Interview article

VAdm Mark Norman

Transformation of the Royal Canadian Navy
CHRIS MacLEAN  |  Jan 15, 2015

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the 34th Head of the Royal Canadian Navy, has taken command during a very busy time for the Navy. Complications include assisting in the process of getting many new ship builds underway (under what some observers call “mind-boggling” changes in defence ­procurement processes); ­managing operations with reduced fleets due to divestments and the modernization schedules; finding ways to train enough new recruits so they will be sufficiently trained to deploy when the new and modernized vessels are all online; and the daunting task of hauling navy culture into the politically correct 21st century; all of which VAdm Norman agreed to discuss with FrontLine’s Chris MacLean.

Modernizing the Navy Culture
Initial reports of three off-duty incidents last summer started a media flurry that was further fueled when Norman cut its RIMPAC participation short, calling HMCS Whitehorse back to Canada for disciplinary action. As is often the case, investigations of those highly publicized incidents revealed that “they weren’t exactly as initially reported,” acknowledges the Head of the Navy, but the situation had created a watershed moment in terms of the navy leadership culture, and it was time to do something about it. “Those three incidents were a catalyst for me to say ‘enough is enough’.”

The need for more discipline within the ranks had been crystalizing for the Commander of the RCN in recent years. Being well aware that cases of similar misbehaviour had been occurring all too often, he wanted to demonstrate beyond a doubt that this is unacceptable. He also recognized that “the time had come to take a hard look at ourselves.”

A “collective and accumulated perspective” by those in leadership positions within the RCN recognized that a problem was growing. Many had been noticing an increase in the number and seriousness of incidents involving off-duty misconduct. “It’s a broader concern about the culture and behaviour that we have allowed to creep into the Navy over the last several years,” admits VAdm Norman. And so, after being apprised of those consecutive embarrassing incidents during the 2014 RIMPAC exercises, the Admiral decided to order an in-depth leadership review. One recommendation stemming from the review (the findings were released in December 2014), was to establish an official code of off-duty conduct for members of Canada’s Navy, which had previously never existed.

“The ordering of the review was designed to establish ground truth in terms of where we are from a policies, procedure, and administrative perspective so that we can go forward. It’s not about focusing on the forensics of the last several years. Everyone agreed it was time to figure out the basis by which we can modernize elements of our behaviour and our culture.”

While he insists that the alcohol factor is an “over-simplification” of the issue, he also knows it can’t be ignored. “Alcohol is a key component in this whole discussion,” the Admiral acknowledges. “In 95% of the cases where people get into trouble, they have been drinking to excess, so there is a relationship there. We have taken some fairly measured and very specific measures that relate to the control of alcohol, but the real story is in the back end of this.”

June 2014 – HMCS Regina sits alongside in Istanbul, Turkey before continuing her journey into the Mediterranean Sea during Operation Reassurance.
 (Photo: Cpl Michael Bastien, MARPAC Imaging Services)

The real story, he continues, “is about leadership; it’s about conduct; it’s about teamwork; it’s about evolving the culture and making explicit expectations of what I call ‘Deck Plate Leadership’ and the notion of a code of conduct. We are working on some principles as it relates to the code of conduct, and we are going to evolve this over the next few months. We want to make sure we get it right, so we are not going to rush to failure in terms of putting this out too quickly, but we are committed to it and understand the guiding principles of what we want to achieve. It must be something that everyone can understand and embrace, and can ultimately rally around and enforce, whether they are an Ordinary Seaman or an Admiral through­out the entire chain of command.”

Further countering the media emphasis, the Admiral takes pains to explain: “It’s not just about alcohol; it’s the underlining principles of how we interact as a team. It’s about the basic principles of the buddy system, the principles of the divisional system, and it’s all about leadership. You will have seen me make explicit reference to “what right looks like” and the fact that, for a variety of reasons, we have a number of people who either don’t know “what right looks like” and we are not explicitly showing them or, in a few isolated cases, we have situations where people choose to do something other than what is right. Those situations need to be handled somewhat differently.” According to VAdm Norman, the Canadian Forces has sufficient processes to manage those who choose unacceptable behaviour, so the RCN is focusing its attention on ensuring that people fully understand what is expected of them so individuals can make responsible decisions during off-duty social situations.

