By Darlene Blakeley
An historic agreement on joint Arctic operations has been signed by the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Canadian Coast Guard.
On May 22, 2018, Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, Commander RCN, and Jeffery Hutchinson, Commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard, signed the Joint Concept of Arctic Operations (CONOPS), which establishes how the RCN and the Coast Guard will coordinate maritime operations within Canada’s Arctic Archipelago and Arctic waters, with the intent of pursuing greater interoperability.
With the Government of Canada’s commitment to increasing presence in the Arctic regions, both the RCN and the Coast Guard remain the most visible maritime presence during the summer navigation season. While the assigned missions and tasks are different and specific to each organization, there is significant synergy and increased operational effect that can be achieved through collaboration.
“Maritime operations in the Canadian Arctic are a complex and continually evolving endeavour,” said VAdm Lloyd. “While the Coast Guard and RCN fulfill different roles, their devotion to greater interoperability demonstrates the commitment of both organizations to the achievement of shared government objectives. Defining our partnership reinforces and strengthens the connection between the Coast Guard and RCN, and ensures that we benefit from each other’s experiences, assets and unique but intertwined areas of responsibility.”
Historically, the Canadian Coast Guard assigns at least six vessels annually to the Arctic for the navigation season, and the RCN assigns one to two vessels for a few weeks. With the projected arrival of its first Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPV) this year, the RCN’s ability to conduct extended Arctic operations and missions will increase significantly.
There are potential areas of mutual collaboration in operational scheduling, logistical support, training, interoperability and the execution of Northern operations, including search and rescue, environmental response and maritime security.
“Emergency situations in Arctic waters are a reality, and the Canadian Coast Guard stands ready to respond when they arise. Partnerships like this are integral to ensure we can continue to meet the needs of those who use Canada’s Arctic waters,” said Commissioner Hutchinson. “The Coast Guard and the RCN are seeing important investments to further strengthen our capacity in the Arctic, including the launch of a new Polar Icebreaker and new AOPVs. Further, measures under the Oceans Protection Plan are creating a more robust marine emergency response system, stronger presence and safer navigation.”
The RCN has operated in Northern waters for many years, delivering on its missions and legislated mandate for Canada. Its primary missions are to conduct surveillance, demonstrate and exercise presence and control, support other government departments, respond to emerging crises, and build upon relationships in the region.
Overall, it’s the RCN’s responsibility to schedule, train and ensure the logistical sustainment of its maritime forces for Arctic maritime operations, coordinate Northern maritime forces through the Maritime Component Command in Halifax, and execute all Northern missions as assigned by Canadian Joint Operations Command and the Government of Canada.
The Canadian Coast Guard has operated its vessels and been the maritime lead and principal presence on-water in the Arctic for over 50 years. It provides critical icebreaking and safe navigation services, support to government science projects, and remote community resupply. It is also a key contributor to maritime domain awareness in the Arctic.
“The Arctic is a complex and dynamic maritime environment, and presents challenge after challenge for the sailors who have braved those waters over centuries,” said VAdm Lloyd. “As we prepare for the arrival of Harry DeWolf, the first of the AOPVs, the RCN is sending some if its sailors to join our partners in the Coast Guard to learn more about this unique environment.”
Harry DeWolf will be in the water this year for trials, and will officially join the fleet in 2019.
The CONOPS has been developed to assist both organizations’ planners, schedulers, operators and training groups to discuss joint activities on a regular basis. This planning may not be limited to the signatories of this CONOPS, as the whole of government expresses an active interest in the sustainable development of the Arctic with the engagement, consultation and participation of Indigenous peoples and local communities and governments.
“The RCN and Coast Guard are two sides of the same coin; indivisible in looking after the safety, security and defence of our great nation,” said VAdm Lloyd. “Both of our organizations remain committed to reinforcing our relationship through the joint initiatives outlined in the CONOPS to ensure that northern development, presence and control are maintained throughout Canada’s North. Our missions are distinct, but complementary.”