Our navy, Our country

The fall out of the recent federal election, amidst the worldwide economic swirl, opens an opportunity for the Canadian government to invest in Canadian jobs and Canadian technology through Canada’s navy building sustainable long-term employment and, at the same time, increase Canada’s overall security and ability to execute a robust foreign policy.

Globalization, economic growth, the spread of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and capitalization started with and were facilitated by the oceans of the world and the navies that policed them, first the Dutch, then the British and now the U.S. and her allies. In the past century, during two global conflicts, allied navies enabled victory in Europe and the Pacific. During the Cold War it was the western navies that stood as the unassailable wall against the Soviet Union. Today, our way of life continues to depend on our ability to freely use the world’s oceans while protecting Canada from seaborne threats. Why? Canada has the world’s longest coastline, the second largest continental shelf and the fifth largest EEZ; our maritime estate is about 70 percent of the size of our entire land mass; 11,000 of our companies operate in the ocean sector employing over a quarter of million Canadians; our sea borne exports account for 40percent of our GDP; and over half of our future resource wealth is estimated to lie offshore. Nearly three quarters of the planet is covered by water; the vast majority of the world’s population lives within a few hundred miles of a coastline and as a result most conflicts have a maritime dimension, even Afghanistan. Finally, other nations are building navies capable of challenging our economic well-being at sea as well as restricting our foreign policy options.

Without a capable navy Canada:

  • Cannot ensure the economic well-being of the country,
  • Cannot secure our maritime sovereignty or our maritime approaches,
  • Cannot secure our EEZ and the wealth therein, and
  • Will not be able to use the most flexible and widest ranging government tool for independent national and international crisis response, spanning the diplomatic, constabulary to combat.

The navy directly affects the defence, security and the sovereignty of Canada. It permits independent projection of influence and power worldwide without the need for over-flight clearances, basing or landing rights. Without a navy Canada essentially would be defenceless and obliged to rely on others to ensure our security and our economic well-being. However, with a robust navy the government acquires strategic leverage in both peace and in crisis or conflict.

During the recent demise of the JSS project several individuals and officials opined that it would be “cheaper” to buy the JSS or indeed other warships offshore as Canadian industry does not have the capability or the capacity to build warships. Indeed, this sense seems to have taken hold, despite evidence to the contrary or national strategic interests, even in academia, with the upcoming Queens international conference “A Ship-building and Ship Procurement Strategy for Canada.” What is not being discussed is; why building warships in Canada is in our national interest and how during these challenging times building a navy is an investment in Canada and Canadians.

Buying off-shore means buying into another nations’ naval capability and maritime culture, good, bad or indifferent!  What is missed in this argument is that different nations have different needs and operate in different maritime areas. European nations, seen by some officials as a favoured source of warships, except the UK, generally operate in coastal / littoral areas, thus their ships are optimised for these areas of operations. The Canadian navy operates in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans in both blue and littoral waters, thus our ships are optimised to operate in all ocean and littoral areas. Only the USN is faced with a similar operating environment. Accordingly, North American warships tend to have greater endurance, better sea-keeping, greater sustainment and are more broadly deployable than other navies’ individual platforms. Consequently, domestic requirements are crucial to the Canadian navy’s ability to execute government policy and expectations. Thus although buying off-shore seems at first glance a less expensive option, in the end, design modifications needed to adapt to our operating environment makes it more expensive.  A good example is the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) AAW Destroyer Project. The RAN is a sub-tropical Pacific and littoral navy thus the competitive ships selected by the RAN were from nations that mainly operate in the Mediterranean (essentially a littoral sea), which, compared to the Atlantic and North-Pacific, is small and benign. The Spanish F100-class, selected by the RAN, only has an endurance of 5,000 nautical miles compared to the Halifax-class at 9,500. This difference alone will dictate size and cost. This endurance requirement cannot be reduced given the oceans the Canadian navy must traverse, thus, Canadian warships need to be designed and built for Canadian requirements and operating environments. This is not a barrier to acquisition but an opportunity for government investment.

For maritime trading nations, there is a direct linkage between fleet requirements, the ability to build and maintain warships, and national well-being.  This is why the U.S.A. and the major European shipbuilding nations such as Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy have subsidized, in one form or another, warship shipbuilding. Moreover, the ability to design and build warships builds the crucial foundation for the long-term sustainment of these national assets whereas without the ability to build, long-term sustainment degrades and will undermine the national investment. This is what happened after the Halifax-class ships were delivered. Indeed, the Halifax-class was the largest and most complex project ever undertaken by the Canadian Government. A simple comparison: a modern passenger aircraft weighs about 250 tons and takes about 50,000 person hours to build whereas the Halifax-class is 5,400 tons and took 1,200,000 person hours each to build while generating in excess of 160,000 person years of employment, in essence creating sustainable high technology employment for Canadians. Thus economics is another of the reasons why other major maritime trading nations build warships domestically as even though navies appear to be expensive, the return on government investment mitigates the cost, spanning both immediate generation of employment, wealth and technology while providing national security and giving government long term flexibility in domestic and world affairs. Thus, while comparing subsidized costs for foreign built warships and domestic costs may be interesting it is especially irrelevant.

