Text of CMS Speech at Ottawa Centenary Historical Conference

The Chief of the Maritime Staff, Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, presented his vision of the future of the navy at the centenary conference in Ottawa on Thursday, 6 May.

The CMS was unable to deliver the speech himself due to his participation in the return of Petty Officer Blake’s remains to Canada.  The speech was read to the conference participants by Commodore Peter Ellis.  The text of the speech follows.

A Speech by Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden,
Chief of the Maritime Staff,
to the Historical Conference, Ottawa, Ontario, 06 May 10.

Introductory Remarks

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for providing me this opportunity to close this conference, during which you have discussed the history of Canada’s navy in the context of our rich commonwealth heritage and ties. My purpose here is to demonstrate how tangible are the themes of this conference by outlining for you a new vision for Canada’s maritime forces:

  • A vision that draws upon the strategic outlook and culture that inform the ‘world views’ of our navies, regardless of the differences imposed by our specific neighbourhoods or the necessities of our different positions within the international system,
  • A vision that is founded upon the government’s Canada First Defence Strategy, but that looks well forward of Canada First to examine the global maritime domain in the coming several decades, and
  • A vision that remains consistent with the decision made by a still very young dominion of Canada one hundred years ago this week, that it would see to its own maritime defence through a navy capable of independent and sovereign action at sea.

The Maritime Century

Let me begin with why I claim that this 21st century will become a maritime century.  Today’s global maritime order is based on a delicate geo-political and juridical balance between two central but essentially competing ideas that have existed in a state of tension for some five hundred years:

  • The first is mare liberum—the concept that the seas cannot be made sovereign and hence are free for all to use, and
  • The second is mare clausum—the idea that the seas can be made sovereign to the limits of effective state control.

That delicate balance was achieved not in bloodshed, but rather through an unprecedented degree of international consultation in the closing decades of the 20th century that led to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. UNCLOS was forged out of a compelling need to create a new balance between the economic and national interests of the world’s coastal states, many of which in the developing world had only recently emerged from the shadow of colonialism, with the traditional defence and security interests of the great maritime powers.  That makes UNCLOS arguably the crowning legal achievement in history, but what made it possible is the fact that the maritime powers and coastal states risked suffering equally from an unregulated, disputed and unstable maritime order. However, it’s by no means assured that the remarkable consensus embodied in UNCLOS will withstand the tremendous changes this century is likely to witness.  And to understand why, we need look no further than Canada’s own high North.

A Parable for Change

We are likely to see more change in the Arctic in the coming three decades than has occurred since Europeans first arrived in Greenland—a result of the convergence of mutual interactions between climate change, growing global energy demand and the existential imperatives of energy security.  For this reason, the Arctic serves as a parable of change for this maritime century.  The Arctic is being propelled towards the center of global affairs, as the five Arctic coastal states—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States—establish their claims to the vast energy and mineral reserves that have been already discovered, or are believed to lie, in the Arctic Basin and its periphery.

Climate change and improvements in extraction technologies are likely to make these resources commercially exploitable perhaps decades sooner than was thought possible only a few years ago, bringing with them a host of economic opportunities, but also accelerating social change in northern societies as traditional lifestyles and economies are progressively altered.  New and unprecedented levels of human activity in the high North will also pose risks to the environment even as global warming continues to alter Arctic ecosystems.  Environmental and social pressures on this region will mount, as will competition for access and control of strategic resources.  They will do so because the stakes are potentially enormous, and not only for the five Arctic coastal states, but also for other Arctic nations, including Finland, Iceland and Sweden, the region’s indigenous peoples and well as other non-Arctic actors, many of whom have already declared their interests.

Historically, pressures of this magnitude would invariably lead to a significant rise in tensions, and indeed the future could unfold in this manner in the Arctic and elsewhere. That stated, the shared interests of the five Arctic coastal states, their stability, and the Law of the Sea offer here, as perhaps nowhere else, the opportunity for peaceful resolution of maritime disputes.  This is certainly what Canada aspires to, and the agreement reached by Russia and Norway last week would appear to suggest that the Arctic may serve a model for other regions of the world, where ocean politics are potentially far more contentious.

