Interview article

Rear-Admiral John Newton

Mariners, Managers, Leaders and Warriors
 |  Mar 15, 2015

Atlantic Command covers many high profile responsibilities, and RAdm Newton outlines some of them in a recent interview with FrontLine.

John_Newton.jpgThe Commander of Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) and Joint Force Command Atlantic has an interesting set of responsibilities. “Formation Command aside, Maritime Component Command ensures my active participation in a wide range of domestic and international maritime operations,” he explains. “This command, headquarters and staff was given the job as Maritime Component Commander for the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) for RCN resources deployed internationally or nationally in defence of Canada. Any named operation, whether it’s Operation Caribbe in the Caribbean, Artemis in the Arabian Sea, NATO Reassurance in the Mediterranean, or Nanook in the North, falls under this authority, which commands or provides the national maritime advice to Commander CJOC.”
Halifax Class Modernization
The Halifax Class vessels have sailed every ocean of the world and have been involved in most maritime deployments and ­missions, NATO, United Nations, humanitarian aid, disaster relief, maritime security, counter drug and counter piracy. Under a program called the Halifax Class Modernization (HCM), these frigates are undergoing a $4.2 billion modernization program to prepare them for another 20 years of service – a process that has repeatedly been touted by the RCN as a great success story.

A key modernization project milestone was met when HMCS Halifax completed missile firing trials during the Norfolk exercises in June 2014. That set the stage for HMCS Calgary to execute a large-scale tactical firing on the west coast in September 2014, during which the whole system (gun, chaff, missiles, electronic warfare, electro-optical sensors) was activated.

This progressive step – from confirming the functionality of the newly installed weapons, sensors and Command Management System in a narrow test and trial environment to experiencing its employment in a broader system and crew response to a realistic threat scenario – was a key moment for the navy. It provided senior commanders the confidence to promote the readiness of the first modernized frigate, Fredericton, for deployment and operational employment.

Not surprisingly, Canada’s contribution to counter-­terrorism and maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea under Operation Artemis added some complications for the modernization schedules of the frigates. “We were involved in Artemis for almost three years – Toronto had a full year, Regina had six months, and Toronto had another six-month stint. In Toronto’s year-long deployment, we swapped crews in July 2013 to accommodate the reduction of frigates available during the HCM project,” RAdm Newton explains. “To optimize the fleet of ready warships we had Toronto deployed for a full year.”

Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), Turkish ship TCG Turgutreis, Italian ship ITS Aliseo, German supply ship FGS Spessart and Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Fredericton come alongside Istanbul, Turkey for a port visit during Operation Reassurance on 21 March 2015.
(DND Photo: Maritime Task Force – OP Reassurance)

Timing is everything, and maintaining training requirements and operational readiness under such restrictions has been a feat of imaginative scheduling, as the “sea swap” of crews demonstrated.

“Everything depends on the project’s delivery at key milestones,“ agrees Newton. So far, it seems schedules are being adhered to. “HMCS Fredericton was hot on the heels of Halifax – did her own trials that culminated in tactical missile firing tests and that ship is now our first modernized frigate on an operational deployment.

“The HCM project is creating a huge bow wave of energy. There is HalifaxFrederictonMontreal and Charlottetown sailing at various stages of trials, tests and operational deployment on this coast, and on the west coast there is CalgaryWinnipeg and Vancouver. These ships are moving along at an increasingly fast rate of knots,” the Admiral enthuses. “We also have HMCS St John’s in the naval dockyard and, in addition to all this modernization activity, our ships are now conducting trials helping deliver the Cyclone helicopters.”

January 2015 – Crew members of HMCS Toronto clear off ice as they return to Halifax, Nova Scotia, after a six month deployment on Operation Reassurance.
(Photo: Master Seaman Peter Reed, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax, Nova Scotia)

To mitigate the loss of destroyer capability, the modernized command and control systems of the Halifax Class frigates will be pushed to their maximum utility to allow the Task Group commander and staff to direct fleet operations. “The whole command suite of the modernized Halifax Class is more open, and former spaces dedicated to first-generation electronics were converted into parts of the Operations Room to make it significantly larger. The command and control interface is improved, so the combat operators can see and do more through human ergonomics, common displays, and improve ways that the system presents the detect-to-engage sequence against a hostile target.”

