Debating Defence and Naval Policy

For much of February 2007, a small group of academics that included serving and former naval officers engaged in an electronic debate on the future of Canada's defence and naval policies. What follows is an attempt to gather up the key points of that debate in the hope that they will be informative and also cause people to think about these important issues.

The catalyst was a 31 January article in the Ottawa Citizen by David Pugliese on the key components of a new "Canada First" defence strategy on the basis of a leaked DND proposal. Among the more radical ideas being touted were some that would have significant long-term naval implications. Six Aurora maritime patrol aircraft, one destroyer and the navy's two aging refuelling and resupply ships (AORs) would be paid off. The loss of the AORs would mean that the navy would face a two-year period, at least, in which it will not have its own means to refuel vessels at sea until the new Joint Support Ships joined the fleet in 2012 or later. On the positive side, Pugliese explained, replacements for remaining 14 frigates and destroyers were expected to come into service beginning in 2018. "In the meantime, the Halifax-class frigates will be modernized and command and control equipment now on the Iroquois-class destroyers will be transferred to the frigates."

Naturally, this riled the naval community, especially those in various Canadian universities, and some were quick to respond. Eric Lerhe of Dalhousie University was interviewed by the Halifax Chronicle Herald on 2 February and was quoted saying that the loss of the AORs undermined "the Canadian task group concept for our ships and any chance of being able to independently deploy anywhere in the world" "We are dramatically reducing the capability of our navy. We have just given up our ability to extract Canadians from any hostile situation for a two- to three-year period."

Meanwhile, others began to draft editorials and letters expressing concern over the naval plan as well as over the long-term funding concepts. To help, Lerhe provided a good analysis for the others to draw on. In this, he had two main concerns: the proposed budget, which did not make sense, and the longer-term impact of the proposals on the general naval capability