Interview article

RAdm David Gardam

Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic
TIM DUNNE  |  Jan 15, 2011

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Canada is a maritime nation: eight provinces and all three territories have oceanic shorelines and deserve to be recognized as such – only Saskatchewan and Alberta are landlocked. Rear-Admiral David Gardam, appointed commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic and Joint Task Force Atlantic in August 2010 is responsible for the Navy’s east coast operations and missions. These have included anti-piracy and counter-drug operations, as well as working with NATO’s maritime forces and support to other government departments. Tim Dunne spoke with the Admiral in an exclusive FrontLine interview.

Rear-Admiral Gardam

My vision is really quite simple: Sustain today while we build tomorrow. It’s about being able to train this watch of sailors, being able to keep ships at sea, accomplishing missions in the North, and protecting sovereignty. It’s also about the missions we do every day off the coast of Halifax: knowing who is in our waters; supporting other government departments; doing counter-drug operations in the Caribbean with Canadian warships, to prevent those drugs from getting into North America and into Canada; and we have an eye to the future, building the future fleets.

Preparing for and accomplishing those important missions requires tools, the biggest of which are naval ships. Canada’s Halifax Class frigates have recently begun a major modernization and refit project. HMCS Halifax, the first of its Class, was first in the queue – this will upgrade Halifax’s early 1990s capability to the “cutting edge technology, which will allow her Class to be Canada’s front-line ships for the next 15 years, while we wait for the replacement Canadian combat ship,” explains Rear-Admiral Gardam.

Recent government announcements cite 2020 as the planning date for replacements. “The first one is the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship, and that will meet our mandate in the Arctic to support other government departments, and our role in defence. The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy is the cornerstone of how we’re going to move forward with shipbuilding. We have just gone through a benchmarking process with five shipyards to determine who are going to build the Class A (warship) and Class B (large commercial) vessels.”

The evaluation process for these programs is underway, and it is expected that two yards will be selected in 2011 – one for each Class. After that will be the request for proposal stage, and finally contracting and building.

RAdm Gardam believes the first Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship will “probably be in the water around 2015.” Included in that timeframe is the deepwater port refueling capability at Nanisivik, a new strategic fuel resource in Nunavut which will be used by all government departments, including the Coast Guard.

The next ship down the line will be the Joint Support Ship. “We expect up to three [support] ships, and that will probably follow about a year or so behind the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship. Then, around 2020, you will have a Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC), which will first replace our ageing [Iroquois Class] destroyers, and then replace the frigates.” Up to 15 of the CSC vessels are anticipated.

The idea behind the shipbuilding procurement strategy is, in no small part, to allow sustainability planning within the ailing Canadian shipbuilding industry. “It’s important that we break the boom and bust cycle that we’ve had in shipbuilding,” confirms RAdm Gardam.

“Regionally, for a place like Halifax, the industrial regional benefits of continuous shipbuilding would be huge,” he says. “When we built the Halifax Class, we had world-leading technology in shipbuilding at Saint John with Irving Shipbuilding. That dockyard has been deconstructed. This is an expensive business to get into. But there are many yards that aren’t currently building ships, so now we need to move forward and actually build ships.”

This plan to continuously build ships will not only revive and bring jobs back to that formerly strong industry; presumably, it will also allow the Navy and Coast Guard to maintain a more balanced replacement strategy. One wonders how the Navy will manage continuous shipbuilding. Will they slow down the production line when the maximum number of ships is reached? According to RAdm Gardam, the Navy “might consider a different concept. When a ship gets about 15 years old, perhaps we could sell it and receive the next ship. You would always have a navy, or a merchant navy, or a coast guard, where the average age of the ships is less than 15 years old. In this way, you don’t pay for a mid-life refit like we’re doing with the Halifax Class. Instead of upgrading the ship you have, you continue to upgrade the ship platform that you’re building.” It’s not a new concept, Germany and The Netherlands also handle their shipbuilding in this way. “It’s new to Canada, but we need to understand that this is not just building ships, it is [re]building an industry.”

The Commander is often asked how many ships the Canadian Navy needs. “My response is, simply, that Canada needs a navy. Why? Because we have the largest coastline in the world, and the world is not a safe place, and it’s not going to become safer for at least several decades. You have piracy; you have global terrorism, which is also happening at sea; you have global warming and its resulting rising sea levels, which, in turn, create instability in coastal regions and breed failing states. They become birthplaces for piracy and terrorism. It’s a vicious circle.”