Security of Northern Waters
Climate change brings increased human activity throughout the north, resulting in increased potential for commercial and private enterprise in the Arctic, as well as increased government responsibility. “As the Government of Canada asserts its sovereignty in the north, Canada’s navy plays a prominent supporting role with federal government partners,” RAdm Newton explains. “So you’ll find us there, annually, during the navigation season. With the delivery of the Harry DeWolf Class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship in the 2018 time frame, Canada’s navy will become a much stronger, longer term participant in the north, pushing the entry into the Arctic waters left into the spring and to the right into the fall.”

With 90% of the global economy transported along oceanic shipping lanes, supply chains are increasingly adopting a “just in time” approach which effectively turns the world’s 50,000 merchant ships into floating warehouses that move their cargoes in waters where security is far from certain.

Feb. 2015 – Defence Minister Jason Kenney is given a tour of HMCS Chicoutimi in Esquimalt, during the Minister’s first official visit with the Royal Canadian Navy since his appointment.
(Photo: Cpl Malcolm Byers, MARPAC Imaging Services)

In Canada’s case, the security of those ocean shipping lanes requires the Royal Canadian Navy to be on the sea to assure safe passage for these ships. Key threats in the ocean domain include pirating, illegal immigration, human trafficking, drug trafficking, and illegal trade in arms. “The drug trade is underpinning the financing of terrorism and the transnational criminal networks. Some of those drugs eventually make their way to Canada,” RAdm Newton notes. “Increasingly, nations take a stand on these issues. They discretely and judiciously apply their maritime power in collaboration with coalitions and alliances in assuring free use of the seas for legitimate purposes.”

Within Canadian waters, there are choke points and shipping routes that create the potential for myriad illegal activities that threaten our safety and our prosperity. Canada shares the defence of the continent with the United States, and there is a lot of ocean domain to protect. The RCN leadership sees submarine capability as a key asset for such responsibilities.

“In the 100 years of Canada’s submarine service,” the Admiral remarks, “Canadian submariners have proven their capability by providing a valuable contribution to security missions – everything from fisheries to counter drugs, theatre anti-submarine warfare (ASW), choke point patrols and intelligence gathering. Canada pulls its weight in the defence of the continent and its approaches by potential adversaries. People with any kind of threatening intent would find themselves facing the combined strength of the Canadian and American navies and our Joint Forces. Within that joint force team, the Canadian submarine is a credible and capable partner,” he says.


February 2015 – HMCS Victoria returns home through the Straits of Juan De Fuca, from ­operations with the United States Navy.
(Photo: LS Zachariah Stopa, MARPAC Imaging Services)

“Submarines are the essence of our navy. Like the area defence capability of the destroyers, submarines are a key element of a self-sufficient navy that is powerful in its home waters and capable of exerting a great deal of tactical and regional effect on the shipping lanes that reach to us from around the world.”

Canada has three of its four submarines operating now: WindsorChicoutimi and Victoria. “Every time we sail Windsor it attracts a great deal of interest from our allies who want to interact with a world-class diesel-electric submarine. They are very useful in shelf waters, choke points, and are ultra quiet compared to any other boat on the planet. Our allies want to interoperate with it and train with it,” boasts RAdm Newton with pride. “It attracts that kind of international attention because Canada has a capable submarine force, and is something to be reckoned with when thinking about operating in, around or near the continent of North America, and Canada in particular. These boats are on par with any other, nuclear or diesel, and continually shock the nuclear submariners of our key allies when they have to operate against them in exercise and training scenarios. Working with our American allies in the ASW battlespace, our boats have proven themselves. Some of the gear in our submarines, like the sonar systems, is the equivalent of what is operating in the [U.S.] Virginia Class”, he elaborates.