Amidst the uncertainty and volatility of today’s world, one thing is clear: ocean politics will continue to intensify in the coming decades, making for a global maritime commons of great strategic complexity and growing strategic competition, with a latent, but increasing potential for conflict among great states.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Indo-Pacific, where ocean politics already occupy centre-stage.  China — the region’s most rapidly growing maritime power — acknowledged a fundamental strategic reality when it recently stated that its principal vulnerabilities and threats came from the sea.  This is a remarkable shift for a state which has focused for millennia on protecting its frontiers from threats originating inland.  But it’s a shift that was also inevitable as China assumed a more prominent place in a global system that depends on maritime commerce and the fundamental openness of the maritime commons. It’s also the echo of an enduring geopolitical reality, expressed by Tomé Pires in the powerful language that was characteristic of the early 16th century: “Whoever is Lord of Malacca has his hand on the throat of Venice.”  In today’s globalized era, this applies as much to Beijing or Vancouver, as it once did to the trading empire of the Venetians; it applies as much to the Straits of Hormuz or the handful of other oceanic chokepoints as it continues to apply to the Malacca Straits.

In short, our prosperity and security are thoroughly enmeshed in a global system that transcends all boundaries: a system that depends to varying degrees on regulated air, space and cyber commons for its functioning, but that would not function at all without a regulated ocean commons.  Defending that system is not a matter of choice for Canada.  Defending that system is essential to our very way of life.

The Navy’s Strategic Concept

Accordingly, we maintain that among most essential public goods of this globalized era is a regulated ocean commons:

  • One in which the seas are open for all to use freely and lawfully,
  • One that is regulated against the increasingly troubling range of illegal and criminal activities that are being drawn inexorably seaward, and
  • One that is defended at home and abroad against those who would threaten the pillars upon which the current global system resides.

Our strategic concept is simply this: to defend the global system at home and abroad, both at sea and from the sea.  This is the unique contribution that Canada’s maritime forces make to the nation’s prosperity, security and national interests.  This is why Canada has, and will continue to require, a globally deployed sea control navy.  But a strategic concept must not only describe the “why” or our strategic ‘ends’.  It must also describe the ‘ways’ and ‘means’ — that bring it to effect: in essence, why a navy, to what purpose it will be geared and how we will bring it to fruition.

We will defend the global system by:

  • Protecting a regulated ocean commons at home and abroad,
  • Promoting ‘good’ around the world in the national interest,
  • Preventing conflict wherever possible, and lastly
  • Prevailing in combat when the use of force becomes inevitable.

Let me say a little about each of these four strategic ‘ways’ in turn, beginning with the need to protect a regulated commons at home.  Few states have benefited as much from UNCLOS as Canada.  It endowed our nation with an immense ocean estate, one that extends beyond our shores to encompass the riches of more than 3 ½ percent of the planet’s entire surface—a priceless inheritance for generations to come, with unalienable sovereign authority over nearly one half of this massive oceanic region, but as well special duties of care and custody for the resources and ecosystems of the remainder.

While the responsibility to protect our own home waters must be done by Canada alone, it is not exclusively the work of the navy.  It requires a comprehensive, ‘whole of government approach’, at which this nation is deemed to be a world leader.  However, protecting a regulated ocean commons abroad is clearly the work of navies.  Only navies can operate in waters that are likely to become increasingly contested by a range of non-state actors from the purely criminal, as we’re seeing today off Somalia, to state proxies, whose access to increasingly sophisticated weapons can be used to hold even an advanced navy at risk, as Hezbollah demonstrated in its successful missile strike on an Israeli corvette in 2006.

