The USS Ralph Johnson and HMCS Ottawa join forces in the South China Sea, showcasing their commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific.

In a powerful display of maritime collaboration and alliance strengthening, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) has joined forces with the Royal Canadian Navy’s HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341) for Exercise Noble Wolverine in the South China Sea. This wide-ranging fall exercise aims to enhance interoperability between allied navies and reinforce the commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific region.

Noble Wolverine Exercise 2023

Exercise Noble Wolverine, comprising multiple phases, encompasses a spectrum of activities, including maneuvering drills, small boat operations, helicopter flight deck training, and routine bilateral surface operations. One significant highlight of this exercise was the successful execution of a combined at-sea replenishment with the Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) – a testament to the seamless coordination between US and Canadian naval forces.

HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341)
HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341) during exercise Noble Wolverine in the South China Sea. (Image source: DVIDS)

Commander Sam Patchell, the commanding officer of HMCS Ottawa, highlighted the importance of such joint exercises in building trust and interoperability. He stated:

“By continuing to operate in the Indo-Pacific, the Royal Canadian Navy is building relationships with partner nations and reinforcing partnerships with our allies like the US Navy. Joint exercises such as Noble Wolverine build a level of trust and interoperability that can only be forged at sea.”

Cross-Decking Cooperation: Strengthening Bonds between US, Canadian Sailors

The USS Ralph Johnson, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, operates under Commander Task Force (CTF) 71 and Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15. During the exercise’s small boat operations phase, Commander Patchell and a contingent of Ottawa sailors embarked on the US destroyer ship, facilitating hands-on cooperation and knowledge exchange between the two naval forces. In a reciprocated gesture, several Ralph Johnson sailors also boarded HMCS Ottawa, further solidifying the bond between the crews.

Commander Isaia Infante, the commanding officer of USS Ralph Johnson, emphasized the significance of Noble Wolverine and its practical benefits in strengthening the collaboration between the allied sailors. It allows both sailors to improve their ability to work together efficiently and effectively, which is vital for successful joint military operations.

“We know that people across the region share our dedication to a free and open Indo-Pacific, and we’re excited to work with all of those partners and allies in pursuit of our shared goals,” Infante added.

Task Force 71: Strengthening Allies and Enhancing Regional Security in the Indo-Pacific

Commander, Task Force 71 plays a pivotal role as the US 7th Fleet’s principal surface force, holding responsibility for the readiness, tactical, and administrative duties of forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, as well as any surface unit conducting independent operations in the region.

HMCS Ottawa Sailors
Sailors from HMCS Ottawa (FFH 341) heading toward Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) aboard a rigid-hull inflatable boat, September 6, 2023 (Image source: DVIDS)

Captain Walter Mainor, commander of Task Force 71 and DESRON 15, similarly underscored the strategic value of sustained cooperation with close allies. He noted how sustained collaboration with trusted partner nations over an extended period allows the forces to develop a deeper understanding of each other’s capabilities, tactics, and procedures.

“By continuing to build this operational familiarity, our allied forces can train to react as one coordinated team. As we practice those tactical reflexes together, we truly multiply the size and strength of our forces,” Mainor explained.

US 7th Fleet, the largest forward-deployed numbered fleet in the US Navy, routinely engages and operates with allies and partners to safeguard and promote a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The collaborative efforts witnessed during Exercise Noble Wolverine serve as a testament to the unwavering commitment of the United States and Canada to uphold maritime security and regional stability.

Quick Update on the South China Sea Tensions: An international security expert this week shared his insight regarding an imminent escalation of tensions with China, underscoring a potential “end goal of taking over most parts of the contested waters” in the South China Sea. In a Monday report, International Studies Professor Renato de Castro told CNN Philippines that while this aggressive conduct of China in the region “will still be a long game […] it’s simply a matter of time when the Chinese would later escalate the game.”

De Castro’s insights came after yet another “dangerous maneuver” conducted by China’s Coast Guard (CCG) in the Ayungin Shoal to block the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) resupply missions. The expert further noted China’s seemingly testing waters on how the United States will react with its increasingly assertive tactics in the region.


In conclusion, the participation of USS Ralph Johnson and HMCS Ottawa in Exercise Noble Wolverine is a shining example of transnational cooperation and alliance building. As these naval forces train side by side, they not only enhance their capabilities but also contribute to the broader goal of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, reinforcing the bonds of friendship and trust essential in maintaining peace and security in the region.