Sept 2014 – Boarding team from HMCS Toronto races towards the Romanian Naval Ship Regele Ferdinand in their rigid hull inflatable boat while conducting a training exercise during Operation Reassurance in the Black Sea. 
(Photo: Sgt Matthew McGregor, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

Has the widespread use of social media had any impact on the urgency of the review? “I think the speed at which information – and possible misinterpretation – can happen is clearly a factor,” remarks VAdm Norman, “but it’s really more about ensuring that we avoid situations where people are doing those types of things in the first place as opposed to trying to control how it’s communicated. I’m not naïve enough to believe that any policy or process or set of orders is going to [control open communication across social media]. This is why we want to be as open and transparent as we possibly can. There’s no direct correlation with social media as it relates to our response, but it’s a reality of our operating environment now.”

While expectations of behaviour had always been informally passed along within the Navy, the leadership review found that “folks just weren’t necessarily clear on what was and was not expected of them with respect to conduct,” says Norman.

Have those expectations changed over the years? “In some ways yes, in other ways no,” responds Norman, explaining that “the broader expectations of Canadian society have evolved over the 30 years that I have been in the Navy,” but his focus is more on the internal expectations that have not changed. “The fundamental expectation that hasn’t changed is that we are all a team: we all look after each other, we are only as strong as our weakest link, you never leave your shipmate behind, and you don’t allow people to go off on their own and get themselves into trouble. We have a system, which some argue is perhaps overly paternal in its approach but, in fact, it’s a team focus where we look out for each other. We have an obligation to make sure our shipmates don’t get themselves into trouble.” These may encompass a wide range of personal issues, including mental health.

According to the Admiral, the basic foundations (leadership, culture, teamwork, and the buddy system) have not fundamentally changed but “haven’t been reinforced as actively and universally as it should be across the Navy.”

In the last few decades, societal values and expectations have evolved at an unprecedented rate and the RCN’s leadership review is a reflection of analyses, research, and the collective wisdom of Navy leadership. “It is an evolution of our policies and procedures to set us up for success going forward.”

Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman speaks with sailors aboard HMCS Calgary during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) off the coast of Hawaii on July 13, 2014.
(Photo: Sgt Matthew McGregor, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

The notions of loyalty, integrity, and service before self have been clearly and consistently articulated within the Canadian Forces and, according to the Admiral, recommendations of the review “build on basic principles of the [CAF] ethos. It will build on the idea of the obligation to your shipmates, your ship, and the service and ultimately to the nation as a member of the RCN and a member of the Canadian Armed Forces serving in the RCN. We are working on the kind of language that will best capture those ideas, but that is the guiding essence of what we are talking about […] to encourage people to take ownership of that shared responsibility as a member of a ship’s company, or a broader member of the Navy – whether they are at sea or not – in terms of how they, not only behave themselves, but how they view and judge the behaviour of their peers and ­colleagues.”

An example to be proud of (“what right looks like”) was a recent incident in Turkey, when five off-duty crew members from HMCS Toronto noticed a fire while dining at a restaurant. Their quick reaction rescued several people and helped extinguish the fire before local authorities arrived. While acknowledging that any ship’s company would have reacted the same way, he describes Toronto’s good-news story as a “great example of the kind of balance we are trying to strike.” The important concept is for people to “avoid putting themselves, or allowing their shipmates to put themselves into situations where their conduct can have a negative impact on their ship, service or country in the eyes of not only the Canadian people, but in the eyes of their own shipmates, and that’s the kind of awareness we need to create across the whole organization.”

Quoting change management guru, John Kotter, who said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, VAdm Norman recognizes the difficulties involved in changing culture. What’s important, he says, is to recognize the strengths of Navy culture, and those are “based on our leadership, the notion of team, and incredibly dedicated people who, for the most part know, or want to know, what right looks like and want to behave within that kind of environment, but we, the system, have been letting those people down and that’s partly why we have to codify what we are talking about in terms of a code of conduct.”

A lot of speculation surrounds the possibility of banning consumption of alcohol on the ship while at sea, and the Admiral wants to clear that up. “HMC ships and submarines will continue to carry alcohol,” he says, “and officers and sailors will continue to have access to it, but only alongside for the most part, and only in rare circumstances at sea. When you read the fine print, it’s not 100% banned, but there will no longer be routine access to alcohol at sea.”