We must also defend the conditions that permit the global system to flourish.  There’s a reason we’re seeing maritime diplomacy being recalibrated toward entire populations through the elevation of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as core military missions.  Promoting good isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s in the national interest because of the crucial roles populations play in the collective prospects for globalization. But doing this kind of work doesn’t necessarily require the kind of high-end capabilities that are associated with modern amphibious warfare.  What is required is the ability, in relatively permissive environments, to mount expeditions: to deliver a joint force ashore and to sustain it there for extended periods without reliance on shore based infrastructure.  But the world’s littorals—that relatively narrow zone along the coastline where the vast majority of the world’s populations live—will not always be permissive.  The effects of massive change along every human axis are increasingly being concentrated in the littorals, and they are bringing ‘hybrid warfare’ to sea.

As this audience knows well, navies provide numerous options to governments short of the outbreak of hostilities.  However, in the final analysis we must be prepared to fight, and I can imagine few scenarios where this would occur outside the context of a joint and combined campaign led by one of our major allies.  Even before the outbreak of open hostilities, maritime forces will have already made a fundamental contribution to the joint campaign by shaping the theatre for successful intervention by a joint force.  Forward presence will have created effects at the strategic, operational and tactical levels that set the initial conditions of the joint campaign.

The second fundamental contribution of seapower to the joint campaign is sea control.  Sea control creates freedom of action, permitting a maritime coalition to:

  • Gain access to a joint theatre of operation, as well as to protect the sea lines of communication that assure the flow of materiel into the theatre,
  • Employ manoeuvre at sea to project influence and power ashore,
  • Contribute to land operations through the provision of command and control afloat, intelligence and surveillance, joint fires, and force protection, and
  • Establish a sea base or lodgement ashore from which follow-on forces can be introduced into theatre and supported thereafter.

The full range of capabilities required to support the joint campaign will be available to only the largest and most powerful of navies.  But Canada can contribute meaningfully to the joint campaign with maritime forces that are prepared to wage and win the future war at sea.  Accordingly, let me elaborate upon what that war at sea may look like, as this will drive the strategic ‘means’ that we must fashion in the coming decades.

The War at Sea

While the underlying nature of conflict will not change, the means of warfare will continue to evolve.  Ashore, we have seen the emergence of the so-called ‘hybrid adversary’: an adversary who has learned to blend all forms of violence to his ends, using superior knowledge of local terrain—physical, social and cultural—to fight from a position of relative advantage.  While such adversaries have not yet mastered the maritime domain to the extent required to challenge advanced navies, the trends are clearly evident in their recent successes.  Some of these threats, from transnational criminal gangs to more highly organized maritime irregulars, insurgents, and state proxies, are already latent in the operations we are conducting around the world.

Moreover, certain states have already demonstrated the capacity to orchestrate maritime non-state actors against a coalition, as a means of leveraging their own high-end conventional and asymmetric capabilities.  In the longer term, the distinctions between state and non-state actors at sea may well dissolve.  Accordingly, we must be prepared now and in the future to be confronted at sea by a wider range of potential threats and challenges than we have ever dealt with before, against a backdrop of widespread disorder and criminality ashore.

Tomorrow’s ‘hybrid’ adversaries are likely to avoid engaging us to our strengths, working all levers to indirectly deny us access through political action.  In more openly hostile situations, adversaries may seek to employ area denial weapons such as mines.  Some adversaries will attempt to employ more sophisticated area denial capabilities that target key coalition nodes in physical or cyberspace, employing ‘high-end’ conventional or asymmetric capabilities.

In open hostilities, engagements may well be fought in proximity with an adversary’s non-conventional, irregular and asymmetric forces or fought at range when high-end capabilities are brought to bear.  A sophisticated adversary will likely attempt both simultaneously, in an attempt to overwhelm our battle networks.  Engagements may develop suddenly, at a perceived weak point, and be conducted with intensity along multiple lines of attack, followed by rapid disengagement into the littoral background.  War at sea will require fully integrated offensive and defensive actions across all physical dimensions in the maritime domain—from the seabed to space—as well as full use of the electromagnetic and informational environments.  There is little doubt that it will require a total merging of maritime forces at the technical, tactical and doctrinal levels.

