Serving Canada on the High Seas
© 2007 FrontLine Defence (Vol 4, No2)

There are times during this article where it is self-complementary to HMCS Ottawa – and may verge on bragging – for that I do not apologize. Rather, I acknowledge both my bias and my professional position as Commanding Officer. You see, there is much that the Canadian Forces and her Navy have to be proud of. Tradition, heritage, extremely capable ships, and experienced ‘state-of-the-art’ people are some of the most notable elements. Therefore it should not be a surprise for you to read about Ottawa’s successes during her most recent deployment to Southwest Asia in support of the Campaign Against the Threat of Terrorism (CATT). If it is, it is likely because being Canadian, we tend to downplay our accomplishments and avoid the spotlight. Such is my profound pride in the Navy and my crew that I share this story with you.

It was a bright sunny September day last fall, when Ottawa slipped out to sea for a six-month deployment to the other side of the planet. This is ‘ops normal’ for the Navy whose global reach and flexibility enables her to quickly deploy tailored forces anywhere that our Government requires. In my career, I have conducted a number of operational tours, including a year-long deployment in 1993 in support of stabilizing efforts off of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia, and three 61/2 month deployments to the Persian Gulf. As the Commanding Officer of an operationally deploying warship, I am trained, experienced, and ready. My challenge is to maximize the extraordinary capabilities of the Canadian sailor and aviator.

Operation ALTAIR, was named after the brightest star in the constellation Aquila, the Eagle, and is derived from the Arabic phrase Al Nasr Al-Tair, which means “The Flying Eagle.”

Ottawa’s deployment was in support of Operation ALTAIR (the Canadian Maritime contribution to the CATT) Rotation 2. While Ottawa was the third Navy warship to hold the line in Operation ALTAIR, she actually represented the 20th warship to deploy to the Persian Gulf since 9/11. In fact, Ottawa has been to Southwest Asia three times in her short 10-year life, in 1998, 2002, and 2007. Naval deployments to the Persian Gulf have been conducted independently, as part of a Canadian Task Group or integrated within a United States Navy (USN) Carrier Strike Group (CSG). Ottawa’s latest deployment would be different, as the ship constituted an integrated unit within an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and would involve differences in tactical pre-deployment training doctrine that the Navy had not previously been exposed to.

Deployed to the Persian Gulf to strike at terrorism as far from our shores, home and hearth as possible, and to deny terrorists the use of the sea in any way, my ship was trained and ready if called upon to support a wide range of actions from UNSCR enforcement to humanitarian aid. We operated in every major body of water in theatre and covered over 30,000 nm of ocean – from the Persian (Arabian) Gulf to the Kenyan coast, including the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Red Sea.

Flexibility, Command and Control capabilities, and scope of operations are classic advantages of the Navy, and Ottawa was called upon in each of these facets. Assessed by my Operation Control authorities (Commanders of Task Forces 150 & 152) as one of their most experienced and capable ships, Ottawa was assigned a heavy load of warfare duties and was also an alternate flagship for both CTF 150 and 152. In theatre, Ottawa’s deployment was divided into three 1-month patrols.

Mission Effects
The effects of these direct actions at sea are extremely important. After all, the end state of a deployment is not to deploy but to generate effects on the ground. Admiral Johnson (USN Chief of Naval Operations 1996-2000) put it best when he said, “The purpose of Naval Forces is to influence, directly and decisively, events ashore from the sea – anytime, anywhere.” When Ottawa successfully interdicts and/or impacts on terrorist use of the sea, a chain of effects supports our troops on the ground.


