this paper will examine the evolving nature of the Southwest Asia deployments from the point of view of their symbiotic relationship with the introduction of modern technologies and changing concepts of operations through the 1990s and into the twenty-first century. It is my specific contention that the Gulf deployments have been the catalyst for transformation of the Canadian fleet from a Cold War relic to one of the world’s leading medium power navies.
In the mid-1980s Canadian Navy finally embarked upon a long-needed recapitalization of the fleet. Old fleet (on left) was optimized for 1960s-era ASW. New fleet would be optimized for 1990s-era ASW. With fall of Berlin Wall, this very expensive fleet not yet built was being eyed for “peace dividend”. And then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait….
The first Gulf war deployment in the summer of 1990 turned the Canadian Navy’s world upside down – optimized for open-ocean anti-submarine warfare in the sub-arctic waters of the north Atlantic and Pacific oceans, it now found itself facing a primarily airborne threat in confined tropical desert waters The aging destroyer Athabaskan , the steam frigate Terra Nova and the supply ship Protecteur did sail, hastily upgraded with new weapon and Command and Control (C2) systems obtained from the CPF and TRUMP projects. But the sudden deployment also confirmed many fundamentals were sound – such as the basic operational competence of well-trained sailors and the organizational abilities of practiced staff officers; and the immense benefits of having invested in standardizing major systems, especially communications, with the United States Navy.
Despite aging hulls, Cold War ASW had seen fitting of powerful American systems, UHF SATCOM and the associated JOTS (Joint Operational Tactical System) and subsequent GCCS-M (“geeks-M”, or Global Command and Control System, Maritime). Therefore during the First Gulf War, even though Canadian ships could not hold a place in the forward operating areas of the Northern Gulf, when USN commanders needed someone to coordinate the activities of the many other “lesser” navies in the Southern Gulf, they delegated tactical control of the Coalition Logistics Force to the Canadian task group commander, making him the only non-USN officer assigned a subordinate warfare commander role in that conflict.
before the summer of 1990, the Gulf region was not a typical theatre of operations for the Canadian Navy. Since then, Southwest Asian waters have become a ‘home away from home’ for the Canadian fleet. Every major warship currently in service has been there at least once, some several times, and it is hard to find any Canadian sailor not sporting a Southwest Asia service medal of some sort. There have been five distinct phases to the deployments: first, there was the Gulf War of 1990-91, which pointed to both a new post-Cold War rationale for the fleet in UN-sanctioned coalition operations, and the potential benefits of commanding such operations; then there was the dispatch of the tanker Preserver to act as an afloat Joint Headquarters, leading ultimately to the incorporation of such a capability as a major element in the acquisition of the next generation supply ships; third was the resumption of the UN sanction enforcement regime by the new Canadian Patrol Frigates equipped with high-level C2 systems that allowed their total integration with USN carrier and surface action groups; the fourth phase was also the most intense – the major post-9/11 deployments known in Canada as Operation Apollo, expanding from the responsibility for close defence of amphibious ready groups to culminate in command of Coalition Task Force 151; finally there has been the continuing support to Operation Enduring Freedom, beginning with single frigate integrations and recently witnessing command of the successor Combined Maritime Forces Task Force 150.