Ready for the storm

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Crowsnest - Summer 2016 / July 18, 2016

By Darlene Blakeley

“Ready for the storm.”

This is the motto of the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) new Maritime Tactical Operations Group (MTOG), and it is a serious reflection of a team specifically trained to conduct maritime interdiction operations in a high-risk environment.

With increasing focus on operations in the littoral (coastal) regions of the world and the potential for adversaries to exploit the maritime domain, the RCN continues to confront an evolving, dynamic and complex maritime environment, according to Lieutenant-Commander Wil Lund, MTOG Commanding Officer.

“In creating the MTOG,” he says, “the RCN has taken the first important steps in providing deployed ships with an advanced force protection capability, as well as the ability to conduct advanced obstructed boardings independently. They can also integrate with Canadian Special Operations Forces Command forces in order to provide support to opposed boardings.”

As it currently stands, certain RCN vessels maintain a naval boarding party (NBP) composed of members of a ship’s company who perform these duties in addition to their primary duty on board. Though traditional NBPs are capable of conducting limited obstructed boardings, developing threats require a unit capable of meeting a new level of risk. To best meet this need, the MTOG was created.

The MTOG trains enhanced naval boarding party (ENBP) teams comprised of personnel who receive significant advanced training and for whom boarding and force protection operations are a full-time duty.

“These teams are specifically trained to employ a wide spectrum of tactics,” explains LCdr Lund. “As a result, units with this new capability will be able to more effectively confront and deter threats.”

Potential candidates for the MTOG are volunteers recruited from sea element personnel across the RCN, both Regular and Reserve Forces. These volunteer candidates are put through a selection process during which their mental, physical, emotional and psychological attributes are assessed in order to confirm their ability to successfully complete the three-month Maritime Tactical Operator Course (MTOC).

If the candidates are successful, they proceed to the MTOC where students are trained using teaching methods that combine coaching, mentoring and high stress reality-based scenarios tailored to the specific personal and mental attributes demonstrated during selection.

Students are trained in essential skills via a series of modules such as hand-to-hand combat; advanced medical training; improvised explosive device (IED) identification; close-quarters battle; and tactical shooting. Each module starts off with basic training scenarios that build on previous lessons.

“As training progresses, these lessons increase in complexity in a manner that will constantly challenge the students to learn and improve their core skills,” says LCdr Lund. “Students who have successfully completed the previous modules will be challenged with a final realistic scenario that will assess all skills taught and validate their ability to act independently on operations.”

The first group of 13 students successfully passed the MTOC in March 2015, and since then there have been two additional courses, graduating eight and 12 students respectively. A combination of new graduates and “veterans” from previous courses form the new ENBPs.

Deploying the ENBPs

The RCN has deployed two teams to date with Her Majesty’s Canadian Ships Winnipeg and Fredericton respectively, as part of Operation Reassurance, Canada’s support to NATO assurance measures in Central and Eastern Europe. Most recently, Fredericton’s team participated in an international exercise with Spanish and Moroccan Special Operations Forces.  

The Canadian ENBP was used as a follow-on force during the opposed boarding segment of the exercise that was conducted as part of the Standing NATO Maritime Group Two’s scheduled port visit to Casablanca, Morocco in May. 

“This was a role well-suited to their mission and capabilities,” says Commander James Strickland, a Canadian sailor attached to NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour who led the Special Operations Command and Control Element during the exercise. “With only one rehearsal, the ENBP seamlessly integrated into the exercise. The capabilities that the ENBP brought to the table, along with their individual skill levels and professionalism, were second to none. This was noticed and commented upon by both Spanish and Moroccan personnel.”

He also notes that the ENBP’s preparation for the exercise started well before the team climbed a ladder on the side of the target ship. “The activation and deployment of the team and its equipment to Africa, on relatively short notice, was itself a major milestone in refining their operating procedures.”

Cdr Strickland stresses that opportunities like this exercise are invaluable in the maturation of the ENBP. “It confirmed that the RCN’s ENBP can make a solid contribution to NATO. Canadians should be proud of the team’s performance in front of our allies and partners.”

LCdr Lund adds that in addition to its tactical capability, the team provided weapons, physical fitness and force protection training while aboard Winnipeg and Fredericton. “Overall, it had a positive impact on the effectiveness of the ships,” he says.

The new MTOG and its ENBP capability will continue to provide the Canadian Armed Forces and the RCN with the agility, flexibility and tactical expertise necessary to confront and deter a variety of threats in high-risk operational environments, explains LCdr Lund. “While the future global environment remains unpredictable, the inclusion of the MTOG in the RCN’s organization and its continued evolution will ensure that whatever the future holds, the MTOG will be ‘Ready for the storm’.”

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