A navy takes a long time to develop, build and sustain.  Indeed, ships being designed and built over the coming decade will still form the core of the Canadian navy in 2045.  Thus, our navy requires a national long-term commitment as the design and procurement process is long, expensive and complex. The technology and skills needed to design, build and integrate a modern complex warship exceed that of any production initiative undertaken by the federal government. Moreover, the economic spin offs from designing, building and integrating complex warships exceeds all other industrial sectors when it comes to the knowledge and technology industries.  Again using the Halifax-class example, the project employed Canadian workers, kept Canadian wealth in Canada, and developed world class technology such as the Integrated Machinery Control System by CAE (now L3 MAPPS) and the Command and Control System by PARAMAX (now LMC) that other countries have emulated. Interestingly, a study on a program undertaken by the U.S.A. between 2004 and 2008, similar in size to the Joint Support Ship, has shown that, should Canada decide to build off-shore, we will lose at least Can$750 million in wealth to our national economy (25 times any potential project savings), we would not create at least 2000 new direct domestic jobs, and we would eliminate Can$250 million in earnings to Canadians.  Essentially, Canadian wealth and jobs would be transferred to foreign nations for insignificant savings and more importantly Canada would have less capable ships restricting government’s flexibility in a crisis.

Historically, maritime trading nations build their own warships, even Canada. The ability to build and sustain warships is closely linked to the ability to operate warships in home and foreign waters, and this is directly linked to the ability to ensure maritime trade moves worldwide and the security of a nations ocean approaches. This strategic imperative was forgotten in the 60s/70s but recognized leading up to the Canadian Patrol Frigate Project when government invested in both world class ship building facilities as well as a world class combat systems integration capability. Regrettably, subsequent governments were blind to this strategic imperative and as a result paid to shut down our world class ship building facility, let another go bankrupt, and ignored the combat systems integration capability thereby breaking the strategic linkage between the nation’s navy and its ability to provide maritime sovereignty and security both domestically and internationally. As a result, although the navy has responded to government direction, the breaking of this strategic linkage has caused a steady deterioration of the nation’s ability to provide maritime security and an attrition of the most flexible and capable government tool for independent national and international crisis response, both of which directly influence economic well being. Notwithstanding the optics of current fleet operations the navy is steadily deteriorating due to the breakage of this strategic linkage.

To be effective the Canadian navy must; be able to operate in all ocean areas, have capabilities that allow the government flexibility across the spectrum of domestic and international maritime operations, including: diplomatic, constabulary and military, have sufficient capacity and robust capability to act independently to achieve Canadian objectives as well as the ability to integrate into and command international forces, be of sufficient size and capability to ensure Canada is not only recognized but has a major influence on operations.

The CFDS calls for a national program to begin both fleet replacement and the introduction of new fleet capabilities. The estimated capital cost of this program, over 20 years, is estimated at approximately CAN$33B, which is at worst approximately 1.3 percent of anticipated Federal expenditures over the same period or approximately 0.75 percent of the annual Federal Budget. This ambitious investment expects to deliver three Joint Support Ships, six to eight Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, fifteen Canadian Surface Combatants and updated frigates. This is but a fraction of what the country needs to deploy the fleet nationally and internationally. Moreover, this plan does not consider investments in a submarine replacement nor smaller fleet units that will be required within the time frame of the CFDS. The CFDS, which appears to be driven by cost, addresses replacement numbers based on what exists rather than the true requirement. However, as noted above, the navy is fundamental to the security of Canada and the maintenance of our economic well-being. Thus, building the navy cannot be seen as a mere defence expenditure but needs to be viewed as a national investment for our security, our economic well-being and the development of our knowledge and technology industries.

Canada, to remain sovereign, internationally relevant and to prosper economically needs a world-class navy. Re-building such a navy requires government vision and long-term government commitment. Without this government commitment the navy will degenerate to irrelevance and Canada will suffer internationally, economically and lose sovereignty. Thus government needs to:

  • Recognize that the navy is fundamental to our security and our economic well being;
  • Recognize that the navy must be capable of domestic and international operations as a robust independent force providing government with strategic flexibility and leverage with robust operational capability including the ability to command other nations navies;
  • Understand that building and sustaining the navy in Canada is a strategic link to our security and our economic well being;
  • Establish national warship ship building, in law, as the foundation of a Defence Industrial Base; and
  • Declare national warship building a Canadian strategic industrial sector;
  • Focus not on the cost of the navy but what is the overall on-going fleet requirement, as the minimalist force and costs in the CFDS need to be viewed as a start not an end; and
  • Invest in the re-capitalization of the navy and other federal fleets as a national, multi-departmental enterprise, enact a law directing warships/federal ships be built in Canada.