Canada-Australia Defence Relations

Backgrounder / June 4, 2012 / Project number: ADM PA BG 12.024

Canada-Australia relations are exceptionally close and highly productive. The relationship has developed over a long history and is based on both a shared past and a common set of values. It has been built across a wide spectrum of fields, ranging from trade, defence relations, academic and student exchanges, culture, consular arrangements, parliamentary relations, multilateral cooperation and political and governmental affairs.

Australia is a like-minded nation and a key partner with Canada. As countries possessing militaries of comparable size and sharing many of the same allies, Canada and Australia have a long tradition of defence cooperation, and maintain a foundation of defence relations through exercises, training, academic exchanges, policy talks, high-level visits, and operations such as the NATO-led Afghanistan mission. While Australia is not a member of NATO, it has made—and continues to do so—significant contributions to the International Security Assistance Force and operations in Afghanistan during the last decade.

The dynamic and growing bilateral defence relationship between Canada and Australia reflects the shared global challenges we face, whether it be in counter-terrorism, or in new domains, such as cyber and space security.

The Department of National Defence continues to explore opportunities for closer collaboration through bilateral discussions. Examples of defence cooperation between Canada and Australia include:

  • Official Visits—up to 500 high-level and working-level visits take place each year, both in Canada and Australia, between the two countries, including a Ministerial-level visit in  2011.
  • Support to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) initiative to lift combat occupation restrictions by Canadian female combat soldiers—at the invitation of General David Hurley, Chief of the ADF, the Canadian delegation shared their experiences.
  • Bilateral Cooperation in Afghanistan—Canada and Australia continue to work together as part of the NATO-led Afghanistan mission.
  • Naval Cooperation and Exchanges—the Royal Canadian and Royal Australian Navies have and continue to work together through several training exercises, operations, and exchanges. The two Navies also work together to share best practices around materiel management and shipbuilding best practices.
  • Army Cooperation and Exchanges—the Canadian and Australian Armies work together on a number of different initiatives, including the American, British, Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Armies’ Program, as well as through a number of exchanges.
  • Air Force Cooperation and Exchanges—the Royal Canadian and Royal Australian Air Forces have several examples of areas for defence cooperation, including training, operations, and exchanges.

In addition to these initiatives, the Canadian Department of Defence (DND) and Australian Ministry of Defence (MoD) have committed to holding annual ministerial meetings, strategic policy talks, and meetings between the Canadian Chief of the Defence Staff and Australian Chief of the ADF.  Canada also has a Canadian Defence Attaché posted to Australia.

Support to ADF initiative to lift combat occupation restrictions by Canadian female combat soldiers

The Chief of Australia Defence Force, General David Hurley, invited a delegation of Canadian Forces members serving in combat occupations to visit Australia to share their combat experiences with the ADF.  This invitation was issued to assist with the implementation phase of making all combat positions in the ADF open to women.

Two female Canadian Forces members, as well as a male member, and a civilian gender integration subject matter expert representative from the Canadian Defence Academy travelled to Australia from May 7 to 18, 2012 in support of the invitation from General Hurley. This visit was an opportunity for the Canadian delegation to discuss with the ADF their shared commitment to gender equality in the military, and to share the military experience of Colonel Jennie Carignan, Chief of Staff, Land Forces Central Area, Chief Warrant Officer Stan Stapleford, Land Forces Central Area Chief Warrant Officer, and Captain Genevieve Bertrand, Adjudant, 3rd Battalion, Royal 22nd Regiment.

The Canadian Forces (CF) allows women to serve in all occupations, including those in the combat arms and in the submarine service. The CF is a world leader in terms of the areas in which women can serve. Women can enrol in all occupations of the CF, including combat arms, and serve in any environment. The CF takes pride in being a leader in the field of equality and women's rights and is actively recruiting women for dynamic, rewarding positions.

Bilateral Cooperation in Afghanistan

Australia’s significant contribution to ISAF and operations in Afghanistan during the last decade make it a key partner for Canada and NATO.  Australia and Canada served together in the most difficult theatre of operations in Afghanistan, Regional Command (South-West).  Even with the evolution of the mission and Canada’s presence, Canada and Australia continue to work together to share information and best practices in our respective whole-of- government efforts in Afghanistan.  Canada loaned equipment to Australia which enhances their force protection capability, in addition to sharing information at the operational level that assists Australia as they continue to conduct operations in Afghanistan.