Boarding Ops on the High Seas

A high-speed high seas chase during HMCS Ottawa’s first Operation ALTAIR patrol ended successfully as the warship, reacting to actionable intelligence, interdicted a vessel engaged in terrorist related smuggling. From start to finish, the take down looked something like this:

3h45:    Ottawa’s intelligence team brings forward the information on positioning of the target vessel. Plotting ­confirms it to be approximately 75 nm away. The ship begins closing the position at operational speed.
2h10:    Ottawa informs regional Operational Control and national authorities.
1h50:    Having tasked the on station coalition Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA) to investigate the position, Ottawa ­confirms there is one contact in that area. The MPA is then tasked to covertly track. The ship increases speed to maximum based on the confidence of the information and the relative proximity of the target to territorial waters (TTW).
1h35:    A warning pipe is made to the ship’s company and Ottawa’s senior personnel meet to discuss tactical approach, rules of engagement and Use of Force. The Boarding Party is given advance notice of possible Non-Compliant Boarding in the next 3 hours. Broad internal ship preparations are actively underway.
1h28:    Ottawa is brought to “Ops Red” Boarding Stations. The Sea King CH124 helicopter (callsign Monty 29) is now launched at long range to cover the gap from the MPA, which is proceeding off station. Monty 29 takes over covert tracking tasking.
0h28:    It is apparent that the target is closing TTW and that if not deterred, a ship intercept will not be possible. Monty 29 is tasked to actively hail the vessel and attempt to stop the target from entering TTW.
0h20:    Monty 29 is successful in diverting target. Target stops several miles from TTW while the crew appears to be jettisoning suspect cargo over the side .
0h12:    Managing concurrent launch of the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), true tailwind recovery of Monty 29 and embarkation of boarding party in the RIB, Ottawa conducts final preparations. Monty 29 returns with ­photographic intel onboard supporting initial reports.
0h10:     Naval Boarding Party embarked on the RIB.
0h08:     Ottawa and RIB conduct final high-speed intercept phase.
0h06:     Ottawa commences loud hailer broadcasts to target in Arabic and Somali. Target crew ceases all activities.
0h00:    Ottawa’s team onboard target, vessel secured.

(Compiled by Sub Lieutenant Matthew Mitchell, Officer-of-the Watch and Witnessing Officer of the Boarding Party in HMCS Ottawa).

Patrol #1
I should have known, when my Crypto­logic Direct Support Element (CDSE – Intelligence Specialists deploying in ships with a sophisticated suite of organic and non-organic intelligence resources in direct support of operations) gave me actionable intelligence just days into theatre, that this deployment was going to be a fast ride. Ottawa had just departed the USN/Indian Navy/Canadian Navy joint and combined Exercise Malabar, and reported for duty to CTF 150 when our first action went down. It was a thing of beauty the way my onboard intelligence team liaised with shore-based coalition staffs. This tight liaison enabled Ottawa to position herself to execute a high speed, operational boarding. The effectiveness of our demanding national training protocols become evident as the team executed – like combat clockwork!

With the first Operational Boarding complete, Ottawa resumed “baseline” operations in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Certainly less sexy than direct action events, baseline operations are essential activities. As the ‘cop on the Maritime beat,’ baseline units provide presence, and conduct information gathering operations (Maritime Awareness Calls, Recognized Maritime Picture Compilation, Approach Operations). This information is examined by a host of analysts that generate actionable intelligence gems that lead to direct action at-sea and ashore. Ottawa’s baseline patrol was conducted mainly along the Somalia coastline.  This area is unstable and rife with piracy – a situation which terrorists could very well exploit. This vital baseline work was interrupted in the latter stages with yet another operational boarding. Successful completion of this direct action event and baseline operations enroute Muscat Oman, marked the end of Patrol # 1.

Patrol #2
This patrol also commenced with a bang. Just hours outside of Muscat, and into the early evening, Ottawa received a MAYDAY on the International Distress frequency. While difficult to break the language barrier, it was clearly an Indian cargo ship, about 15 nm away, was taking on water fast. ‘Coalition Warship 341’ came up to full-speed. An intense, choppy, midnight rescue was successful due to the skill and seamanship of Ottawa’s SAR team. After delivering 18 grateful Indian merchant sailors ashore, Ottawa was off at high speed through the Straits of Hormuz, enroute Bahrain.

