12 mai 2020 | Local, Naval

Canadian military to take part in world's largest maritime exercise as navies struggle to deal with COVID-19

David Pugliese  •  Ottawa Citizen

The Canadian military plans to take part in the world’s largest maritime exercise this summer even as the U.S. Navy, which is hosting the event, struggles to deal with coronavirus outbreaks that have sent two of its ships back to port.

There have also been COVID-19 outbreaks on French, Belgium and Taiwanese navy ships. There are COVID-19 cases among the crews of 26 U.S. Navy ships.

But that won’t stop the U.S. from holding its Rim of the Pacific or RIMPAC exercise in August.

The Canadian Forces is planning to attend although military officials haven’t outlined yet which Canadian ships and aircraft will take part.

“The Canadian Armed Forces remains committed to participating in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise 2020 in a significant way in order to maximize the unique training opportunities this biennial exercise provides as well as strengthen relationships with allies and partners in the Pacific,” Department of National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande said in an email.

She said Canadian military officials are in discussions with their U.S. counterparts and are “currently evaluating options to adapt our participation accordingly.”

“Participation in RIMPAC will balance the requirement to complete critical tasks and high readiness training in support of planned operations, with the requirement to protect the health and safety of our personnel,” added Lamirande.

RIMPAC is usually held in and around Hawaii. In 2018 the Canadian Forces sent more than 1,000 personnel, five ships and a patrol aircraft. They operated alongside approximately 25,000 military personnel from 24 other nations as well as more than 200 aircraft and 50 ships and submarines.

The U.S. military says changes will be made to RIMPAC and that on-shore interactions will be limited. Ships can go into the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii for supplies, but the number of staff ashore for support functions will be limited.

The U.S. Navy has the highest rate of COVID-19 in the U.S. military. There are 2,125 cases in the navy, with around 800 linked to the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt.

The Canadian military does not release statistics on how many of its members have been infected with the virus. It cites security reasons for keeping such details secret.

The Royal Canadian Navy has implemented a number of measures to deal with COVID-19, including trying to practise physical distancing on ships as much as possible and restricting shore leave.

The pandemic has also prompted changes in other Canadian Forces operations.

The military has scaled back the number of soldiers it is sending to Ukraine to conduct training there. It had planned to send a new group of soldiers, numbering 200, to relieve the Canadian troops now in Ukraine. That number will now be cut back to 60 personnel.

The pandemic caused the cancellation of Exercise Maple Resolve, the army’s main training event for the year, as well as a naval exercise off the coast of Africa. HMCS Glace Bay and HMCS Shawinigan, which were to take part in that naval training, were ordered to return to Halifax. HMCS Nanaimo and HMCS Whitehorse also cut short their participation in U.S.-led counter-drug operations.

In addition, the Canadian Forces withdrew many of its troops assigned to the Iraq mission, ordering them home because COVID-19 has hindered training of Iraqi military personnel.

The Canadian military has also pulled back its commitment of a transport aircraft for the United Nations because of COVID-19.

The Department of National Defence, however, says it will not change the Canadian commitment to NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence in Latvia. A new group of Canadian military personnel arrived in Latvia in January and will stay there until July. There are around 540 Canadian soldiers working in Latvia.

In addition, the Canadian military hopes to take incremental steps to restart training of recruits as early as June.


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