What does all of this mean when it is far from certain that we will continue to enjoy our current technological and materiel advantages in relation to at least some potential future adversaries, or ever to enjoy the advantage of numbers?  It means that we must become far more agile and adaptable as a fighting force.  Indeed, I would contend that agility and adaptability — from the tactical level to the strategic — must become a defining hallmark not just of the future navy but also of the Canadian Forces of the future.  We will need to move beyond an integrated force towards what I call a ‘holistic’ fighting force, with perhaps more change ahead of us in the coming decades than we have implemented since the end of the Cold War.

Let’s examine this more closely, looking in turn at the three strategic ‘means’ identified in our strategic concept:

  • Our people,
  • Our fleet, and
  • Our navy institution.

Tomorrow’s People

In war, human beings matter more than any other single factor and this will become increasingly evident in operations whose complexity may defy ready technological solutions.  While we have been successful in preparing our people to master their extraordinarily difficult military specialities, we must equally prepare them in the decades ahead to understand their hybrid adversary, as well as the “human sea” in which both we and the hybrid adversary will swim, through a thorough understanding of the cultural, religious, political and historical context of future operations.  Such understanding will be required by all decision-makers in our highly decentralized command structures at sea and ashore.

Tomorrow’s Fleet

Future maritime operations in the littorals will place new demands on a maritime force that today remains largely optimized for deep water operations in terms of its competencies, organization and technologies.  Success in future operations is likely to require a paradigm shift in the way we look at war at sea—from one that focuses today almost exclusively on platforms, nodes and networks, towards one that equally emphasizes the cultural, social and other dimensions of conflict. Nonetheless, advanced technologies will remain essential to future ‘hybrid’ warfare at sea.  Improvements will be required to existing weapon and sensor types to deal with the challenges of the littoral environment, as well as fundamentally new ‘sensing’ strategies.

Moreover, new weapons will be needed to deliver effective operational and tactical fires in support of the joint force ashore.  The ability to deliver lethal effects at range and with great precision will be essential in a crowded and congested battlespace, as will the need to employ new non-lethal means at sea and ashore.

We can expect to introduce increasingly capable autonomous vehicles to the fleet, where they will greatly extend both the sight and reach of the fleet.

New approaches to naval command and control will needed to deal with background maritime traffic and marine activities that are orders of magnitude greater in the littorals than they are on the high seas, while greater levels of automated decision support will be needed by commanders to deal with a battlespace that will be highly compressed, in terms of time and space, for life or death decisions.  Clearly, measures to enhance platform survivability, including signature and profile reduction, will also be necessary.

Tomorrow’s Navy Institution

‘Hybrid’ warfare will likely drive the Canadian Forces to seek a much deeper level of integration across the ‘whole of government’, as we learn to employ and leverage military power more holistically with all elements of national influence and power.  In this regard, standing ‘whole of government’ organizations, such as Canada’s two Maritime Security Operations Centres, may already be pointing the way towards the kinds of organizations that will be needed at the strategic, operational and tactical levels.

Our strategic concept will move us towards a much broader understanding of the navy’s enduring constabulary, diplomatic and military functions.  But not just Canada.  The elevation of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief among our closest allies signals a broadening understanding elsewhere of the requirements of maritime diplomacy in this globalized era.  “Smart” seapower, as it is termed elsewhere, envisages a much more holistic framework for defence and security:

  • One that not only binds the various components of the Canadian Forces into a joint force, but also
  • One that integrates all elements of national power and influence, including seapower, to act as a ‘force for good’, to prevent and contain conflict and to defend the international system as well as Canada’s place within it.

Operations in the littorals, especially those conducted ‘from the sea’, will centre on influencing populations and establishing the conditions to achieve strategic advantage in what some have called “the battle of the narrative”.  This cannot be achieved through isolated acts of goodwill, nor can it be left to the moment of armed intervention by the international community.  It will require a long-term approach to maritime diplomacy, delivered through sustained engagement strategies and strategic regional partnerships.