As Alternate Flagship, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship Ottawa was assigned the honour of hosting a Change of Command Ceremony, as Commodore B. Williams, from the Royal Navy, relieved the German Rear Admiral H. Langë. Diplomatic events such as these are important and visible indications of Canadian support and commitment to regional coalition building, maritime security operations, and the campaign against terrorism. They are a classic force multiplier that the Navy brings to the government (such as to poise a warship off of a foreign shore and then reposition in another country to further governmental foreign policy objectives).
HMCS Ottawa crewmembers on the bridge await information following a boarding of a dhow. Successful interdictions force changes in smuggler tactics, reducing terrorists’ funding sources which leads to curtailed ground operations – keeping coalition forces safer. Unreliable provision of munitions and materials impacts terrorist activities, ­ making them more vulnerable to direct action by ground forces. Intel collected by Canadian ships provides analysis basis for potential direct action by coalition forces. (Photo: Mcpl Robert Bottrill)

In Ottawa’s deployment, there have been a host of very productive diplomatic support activities, which added to the overall effects on shore.

The second patrol was mainly a baseline patrol that focused on the Persian Gulf. Ottawa was assigned a number of warfare duties to conduct a Pulse Operation in the Southern Persian Gulf. We coordinated the ­activities of the assigned coalition aircraft and ships to maximize presence in-line with my Operational Commander’s Intent. Ottawa conducted the largest proportion of its Hails, Maritime Awareness Calls and Approach Operations during this patrol. Ottawa would drive herself and the program, conducting an average of 10 approaches per day, and sometimes as many as 16. Professionally demanding, the operational tempo over the Christmas period was a challenge that prepared the ship for the next patrol and Ottawa’s leadership role in the Red Sea.

Patrol #3
I was convinced that Ottawa’s next Patrol would start off as the other two had, with a challenge. I was not disappointed. The first item on our program was to plan and lead an Anti-Submarine Warfare exercise with four ships, Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Maritime Helicopters, and a US Submarine. However, the exercise was cancelled and Ottawa was quickly assigned to conduct an extended force protection escort through the Straits of Hormuz over a 24-hour period and a transit distance of 240 nm. The flexibility of Naval power was again demonstrated, as my warship was re-rolled at a moment’s notice in favour of a completely different, high priority mission. With the High Value Unit (HVU) escort safely complete, Ottawa ­proceeded at high speed to the last unpatrolled body of water nearby – the Red Sea.

For the next 10 days, Ottawa was assigned the duty of Pulse Group Commander in the Red Sea. The third busiest waterway in the world, it is strategically one of the most important. This tasking would prove very different from the previous Pulse Group tasking, in that the Red Sea is a far less understood waterway than the Persian Gulf and resources assigned Ottawa were much larger.

Under CTF 150, Ottawa was assigned Pulse Group Commander for Pulse Op ARGO BUTES. Over a ten-day period, I exercised tactical control of five multinational coalition warships, an AOR, and daily Maritime Patrol Aircraft resources, coordinating patrol activities and replenishment support requirements. My task was to understand the Red Sea maritime environment and communicate coalition messages to the community. For a deployed Canadian Patrol Frigate without any attached staff, Ottawa would execute this focused-duration Tactical Control mission aggressively and with style.

During the 10-day mission Pulse Operation ARGO BUTES obtained considerable intelligence. Traffic patterns were assessed by my intelligence team and validated by Pulse Group forces. This baseline information provides the backdrop for follow-on operations.

Of significance to Canada, this form of coalition Command role further reinforces our nation’s commitment to international security and your Navy’s relevance and effectiveness as a world class Navy – ­getting the job done!

HMCS OTTAWA‘s Mission:

Approach Ops: 175
MAC: 452
Operational Boardings: 4
Vessels Queried: 144
Steamed to date: 41,000 nautical miles
Fuel Consumed: 4,633,000 litres
Length of Deployment: 6 Months

Boarding Team: Full 20-person team drawn from every department of the ship’s company but specifically trained to conduct boarding operations. Weapon handling, non-lethal control techniques, military and maritime law and search techniques are emphasized at the advanced level.

