Canadians get key posts in huge joint military exercise

Canadians are taking some key commands — the first time non-Americans have been given the opportunity — in the world's biggest maritime military exercise.
Leading Seamen Barry MacLeod, foreground, and Ryan Burrell of a Canadian navy diving unit head to the surface after taking a sonar reading and GPS co-ordinate of an underwater mine during the 2010 edition of the RIMPAC military exercise in Hawaii. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters)

Canadian military leaders are taking up key command positions at the world's biggest maritime exercise for the first time in 40 years.

The six-week-long Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise has been taking place every two years since 1974. Twenty-two countries are now engaged around the Hawaiian Islands in all sorts of military simulations, from amphibious landings to diving operations and vessel boardings at sea, as well as some live-fire exercises.

Normally, the U.S. military occupies the top posts in the exercise. But this year, Canadians are in some key commands, the first time non-Americans have been given the opportunity.

Rear Admiral Ron Lloyd of the Canadian navy is the deputy commander of the combined task force — basically, the RIMPAC exercise writ large. Brig.-Gen. Michael Hood is the commander of the air component, and Commodore Peter Ellis is heading up the amphibious task group led by the USS Essex.

"I think it really is a recognition of Canada's ability. We have performed in a leadership role in Afghanistan, in Libya, in Haiti," Defence Minister Peter MacKay said in an interview.

Defence Minister MacKay to observe

More than 1,400 Canadian sailors, air personnel and soldiers are taking part in the exercise alongside forces from such countries as Russia, Australia and Japan. Canadian ships, a diving unit, several aircraft and an infantry company are participating.

MacKay was headed to the area Sunday, where he will board HMCS Algonquin.

The HMCS Algonquin, left, is moored alongside the Australian ship Darwin at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii on Friday for the 2012 RIMPAC military exercise. (Kent Nishimura/AFP/Getty)

"They love this type of training exercise just as they love deploying," MacKay said of the Canadian Forces.

"This is what they train for. This is a chance to test themselves vis-a-vis others, and in very real-time scenarios. This is as close as it gets to the real thing."

MacKay said the exercise benefits Canada because of the ties it reinforces in the Pacific Rim area. Canada is hoping to take part in the Trans Pacific Partnership, a proposed free-trade zone incorporating countries on either side of the Pacific.

"Much of the world's trade now is being done on the water, and it's being done in the Asia-Pacific region," MacKay said.

"There are concerns about issues such as piracy. The movement of commercial traffic is something Canada has to be concerned about, and strengthening and deepening our ties in the region naturally follows."

The Trans Pacific Partnership is strongly opposed by some economists and critics who say it will further erode Canada's manufacturing industries by opening up channels to send the country's raw materials abroad in exchange for value-added goods produced in other countries.