Missile Reloads at Sea: The Next Big Thing?

By Dan Middlemiss, 29 March 2023

Sailors aboard Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111) guide training ordnance into the ship’s forward vertical launch system (VLS) cells during a proof-of-concept evolution in San Diego, Oct. 4. MV Ocean Valor conducted its first at-sea vertical launch system reload with Spruance, demonstrating the ability of the U.S. Navy to re-arm surface vessels who employ VLS. (Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Taylor Crenshaw)

In this age of rapidly evolving naval combat technology, it may seem odd that modern navies, including Canada’s, still cannot accomplish two seemingly simple tasks – reloading and exchanging missiles for vertical launch silos (VLS) at sea.

Instead, today most naval surface combatants must return to a home or friendly port to reload or redeploy their VLS missiles. In the midst of naval combat, this limitation constitutes a major vulnerability, and effectively removes a warship from the order of battle at possibly a critical point, for days or even weeks at a time.

Moreover, this weakness places even greater stress on getting the pre-deployment missile load-out balance between defensive and offensive missiles right. There will be no opportunity to second-guess once the ship sails. This is especially true for the US and the UK navies which, as part of their AUKUS agreement to confront the emerging Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) more directly in the far western reaches of the Pacific Ocean, have to rely on ‘come-as-you-are’ missile loads. The concern is that the PLAN, operating much closer to home ports and with far greater VLS missile loads per ship, may have a decisive advantage in any future combat engagement.

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Current Issue: Winter 2023 CNR issue

Volume 18, Number 3 (2023)

Another issue of Canadian Naval Review is almost ready to print. The winter issue won’t make winter weather go away, but it will give you something interesting to read on snow days. 

The issue begins with an Editorial entitled “Preparing for the Future” by editor Ann Griffiths. In the editorial, Griffiths asks if the RCN is prepared for the future of conflict at sea. Our first article is the winner of the 2022 Canadian Naval Maritime Trust essay contest, hosted every year by CNR. The was won by Jacob Benjamin with “Making the Case for the Sōryū-class as a Canadian Procurement Option.”  


The second article in this issue is entitled “NORPLOY ’74: A Case Study in Northern Operations.” In this article authors Cate Belbin and Adam Lajeunesse look at the NORPLOY Exercise in 1974 to see what’s changed/not changed since then and what the RCN has learned about operations in the North. The third piece in this issue is an interview with CPO1 Alena Mondelli. In this interview we learn about education and training of Non-Commissioned Members in the RCN, as well as other interesting considerations that relate to the NCM team.

We also include some very interesting commentaries in this issue -- Making Waves is particularly feisty. We have several commentaries about Canada’s glacial procurement process, and one about how to achieve a more affordable and balanced RCN fleet. We include a quick look at the Auditor General’s 2022 report “Arctic Waters Surveillance,” and a discussion of the implications for Canadian security of Russia’s attack on Ukraine. We also have a brief examination of Canada’s new Indo-Pacific strategy. And Dave Perry unravels the tangled knot of NORAD modernization funding. This is just a taste of the material in the winter issue. 

And, of course, there are the amazing photos! All of this is coming soon. See the Table of Contents below. And stay tuned for the issue to appear!  

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