Mugridge OpEd: Navy hasn’t adapted to new world

David Mugridge, a Visiting Doctoral Fellow with CFPS, has published a contrarian viewed of the navy’s future in the Nova Scotian, the Sunday supplement to the Chronicle Herald.  You can read the full piece here.

Mugridge argues that the navy’s fleet replacement plan is not suited to the new security environment, which is principally concerned with terrorism, crime, climate change and natural disasters: “[T]he likelihood of conventional threats is low and will follow a long lead-in time.” Instead of a one-for-one replacement of the 15 destroyers and frigates, he suggests: “12 state-of-the-art frigates that are kept operational using modern commercial approaches, air-independent submarines optimized for below-ice operation, large flexible support ships that can deliver humanitarian assistance or support operations by air or by sea, [and] a flotilla of versatile, capable corvettes to deliver enforcement operations across the globe, as well as providing the backdrop for regional capacity building.” He views this fleet plan as “highly employable, agile and [providing a] cheaper navy.”

But would it be that much more employable and significantly cheaper?  Here are some hypothetical options to consider.  The number of frigates suggested only shrinks the high-end of the fleet by three (probably by the deletion of the Tribal-class destroyers) and actually reduces its overall combat capability significantly.  Why not have a much smaller number of significantly more capable ships and ‘dumb-down’ the medium-capacity part of the battle fleet?  The key question will be: “How much of the total fleet can the navy afford to be high-end?” A ‘swept up’ frigate is not unlikely to be sufficiently powerful to be a major enabler for military operations nor will it be impressive enough to send the right diplomatic message to act as a deterrent.  Should Canada have a ‘capital ship’ and how low should the level of combat capability be in this type of a bimodal fleet structure?

Within the low end of the bimodal fleet structure rests the logistical elements that support and sustain operations.  What proportion of the fleet should be dedicated to these types of ships?  With the rising importance of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, should the diversity and capabilities of the logistical element be expanded beyond mere sustainment of combat operations?  The current environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is demonstrating that these incidents can arise suddenly and have far reaching consequences.  What if this had happened in the Beaufort Sea?  How would Canada respond and who would take the brunt of the blame when the capabilities similarly proved inadequate to the task?

The next version of the planned Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessel will be significantly smaller and less capable than the original one proffered for bidding.  If this version ends up being the one built, and the first test it faces is to deal with an oil spill in the Arctic, will the money saved still seem like a bargain when the response proves to be inadequate for the task at hand?  Should the military’s Interagency Support Ship (my suggestion to rename the moribund Joint Support Ship) not also be ice-capable?  Your commentaries are always welcome on Broadsides.