Small Boat Reaction Team: A smaller 8-person team consisting of the Boarding Officer, Witnessing Officer (specially trained for evidence and intelligence gathering) and 6 members from the engineering, deck and combat departments. This team is used for boarding of smaller vessels where space is limited and crews are smaller.

Small Boat Inspection Team: A 6-person team designed to visit, board and inspect small dhows with minimal crews. The “six pack” is a rapidly deployable and flexible team capable of ­carrying out approach operations or boardings aboard very small vessels.
Approach Operations: These are conducted with the 6-person team on small fishing or cargo dhows with the intent of gathering human intelligence, learning about the local economy and ­community and fostering a good working environment between the coalition and local mariners. Approach Operations allow the coalition to establish a baseline understanding of the region in order to be able to discern between normal and irregular activities.

MAC: Maritime Awareness Calls are radio communications between coalition ships and vessels transiting through the region. MAC’s are made only to vessels operating with the Automatic Identification System (AIS) and inform them of the coalitions presence in the area and their ability to call any ­coalition vessels in case of emergency or to report any acts of piracy, terrorism or suspicious activity.

Vessel Query: For vessels that do not use the AIS, a full query is conducted whereby the vessel reports their name and statistics such as next port of call, cargo, masters name and flag of registry. Most queries take approximately ten minutes and vessels masters are happy to oblige.

Anatomy Of Excellence
Why did Ottawa excel at every task assigned during Operation ALTAIR? There are a number of contributing reasons – I will highlight three key factors: the trained Canadian Sailor; the balance and quality of our Navy’s ships; and clear Commander’s Intent throughout the Chain of Command.

Canadian Naval training is under ­regular review, making it highly responsive to operational advances. The Canadian sailor is at the top because we are adept at learning and adapting procedures. I have considerable operational experience with other Navies, and I know that our training standards are among the best in the world. A defining characteristic of the Canadian Sailor is stubborn pride and the demand for excellence.

Canadian and US Navies have worked extremely closely together for decades. This has driven our Navy to operate apace of and occasionally integrated into the USN – the most technologically advanced and powerful Navy in the world. The focus on interoperability with the USN, and any other Navy that we operate with, drives capability enhancement, most notably in the communications and bandwidth management areas. Combine our well rounded and combat-capable ships with the integration of CDSE intelligence teams, and you increase the Navy’s punching power exponentially.

Nov. 2006 – Commander Darren Hawco stands by for information following a boarding of a dhow. (Photo: MCpl Robert Bottrill)

It was at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto where I learned about the Operational Planning Process and understood that, as a Commander in the field, my actions and decisions need to be guided by my Commander’s Intent. In preparing for my deployment, the Chief of Defence Staff and the Commander of CEFCOM (Canadian Expeditionary Force Command) provided clear intent in terms of National Policy, End States, Coalition Strategy, Constraints, Restraints, Objectives, and Risks (among other key elements).

The Commanders of Task Forces 150 and 152 provided clear operational orders at all times, which included their Guidance and Intent. When your bosses are clear about what end state they are aiming for, and give you the latitude to execute, you are in a wonderful place. Keeping this “big hand, small map” attitude within my own Command, enabled the Chain of Command to function effectively – from the CDS to the most junior Boarding Party member.

Final Thoughts
I conclude by re-stating how proud I am to be in the Navy. I am proud to have led the finest warship in the CATT. It was by virtue of the excellence of her crew, the ship, and the support and guidance from my Chain of Command that Ottawa was able to create operational effects in support of the Government of Canada and our deployed forces ashore. That has ever been and will ever be the role of the Navy – in the finest traditions of the service.

Ready Aye Ready.
Commander Darren Hawco is the Commanding Officer of HMCS Ottawa.
© FrontLine Defence 2007