WASHINGTON, Nov. 7 (UPI) -- Canada and the United States are undertaking a joint exercise to increase Canadian amphibious capabilities.
The exercise follows announced plans by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to boost Canada' military capabilities. In May, Harper's government renewed and strengthened Canada's venerable NORAD alliance with the United States.
The USS Gunston Hall amphibious assault ship is currently in Halifax harbor in Nova Scotia to participate in a $17 million Canadian amphibious experiment to increase the country's maritime abilities, the Halifax Herald has reported.
About 150 Canadian soldiers from CFB Valcartier, along with their transports will use the USS Gunston Hall to assault beaches in North Carolina in landing craft, much like Canadian troops did in World War II, most notably on June 6, 1944 during D-Day.
The Canadian destroyer HMCS Athabaskan, HMCS Halifax frigate, HMCS Windsor submarine, HMCS Preserver supply ship and several coastal defense vessels will also participate, along with the USS Doyle frigate, currently in Halifax.
Deputy Commander of the Canadian standing contingency force Col. Steve Bowes said, "It's been a long time since large numbers of Canadian troops went ashore in landing craft. You're going back 60 years." Commenting on the soldiers sea survival training in Dartmouth Bowes added, "To see the guys the first time they went into the pool, (there was) a little bit of nervousness, a little bit of trepidation. But by the end of the day, (they were) just loving the experience."
The USS Gunston Hall will transport the Canadian troops and their equipment to Camp Lejeune, a U.S. Marine Corps base in North Carolina for two weeks of exercises Four Canadian Sea King helicopters from Shearwater will also participate during the exercise.
On Nov. 4, the Halifax Herald quoted commander of the Canadian military's standing contingency force Paul Maddison as saying, "This is certainly a capability that would be useful to the Canadian Forces today, had it been introduced several years ago. Fully 75 per cent of anticipated security crises or conflicts will occur in areas that can be influenced from the sea. We began to see that it would be best, or it might be best, to have a minimum footprint on the ground. From this experiment, we will certainly be in a better position to be able to determine what might be...possible for the Canadian Forces."
Maddison said the Canadian military could have used amphibious capabilities to evacuate thousands of Canadians trapped in southern Lebanon and that an amphibious capability would also have proved useful during Canada's mission to Somalia during the early 1990s.
Maddison, along with a staff of about 40 Canadians, will control the Canadian land, air and sea forces from the USS Gunston Hall, even though the ship will be manned by about 240 American sailors.
The commander of one of the U.S. Navy's amphibious squadrons Capt. Marty Allard told the Halifax Herald, "We have this vision -- the American vision -- of a 1,000-ship navy, but we're never going to have 1,000 ships. As different nations work towards different capabilities, we believe that we can put together a coalition of United States, British, Canadian, Netherlands, French, Spanish, on and on and on, together that would give us a 1,000-ship navy for peaceful nations. This is certainly a capability that would be useful to the Canadian Forces today, had it been introduced several years ago.'
Besides the United States, The Netherlands, Britain, Australia, France, Italy and Spain all have amphibious vessels that are able to transport large units of soldiers abroad. However, there is no concrete plan yet for Canada to acquire an amphibious ship.