Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, members of the committee.
Good afternoon, everyone.
On behalf of the Royal Canadian Navy's command chief petty officer, Tom Riefesel, with me today, and the rest of the uniformed and civilian members of the Royal Canadian Navy, I thank you for the opportunity to appear before this committee.
Today I intend, as we say in the navy, to put a fix on the chart and to provide you with an update on the current readiness of the RCN. I am pleased to say at the outset that we are most definitely on track.
We are making excellent headway on the important modernization and renewal program that we have embarked upon. Although we have encountered some challenges, we have a comprehensive plan in place to tackle those challenges head-on, and we are executing that plan.
My intention this afternoon is to deliver my remarks within the framework of my four command priorities. These are: ensuring excellence in operations at sea; enabling the transition to the future fleet; evolving the business of our business; and finally, energizing the institution.
Excellence in operations is the ultimate measure by which all fighting organizations are judged. Our sailors and our ships demonstrate excellence at sea on a daily basis; at home, in all three oceans; and abroad.
This summer it was clear that the RCN is well on its way to becoming an Arctic navy rather than just a northern navy, with capabilities and skills to operate persistently in the High Arctic. To that end, HMCS Kingston was part of the whole-of-government team that located the lost Franklin vessel, HMS Erebus.
At the same time, HMCS Shawinigan travelled further north than any RCN vessel has ever done before.
To the south, one of our submarines, HMCS Victoria spent much of this summer in the vicinity of the Hawaiian Islands at RIMPAC, the world's largest maritime exercise. Exercises such as RIMPAC develop and strengthen ties among our defence and security partners. Victoria was a formidable foe, sharpening the skills of the allied fleet in a variety of complex war-fighting scenarios.
Victoria also joined Operation Caribbe, the campaign to combat illicit trafficking, operating in the eastern Pacific. She worked closely alongside several of our Kingston-class maritime coastal defence vessels that have stepped up to the plate this year and delivered real strategic effect, both domestically and internationally.
We're also encouraged by the fact that the first of our modernized Halifax-class frigates will soon be ready to deploy in support of government objectives. The Halifax-class modernization project is truly the bridge to the future fleet that Canada needs. This roughly $4.5 billion project is firmly on track to be completed on time and on budget.
As this committee no doubt recognizes, the fleet of today represents decisions of nearly 50 years ago and the fleet that will serve the Prime Minister and the people of Canada in 2050 will be defined by decisions made today. The retirement of HMCS Protecteur, Preserver, Iroquois, and Algonquin from active service was an essential step toward the introduction of new ships and capabilities to be delivered through the national shipbuilding procurement strategy.
Making these decisions will allow the Royal Canadian Navy to align our human and financial resources to invest in our future.
It's a future well within our sights thanks to the effectiveness of the modernized frigates, our submarine, and our coastal defence vessels, these capabilities that I have described as our bridge to the future.
In addition, all three of the major shipbuilding projects are right now in funded project definition. We look forward to seeing steel cut on the Harry DeWolf-class Arctic offshore patrol ships in mid-2015. It will be followed by the Queenston-class joint support ship, and in the longer term, the Canadian surface combatant, both now moving through key project milestones.
All these programs, along with the modernized Aurora maritime patrol aircraft, and the new Cyclone maritime helicopter, which will soon be integrated into fleet service, will truly take the RCN to the next level of overall war-fighting capabilities.
Certainly our transformation is not just occurring on the waterfront. As you may be aware, the RCN is now implementing a plan to navigate through its most intensive and comprehensive institutional renewal in half a century.
The RCN executive plan sets the conditions for our successful transformation, one which touches upon all elements of our fleet and its structure. We've made great progress executing on that plan, evolving our governance structures, our training systems, and our ship crewing models, to name just a few. We've emerged as a smarter, more efficient, and more focused organization, poised to embrace the next two decades of a nearly continuous evolution and introduction of new capability. It is very much an exciting time to be leading the Royal Canadian Navy.
I'm energized for the future, but not just because of the exciting new equipment coming to the waterfront. I am energized every day by the incredible work of our sailors, regular force and reserve, and by the families who support them. I'm energized also by our civilian workforce, those who get our ships to sea and keep them there. Today, I'm proud to say that we are more one navy than ever before in my career.
In conclusion, the Royal Canadian Navy is on track.
We continue to deliver strategic effect at sea and ashore for Canadians, while successfully negotiating through a decades-long period of change and modernization. We are able to achieve this balance because we have a plan in place.