Canada and Australia are in Afghanistan with over 50 other nations and international organizations, at the request of the democratically-elected Afghan government and as part of the UN-mandated, NATO-led mission.

Naval Cooperation and Exchanges

The Royal Canadian and Australian Navies have a long and established history of cooperation which stems from our mutual commonwealth roots and provides a deep foundation in terms of common military culture and practice, and in meeting current and future security challenges. Canada and Australia participate in a number of international naval exercises together, such as RIMPAC, a U.S.-led Pacific based multinational maritime exercise.  Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship OTTAWA also participated in the major Australia-US exercise TALISMAN SABRE 2011.  Exercises such as this serve to improve interoperability, communications, and tactical coordination at sea.  These types of capabilities are the sharp end of our excellent defence relations.

Since 2009, several ship’s visits have occurred including the HMCS WINNIPEG’s visit to Perth, Melbourne, and Brisbane in 2009 during its return from the Gulf of Aden, Her Majesty’s Australian Ship SYDNEY and HMAS BALLARAT’s visit to Halifax and St. John’s in July 2009, HMAS NEWCASTLE ‘s participation in the Royal Canadian Navy’s Centennial celebrations in Esquimalt in June 2010 and HMCS OTTAWA’s port visit to Sydney from July 6-10, 2011.     

Four Canadian sailors were attached to the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) from September to December 2011 and six are currently employed with the RAN from January to June 2012 as part of our program (REGULUS), which systematically rotates personnel with allied Navies while Canadian frigates are undergoing upgrades. Programs like this are also reciprocal, allowing personnel from the RAN (and other allies) to train and work aboard ships of the Royal Canadian Navy.

Additionally, Royal Canadian Navy sailors participate regularly in exchanges with RAN sailors in areas of naval operations, training, and at the Australian Defence College.

Army Cooperation and Exchanges

Operating for over 60 years, the American, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Armies’ Program (ABCA) is a key organization through which the interoperability of Land Forces is achieved.  Canada hosted a major ABCA training activity in July 2011—ALLIED AURORAS.  The exercise involved the development of a Distributed Synthetic Environment that will assist with interoperable training activities amongst ABCA nations. Australia participated in ALLIED AURORAS and will build upon it during AQUA TERRA, which they will host in 2014.  Additionally, Australia sent a 20-person team to the ABCA Annual Meeting held in Ottawa in March 2012.  At this meeting ABCA Nations agreed on interoperability challenges that would be resolved during the coming year.

Canada and Australia also have an active program of small unit exchanges. In August 2011, 24 Canadian Rangers from the 4th Canadian Ranger Patrol Group participated in exercise SOUTHERN CROSS.  This exchange is particularly notable since it brings together Aboriginal communities from both Canada and Australia, to explore common ties and share learning on their particular environments.

The Canadian Army recently participated in Exercise SEA LION 12, an Australian Amphibious exercise held during the month of March 2012.  A Canadian Army Infantry platoon was embedded within a New Zealand Infantry Coy, exercising with Australian troops, to develop experience in multinational operational environments and learn from their expertise in this particular area of operations.
The Canadian Army sponsors one Liaison Officer at the Australian Army HQ in Duntroon, one officer exchange between the Australian Land Warfare Center and Canadian Combat Training Center, and a Communications Research exchange between the bilateral Electronic Warfare Regiments. Again, this proves our defence relations are at a real operational level and those personnel on exchange bring back valuable expertise to their CF colleagues, as well as providing the hosting country with our perspectives and experience.

Air Force Cooperation and Exchanges

Building on a foundation established through the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in December 1939, Canada and Australia have cooperated through the participation of Australian aviators in the Royal Canadian Air Force training programs, including the Basic Air Navigator Course in Winnipeg and Canada’s NATO Flying Training in Canada program.  Several Royal Australian Air Force members are currently employed through exchanges with operational squadrons throughout Canada.

Additionally, Canada also participates in the international competition FINCASTLE for maritime patrol aircraft, which was hosted in Comox, B.C. in 2008.  The international FINCASTLE competition is a contest of skills between the air forces of Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. During the competition, crews compete in anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and intelligence and surveillance gathering.  This keenly contested competition involves participants' ability to detect, classify, track and engage a submarine by day or night. In addition, the exercise involves a forum for the development of procedures and tactics, and wider maritime surveillance and patrol training. Most recently, overland surveillance is a new element to be added to the competition.


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