NAVAL COMBAT INFORMATION OPERATOR
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES
I’m Leading Seaman Heshan Modaragamage from Kitchener, Ontario. I’m a Naval Combat Information Operator aboard HMCS Montreal.
And I’m Master Seaman Brad Saunders from Goose Bay, Labrador. I’m a Naval Combat Information Operator currently serving aboard HMCS Charlottetown.
MODARAGAMAGE: A warship is built for one purpose – to go to war – but before a shell can be fired or a missile can be launched, we’ve got to know where the enemy is: how far, how fast, how big and how strong.
Naval Combat Information Operators, or NCI Ops, are the expert eyes and ears of the Operations Room, using some of the world’s most sensitive, accurate radar and computer systems to help our commanders make tactical decisions in real time.
The NCIOp position is probably the most vital position in the operations room for command. Command doesn’t have time to take all the information that’s being inputted into the ship because there is a lot of information, so what the NCIOp will do, we’ll take that information and we’ll put it into a picture that Command can actually look at, without having to read different sources of information or listen to communications and they can make their decisions based off that.
SAUNDERS: As part of the ship’s Combat Team, NCI Ops assist and advise our commanders in collision-avoidance navigation and anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare.
Our missions can range from intercepting drug smugglers to tracking down pirates off the coast of Africa.
MODARAGAMAGE : When we’re doing an exercise or if we have a real-time threat, then the atmosphere changes quite a bit. It gets quite intense in the ops room where not just the NCIOps, but all the other trades come to life and everybody just works together to properly build the picture and fight the war.
SAUNDERS: Everybody’s on the same page. We know what we’re looking for, we know what we need to do. As a well-trained ops team, everybody works together. It’s a pretty interesting situation when that’s going on.
NCI Ops spend most of their career at sea, aboard a surface ship or submarine, on missions that can last from a few days to several months. It’s a great opportunity to see the world while doing something that you love.
SAUNDERS: Chasing down pirates and hunting enemy subs sounds like something out of a video game or a Hollywood movie, but it’s what we train to do every day. You plot their course and try to figure out where they are and where they’re going and then it’s up to our commanders to decide what to do about it.
MODARAGAMAGE : The best experience that I’ve had in the Navy was when we were deployed in the Arabian sea and we stopped multiple pirate attacks. We would get calls over VHF, a boat saying they’re in distress and they think they’re being under attack. And our ship would come up on speed and intercept and stop the attack. It makes you feel like you’ve actually made a difference and helped somebody that day.
MODARAGAMAGE: Like all sailors, you’ll complete your basic military training in Quebec and basic naval training in Nova Scotia or B.C. before you move on to your specialized training to become an NCI Op.
SAUNDERS: The Naval Combat Information Operator course is held at Esquimalt, British Columbia.
You’ll learn how radar and radio systems work and how to interpret the data that they collect in a Naval operational setting. The courses are rigorous and hands-on and the learning curve is pretty steep.
MODARAGAMAGE: When you successfully graduate, you’ll be assigned to your first ship.
SAUNDERS: Your first posting as an NCI Op aboard a frigate or destroyer will last about four to six years and your missions could take you almost anywhere around the world.
A lot of our deployments start off, you do localized fisheries patrols. It’s a good way to start out or you could get thrown right into the loop and get sent on a Gulf trip or a NATO trip overseas.
You’ll work regular shifts, called watches in the Operations Room, the nerve centre of the ship.
MODARAGAMAGE : Coming into the operations room for the first time as an Ordinary Seaman NCIOp is overwhelming.
SAUNDERS: But once you realize you have a team all around you that trains together as you develop as a combat team on a warship, you tend to learn each other’s abilities and know how to work with everybody around you and a good effective combat team is able to take a situation that seems like it’s chaos and just work with it and produce a picture that is well-informed and correct.
As you gain experience, your role will expand to collecting and evaluating radar data for anti-surface and anti-air operations.
MODARAGAMAGE: You never stop learning, upgrading and training on some of the most advanced radar and computer systems anywhere. There are always opportunities for specialized and advanced training in exciting fields like intelligence gathering, submarine control room watch duties, tactical network planning and ship-borne air control where you are responsible for the tactical employment and flight safety of helicopters and planes operating with the ship.
MODARAGAMAGE: I wanted to serve in the Canadian Forces and serve the country. I was not born in this country. I actually immigrated to this country, so I wanted to give something back.
SAUNDERS: I’ve been to Germany, Poland, Estonia, Gibraltar – great place to be – the Mediterranean, all up and down the Eastern seaboard of North America, down to Haiti recently. You’re always seeing different things, different ports, so it’s like your office is mobile throughout the world.
It’s not even areas of warfare that you get a sense of pride from. The humanitarian relief we provided to Haiti is a huge thing that I’m very proud of and you come back to your home port and your family knows that you’ve been away and you’ve done something that’s going to make a difference in the world.
NAVAL COMBAT INFORMATION OPERATOR
IN THE CANADIAN FORCES