Our plan will ensure that our people remain “ready aye ready” to embrace the opportunities of sustaining the navy of today and preparing it for tomorrow.
Thank you. Merci, Mr. Chairman.
Members of the committee, I look forward to answering your questions.
We see the Arctic as hugely important, not just for the navy, but for Canada looking forward. The Arctic represents a fundamentally maritime operating environment. It is defined by the ocean; therefore, we see it as a key area for us to be looking forward to operating in over the years and decades ahead.
Obviously, the Arctic offshore patrol ships will play a key role in enabling the RCN, with its other government partners, in opening up our ability to operate and sustain operations in the High Arctic. We've had great success over the preceding years through a series of operations and exercises, cooperating with our coast guard and other government partners in the Operation Nanook series, in Operation QIMMIQ and other operations as recently as just a few months ago.
As we look farther into the future and farther into the north, we recognize that one of the key challenges moving forward is sustainability. We're excited by the opportunity to establish a refuelling facility in Nanisivik, which will allow us to stage ourselves and reach even farther into the north.
I think it would be useful to look to the north as an area of potential development and security challenge—not necessarily security in a true military sense, but security in a broader sense—as we look to the challenges of increased activity in the north. We look at the increased rate of both transit shipping and destination shipping, where we're starting to see levels of activity in the last few years that are well beyond those of the years preceding. It is fair to say that what we'll see over the next three decades in terms of increased activity and growth could, in fact, exceed the level of activity of the preceding three centuries. That's the pace that we anticipate we're going to see in the north.
It's not just about the ships. It's not just about forward operating capability. It's also about new competencies and new procedures. We're looking to the experiences of our coast guard partners with respect to how we can sustain deployed activity in the north, looking at new crewing models, new ways of maintaining a visible presence, a Canadian flag, in essence, in that vast expanse that's so important to us.
We'll also look to the fact that the north, and the Canadian Arctic in particular, is an area that is defined not just by its geography or its oceanography, but also by the politics surrounding expansion in the Arctic. The work of the Arctic Council, the work of our partners in that council, is key to our building not just military capability, but the ability to operate and sustain ourselves, as I've indicated.
I think there are many lessons we can draw from international maritime law and international regulation associated with everything from environmental legislation to safety to issues surrounding contested water space that are going to affect how we see ourselves operating in 2020, 2025 right through to 2050 in the High Arctic.
The way I characterize the submarine capability and its importance to Canadians is to draw a parallel to what I think is something people can relate to in the context of ground operations. If somebody in the army were to talk about taking and holding ground, I think there would be an intuitive sense of understanding of what that meant.
In a maritime context, there are really only two ways to take and control water space. One is to mine it. The second is to put a submarine in it.
When we think about the requirement for Canada to exercise absolute sovereign control over a piece of water space, whether it's here in our own territorial waters or perhaps somewhere else in a conflict situation, this is where a submarine becomes an incredibly powerful capability. There's nothing else that can do that in a maritime domain. They truly are the dominant weapon system of naval operations.
As for the specifics of the capabilities that we have in the Victoria class, we're very pleased with where we are now. It's been a long road getting there, but we now have three of our four boats in the water, which is where we planned to be. That's our characterization of “steady state”. They're at varying degrees of operational availability.
We're certainly pleased with the great work that both Victoria and Windsor have done this year, with a combined 253 days at sea between those two vessels in 2014. Now, with the Chicoutimi back in the water, she's starting her six-year operational cycle. We're in the process of executing some very demanding technical trials as we speak. In fact, she's at sea today executing those technical trials.
Thank you for coming today, Vice-Admiral Norman and Chief Petty Officer Riefesel.
I appreciate your presentation. I noted the enthusiasm with which you spoke about the future of the navy. I'm sure you are very proud of it, and we're proud of the work you do and the service you provide.
But I note, Vice-Admiral, that in the business plan of the navy for 2014-17 there was a little less enthusiasm in referring to the 15.7% budget reductions and the cumulative effects on various programs, and to the buying power and flexibility being eroded by this, much due to the cumulative effects of that. In an accompanying letter, you're quoted as saying this on December 13, 2013, “Limited resources, financial and human, and competing priorities continue to test our ability to most effectively and efficiently deliver our mandate.”
This of course was echoed by the Chief Review Services in his report released on October 24, which says that in “recent years there has been a steady decline in the RCN's ability to achieve the required levels of readiness, to the point that it is currently challenged to meet...readiness requirements.”
