Good morning, members of the Standing Committee on National Defence. It's really a delight to be back with you after your visit to NATO headquarters, to Latvia, and to the Ukraine.
Right up front, I certainly wanted to thank the committee for their interest, obviously, in the NATO mission. More importantly, we'd like to thank you for having engaged our troops abroad. I know my last opportunity to speak to the committee on this subject was in June. As I mentioned then, I was quite confident that the troops deployed would very much enjoy the engagement and enjoy having what they are doing recognized by this committee, so I thank you very much.
On behalf of the department, it is an honour for me to provide you with opening comments this morning with respect to the Canadian Armed Forces' involvement in NATO. My role is director of staff within the National Defence headquarters. My team plays an important role in the planning of operations on behalf of the chief of the defence staff. Of course we do this important work in very close collaboration with our whole-of-government partners, and internally with our team within the policy group and within the Canadian Joint Operations Command. For that reason, today, as the chair has indicated, I have my colleagues and good friends, Major-General Derek Joyce and Major-General Bill Seymour.
Today our appearance will cover Canada's support and contribution to NATO, including mention of several of our NATO military operations.
Canada is deeply engaged with NATO, which we see as the cornerstone of Euro-Atlantic security, and the importance of the alliance to Canada is reflected in Strong, Secure, Engaged, our new defence policy. Canada's national delegation to NATO is headed by Ambassador Buck, and Canada's military representative is Lieutenant-General Hainse, both of whom appeared before you at this committee on February 6.
In addition to Canada's national delegation to NATO headquarters, approximately 245 Canadian Armed Forces personnel are posted to NATO billets globally. This number does not include personnel deployed to NATO operations or staff working within various NATO agencies.
As the committee is aware, we are also fortunate to have Lieutenant-General Christine Whitecross serving as the commandant of the NATO Defense College in Rome. Additionally, Lieutenant-General Christian Juneau is currently serving as the deputy commander of the Joint Forces Command Naples.
Canada's priority for NATO is to ensure the alliance remains modern, flexible, agile, and able to deter the threats of today and those arising in the future. As highlighted in “Strong, Secure, Engaged”, Canada will pursue leadership roles where able, and will prioritize interoperability in its planning and capability development to ensure seamless co-operation with allies and partners, particularly those within NATO.
Militarily, NATO is a key enabler for the Canadian Armed Forces' interoperability with allies, and it is apparent that for any major operation, the Canadian Armed Forces will continue to deploy as part of an alliance or coalition, often with little warning. The goal is therefore to have forces be interoperable from the moment they deploy on training or on operations. This, of course, will reduce work-up time required for forces to be truly employable, regardless of the operational environment. Interoperability, which is the ability to act together coherently, is in our parlance a force multiplier in improving the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the force.
Canada also leverages our participation in NATO to maximize our information-sharing opportunities and more generally, to strengthen our bilateral relations with our allies. There exist many collaborative programs, committees, and processes that underpin NATO's focus on interoperability as a cornerstone of the alliance. For example, there are standards and doctrine development, as well as training events such as Exercise Steadfast Cobalt, a NATO command and control interoperability exercise, just to point out one.
Additionally, the CAF participates. I look forward to discussing a number of high-level NATO joint training exercises, for example, Exercise Trident Juncture 2018, which will take place this fall. Again, this further enhances NATO interoperability and our readiness to respond to crises.
Allow me to take a few minutes to underline and update you on our ongoing operational contributions to NATO.
The Canadian Armed Forces prides itself on delivering operational success and excellence within those NATO missions assigned by government. We do so with purpose and in a manner that is reflective of Canada's solid reputation as a reliable ally.
In 2014, following the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Canada committed at the earliest stages to participate in NATO assurance measures to promote regional security and stability. At the Warsaw summit in 2016, as the NATO alliance adjusted to new security concerns in Ukraine, the Middle East, and North Africa, Canada announced that it would renew its commitment under Operation Reassurance, as part of its contribution to NATO's deterrence posture.