HMCS Athabaskan (DDG 282): Sub-Lieutenant Tim Davick takes notes during Fleet Ex 2014.
(Photo: Cpl Eric Girard, Canadian Forces Combat Camera)

Up until December 2014, access to beer, wine, and soft alcohol was allowed at sea during meals and after hours. “That’s done!” says the Admiral, but there will be rare exceptions, such as special occasions. “I made specific reference to HMCS Toronto at sea for Christmas,” he explains. “The Commanding Officer was given authority to decide if he wanted to allow his crew to have a glass of wine or beer with their Christmas turkey – and that is entirely appropriate and within the construct that we’ve put in place.”

Established hours and protocols, and rules and regulations for the service of alcohol while alongside will continue, says Norman. One change, however, is that prices will correspond to mess prices ashore. “This will allow us to discourage excessive consumption and reinvest the higher revenues into our morale and welfare programs.” The other change, he explains, is the culture of uncontrolled access, including beer machines. “We are done with that also,” he says. “The restrictions of access to alcohol at sea are consistent with protocols that are already in place for deployed operations – whether ashore or at sea – and are also consistent with recent decisions by other Navies. We see this as a very reasonable, measured and progressive approach to responsible access to alcohol. Some people are unhappy, and I understand that, but at the end of the day, this is not an issue of popularity, it’s an issue of what’s right. The words warship and alcohol at sea, don’t go in the same sentence; it’s as simple as that. Not in the 21st century.”

In fact, he says the serious nature of the work onboard navy ships is precisely why the collective advice of the senior leadership had been to make the break. “It is about making sure we are doing the right thing in a measured and responsible way, but it’s also about sending messages with respect to the evolution of our culture and our attitude towards alcohol and access to alcohol,” explains VAdm Norman.

“When talking about a warship or submarine, as soon as you let go of those lines and go to sea, you are no longer in garrison – you are now in a hostile environment that takes no prisoners. It doesn’t matter what the nature of the business is, once you are at sea, you’re at sea. Part of the problem was that we had arbitrary lines on maps where you can do something on one side of a line and not on the other – but the risks of operations at sea do not respect arbitrary lines on maps. We came to the collective decision that the risks of being at sea are such that we don’t think it’s responsible to allow access to alcohol. This is not punitive; this is logical, sensible and, as far as I’m concerned, completely responsible in terms of going forward.”

September 2014 – Crew participate in a fire training ­exercise onboard HMCS Toronto during Operation Reassurance.
(Photo: Sgt Matthew McGregor, CF Combat Camera)

Now, when ships are alongside in Esquimalt or Halifax, the ship’s company will have access to alcohol on the ship or at fleet clubs during standardized hours, and under specific rules, “and those are run just like the messes in the garrisons of the Army and the Air Force all across Canada. And on the operational side of things, we’ve now basically said, when you’re at sea, you’re at sea, there’s no distinction, we don’t care where you are at sea, and to be quite honest, that was a rather silly and arbitrary way of making a distinction.”

Procurement Oversight
While the Navy is focused on getting the capability it needs to perform its functions, the NSPS and the Defence Procurement Strategy (DPS) create an oversight function that tries to align the various industry pieces for optimal economic benefit to the country. How do these new steps affect the program management piece? “This is all part of the process,” says the Admiral matter-of-factly. (I get the sense he has heard some of the same comments I’ve heard, as he patiently continues.) “These are completely understandable and predictable requirements that move billions of dollars worth of taxpayer’s money into a national shipbuilding program. The extent to which the introduction of the DPS into the process and what impact it’s having, it’s not that significant from a shipbuilding perspective because NSPS, in essence, was the model upon which DPS is built; there are similarities. NSPS is all premised on the principles of Canadian value chain and the added consideration in DPS is the fact that we want to make strategic investments in Canadian capability going forward and ensure we leverage the investments we are making to ensure that those capabilities, which makes sense for Canada, are being invested in and privileged as we go forward. NSPS is an embodiment of what we are trying to do,” he explains.

“There’s nothing new in this, from the perspective of what we are trying to accomplish, these are just additional considerations in the process. From my perspective as a Head of the Navy, as long as we go back to the first principle – getting the best capability we can afford in accordance with the schedule – and we stick to the schedule, then the rest of it is all value added,” he elaborates.