Can I ask you how budget cuts have affected the navy's readiness and which elements of the navy in particular? Would it be training, staffing, or procurement that has been most affected by these cuts?
I'm just making a few notes, Mr. Harris, so that I can properly address the elements of your question.
Let me start by saying that there's no question that the RCN, all elements of the Canadian Forces, government, and Canadians writ large have challenges. It is a constant requirement of senior leaders and managers like me to balance the resources available to us to do all of the things that we know we must do and that we would want to do with our organization, or with our personal finances for that matter.
With respect to the issue of resource pressures, how we manage them and what the impact is, I would say that I see the responsibility to address these as falling into two categories. One is the obligation to extract every bit of value we can from the resources we're given, both financial and human, and to ensure that we are optimizing the utility of those resources. At the same time, it's identifying where we have pressures and to seek, where possible, relief to those pressures. I'll come back to that second issue, but I'd like to speak to the first one for a moment.
One of the significant drivers to our internal business modernization—“evolving the business of our business”, as I refer to it in my priorities—is to help address the primary area of responsibility, which is to squeeze out, eke out, every bit of possible efficiency we can from our organization. We're seeing great progress in that regard. We're seeing enormous strides in terms of how we can make better use of our training system, how we can make better use of our crewing, how we can eke out every opportunity we can for every day at sea. That most valuable commodity—
We have a number of ships tied up right now because of the ongoing modernization. What we've been able to do is to leverage the fact that those ships are in a state of modernization; to reactivate, for example, four of the maritime coastal defence vessels; to reallocate money from some of the divestment decisions that were announced earlier; and to put it into the return of those modernized ships coming back into the fleet.
To your specific question of readiness, fundamentally, on a ship-for-ship basis, HMCS Toronto, deployed today in the Mediterranean as part of Operation Reassurance, is as ready as any ship previous to her two years ago, three years ago, ten years ago. On a ship-to-ship, sailor-per-sailor basis, that deployed readiness is no different from what it was previously. Where you're seeing a difference is in the bench strength supporting that deployed ship. At the moment, much of that is a direct function of the removal from service of the frigates in particular to execute their modernization.
In that context, we've been able to take some risk in terms of the non-availability of those frigates and apply those resources to other capabilities. I mentioned the maritime coastal defence vessels as a great example of where we've been able to surge that capability in the short term.
The issue of maintaining competency as a component of readiness—it is not exclusively the only driver of readiness—is an ongoing challenge. The most significant thing we've done in the last two years is to re-engineer how we train our sailors at sea so that we make the most use, the optimum use, of every sea day we have. That's required us to move sailors around more frequently, but we're doing it in order to maintain those competencies so that in the next couple of years, when the frigates are back into operational service, we can transition smoothly knowing that we've bridged that gap to the greatest extent possible.
One of the hallmarks of NATO—and obviously I will speak to the maritime domain explicitly, but it applies to all the domains—is the very issue of interoperability, as you indicated in your question. Certainly the ability of Canada or any other country—but we're talking about Canada—to train, generate, and then deploy a ship that can seamlessly integrate into a NATO battle group or a U.S.-led battle group of whatever type is an incredibly powerful and flexible capability to have.
In the deployment of Toronto, you saw a couple of things. First of all, having the ship forward deployed in the first place represented a strategic decision, a real representation of forethought. We didn't know exactly what might or might not happen, but we knew we were going to need a reactive capability in that eastern Mediterranean Gulf region.
So, that's the first thing. To be able to redeploy the ship in very short order speaks to the flexibility of the capability itself and, in essence, to the value of forward deployed sea power to be able to react at fairly short notice. Then there is the ability to actually integrate into a NATO command structure that is pre-established, incredibly flexible, and adaptive. Having a Canadian warship in the Black Sea for the first time in over 20 years—22 or 23 years—was a significant event in and of itself, demonstrating the very solidarity that we were there to demonstrate. We worked with the U.S., Spanish, and other partners in a fully integrated battle picture, with fully integrated procedures, communications, and everything. Being able to work with some new partners, some emerging partners, and to, in essence, export our competencies at basic and intermediate levels to bring the ships and those sailors into fairly basic exercises is a very powerful indication not just of technical competence and tactical ability but, I think, of strategic solidarity.