“These boats, which have generated our latest cadres of crew and command teams, continually prove themselves on courses like Perisher, where our developing skippers sail with their allied counterparts. Our leaders continually pass with flying colours, to the acclaim of our allies. It is obvious that these boats, and the submarine training system we have modernized, generates very capable submariners.”

The RCN leadership is convinced of the need for submarines and are very assured in the capabilities and qualities of the Victoria Class. “The combination of ultra-quiet submarine; the Mark 48 torpedo weapons system, the most modern torpedo in the world, which Canada has just reinvested in with a major capital procurement; operating with the most modern sonar system, and you’ve got a pretty powerful underwater capability,” declares Newton.

HMCS Montreal encounters some rough sailing in the Labrador Sea on route from St. John’s Newfoundland to Greenland during Operation Nanook 2010.
(Photo: Cpl Rick Ayer, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax, Nova Scotia.)

AOPS: Not just for the Arctic
Canada is very much an Arctic nation. In fact, 25% of the entire Arctic falls within Canada’s borders; 40% of Canada’s landmass is in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut; and more than 160,000 kilometres of our coastline is in the Arctic.

Arctic sovereignty is a recurring concern that is evidenced by the Canadian government’s continued maritime efforts to assertively demonstrate control.

The navy has a proud history of leadership in the north; HMCS Labrador, the small Wind Class icebreaker responsible for opening the Canadian north in the 1950s, will be the motivational energy that propels the new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships for the Canadian Navy. These new AOPS, named the Harry DeWolf Class, will be able to accommodate the new Cyclone maritime patrol helicopter, with a hangar and traverse system designed for the ship’s large flight deck. This helicopter-ship ­combination will expand the surveillance coverage of the north, will provide a seasonal Search and Rescue option, and provide operations and exercise ashore options with on-scene medium lift capacity.

Canada is also a Maritime nation, which means the 6,000-tonne AOPS, crewed by 65 (contingent on the nature of the mission), “will do more than provide a presence in the Arctic,” as RAdm Newton asserts. “They will be Arctic ‘slash’ Offshore Patrol Ships, meaning we will have a sizeable ship ideal for patrols in support of Fisheries and Oceans in and among the ice of the Grand Banks, in and among icebergs, and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence when it can be very dangerous to work there during the seal hunt for instance. We have a need for a patrol ship that is bigger than the Kingston Class, which is seasonally limited, and smaller and less combat capable than a frigate. This ship is a design hybrid for the North Atlantic offshore as well as the ice regime of the navigation season in the Canadian North.”

HMCS Shawinigan pulls away from the CCGS Pierre Radisson off the coast of Resolution Island, Nunavut during Operation Nanook 2013.
(Photo: Cpl I Thompson, 4 Wing Imaging Services, Cold Lake, AB)

RAdm Newton points to Irving Shipbuilding, literally next door to HMC Dockyard. The Irving shipyard has undergone a multi-hundred million dollar upgrade, including building a massive production hall to house the AOPS and surface combatants during all phases of construction.

“I can see the growth of the giant building at Irving Shipbuilding where the AOPS and the next class of Canadian surface combatants will be built. It’s very encouraging to see all that investment in that significant infrastructure, the foundation of a long term shipbuilding effort that will see the navy’s fleet modernized for the next 50 years of service to Canada. In the summer 2015, we will start seeing the production hall come to life, and by September the first modules of the Harry DeWolf will begin construction,” he says.

“We’re about to acquire a whole class of vessels capable of patrolling into the deep ocean of the rough North Atlantic, into the springtime waters of the Grand Banks, and into the Arctic. We have already commenced a force generation plan to take us to the 2017 timeframe when the first crew of the Harry DeWolf will climb aboard the first ship as it nears construction completion. Between now and then, our plan will deliver all the knowledge sets required to operate in the north on a more routine and longer period of time.”

