Debating Defence and Naval Policy (XXIV)

Small may make sense in some respects, but if one is serious about national maritime security then endurance trumps size. There is a myth that the WWII corvettes were tactically useful all the time; in reality, in any heavy sea they were utterly useless because survival became the driving force. It was the same when we took a diesel-electric submarine under the ice; we were about ten percent effective operationally, the rest of the effort was spent making sure we didn't kill ourselves.

One of the major problems of Canadian maritime security is the vast amount of ocean that has to be covered. The following list gives an idea of approximate distances (in nautical miles) between Halifax and select points in the Atlantic, the north, and in the Arctic.
(1) Approaches to St. John's (as a point of departure for most northerly and easterly voyages) - 544 NM;
(2) Flemish Cap and the Grand Banks patrol areas - 815 NM;
(3) Entrance to Hudson Str. - 1466 NM, with a further a further 977 NM to Churchill;
(4) Entrance to Davis Str.(which is also about the distance to Iqaluit) - 1,672 NM;
(5) Entrance to Lancaster Sound and the Northwest Passage - 2,273 NM;
(6) Western Approaches to the English Channel by the most direct route - 2,344 NM;
(7) Entrance to the Gibraltar Strait - 2,658 NM and a further 1,323 NM to Malta;
(8) Western end of Northwest Passage - around 3,800 NM (a transit of the Northwest Passage from the eastern end of Lancaster Sound, through Melville Sound and into Amundsen Gulf, using the route taken by the SS Manhattan through the Prince of Wales Strait, is about 970 nautical miles.)

With a theoretical endurance of about 7,000 miles (or 5,600 given a 20 percent safety factor) at about 14 knots, one of Canada's Halifax-class frigates cannot conduct a patrol of more than a few days duration north of the entrance to the Davis Strait without refuelling. In comparison, a large ice-breaker, such as the CCGS Louis St. Laurent, has an endurance of more than 20,000 miles, and the Norwegian Coast Guard vessel Svalbard has an endurance of about 10,000 miles at 13 knots.

Small and many may work in the Strait of Malacca but it doesn't in Canada, other than perhaps the West Coast. Far too few people understand the geography of this country especially the maritime geography. Are we talking about a new multi-purpose fleet or a two-purpose fleet that is designed to accommodate the reality of the mid-21st century? This is a far more important decision point that some realize.

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