I would like to go back to a previous question on readiness. As it relates to the events themselves that were reported in the media, I would simply say that as the admiral responsible for the calibre, the quality, and the readiness of that ship and her crew, prior to the deployment, I expressed complete confidence in the readiness of that crew and the materiel state of the ship. I indicated that to when the events transpired, and I stand by the fact that not only am I proud of how that ship is conducting itself but I have absolute confidence in her readiness as a front-line war-fighting capability for Canada.
I'll go class by class, but before I do, I'd like to address the second half of that latter question because it's common to all classes.
Again, the key to transitioning through these gap periods is to maintain competency. The way to maintain competency is through focused training that includes traditional classroom training but also the increased use of simulation, and ultimately and most significantly, it involves assuring that our folks get as much time at sea as they possibly can.
What we're doing is exactly what I indicated in response to a previous question. We've re-engineered how we manage the experience levels of individual sailors. Unlike previous systems, where we would look at an entire crew, we now look at individuals and assure that they get the opportunities they need. They can be moved from one class to another as required to get that experience.
As it relates to the specifics of individual capabilities, as you alluded to in your question, the first I would speak to is the command-and-control capability for a group of ships. That capability has truly evolved over time. It really comes down to having the space and the technology in the ship to support the command-and-control functions. We made a conscious decision at the front end of the Halifax-class modernization to basically upgrade four, the first four—Winnipeg was one of those ships—to mitigate that gap, because we knew the gap was going to happen at some point before we had a replacement capability.
We're quite confident that this gap will be filled with that capability. As I said, we're getting great results out of the modernized Halifax class.
Thank you very much for being here to help us understand your challenges.
I did note in your remarks here that somehow the section around challenges got deleted from the notes, but clearly there are many, and I'm referring to the “Evaluation of Naval Forces” document of December 2013.
Their key findings are these: number 4 is challenges in “readiness”; number 5 is “a reduction in forces capability”; number 6 is “strained Navy resources and...issues”, etc.; key finding number 8 is that the “Navy will be obliged to do less with less”; number 10 is that the readiness direction was changed to address that it wasn't being met with respect to “the required materiel state of ships”; and number 13 is that “Despite the efficiency improvements, there remains a funding gap in maintenance...”. For number 16, I'll get to that one later.
It's a pretty huge challenge that the RCN is facing.
I'm curious. What does it mean when it says that the navy will have to “do less with less”? Can you explain what's being dropped?
We know there have been budget cuts, but there have also been significant planned clawbacks. Those actually account for $3.5 billion over the last four years alone of capital underspend. That's 23% of the capital budget that has been deliberately clawed back. To what degree is that contributing to this set of challenges?
Lastly, in terms of mitigating these problems created by the premature retirement of four of the ships, the gap that you've been talking about—and you've been talking about capacity or training—I will note that in key finding number 16, “the percentage of personnel trained at optimal course capacity was [only] 54 percent,” whereas the target is 90%. Clearly, there is a huge fall-down in training, so that's hardly going to be what is going to address the gap. Could you explain how these gaps will actually be filled when training is so far below its target?
I'll speak to what I think is the most visible example, the auxiliary oiler replenishment capability. That is an area where we can work and will be working with our allies.
I spoke to the command-and-control gap earlier. The only other gap that I was unable to address, and perhaps I can use this opportunity to speak to it, is the air defence gap. As we've modernized the frigates, we have enhanced their self-defence capability. Where we will have to manage a capability gap is in the longer-range air defence capability that was inherent in the destroyers. I think that is a key area where allies will play an important role as we get to the new capability, which will come in the surface combatants in early to mid-next decade.
In the interim, our closest allies have very capable ships that have enhanced air defence capabilities. We operate with them routinely, and this goes back to the other question about interoperability.
The key, from a Canadian perspective, to having access to that capability is to be able to participate in the complex battle space of air defence, and that's exactly what we're doing on a routine basis. We're therefore able to get into what is a very integrated and distributed air defence situation at sea.
As it relates to the replenishment capability specifically, we are working with key allies to investigate options that cover a wide spectrum, from what I refer to as smart scheduling, which we do on a regular basis and we look to continue to do in the months and years ahead, up to the possible access to a more deliberate and dedicated capability. At the moment we're still in the analysis stage. It's not as positive a story as we thought it would be.