Of course, sometimes items can escalate into problems. “When those other considerations start to drag out schedule, or when they start to take out capability, that’s where the tough conversations have to take place, and those tough conversations are taking place,” he admits. “I look through the lens of the big projects we have right now: HCM, great capability, on time and on budget. That’s a good news story. AOPS, great capability, taken us a while to get there, but we are now where we need to be: we have a design, we have a build contract, we have shipyards that can actually deliver goods, and we are going to start moving forward. In many respects, the procurement process is just part of the environment we are operating in. It’s like the sea state and the weather when you are operating at sea. You can complain all about it all you want, but you can’t do anything about it. You still have a mission to do, so you hunker down and you focus on the mission you are trying to accomplish. Our mission is delivering those ships on budget, on schedule, for Canada.”

July 2014 – Leading Seaman Colin Brown conducts SHINCOM System maintenance on the bridge of HMCS Regina during transit through the Strait of Messina during Operation Reassurance.
(Photo: Cpl Michael Bastien, MARPAC Imaging Services)

Does having so many groups involved in the decision-making process ever jeopardize the project? “Every one of the participants in the process has a different stake in the process, that is the nature of how we are going forward,” explains the Admiral. “Ideally, those tensions are constructive but sometimes they are not. The reality is that time is money, and the loss of taxpayer buying power due to extensive delays and process is a significant factor, and it’s well documented. I remind people of the reality that schedule is king, schedule matters, and schedule translates directly to dollars which translates directly to really hard conversations about capability. This is the Yin and Yang of complex military acquisition, and NSPS is about as complex as it gets, certainly in the Canadian context. With or without NSPS, all of these issues would still be coming into play. The path to the future is to lean into what we’ve decided and agreed to do.”

He acknowledges that not everyone agrees with the path, but he is anxious to get moving. “That’s the path we are going down and let’s get on with it and stop arguing about the issues that people have taken to heart, and it comes back to stakeholders all bringing different positions into the discussion. The opportunity to move forward is in finding that common ground. The good news is, there is a lot more common ground than perhaps is obvious on the surface.”

Recruitment & Training
Traditionally, once a ship has been “paid off”, the Navy loses those personnel positions to the VCDS. Some are estimating the overall job loss from the AORs and Destroyers could be around 1300 establishment positions. How does the navy plan to deal with the loss of the establishments from the divestments of the last of the Protecteur Class and Iroquois Class ships? “The answer is very simple,” says Norman, “there are no losses.” The Head of the RCN takes this opportunity to clear up misperceptions in this matter. “Yes, the Vice Chief, on behalf of the CDS, controls the establishment for the Canadian Forces, and there is a simple correlation between hulls and establishment which is, in my personal view, an archaic construct that we need to revisit over time. However, to the specifics of your question as it relates to the divestments of the two AORs and the two destroyers, we have made a compelling argument, and have convinced the protectors of the establishment that the Navy should retain its establishment because it will have to be reconstituted soon anyways – as we recapitalize the fleet, bringing in new ships with both new and modernized capabilities – over the next 5 to 15 years. The notion of removing establishment, only to then reestablish over what is a relatively short period of time in the context of an organization like the military, is an approach that doesn’t make sense. The right people have accepted this as a solid argument, so we are going to hold onto the establishment we already have and use it to stand up crews, to do the training we need to do, and address some concerns that we’ve had about how we’ve been managing our people over the last few years. So the bottom line is, there are no direct job loses as a result of this.” In fact, according to a recent estimate, the Navy may grow by some 75 positions during that time period, he says. “We’ll be moving people around to ensure the transition is as smooth as possible – and as effective as possible in terms of having the right people with the right qualifications in the right place at the right time to move the Navy forward.”

The RCN has been challenged by low recruitment numbers in the past, particularly in the technical trades. Navy recruitment has been much more successful of late, however, with fewer ships due to reductions (divestments, repair and modernization), the challenge now is in getting those new people out to sea to build their experience. “The good news,” asserts the Admiral, is that “it has forced us to reengineer how we train. We are quite optimistic that we are going to get where we need to be. In micro terms, we still have challenges (as does everybody), in what we characterize as the high demand, low-density trades and occupations, especially on the technical side of things. You get people in, you train them up, they get all sorts of qualifications and experience, and they become very attractive to other employers. We are very conscious of it. We are going to be reactivating a whole bunch of these ships and we need the people. That’s great from an opportunity perspective – it just means that we have to make sure we have all the right people qualified to train all of these new folks that are coming to sea.”