Any fleet mix hinges on a combination of many factors – from operational requirements (including interdepartmental cooperative missions) to capacity and budget.

RAdm Gardam counts the sub-surface fleets as an imperative in the ideal fleet. “For the navy, you need, first and foremost, submarines, not less than two per coast. Our submarines are becoming operational. You then have a requirement to do the home game, so you need to be able to monitor the coastal waters on the west coast, in the Arctic, and in particular, here on the East Coast. You need coastal defence vessels to do a portion of that. And then you need ships that are big, fat and flat, and ice-capable, which would be the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship; and you need a number of those to patrol the Arctic. The next thing you need is an ability to support ships at sea, and that is the joint support ship, a minimum of two, but ideally three.

“So the first part is constabulary. And then you need the war-fighting edge, which are our destroyers and frigates. Destroyers bring the command and control capability to control events at sea and the ability to defend ships from air threats.
And then you need the workhorse of the navy – the frigates – which are multi-purpose and can do anything from humanitarian assistance and search and rescue, all the way up to high-intensity warfare.

Security Threats
• The North & Environmental Protection
On the topic of threats that Canada faces that the Navy can directly affect or mitigate, Admiral Gardam suggests that “the first priority is dealing with what’s happening in our own backyard. You’ve got the increased interest in the Arctic. How do we manage that zone? A big concern would be something like a man-made ecological disaster, such as an oil spill.”

Increased traffic in the North is a fact, and environmental concerns are gaining prominence. “I have said many times, any ship can be an icebreaker – once. The impact of an accident involving a large bulk carrier would be absolutely astronomic.” As northern waters continue to open, more large ships will transit through the Arctic – the nature of which presents formidable security challenges. For instance, icebergs can interfere with radar tracking.

• Below the Surface
The Navy’s national security concerns include monitoring the proliferation of conventional submarines. “Go to Janes Fighting Ships,” Gardam suggests, “and look back ten years, and then move forward to today. You will see the growth of the number of conventional submarines that are now ­proliferating the oceans of the world. Submarines, by their very nature, are stealthy; they can stop global trade.”

About 20% of the global oil trade transits the Straits of Hormuz. A submerged submarine could bring that traffic to a grinding halt, notes Gardam. “You can extrapolate that to anywhere in the world, whether it’s the Panama Canal, the South China Sea, or the Strait of Malacca. This is a huge concern, and one in which our Navy is taking a very keen interest, as are other western navies. The anti-submarine concern is back, and we don’t see it leaving.

Defending against sub-surface threats involves a wide range of capabilities. The Navy frigates are very capable anti-submarine warfare platforms, and more so after their refits. Part of that solution includes the new maritime Cyclone helicopter, which has recently begun integrating with the crews of HMCS Montreal. According to the Commander, Canada’s submarines “are the best anti-submarine warfare platform there is.” He is also pleased with the recently-updated Aurora aircraft, which “are a generation ahead of where they were.” He believes Canada is well-positioned to efficiently defend against possible sub-surface aggression “because we have seen these threats coming.”

Would nuclear-powered submarines have been a good idea for Canada? RAdm Gardam does not think Canada would have been able to afford or sustain them due to budget realities. “You haven’t got a navy if you only have one capability. And actually, the mix we have now includes diesel submarines. I would have liked to see a few more diesel submarines, but that’s the best mix.” Canada only has four diesel submarines, is that really enough? The job is being done, he says, “but you end up potentially stressing the crew or the boat because of a limited number of hulls. It’s geometrically and mathematically difficult to do everything we need to do. But the key with the submarine, and the reason we were so happy to get the Victoria class, was we stayed in the business. We now need a follow-on program for submarines in the next 20 to 30 years, which will see us remain in the submarine community, but with more submarines. We could use more than we currently have, but at least we are in the business.”

• Drug Interdiction & Interoperability
The Canadian Navy has been a key player in intercepting illegal drugs destined for Canada. Engaging in these out-of-area activities requires special arrangements with the other countries. Gardam acknowledges, saying “we have Canadian ships doing drug operations in the Caribbean, and that’s happening today, as we speak. In the case of Africa, we were working in support of another government department; in this case it was the RCMP who had set up the arrangements through the government of Canada and another nation to permit that boarding to happen. It is all done at a very high political level first – we engage once those political discussions and the policy frameworks have been put in place.”