The key thing to understand is that capability is one of the most in-demand and short in supply capabilities across all of our allies, so there is not an affluence of under way replenishment capability amongst our key allies. In fact, they manage it all very tightly themselves. They're prepared to help to a point, but there is no silver bullet, if I may, solution. We are still working on a couple of leads. I have a remit back to the minister in the short term with respect to some of those possible leads.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and through you to the witnesses, thank you for attending today.
I was very interested in your introductory remarks, Admiral. You mentioned, of course, that the Halifax-class modernization project will bridge this fleet into the future, and that the $4.5-billion project is on track, to be completed on time and on budget. That's a fairly accurate statement, based on what I know and what you've just confirmed.
I'm very interested in all the problems that some of the members here have talked about. I'd like to come back to the part of your statement where you said, “As this committee no doubt recognizes, the fleet of today represents decisions of nearly 50 years ago.” You said as well that the fleet that will serve the Prime Minister in 2050...are the decisions that are made today.
We talk about the national shipbuilding strategy and all the things we're going to do for the navy that bode us well for the future. Would you agree with that, by your statement, the decisions we make today we will be living with for 50 years? If the navy is in as dire straits as some of the members across the way suggest, perhaps the governments of their day, of their political stripe, not reinvesting in the navy is why we're dealing with some of those results today. Would you say that's accurate and that it goes along with your statement?
So we cannot currently say that our fleet is operational, even if you compensate in terms of training. The Arctic is currently melting. We know that maritime space is expanding and, as you yourself said, the current scenario is based on the situation from 50 years ago.
I am having trouble understanding, even if we take new technologies into account. How can you say that we are currently ready, even with the new technologies?
Perhaps you could help me understand something. If we need new vessels with new technologies, it is because a need currently exists. How can we compensate now, given that the maritime space is much larger than it was 50 years ago and that it will certainly grow even larger 50 years from now? We all know that the Arctic continues to melt. What can be done to compensate? Should subcontractors be used? Should we work with the Americans?
You talked a lot about training. Beyond that, what are you doing to be ready in terms of your naval capabilities? What are you doing to compensate in that area? You currently do not have a full fleet; you have only half a fleet.
I'm very conscious of time, so I am going to be as quick as I can.
I characterize the joint support ship and the legacy capability that it's replacing as floating Canadian Tires. They are floating Canadian Tires-plus, and what the new Queenstonclass is going to bring is the plus: the ability to replenish under way, to fuel both the ships and the helicopters, to provide ammunition supplies, and to deliver some humanitarian assistance, to embark people to supplement whatever type of mission we may have, and to be able to command and control forces ashore. There's a very modest capability to do that, but nonetheless it represents an incremental improvement over the legacy capability.
As it relates to the surface combatant, the way I would characterize it, if we look at the early discussions around requirements and design, would be as a hybrid of the traditional capabilities of a frigate and of a destroyer. We would look, in essence, at combining those two capability sets in a way that gives us a scalable and flexible response in a single platform. We would also add very robust war-fighting capabilities and also some of these incremental non-traditional, non-war-fighting—for operations other than war—capabilities, which, at the moment, are very difficult to deliver using our current legacy platforms. We see this as a vitally important capability that would provide real flexibility for government downstream.
I have four questions. I'm just going to whip them out so you can answer them and I won't take all the time asking them.
I do want to say though that given your statement on the critical importance of predictability in planning, the question I won't ask is what $10 billion in deliberate clawbacks to the capital budget and about 20% operating fund budget cuts compared with the defence strategy are doing to your ability to predict in planning, because I can guess the answer.
The four questions are these.
First, National Defence refused to give the Parliamentary Budget Officer a statement of operating requirements for the AOPS. Why is that?
Second, the AOPS were intended to be delivered already, starting last year. Now you've said it will be 2018 to 2025 given the delivery schedule. Could you update us on what the delivery schedule is expected to be currently and whether it will mean an increase in budget, a decrease in numbers, or a decrease in capability that will be delivered, as the PBO has identified the options?
Third, for the surface combatant project you were just talking about, there's been a seven-year delay. It was originally announced for delivery in 2012, and now it's 2019. I suppose that's just around the corner. The departmental performance report notes that a decision—an update—was anticipated for last month, but nothing was announced. Could you fill us in as to whether that's meant another delay in the schedule?
Fourth, I just want to build on the conversation about the supply ships. You yourself mentioned that replenishment capability is a big challenge. We're not able to depend on our allies because capacity is short there, so what is the plan to deal with this? Are you recommending that the government lease commercial or military vessels from other countries, as has been reported in the media?