Canada has long sought collective approaches to security.  Alliances remain central but new strategic relationships and partnerships will offer opportunities for cooperation, burden sharing, mutual leveraging and influence, confidence building, situational awareness and strategic insight.  The navy has already cultivated a number of strategic relationships with navies of similar strategic culture and outlook, but other relationships will also be needed in regions of strategic interest to Canada.

Turning to platforms, adaptability and agility at the level of ship and system design—of everything from steel to software—will be essential if we are to succeed in matching the navy’s cycle of technological adaptation to the highly dynamic cycle of adaptation that appears to be a key characteristic of ‘hybrid’ warfare.  Recent advances in warship design have made it possible to build much more flexibility into warships, including ‘modularity’ of major weapons and sensors; flexible deck arrangements; and standards-based ‘open architectures’ that will enhance the navy’s adaptability to meet emerging and evolutionary requirements.  Adaptability and agility in design will also permit naval force planners to investigate new warship crewing models, to examine potential new approaches to the overall fleet quantity / quality balance, and new potential trade-offs in the navy’s major procurements and acquisitions.

Technological agility, moreover, will be necessary to address urgent and unforeseen requirements, including the ongoing and rapid development and testing of solutions, the development of associated tactics in distributed synthetic environments, and the real-time implementation of solutions in a deployed force.  This will also require us to continue to invest significantly in tactical and doctrinal development, as we seek to tighten the ‘feedback loop’ between lessons learned and the implementation of integrated solutions to operational deficiencies.

Finally, technological agility will be essential if we are to address the emergence of potentially highly disruptive weapons and technologies in the coming decades, in a world where wealth and power are no longer concentrated among our closest allies and defence partners.

Canada’s navy has a solid history of technological adaptation, founded in effective relationships with the Department’s Research & Development and Materiel arms.  These relationships will no doubt remain central to future innovation, but strong relationships with the commercial sector will also become increasingly important.  In this regard, modern warships are among the most complex machines on the face of the planet.  If the navy is to improve its technological agility and adaptability, a fundamentally new approach to building warships in Canada will be required: one that permits both the navy and Canada’s maritime industry to plan for the long term—making the needed investments in capital, infrastructure and ‘know-how’ to translate ideas readily into steel, systems and software.

Efforts underway now to improve the government’s maritime procurement practices are as welcome as they are necessary to permit us to deal effectively with the adoption of ongoing evolutionary, as well as potentially revolutionary, change in the coming decades.

Finally, as a technologically intensive organization, the navy is only as good as the materiel and support organizations that get the fleet to sea and keep it there.  Accordingly, we will need to continue to invest in the infrastructure of its dockyards and the quality of its support organizations.

Closing Remarks

Our new strategic concept is about the navy Canada needs, the keel of which is being laid by the Canada First Defence Strategy.  Our concept looks well forward from Canada First, embracing not only new capabilities, skills and competencies, but more fundamentally a new way of thinking about, and organizing for, future naval warfare.

Ladies and gentlemen, I can’t pretend to foresee all of the challenges that await us in the decades ahead.  But then neither could Sir Wilfrid Laurier looking forward from 1910, when he guided the Naval Service Act towards Royal Assent.  But he held an abiding faith in what Canada stood for, even then, and a vision of the country as a leading member of the community of nations—a vision that our navy continues to sustain today.  That alone gives me great confidence for our second century, because Laurier’s vision remains undiminished: that Canadians will continue to strive to make a difference, knowing that the world will not be as we wish but rather as we are prepared to help make it.

I would be remiss, in closing, if I did not thank the War Museum for agreeing to help put on this conference, to our Command Historian, Dr. Richard Gimblett, for the minor miracles he performed in bringing it to fruition, and especially to you — the participants and contributors — who make up a significant fraction of the world’s naval scholarship for making it a complete success.

Thank you all.