The Navy is proud of its work in support of other departments for such key missions. “From a legal perspective, the Navy will never go into that type of operation alone, because as a navy, we’re not a coast guard, or the RCMP. Our job is to support other departments doing their missions.”

• Anti-Piracy Operations
Massive dockyard warehouses of old have been replaced by container ships, holding everything from toothpaste and shoes to cars and medical equipment. The Canadian public may seldom think about how piracy affects not only global stability but their own personal lives through its massive impact on global trade. RAdm Gardam provides an example of such impact: “In this day and age of just-in-time delivery, if you are waiting for a specific piece of equipment that fixes something on an oil rig that’s coming by sea, and it gets held up by piracy, that piece isn’t coming and your oil rig ceases operation.” The Navy has a key role to play in anti-piracy objectives.

“At any one time there are about 98,000 ships at sea, from small to large. In today’s global economy, you have massive trade that brings goods into Canada. The risk with global trade is that you can also bring bad things in. It’s a double-edged sword.

“Piracy is insidious. First, insurance rates skyrocket for merchant ships. Second, an alternate route reduces risk to your cargo, but it increases the time for that cargo to be delivered, which increases the cost of the goods that you’re going to receive.

“The biggest issue is that Canadians don’t understand we are a maritime nation. Most believe most of our trade is North-South, but 42% of our trade is done by sea, not on a 400-series highway in Toronto.

“Now just imagine if something happened in the approaches to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, where you are trying to bring large container ships into Montreal, Toronto, or Hamilton – that would shut down the seaway. Last year’s strike at the port of Montreal had a massive impact on trade in Canada, and that was only one week.”

Supporting Role
The Navy often works in support of other federal departments and agencies. “In many areas, as the commander of MARLANT, I am in a supporting role. Whether it’s dealing with Immigration Canada, the RCMP, Customs, the Canadian Coast Guard, Canada Border Services Agency or Public Safety, those relationships are important.” Cooperation is a big part of working together effectively, and through its domain-awareness efforts the Canadian Navy maintains a “comprehensive picture” of what is happening in our oceans. “When I see who’s coming in our waters and why, we assess with other government departments if a threat exists, and if so, who is the lead department to manage that threat?

With such a huge area to surveil, and so few ships available, capacity is a big issue. Does Canada have enough ships?

“If you ask any naval officer,” chuckles Gardam, “the answer would be, of course, we would want more ships. But I am also pragmatic and realize that you have to balance this with budgetary and fiscal realities. There are smarter ways to do things, so we have come up with what we think is an appropriate fleet mix for the size of navy we have and the amount of domain we have to survey. With the balance we have today, we can complete our missions.”

In a presentation to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce last fall, Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden spoke of a 20% shortfall of naval personnel. RAdm Gardam says the Navy is working its way out of that shortage. “We’ve turned the corner for the first time last year; we met all of our recruiting targets. Now we are rebuilding most of the occupations or trades that we have in the navy, and we will have recovered by 2015 to 2018. As we introduce new recruits, we also have the baby-boomers getting ready to leave, so we are doing the knowledge transfer process quickly. One of the advantages is that the navy, by its nature, is very technical, and the new watch coming in are ‘digital natives.’ They understand this stuff, unlike me who occasionally smacks my Blackberry on the side because it doesn’t give me what I want.”

Training & Technology
With recruitment back on track, the Navy is looking at “some very interesting changes” in the way it operates and trains. “We are looking at a federated environment as the way to train. We have an open architecture system, using high-speed, non-mil-spec computers, which means we get high computing power with civilian computers that allow us to conduct networked training anywhere in the world. So when a ship is deployed, you can do training on that ship. Or you can train here with ships alongside.” A new facility called MATTS (Maritime Advanced Technical Training Site) is being built in Dartmouth to “provide advanced maritime training that is cutting edge for the navy.”
Humanitarian Assistance
The Navy’s efforts to help Haiti recover from its devastating earthquake in January 2010 is a “huge success story,” beams Gardam. “In Haiti we proved how agile we are. When Haiti happened, for the first time since World War II, we had five lines of operation running at one time. We had about 3,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan; 3,000 in Texas getting ready to deploy; about 4,000 troops with the Vancouver Games; we had about 2,000 sailors, soldiers and airmen and women in Haiti; and, we had HMCS Fredericton deployed half-way around the world. We never could have done that even six years ago. We now have an incredibly agile Canadian Forces.