What does such a plan involve? “There is coursing in ice navigation and northern operations. There is deeper experience to be gained from sailing, including learning more about navigation challenges in certain areas like the deep archipelago, safe anchorages, and waterways that we typically don’t visit today. Then there is specialized equipment to be bought and trained on, including new boats, communication systems, and even personal clothing. Furthermore, there are operational linkages to be made, internal to Canada in the other government departments, and externally with our allies, like Norway, Iceland, Denmark and the United States. So, we are already fully engaged in developing an inward- and an outward-looking perspective on the readiness preparations needed to crew and operate six new ships with a very capable Arctic and offshore operating mandate,” says Newton.

“There is no hiding it that the Royal Canadian Navy is really jazzed about getting our hands on a purpose-built and credible capability that’s been proven in design and testing and is a marriage of all the best that’s being built around the world.” Its undeniable too, that the easiest way to get into the Canadian Arctic is through the Labrador Sea, Davis Strait and Baffin Bay. This is the side of the Arctic that opens up the earliest in the spring thaw and has the most infrastructure available for Arctic resupply and sustainment. It’s also the coast where Canada’s only offshore oil production is occurring, where significant mining and shipping is occurring, and where abundant offshore fisheries extend from Labrador all the way north past the Arctic Circle.

February 2015 – A marine electrician on board HMCS Fredericton conducts repairs on ­auxilliary engine room equipment during Operation Reassurance.
(DND Photo: Maritime Task Force – OP Reassurance)

The Admiral notes too that Navy Commanders on the West coast are equally anticipating the capability because of the significant offshore interests in their region. 2015 will be the first time in decades that RCN ships will venture north to the Beaufort Sea, an activity fully aligned to competency development that is needed ahead of first-of-class HMCS Harry DeWolf delivery. “We’re pretty excited by the delivery of a new class being built right here in Halifax; it’s the leading edge of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy and a clear indication of government commitment to recapitalizing the Royal Canadian Navy.  I think within a few very short years, you will see us successfully operating from this port well into the north.”

Surface Combatants
Replacing the destroyers and eventually the Halifax Class frigates, the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) will be the next class of naval ships to be built on the East coast after the AOPS. Irving Shipyard is expected to begin cutting steel in the 2020 timeframe, and deliver the ships over seven to nine years, beginning in 2025. Given the unpredictable nature of threats in the world today, the ships may incorporate a strike and support capacity for land operations, maritime interdiction, anti-submarine warfare, enhanced electronic warfare, electric propulsion, and advanced sensor, command and control, and combat control systems.

“The navy aspires to replace the fleet of today with 15 Canadian Surface Combatants RAdm Newton offers. “It’s a major calculus of capability, funding and size – and that hard math is ongoing in the procurement agencies of government and is enabled by the Royal Canadian Navy.  They will replace the Halifax Class and a select number of them will be configured for command and control and area air defence.”

HMCS Summerside crew assists members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to inspect a fishing vessel in Davis Strait while participating in Operation Nanook 11.
(Photo: Cpl Rick Ayer, Formation Imaging Services, Halifax)

Looking ahead, RAdm Newton also notes that, “We need an area air defence capability in the Canadian Navy, and that is included in the statement of requirements that is submitted through the project office for these ships. The Modernized Halifax Class simply doesn’t give us that umbrella protection capability, but it bridges us to that future role through smart employment and operational planning. In the big scheme of things, we can regain, relearn and reintegrate air defence capabilities by maintaining our interoperability and cooperation with allies in multinational force operations and high-level training interactions. While we may not be the provider of that capability, we can certainly interoperate with those who do, and our personnel can maintain the tactical skills.“

Canadian Partners
Rear-Admiral Newton describes the Canadian Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada as “essential partners” in ensuring Canadian maritime safety, security, and enforcement at sea. Many coast guards around the world are adjuncts of their navies, with both civil and military responsibilities, however, While Canada’s approach separates these services, the organizations regularly work together.

One of the primary mandates of the Coast Guard in the North is the safe use of the northern corridors, and the regulated use of the shipping lanes. They, along with Transport Canada, the Canadian Ice Service, and Environment Canada, have mandated responsibilities for the safe regulation and the execution of commerce and trade in the North. This includes icebreaking, charting, aids to navigation, communication systems and the like, but when they need an armed constabulary capability to intervene and deter illegal activities up to and including the use of force, that responsibility falls to the RCN in the maritime domain.

