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Far Distant Ships: Looking at the Future of Canada's Navy

With the operation in Afghanistan drawing the bulk of media and "expert" attention, the other elements of Canada's Armed Forces have not received the same public attention as the Army. The Ruxted Group would like to shine some light on the needs of our other services to insure that there will be informed public debate about all aspects of our nation's defence, in order to create and maintain the balanced and capable force structure Canada's government needs to respond to a wide range of potential threats and crisis.
Canada is a trading nation, a maritime nation. Our economic well-being is dependant upon foreign trade. Our national sovereignty is dependent on our ability to effectively control the longest coastline in the world, and keeping the world's oceans safe for merchant shipping is key to our prosperity. Although we might only think of oceanic trade affecting our Atlantic provinces and BC, Montreal and Churchill, Manitoba are also major ports. Oceanic trade has grown to such an extent that a new container port has opened at Prince Rupert, BC which cuts 1 1/2 days off a container ship's transit time from the Far East to North America. In addition there are some who believe the NW passage will be open to navigation within the next 50 years if not sooner. This would knock almost 6000km off a one-way trip from Asia to Europe, and it would negate the need to cross-load goods from huge ocean going tankers to smaller vessels for transport through the Panama Canal thus further reducing shipping time from Asia to Europe. The resulting sovereignty and environmental issues would further increase the pressure on Canada to bolster its northern capabilities.

Control over Canada's littoral waters is an issue that will continue to grow. We have seen the results of over fishing off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, and are in a dispute with Denmark over Hans Island in the Davis Straight. The United States is beginning to eye the potential of oil and natural gas that may be under the Arctic Ocean, and there is not a single nation that supports our claims of sovereignty over the North West Passage. Without some sort of naval and long range air/space surveillance presence operating along all three of Canada's coasts, we will have no ability to enforce our will or influence the actions of others off of our shores.

The challenges of operating along our coasts are compounded by Canada's geographical position. Not only do we have the world's longest coastline, but if the government of the day decides to project force to protect the national interest or to assist our friends and allies, the Navy has to be able to send and operate ships and aircraft over a global range. Large and capable ships, supported by a variety of aircraft, are needed to operate in and over distant waters, and a very sophisticated support structure is needed to ensure reliable communications and supplies to these ships wherever they may be. These deployed naval forces (including organic naval aviation and supporting air force elements) must also have the flexibility to deal with rapidly changing circumstances, ranging from supporting operations ashore, natural disaster relief, suppressing piracy or dealing with an enemy armed with sophisticated weapons. The necessity for a navy as small as Canada’s to operate in arctic waters to support national claims as well as address our global concerns means that innovation is a necessity in order to squeeze the most from a limited budget and manpower base.

In order to define the sort of Canadian fleet we need we must first define the tasks our navy will be asked to perform. Then, and only then will we be able to define the achievable, affordable solution in terms of equipment and manpower levels needed to build our naval forces to meet the requirement. Ruxted believes that the core of the Canadian fleet will most likely still be based on destroyers or frigates supported by command and supply vessels, coupled with smaller vessels for coastal duties. This is a model used the world over and our needs are not so drastically different that a completely new organization is required. The requirement for new surface combatants (destroyer/frigate type ships) plus ice capable northern patrol ships, supply ships, amphibious ships, submarines and littoral patrol ships, some with force or flotilla command and control capabilities and many with their own ship-borne aircraft, is understood and supported. Canada is a wealthy nation, an aspiring leading middle power. It does have the resources to devote to these different tasks. But, money does not grow on trees; neither do sailors. One of the keys to living within our budgetary and manpower constrictions may be designing mission specific vessels that can operate with minimal crews.

For the moment: Canada's shipbuilding industry has declined to a point where it can not, most likely, provide all that is needed, and the numbers of service members are too few to man the ships we have today, much less the expanded fleet as suggested above.

Ruxted is also concerned about the time required to build and modernize the fleet. From past experience a very long time passes between the time a ship is requested and money is approved to the launching of a vessel; should Afghanistan continue to distract us from this sovereignty issue, the lack of a decision in 2007 delays any possible changes to the Navy until around 2015 or later. The long lead time between the decision to build new ships and delivery of the end product means the time for public debate on the shape and form of Canada’s Navy needs to start very soon, or opportunities to influence events in the future will slip away due to inaction in the present.

The Ruxted Group recognizes, that just as the Army needed rejuvenation and investment in the face of Afghanistan's reality, the ongoing problem of maintaining our sovereignty plus the triple threat posed to Canada’s navy by climate change, support to NATO operations and economic concerns in a post 9/11 reality means a balanced, capable Navy must be available to provide options to the government and, as always, be capable of supporting the national interest, come what may.


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ajdw780 on :

We could lend lease surplus ships from the US
especially support ships. Also puchase their aging Harrier jets for quick strike capability
from existing ships.

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