LS Tristan Collier, a Marine Engineering Technician aboard HMCS Calgary, machines a piece of aluminum.
(Photo: Sgt Matthew McGregor, CF Combat Camera)

Western navies (including USN and RN) are significantly reducing the crew sizes of their new combat vessels. The RCN seems intent on bucking this trend, but VAdm Norman disagrees and takes the time to explain. “We are very actively engaged and learning lessons from our allies in terms of crew reductions. Without denying the fact that crew sizes are going down, I can tell you that when we talk to our peer navies about crew size, this was always a very emotive and contentious issue. There is a balance between reducing your crew size for a variety of reasons; most of it has to do with cost because of the overall cost of people. The degree to which you then have to automate the ship in order to accommodate that reduced crew size, and the extent to which reduced crew size then, in many cases, has unintended impacts on what you can actually do with the ship, notwithstanding its technical capability. At the end of the day, the ultimate enabler of any warship is its ship’s company. It doesn’t matter how much technology you have, there are many things you do at sea that require people, and you need the ‘bench strength’ in order to sustain those requirements.” He explains that while the RCN is committed to reducing crew sizes, these numbers should be based on mission requirements rather than a minimum crew required to simply drive the ship.

“The reason we appear to be, to use your words, ‘bucking the trend’, is because we are at the start of what will probably be a three-year cost-capability discussion around the design of the surface combatant. Because we are concerned about maintaining the kind of operational flexibility that I referred to, we want to start from the premise of having that flexibility built into the ship from the start – and not necessarily driving what will end up being a far more automated and technologically-driven solution that may result in a crew that can go from A to B and do a couple of things, but doesn’t have the flexibility to accomplish the kind of missions we want to be able to do with it. It’s a start point for a conversation. It’s not a definitive line in the sand.”

Despite the push to smaller crews, the Admiral points out that crew numbers on the new ships will be certainly smaller than on the ships they will be replacing. “We talk about CSC having a core crew of about 190 and a mission crew of about 50-60. Although that is comparable to the 256 people currently deployed in HMCS Toronto, it’s significantly less than the 340 some people that were in HMCS Athabaskan, or certainly the bunks available in Athabaskan. I have no doubt that when we ‘land’ – and it won’t be me, although hopefully it will be ‘CRCN number 35’ who lands on these kinds of decisions – we will end up with a crew size that is smaller than the legacy class those ships are replacing. I have no doubt that will be the case. But what we are not going to do, is start the conversation from an arbitrary start point that gets imposed on us based on no rigour or analysis (which has happened in some cases around us). In some cases it works, in other cases they have had to adjust their numbers (usually larger), or they have tasked their ships to do other things. That can be part of the conversation as well. If we are looking at a single class of vessel that’s going to do a few different things, you’ll need versatility and flexibility in a single platform, and you have to factor in how you are going to man that ship from the start. If you want to have a fleet that has a whole bunch of different types of capabilities and platforms, well then you are having a different conversation, but we are in the former.”

Fleet Maintenance
“Navies are all about two things, platforms and people – the platform enables people to do the war fighting, and the people enable the platform to get out to sea where they will do that war fighting,” begins the Admiral when asked about the future role of Fleet Maintenance Facilities (FMFs).

“There is a direct correlation between how we maintain our ships and our ability to go out and do what Canadians need us to do. The Fleet Maintenance Facilities are manned primarily by public service employees who are paid by the Crown. About a half-dozen different unions represent the roughly 4000 civilians (about half of whom are in the FMFs) who work at getting and keeping Navy ships to sea. The FMFs have been, and will continue to be, a huge part of that capability. With that said, we need to look at what the ideal maintenance construct for the 21st century navy is going to be moving forward. There is a lot of really good work going on, and it has to do with developing the right balance of commercial industry support with in-house navy support, and how much the crew can do themselves – and this team approach is a significant area of focus and analysis going forward. The FMF of 2025 will not look like that of 2015. We need to look at how we evolve the workforce – its skill sets and competencies – to best support this team approach to maintenance and, ultimately, to readiness of the fleet.”

Sub-Lieutenant Shawn Forbes and Leading Seaman Richard Thompson, both Marine Engineers, work on the cooling pipe to the propulsion diesel engine on HMCS Toronto in the Mediterranean Sea during Operation Reassurance.
(Photo: MS Peter Reed, Formation Imaging Services Halifax)

Sometimes the Navy has little option but to do certain maintenance functions themselves, either because the need is immediate, or access to industry is either difficult, impossible, or not cost-effective.

