Naval Task Group
Mar 15, 2007

The Navy’s fundamental responsibility is to defend the nation by safeguarding and upholding our sovereignty in Canada’s three ocean approaches and extending the writ of Canadian law and authority through support to other federal government departments. At the same time, the Navy as one arm of the Canadian Forces (CF), is responsible to defend the maritime approaches to North America from both conventional and asymmetric attack.

Ultimately, the Navy’s capacity to fulfill these responsibilities derives from its ability to understand what is happening in the vast ocean estate, to exert presence where and when it is needed, and to control events through the latent or actual use of force at sea. The Navy works with other elements of the CF and government departments to achieve the first two, but only the Navy can achieve the last.

Canada has a deep and abiding stake in the norms and institutions upon which the international community is built. This, coupled with the determination of recent governments to assert Canada’s traditionally active international role, assures that maritime forces will be needed to project Canada’s influence and power abroad, reassuring our friends and acting with our key allies in deterring those who would act against Canada’s interests.

In this regard, the navy is very well postured to act as an instrument of influence and power: warships can be maintained for extended periods at high ­readiness to deploy at short notice for emerging crises; they can remain on task for extended periods without pre-arranged basing; they are exceptionally versatile, able to perform not only a full range of missions while deployed, but also capable of being re-tasked instantly to combat operations; they are virtually self-sufficient; and can be committed to operations at the time and place of the government’s choosing – and just as ­readily withdrawn. A navy’s utility ultimately derives from its ability to control events at sea, and this is the fundamental purpose of the Naval Task Group.

The Naval Task Group normally consists of three or more warships with different capability packages that together form a significantly capable “system of systems.” Destroyers and Frigates are mutli-purpose combatants with an emphasis on anti-air or anti-submarine warfare but with capabilities in many disciplines, including the ability to provide fire support to forces ashore. The Iroquois class destroyer is the platform of choice to embark a Commander and staff. The ship has enhanced Command and Control capabilities that permit the embarked Task Group Commander to effectively control numerous warships, submarines, helicopters, fighter aircraft, and long range maritime patrol aircraft. This is an extremely complex undertaking and the Iroquois class destroyer is the only Canadian naval ship that can coordinate all of these tasks.
Ship Formation in the Gulf of Oman of the Canadian Navy. From right, Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships:  Algonquin, Protecteur and St-John’s.

The Halifax class Frigate is multi-purpose, and can conduct a variety of operations, from boarding’s to anti-submarine warfare. HMCS Fredericton clearly illustrated its versatility in 2006 when suddenly retasked from its Fisheries patrol mission to participate in an RCMP counter-drug sting operation – they stopped to fuel up and then headed for the coast of Africa (see FrontLine Security, winter 07/08 edition).

As mentioned, the destroyer is the ideal platform for the commander of the Naval Task Group. The Commodore’s staff is made up of naval operators, engineers, lawyers, intelligence officers, and public affairs officers. This team plans and monitors a host of operations within the domestic and international front.

Domestically, the Naval Task Group commander could coordinate the search of Canadian coastlines for unauthorized submarines entering Canadian Territorial Waters or could coordinate with other government departments to provide seaward security for a major event such as the 2010 Olympics. When Hurricane Katrina devastated the United States’ Gulf Coast region, the Canadian Naval Task Group responded immediately and sailed to provide assistance.

The importance of the Canadian Task Group concept is demonstrated by the fact that since 1990, Canada has contributed Task Groups in major international leadership roles to two major multi-national operations – the 1990-91 war against Iraq, and the more recent war on terrorism. Being able to operate and lead Task Groups during such conflicts benefits Canada in several ways. First, because Task Groups are so fundamental to naval operations, being able to contribute and operate one ensures that our warships remain under Canadian control, instead of being parceled out around the coalition fleet. Second, Sovereign control of our naval forces makes them a much more effective instrument of Canada’s national will. Finally, maintaining our own capability to form Task Groups gives our sailors the skills needed to work well with other navies during international operations. That’s also why other nations, including the USA, are wiling to entrust their warships to the command of Canadian Commodores. This trend continues with the recent announcement by the MND to deploy another Task Group to the Gulf Region in June 2008".

The Canadian Navy’s fundamental mission is to defend the nation. Three things make Canada sovereign at sea: effective surveillance, meaningful presence, and an ability to control events in Cana­dian waters. The Naval Task Group conducts these types of operations without difficulty and provides the capacity for independent and sovereign action at sea.  
Commander Larry Trim is the section head of Maritime Staff Strategic Communications. His major responsibility is connecting with the academic, and business community to enhance an understanding of the Canadian Navy.
© Frontline Defence 2008