 “While Transport Canada and the Coast Guard look after everything from ship safety, transit regulations, and ice navigation in their elements of maritime domain awareness, the RCN brings command and control, weapons for a coercive or deterrent effect, persistence and speed, and Joint effects with long-range patrol and helicopter aviation of the RCAF. The military elements of maritime domain awareness include a very integrated network of intelligence and surveillance tools – whether space-based, UAVs, shipborne sensors or submarine underwater intelligence.”

The RCN teaches its own ice navigation courses and operates off Newfoundland, the Labrador coast and into the eastern Arctic. “We’ve maintained a steady cadre of experience by supporting fisheries patrols for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and by substantive participation in Joint Arctic military exercises such as Op Nanook dating back to 2002, but our knowledge isn’t as well-developed as the Canadian Coast Guard crews who operate the big and medium-size icebreakers in the North. Theirs is a deeper knowledge, and we are indebted to the Coast Guard for helping us build our skills to a higher level to be able to operate in the northern environment as we adopt to the delivery of the purpose-built Harry DeWolf Class.”

July 2008, left to right: CPO1 Janet Graham-Smith, CPO1 Hubert Bullen, Cdr Dan Charlebois, RAdm John Newton and LCdr Gordon Roy stand for a group photo on the fo’c’sle of HMCS Regina while on a port visit in Málaga, Spain during ­Operation Reassurance.

He sees the RCN-CCG relationship as “a marriage” in which the RCN provides a supporting role to Canada’s Coast Guard functions, and strives daily to ensure seamless interoperability. And interoperability at sea has a deep foundation including shared support to Canada’s MSOCs (Marine Security Operations Centres), collaborative planning, annual staff talks, Search and Rescue collaboration, and a host of annual exercise opportunities.

The RCN continuously measures and assesses each of the 20 naval trades. In some of the key trades (generally the high-tech areas), the RCN chronically fights to offset the bleed to industry. Marine engineers, weapons engineers, and electronics technicians are principal skill sets in which the private sector is keenly interested.

“We are always in a battle to recruit into those trades,” the Commander ack­now­ledges. “These take a higher level of civilian diploma as a basic entry requirement, and demand considerable training at the beginning of a young person’s career. We are certainly very active in managing young individuals and not just ships’ companies. Over the past two years, we have created Personnel Coordination Centres, which have the ability to track every sailor in the navy for their certifications, qualifications and levels of experience.” This tracking serves two purposes. The first is to focus the employment of personnel on ships rather than ashore. The second is “to ensure that our people, during this period of reduced fleet readiness during the Halifax Class Modernization, are given credible training and experience, and are not left waiting around getting bored.”


This Personnel Coordination Centre tracking “ensures our fleet schools train only the absolute necessities.” The Navy has learned that getting recruits through the theory-based, school-house learning and initial knowledge requirements as quickly as possible is key. “We are always chiseling away at our education model to ensure that our new sailors progress into the fleet where the most valuable learning occurs – the ‘real experiential-based knowledge’ at sea.” In effect, what he is saying is that the whole ship’s company gets involved in finishing the job of training sailors.

“We have preserved the sea-days for all the ships of the Fleet. We’ve focused our resources toward the fleet schedule and made sure that we’ve assessed all elements of our work ashore to reduce the budget and personnel requirements so we can uncompromisingly focus on our primary mandate, which is generating operational readiness and excellence at sea. That’s the key one, focusing on the pointy end of the navy – the fleet at sea.”

Despite the wide-ranging and transformative modernization the RCN is undergoing right now (including the cultural changes explained by Vice-Admiral Norman in our previous edition of FrontLine), its guiding principles remain unchanged. RAdm Newton’s perspective is that “Everyone who goes to sea is a mariner. Everyone who goes to sea has to be a manager (of money, of resources, of time). Everyone who goes to sea must also become a leader (because by the time you get two chevrons or two stripes on your shoulder, you’re leading other people).” And, wrapping up, he says, “Everyone who goes to sea must also be a warrior.”
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