These legacy competencies and skill sets are so critical that the Navy will have to integrate them into some of its trades, which brings relationships with commercial partners into play, along with analysis of the kind of competencies required of an in-house workforce.

The Admiral admits these decisions will be affected by budget considerations, “but we are aggressively trying to rebalance that workforce – it’s about ensuring that we have the right people with the right skill sets. We’ve got good support from the unions and the partners that we have inside the workforce but, like many things, you can’t turn this around over night. It takes time. You have to bring apprentices into the trade and skill areas that you want to invest in, you need to build them, they need to get the experience, and then you need to divest of those other competency areas that you don’t need to have in-house and that you are prepared to depend on from the outside.”

Decisions for choosing in-house vice contracting maintenance will come down to access, cost, and complexity. “This is a really interesting and dynamic area. I think there’s real opportunity in this going forward, and I am really pleased with the leadership that the senior engineers in the navy are demonstrating and the support that we are getting from the unions at the moment, who recognize that this is an opportunity to transform the work force but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are going to completely divest of the work force, that’s not in the cards right now but we do need to make adjustments going forward. In some cases, that requires a little bit of rebalancing and that requires give and take.”

The topic of privatization is a recurring subject and “right at the moment, we are not there,” cautions VAdm Norman. “What we want to do is optimize what we have and ensure it is best configured and best positioned to support the Navy going forward. The engineering community is developing an integrated support framework that looks at contracted industry support, like we have already on some of the classes and vessels, and what we want in-house in our own maintenance facilities – because you need both and it’s a matter of the right balance.”

“On the submarine question, I was really pleased with the discussions that the Naval Association of Canada organized a couple of months ago. I am openly encouraging an informed debate about the submarine capability for Canada. That debate should be around the need going forward and why it is important for Canada to have this capability, as opposed to what the debate has been up to this point, which has been about the merits of the acquisition and the operationalization of the Victoria Class. We are now where we said we wanted to be and needed to be. Windsor is back at sea right now as we speak. Victoria has been operational for quite some time, and Chicoutimi has gone back to sea. She’s done her post-docking trials, she’s back alongside doing a couple of tweaks, which is why we do trials, to check the systems out after the extensive docking. Naysayers said Chicoutimi would never return to sea after the fire, and she’s been back to sea.

July 2014 – HMCS Victoria (SSK 876) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the at-sea phase of Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC).
(Photo: PO1 Makoto Maeda, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force)

“Three boats back in operations this year makes us look forward to 2015. The capability is still fragile, basically because of spare parts, which is something we continue to work aggressively, and the whole issue of crewing and what we inside the military call ‘force generation’. We are making great strides in training, we are reconstituting crews and we now have the three crews up and running to reflect the availability of those three boats going forward. 2014 was a very successful year for Canada’s submarines in their centennial of service. For 2015, we are very optimistic in terms of increasing the employment of the submarines going forward.

“As I mentioned, there needs to be a deeper discussion about the submarine capability for Canada. We have the largest ocean estate and the longest coastline in the world. I’ve said regularly that the best analogy I can use for submarines is when you talk to people about land operations and you explain the notion of taking and holding ground, they intuitively understand what you are talking about. If you want to take or hold a piece of water, be it your own or perhaps somebody else’s or an undeclared piece of water somewhere in the world, there are only two ways – with mines or with a submarine. The submarine is the dominant weapon system at sea today and for the foreseeable future and this is a conversation that has to take place.

“We are confident in the capability and modernization of the Victoria Class. Windsor now has significant upgrades that we put into her, and not just to repair her generator, we took the opportunity to be smart about this, and inserted a bunch of new technology into the submarine. At the moment, Canada has a viable submarine capability and options to keep the Victoria Class going – the current plan is into the mid or late 2020 timeframe. They can be extended beyond that, possibly another eight or so years, but eventually, we have to have that discussion about the future.”

To sum up 2014, Canada’s submarines spent 255 days at sea, including the Op Caribbe deployment of HMCS Victoria in support of the counter-narcotics mission. “They are a viable strategic platform. They can be life-extended, but not indefinitely, and these are conversations we hope to have in the 2015-16 timeframe.”

Canada’s 12 Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels have been in service for the last 15 to 18 years. Two were briefly sidelined over the intense budget reduction strains of 2013, however, the Admiral confirms that “we are running them flat out now.” The crewing model has recently changed from 100% reserve to a 60% reserve/ 40% regular force model, “and that’s paying enormous dividends and really working well.”

