Debating Defence and Naval Policy (XXVII)

With all due respect I think you are overlooking a couple of key points. A "simple" ship is just that -- a simple ship, able only to do simple tasks. The operational requirements (perhaps imperatives) of the north, based on the high probability that those waters will slowly open-up for more shipping and other commercial marine activity over the next 40 years -- i.e., the projected lifespan of some new form of warship/patrol vessel, which I believe the navy must man for a host of reasons, are:
(a) endurance -- perhaps to the extent of being able to conduct a three-month patrol with only limited logistic support;
(b) utility in being able to respond to situations of many kinds including apprehension of criminals, landing teams of people ashore, and providing disaster assistance; and
(c) survivability in the extreme weather conditions in the region which can change quickly and without warning.”

To meet these requirements the ship will need ice strengthening, double hull construction to meet anti-pollution regulations, at least one helicopter, landing craft (RHIBs are too small), and a comprehensive C4ISR capability for a range of tasks from supporting an on-scene SAR commander to basic information gathering and management. This is not a simple ship.

For years, the Danes used two-man dogsled teams to patrol Greenland; it was "presence" but little else. The point about the future is that change is fundamental, especially in the Arctic. As several wise men, including Professor Don McRae of Ottawa U., have pointed out "A responsible government provides proper policing, surveillance, search and rescue and other services throughout its territory and the claims about its failure to protect Canada's sovereignty over the lands of the Arctic are often claims about the failure of governments over time to act as governments should in respect of remote areas" That is essentially the mission statement of the future.”

When the arctic/northern waters open-up, the government better be ready to show that Canada is master of those waters because if it does not somebody else will. The sovereignty claim of the arctic islands is not in doubt, rather it is the right of Canada to claim that the waters of the Northwest Passage are either internal or territorial waters that is not assured. A challenge, according to the legal community, could go either way particularly as there are no precedents or established patterns of regular use of those waters. Thus, it is in Canada's interest to maintain a government presence in those waters as long as they are open or likely to be open soon. The vessel that can do that job, and only a ship can, is not a "simple" ship. It is a highly versatile vessel. It doesn't have to be a full-fledged icebreaker, but it has to be ice capable and built to meet the requirements of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act.”

Should this be a navy role? Yes, because of the complexity of the patrol, the requirement for quick response, and the associated politics of the mission, which are beyond the capabilities of a unionized organization. Does this mean that naval officers should become law enforcement officers? Probably. The RAN have had to do this and have done it without difficulty. I do not believe though that the Navy should try to take over the icebreaking or marine safety mandate of Canadian Coast Guard. Those are highly specialized task and best kept where they are, with the coast guard.”

Should we try to make the coast guard a military force? No, there is no need, they are good at what they do and in view of present problem and their unionized status probably could not undertake the new role in such a way as to meet political expectations.

The time has come to realize that the domestic role is becoming as important as the now-traditional foreign policy/expeditionary role, and for that reason, consideration should be given to adding new types of ships to the inventory. Unlike 1969-70 and 1985, the arctic is no longer a political "blip" that will eventually go way; the effects of global warming and the potential riches of the region are combining to make this a true frontier waiting to be opened up. And there are more than enough potential predators out there.

Ideas of making the replacement for the frigates (and destroyers too I hope) all-singing, all-dancing warships able to go north and south with ease may now be unwise because of the high cost. What future force planners need to do is work out a new fleet mix that allows the navy to undertake both tasks (or missions if you prefer): northern/arctic patrol and foreign policy support and expeditionary deployments. In this, I still think the point of departure is to go back to basics and figure exactly what work has to be done and design ships accordingly, not visa versa. Simply, the decisions taken now have implications until 2050; we cannot afford to get it wrong.

Perhaps, "small and many" may work in future expeditionary or foreign policy deployments but it is a concept that would be a great mistake in arctic and northern waters.