The biggest lesson learned from the Haiti mission, according to the Commander, is that “effect is not achieved in seven days – effect is achieved immediately.”

He explains that “within hours of the Prime Minister’s giving his intent, we had a C-17, our strategic airlift aircraft, being readied to fly and deploy into the area. It did, and within days Halifax-based ships went with sailors and airmen and women ready to provide urgent aid. Within a week we had land-based helicopters deployed along with the first echelons of the Army.

Joint Forces
The Air Force and the Navy have a long history of working together with naval air units at Shearwater in Nova Scotia and at Patricia Bay in British Columbia. Now, the much-anticipated Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship, providing space for troops and an ability to connect them to a shore, will strengthen Navy-Army synergies. “When you look at what we’ve done recently with Haiti, a joint support ship can take troops. So there is a lot of potential in this area.”

RAdm Gardam credits General Rick Hillier as “the agent that made us transform,” and working together is a big part of that. “Working together is what we’re used to. But when people talk about joint operations, to them it is a big buzzword. Joint isn’t about processes, joint is about operations, and we can and do work jointly. This is a new military.”

Arctic Interoperability
What are the plans for a naval presence in the Canadian Arctic? “You are seeing it now,” says Gardam, “we are in the North every year. We are learning the environment. We don’t know it as well as the Coast Guard does, who have been there for decades, but we are learning from our Coast Guard colleagues how to operate in and near the ice.

“We are not building icebreakers. We are building ships that can operate in an environment of up to one meter thick ice, first year ice. And we are also working with other government departments to learn the environment, because, of course, the vast majority of the work being done in the Arctic is not by the Navy, it’s by other government departments, whether it’s CBSA, the RCMP, Immigration Canada, or Environment Canada.” Working with the Navy provides these organizations with capabilities, such as ships and helicopters, allowing them to accomplish tasks that otherwise couldn’t be done without huge cost.

The Navy is a key component enabling whole-of-government services to those situations. “Just imagine an Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship where you put a bunch of doctors, dentists and nurses, and set up a clinic and you visit these remote areas with your clinic, that will be incredibly powerful. And it’s doing the right things for Canadians.”

Canada’s Navy is involved in three operations/exercises that are held annually in the Arctic. “We have one on the West Coast, which is run every year around February; there is one from the centre which is a whole-of-government; and then we have the one which is happening on the East Coast, Operation Nanook, which happens around August. So we are fairly engaged – not only the military, but other government departments operating in the North, and we have the Rangers, which are a constant presence in the North.”

A key operational goal with Nanook at this stage is understanding the environment. “It’s learning how to operate in an austere theatre of operations, and the North is a theatre of operations. In fact […] if you had to support a significant operation in the Arctic, and I am not talking about a conflict, it would be far more difficult than Afghanistan, because there is no infrastructure, none, it does not exist.

Wrapping Up
When asked what messages he believes must get to Canadians, RAdm Gardam says: “Probably the biggest issue for me is ‘maritime blindness,’ and having the message that we are a maritime nation get out to central Canada. I’ll be blunt, we are a global trading nation; and the welfare of our economy depends on that trade. I speak to groups about how we have the largest coastline in the world, and  I think it’s actually surprising to many Canadians how big it is. Most Canadians would not know that 42% of our trade is by sea. And it’s not because they don’t want to know that, it’s because our institutional education systems haven’t recognized that we are a maritime nation. So, if institutionally, Canadians don’t recognize that, it makes my job that much more difficult to get the message out.

“So my number one challenge as the Admiral on this coast, even for Halifax, is to get the message out that we are a global trading country, and our trade depends on sea lines of communication being open and the impact of global warming on keeping them open.”

“And the second issue is explaining within this region about what we do. So it’s putting a human face on what a sailor is, and what a ship is, and what it does, and why we’re here. It’s putting that human touch so that Canadians understand why we have a navy and what we’re doing for Canada and Canadians.”
Tim Dunne, a retired military public affairs officer, is currently a military affairs analyst and communications consultant living in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
© Frontline Defence 2011