By Rear Adm. Gilles Couturier, Royal Canadian Navy
Combined Forces Maritime Component Commander
Heading up the RIMPAC Maritime Component is a great opportunity with significant responsibility. For most people, it is probably hard to understand what RIMPAC is and what it means. There is really no easy comparison to make except maybe a police force. In this case, our RIMPAC force is nearly the size of the whole Royal Canadian Mounted Police but abounding with lethal firepower. Twenty-two nations, 49 surface ships, six submarines, more than 200 aircraft and approximately 25,000 participants coming together to foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.
Why is an exercise such as RIMPAC important? I can demonstrate it to you in a few ways.
No country is going to carry out large-scale military activities alone anymore. Coalitions are the way of the future so it is vital that we practice now, and RIMPAC offers the biggest maritime venue in which to practice. It allows us to build bridges with sailors from other navies. It allows us to understand how they function so that we can work together and complement each other. It allows me to pick up a phone before any future operation and say to my counterpart on the other line, “Hey remember me? We worked together at RIMPAC. Let’s pick up where we left off and get this job done.”
We all remember the devastating Typhoon Haiyan that swept through the Philippines in 2013, killing thousands of people, causing incredible damage, and bringing 40 countries together to carry out disaster relief efforts. At RIMPAC, we exercised that same humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) response mission that Canada could be called upon to support in the future. Just recently, while we were engaged in RIMPAC, a typhoon was barrelling down upon the Philippines. Having just practiced together, RIMPAC countries could have responded immediately if the call for help had come in. This is an area where we can leverage exercises such as RIMPAC.
Throughout RIMPAC, we are building military relationships with some countries for the first time and I can tell you that on a military-to-military level, we see eye-to-eye. We know the value of working together to ensure the safety of the high seas. With 90 percent of commerce travelling over the oceans, and with Asia as Canada’s second largest export market, regional military forces need to understand each other and work together to ensure we can operate safely. The best way to do that is to practice now.
In some ways, the military forces represent an insurance policy for governments, ready to respond to any government tasking. An exercise like RIMPAC is essential to maintain that readiness on the international front.