Arctic Patrol Vessels

The Government's decision to build six new Arctic Patrol vessels is a wonderful step forward. But what is being missed in the arguments as to whether the Navy or the Coast Guard should have and deploy them is a fundamental review of the purpose of the Canadian Coast Guard and the responsibilities of the Navy in the north.

As it now stands, the Canadian Coast Guard shows little inclination to do any guarding. As witnessed by Migs Turner's recent article in the Ottawa Citizen the Coast Guard sees itself as providing platforms to allow RCMP officers to reach the scene of the crime. The notion that the Coast Guard should actually "guard" seems not to be in their corporate culture. To me, that is akin to requiring city police officers to use the city busses to get to crime scenes.

The Navy is actively studying how best to project power to the littoral regions of the world. They actively are studying both the transportation issues and the patrol issues inherent in this form of warfare; and describing the kinds and numbers of vessels needed for these tasks. But what is startling is that they are willing to cede to other nations planning activities to operate in Canada's littoral.

The patrol capability of the Navy will be markedly reduced during the time when the CPF's are undergoing their mid-life refit and updating. The recently announced procurement of the six Arctic Patrol vessels may help provide interim patrol capability, if they arrive in time. But the Arctic vessels were not on the Navy's planning horizon until very recently. This would indicate that the vessels were the result of a Government push, rather than a Navy pull.

So the issue to be debated nationally is why we have a Coast Guard that doesn't want to guard anywhere, and a Navy that wants to guard anywhere but in Canada's northern littoral.

Broadsides contributor Rob Huebert, of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary, outlines three developments that warrant the recently announced Arctic/Offshore Patrol Vessels and a renewed icebreaking fleet:

  1. Oil and gas companies are spending substantial money preparing for their developments in the North
  2. Russia's recent claim to ownership over vast sections of the Arctic
  3. The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are now actively determining what ships and assets they need for Arctic operations

The full Globe and Mail commentary available here.