With maintenance cycles, the maximum possible number of MCDVs operating at any given time is 10, and the Head of the Navy seems quite impressed with the current output. “We are now pushing to have 8, 9, 10 running on a routine basis and they are doing amazing things. I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve deployed MCDVs on Operation Caribbe; or we’ve sent them up North on Op Nanook. HMCS Kingston this summer was part of the search for the lost Franklin vessels and helped with the discovery of HMS Erebus. So, the MCDVs are punching way above their weight and are  incredibly versatile asset. They are really helping us in terms of the macro capacity challenge we’re facing.”

Future Fleets
Members of the defence community are patiently awaiting news on progress towards decisions related to the various new ships (JSS, AOPS and CSC) that are promised in the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS).

“As to the specifics of schedules and timelines,” responds VAdm Norman, “I will caveat my answer by saying, first of all, that these are very volatile projects in terms of timelines and schedules, so any date that I would provide is obviously subject to a number of factors, not the least of which is ‘process’. And the second is that I am one of a team of people involved in moving these projects forward.” Success, he says, will be in seeing new ships on the waterfront, and he recognizes that the Navy’s best chance to make that happen smoothly is to work with the lead departments so collaboratively that it wins the imaginary award for ‘Best Supporting Actor in a Shipbuilding Role’.

“I’m not making light of the situation, but my desire is to get the capabilities as soon as we possibly can, and support the leaders who will actually deliver the capability.” The Admiral is also quick to point out that he doesn’t get to set the timelines. “I set the requirements and I push my colleagues in Public Works, in the central agencies of the government, in the DND Materiel group, and in industry –we are all partners in this process going forward to ensure that we continue to maintain the discipline required of the schedule.”

HMCS Summerside anchors in Iqaluit, doing a Relief in Place stop during Operation Nanook 2011.
(Photo: Sgt Kev Parle)

Schedules matter, he says, and “if you let the schedule go, then everything else will go with it: prices will go up, and potentially the quality of work will go down. At the end of the day, the more we allow these things to drag out, the more the risk that the tax payers of Canada aren’t going to get what they need in terms of capabilities for Canada.

Looking at the positives, the Head of the Navy points out that “we are on time and on budget for Halifax Class modernization, but this $4-plus billion recapitalization of the Halifax Class is often left out of the discussion. This is an enormously complex and important activity, and we are now returning that capability to operational service. In fact, Fredericton is the first operationally deployed modernized frigate, and she sailed shortly after Christmas to relieve Toronto on station – so we are proudly delivering on schedule.”

Canada’s frigates are more capable than when first deployed and, in recent years, have often taken on responsibilities and roles more typical of a destroyer. Was this a factor in the recent decision as to the divestment of Canada’s two destroyers?

“The distinction between a frigate and a destroyer has become less and less obvious over time,” agrees the Admiral, “and it really comes down to the capabilities that the ships have and how those capabilities are employed. This also applies to future builds, so when we talk about the Canadian Surface Combatant, it is an important context to bring to the conversation. The modernized frigates are, in some respects, more capable than the original configuration, but they are also more capable in terms of the old Iroquois Class destroyers. Put simply, the difference is the weapons systems and a couple of other things. How the divestment decision is affecting the frigate modernization is perhaps a more appropriate question. We knew that we were going to have to divest the destroyers before we had replacements in place, and so we made a decision (a few years ago) to enhance the first four of the modernized Halifax Class with some extra space and some monitors and extra accommodation space – so we could bridge the gap in the command and control function, which was integral to the destroyers going forward. From that perspective, we are very comfortable with the capability we have. From an operational perspective, in terms of capability, that would be a non-issue going forward as we get the frigates back in service. In terms of the air defence discussion, that is another example of misperceptions around what the legacy destroyer capability really is. The only real difference is the range of the missile in the old destroyers versus the frigates. The capabilities of the frigates are actually superior now in many respects – with modernized sensors and processing, and the ability do the engagements – notwithstanding the missiles. Athabaskan has been kept in service, so we’ve kept that legacy capability alive and so, the short answer to that question is that there is no significant impact in terms of capability in the context of 2015. However, there is a capacity impact in terms of the overall number of ships we have available, and that’s why the full operationalization of the Victoria Class is so important to us. That’s also why the Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel reactivation has been so important to us – so we can make the most of the capacity that we have, and are actually delivering a really capable output, notwithstanding some of the limitations in terms of the available capacity. And that will all improve over the next few years as we get all the frigates back from their modernization.”

