising with the submarine. We basically make sure the day-to-day business of the fleet runs smoothly.”

TGEX 21-01 is taking place off the west coast of Vancouver Island, Constance Bank and the Strait of Georgia. Capt(N) Robinson and his task group staff of around 20 people are aboard HMCS Regina

The Task Group Commander’s staff are focused on integrating the various sea and air capabilities so that the task group’s effect is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Included in this team are the chief of staff, the battle watch team, future plans and current plans officers, two teams of communications specialists, and group-level logistics, technical and public affairs officers.

Among its objectives, the exercise provides an opportunity to further the submarine HMCS Victoria’s operational readiness program and provides ships’ crews the chance to fire Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles at unmanned aerial targets. 

The exercise is also about maintaining relations with U.S. partners.

“We love having them up here to work with. One thing I was always told is ‘you can’t surge trust’. You need to actually work with your partners often, get to know what each other’s capabilities and limitations are, and develop that relationship ahead of time. When an operational or wartime scenario occurs, you both need to have already built that knowledge and trust,” said Capt(N) Robinson.

As with all aspects of life right now, COVID-19 is having an impact, but because the fleet operates away from the general public, this impact is manageable. Among the many precautions taken, all participating Canadian ships’ crews were quarantined before sailing. This means that personnel are able transfer between Canadian aircraft and ships, like in boarding party scenarios. However, any face-to-face interactions with U.S. partners cannot occur.

“Yes, we are losing out on the personal aspect of working together, but we’re still talking to our U.S. partners on radio and interacting with them by other methods,” said Capt(N) Robinson. “We experienced this during Exercise Rim of the Pacific this summer. On that exercise, even when we went to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, we had to stay in the ship or were isolated on the jetty – we couldn’t interact with people.”