As a consequence of these decisions, Canada is now leading, as you know, a robust multinational battle group in Latvia as one of the four lead framework nations under NATO's enhanced forward presence in eastern Europe. The other lead nations, of course, are the United Kingdom, Germany, and the United States. They lead these battle groups in Estonia, Lithuania, and Poland, respectively.
Canada's enhanced forward presence in Latvia is the most multinational of the battle groups. Our battle group includes contributing forces, as you know, from Albania, Italy, Poland, Slovenia, and Spain, and we look forward to the Czech Republic and Slovakia joining us later in 2018. Certainly there is great interest in the work that's being done there.
Following a series of preparatory and confirmation exercises, our first battle group was declared fully operational on September 6, 2017, and we have just recently rotated out our battle group, since your visit, on January 15.
The Canadian Armed Forces is certainly proud to serve as the lead framework nation in Latvia. Not only are our personnel playing a key role within EFP, but I think they're demonstrating outstanding leadership and true commitment to the mission.
Our land force includes up to 450 Canadian Armed Forces personnel and forms Canada's largest sustained military presence in Europe since the early 1990s. The task force includes a headquarters element, an infantry company, a combat service support element, and vehicles and equipment based at Camp Adazi, which you would have seen with your own eyes.
Our battle group is currently under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Sean French from the 2nd Royal Canadian Regiment, and I would offer up to the committee that we were extremely proud of our first battle group commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Wade Rutland, whose leadership of the battle group and significant contributions to promoting in-country security and defence resulted in his being awarded the Order of Viesturs by the President of Latvia. I recently had the opportunity to meet the Minister of Defence from Latvia, and he spoke quite fondly and poetically with respect to what Wade had achieved during his time in the country, so we're very proud of that.
In addition to our EFP battle group, the Canadian Armed Forces is also contributing, on a rotational basis, an air task force from the RCAF, comprising up to six CF-18 fighter aircraft as well as flight crew, command staff, and key support personnel to NATO air policing duties. Our fighter force completed a very successful mission in Romania—their second, of course—which ended in January of this year. During the mission, the crews were not only there to achieve the end states for NATO, but certainly increased their interoperability with the Romanian air force and other regional partners. We've committed to continue that great work and will resume air policing duties in Romania later this calendar year.
Lastly, the Royal Canadian Navy continues to force-generate a frigate and a ship's company on a persistent rotational basis, to be employed for exercises and operational duties within NATO's maritime command area of responsibility. At this very moment Commander Gord Noseworthy, the ship's skipper, is commanding HMCS St. John's, which is currently on the North Sea. By the end of the current commitment, the CAF will have sustained a frigate consistently in the standing NATO maritime forces for five consecutive years, demonstrating our support to NATO's maritime posture.
Operation Kobold is Canada's contribution to the Kosovo Force, or KFOR for short. KFOR is a NATO-led peace-support operation with the objective of maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kosovo. Canada's current commitment to KFOR began in 2008.
There are currently five Canadian Armed Forces members deployed in KFOR, including the chief of the NATO Joint Logistics Operation Center. Although it is relatively modest, Canada's contribution is recognized and appreciated by our allies.
Although it's not a NATO mission, it's well known to our allies that Ukraine remains an important Canadian foreign and defence policy priority. Operation Unifier, initially announced in April 2015, has been extended to March 2019 and encompasses Canada's training and capacity-building efforts.
As you know based on your visit, we have up to 200 proud CAF personnel deployed on this key mission, and their focus is clearly on the tactical soldier training, including training in explosive ordnance disposal, military policing, medical training, logistics training, and professional development courses writ large.
By participating in this training mission, the Canadian Armed Forces is helping to develop the professionalism of the Ukrainian armed forces and to modernize and build capacity within their forces, effectively supporting Ukraine's aspirations to achieve NATO interoperability by 2020.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, from our long presence in Germany and the patrols of the North Atlantic during the Cold War, to the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Libya, and now to deterrence and efforts projecting stability, the Canadian Armed Forces has consistently demonstrated our commitment to the alliance and will continue to provide those robust capabilities and deploy highly trained and competent members, obviously in line with our government's direction.
Thank you very much.