The modernized Halifax Class capability is considered to be “hugely important” to the Navy in being able to fulfill its obligations to the Government of Canada. “It’s the ‘bridge to our future’ in terms of war fighting capability, the platforms, the training, the modernization of procedures, and ultimately, modernization of the Navy going forward – the hard parts (physical and material) and the soft parts (people).”

Harry DeWolf AOPS
Looking at the schedule of production of other navy platforms, the Harry DeWolf Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships will be the first to be delivered. Describing it as “a very progressive multi-step process,” the Admiral says the navy is in the final stages of design tweaks; Public Works has announced the build contract; and, after some improvements and recapitalization, the shipyard is up and running. “So we will be building test modules next summer, and those test modules will be critical components of the Harry DeWolf ‘ship one’, so we are optimistic that the schedule will be adhered to.”

Nov 2014 – HMCS Fredericton hoists its Battle Ensign upon completion of an Anti-Ship Missile Defence Exercise in an operating area outside of Norfolk, Virginia.
(Photo: Lt(N) Jennifer Fidler, Royal Canadian Navy Public Affairs)

VAdm Norman expects the first Harry DeWolf to be in service “probably in the late 2018 time frame. That means we will have Navy people on board, taking it to sea, starting sea trials, testing capabilities – and that’s how we will confirm initial operational capability.” Of course, production timelines decrease as efficiency increases over the span of any large project, and the rest of the ships should follow in rapid succession. “By the early part of the next decade, we will have the full fleet of six AOPS in service,” he predicts. As for the crown jewel or “big-ticket” item, the Canadian Service Combatant, the intent is to have a “seamless transition” from the last AOPS to the first CSC. “We would ideally see the CSC-1 starting its construction in the early part of the next decade, right after the final AOPS.”

Support Capability
Meanwhile, on the West coast, “our partners in Vancouver, Seaspan, are working a very similar timeline for the Queenston Class Joint Support Ships. They are about two years later than the AOPS timeline, but utilize the same kind of approach, so we can expect to see the first Queenston Class probably starting trials in the 2019 timeframe.” With only two JSS approved to date, the Navy could have the full capability of both AOPS and JSS at roughly the same time – early next decade.

Considering the five- to seven-year gap before the Queenston Class Joint Support Ship (JSS) becomes fully operational, much effort has been dedicated to identifying the best possible options for maintaining a ­support capability at sea in the meantime. For instance, conducting Task Group level training at sea without support will be a big challenge. The Admiral has openly stated that the Navy has been “investigating a variety of options,” and leasing would be one of those options. “I have presented some analyses and made some recommendations, and those are being explored by the government. I will say that the viable solutions are pretty straightforward. We have great relationships with our key allies; some have indicated willingness and a capacity to support us in the short term and we are looking at a variety of stopgap measures in terms of scheduling and guaranteed access to some allied capability.” However, Navy leaders recognize that “anything that we can do with allies […] is not going to completely fill the gap.”

And so, industry leaders have been scrambling to offer what they hope will be the best interim solution. “I am encouraged by the desire of government and a lot of stakeholders, industry and others, to try and help fill that gap. Accepting the gap is not, in my opinion, a viable option and I am encouraged to see that most people share my view, and we are looking at solutions. Those solutions will rest in the commercial domain. To your specific question with respect to leasing, I think that’s a viable commercial option and we’re looking at what that could look like and how government might want to go down that path in the short term to try and get us through the end of this decade and into the early part of the next decade. This is a very active and dynamic discussion, and also a very encouraging discussion – we are getting very well-considered, viable options from industry that we could potentially implement going forward. I am pleased by the degree to which folks are asking me all sorts of really tough questions as to how we could do this, and that the other partners ‘in the town’ are rallying around this as an urgent operational problem for Canada.”

HMCS Regina replenishment at sea with USS Laramie in the Red Sea during Op Artemis.
(Photo: Cpl Michael Bastien, MARPAC Imaging Services)

Wrap up
Navy transformation is taking some giant leaps forward under the watch of its 34th leader. Ships and boats are coming out of modernization; the maintenance challenge is being examined; navy culture undergoing a modernization effort – it is clear that Vice-Admiral Norman is asking the hard questions and not shying away from pushing truly innovative decisions.

Chris MacLean is the Editor-in-Chief at FrontLine Defence magazine
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