Canadian Admiral ready for key role during RIMPAC

RAdm Gilles Couturier

RAdm Gilles Couturier

For nearly a year, whenever RAdm Gilles Couturier has travelled, he has packed a large binder dedicated to the summer training goals of 23 nations.

The Canadian admiral is the Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander (CFMCC) for Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) 2014, the largest maritime exercise in the world. Along with the lengthy job title comes the responsibility to make sure everyone who participates in this year’s event sails away with new skills and lots of practical experience.

While still fulfilling his duties at National Defence Headquarters, since September RAdm Couturier has been attending RIMPAC planning meetings and poring over documents to make sure he understands what each participating nation is hoping to achieve.

His RIMPAC binder, which has been steadily filling up as planning has progressed, will remain by his side until the end of the exercise so he can keep tabs on what all 48 surface ship crews and six submarine crews have done, and what they still need to accomplish.

For a sailor who’s been in Ottawa for the past year, it’s a dream job, he says.

“It’s back to the navy, and for a navy guy it’s very interesting. It’s operational; it’s all about ships and aircraft at sea and sailors. At the end of the day it’s all about the people, making sure our sailors leave there as better sailors, a better ship’s company able to operate in a multi-national maritime context.”

A new role for Canada
Not only is CFMCC a big job, this is also the first time a Canadian has taken on the role.

Americans filled key RIMPAC leadership roles up until the last RIMPAC in 2012 when an Australian filled the CFMCC shoes and Canada fulfilled the Deputy Commander role with RAdm Ron Lloyd and the CFACC position with MGen Michael Hood. This year, U.S. planners, under the leadership of the U.S. Commander Third Fleet, handed the CFMCC job to Canada, and the Royal Canadian Navy selected RAdm Couturier.

With 31 years in the navy including many trips to RIMPAC in various roles, he is certainly up to the task.

“I’ve spent RIMPAC at sea, RIMPAC as staff at sea, RIMPAC on an aircraft carrier; I was the Maritime Operations Centre Director for RIMPAC in 2010, I would suspect that this was a factor considered by the leadership when they decided to give me an opportunity to fulfill the CFMCC job for RIMPAC 14.”

The responsibility
The vessels he’ll be responsible for include an aircraft carrier, submarines and an amphibious ship, as well as destroyers, supply ships and frigates.

“Because there is such a large number of nations, it comes with challenges, from the basics of ensuring we can talk to each other, to more detailed aspects of being able to exercise and operate together in the area of operation. The role of CFMCC is to make sure we put a structure around it and provide some direction to those ships.”

Of course, CFMCC isn’t just one person. It includes a staff of 250 officers from around the world who will come together for their own training, in addition to supporting the training of personnel on the water.

The senior leadership of RIMPAC 14 was part of a commander’s conference in San Diego in April, during which command and control procedures were tested.

However, the majority of this staff training will happen in Hawaii in the 10 days before ships sail for RIMPAC. It’s not much time, acknowledges RAdm Couturier, but these officers are Lieutenant Commanders and above so they come with experience.

This multi-national staff matches the world reality, he adds.

Though his staff is multicultural, communication isn’t, so most staff members are fluent in the operation’s primary language, English.

“Ninety per cent are very proficient in English,” he says. “You want to grab that 10 per cent and get them the right information so they can achieve their training objectives.”

Communication and creating solid working relationships with all parties is a priority for RAdm Couturier. During the alongside phase, he plans to speak with the ships’ command teams so they know his door is always open.

This will be particularly important for first time participants China and Brunei.

“Having these two countries join RIMPAC is very important to us, especially considering the current situation in the China Sea,” he says. “We’re taking all measures necessary to ensure that we can all operate together and that their participation will be a success.”

Exercise overview
Once the ships arrive, RIMPAC will unfold in three stages.

The first scenarios are basic maneuvers – serialized events that ensure all vessels are able to operate with each other successfully.

Next is weapons firing that includes basic gunnery, torpedo firing and missiles. There will also be a SINKEX, in which a decommissioned ship is fired upon using all types of weapons until it can no longer float.

Where things get exciting is the limited tactical scenario, a.k.a. Forces Integration Training, in which the action is less scripted. Exercise participants are separated into two groups – one associated with the aircraft carrier and one with the amphibious ship.

The scenario they will confront is a familiar one. One country is being oppressed by another and the task is to return peace to the oppressed country.

“We’re going to operate with a show of force with the goal of making sure they understand their actions will not be tolerated and that we have the United Nations Security Council resolution that provides us the authority to take action,” explains RAdm Couturier.

Specific tasks will be carried out including extraction of foreign nationals, anti-piracy training, humanitarian assistance disaster relief and ship boarding.

All of these skills are part of the current reality for navies in the world, says RAdm Couturier.

Ships will integrate with land and air elements as they train on dealing with insurgents.

“We’re going to help extract the bad guys from the good country, so we will land marines ashore, supported by air and maritime assets,” says RAdm Couturier.

He and his staff are responsible for developing the operational plan, maintaining the tactical picture and coordinating the actions of the ships and aircraft in the operating area to defeat the scenario’s belligerent nation without invading their country.

“So we’re going to put them in position in the area that makes sense tactically,” he says.

With only a week to go before he boards a plane to Hawaii, RAdm Couturier is examining the RIMPAC schedule so he and everyone else can make the most of the month-long exercise.

“It’s not a task, really,” he says. “Every time I need to go back to RIMPAC and look at some of the things we need to do, it’s always with a big smile on my face. I’m quite happy to do that and I’m honoured that the Royal Canadian Navy and the Canadian Armed Forces gave me this opportunity.”

 Carmel Ecker, Staff writer

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