Type 26 frigate BAE

More Thoughts on the Canadian Surface Combatant (II)

The discussion in this BLOG on the NSPS has tended towards several themes. First, a belief that the Canadian Navy is proposing a fleet that is based on Cold War requirements which are no longer valid and too expensive. Second that we need to have a Fleet that includes the capability to provide area air defence and independent Command and Control capability allowing for the command of either a Canadian TG or an Allied TG. And third, some as of yet poorly defined argument for a new hybrid fleet which could include type specific warships designed for unique missions ranging from the defence of Canada, presumably a “coast guard and law enforcement” capability, and a separate war fighting capability for military operations.

All of these propositions are valid to a greater or lesser degree absent clear government intent and the will of the government to adequately fund the Canadian Forces in general and the Navy in particular. The obsolescence of the IROQUOIS and PRESERVER class was not a surprise, simply a reflection of the unpreparedness of successive governments to provide adequate funding to maintain the extant Fleet capability. To further complicate the matter the Dept of National Defence faced with obsolescence in many of its weapon systems has historically under stated its demands in the belief that   delaying the sticker shock would allow itself to continue to exist much as is until a government receptive to its needs comes to power.

The historic inaction of Government to modernizing the Canadian Forces has its roots in several truths including: a lack of clear military threat to Canada; absent a clear threat, a preference by Canadians for national government to prioritze spending on social programmes; and a lack of national will to be a dependable military partner in the conduct of operations against extant threats to world stability.

Faced with these truths a prudent course of action would seem to be to either: construct a fleet solely capable of conducting domestic operations, or create a modest multi-purpose combat capable fleet with units capable of participating in local sea control operations independently or with allies.

A fleet designed to solely conduct domestic operations would in essence be a constabulary fleet along the lines of a coast guard. The military threat to Canada from the sea would be minimal save military forces designed to deliver a strategic surprise attack a la Cold War.

A multipurpose combat capable fleet would be axiomatically designed for coalition operations and most likely without the capability for sophisticated Command and Control or area air defence. Domestic coast guard functions would be inherent in the military capability of this fleet. Combat capability would be designed to allow for survivability in a moderate threat environment; depending on more capable coalition forces to deal with more significant threats.  Contrary to the opinion of some, an anti-ship cruise missile defense capability is a necessity not a luxury. Anti-ship cruise missiles are readily and widely available to both state and non-state actors. The same is true of an anti-ship torpedo capability. Area air defence and sophisticated Command and Control capability may be just too expensive to include in this fleet.

The challenge is defining what an adequate capability is. Systems capable of defending against a small number sub-sonic cruise missile will be considerably less expensive than those designed to deal with multiple supersonic cruise or anti-ship ballistic missiles. The same can be said to a greater or lesser degree for torpedoes. The bottom line is that there needs to be a minimum threshold of capability so that fleet units are not a burden to Task Group operations. Otherwise, whatever forces Canada contributes to international operations will be relegated to peripheral tasks along the lines of our contribution to the First Gulf War.

The strategic leadership of the Canadian Forces and the RCN must come to terms with what the Canadian government is prepared to fund and design itself accordingly. Action or more accurately inaction over the last four decades by successive governments is a clear and persistent indicator that cost will always be the major determinant. The Canadian Forces must: recognize and openly acknowledge this limitation; stop delaying important strategic force structure decisions hoping for a better tomorrow; and be brutally honest with both the government and Canadians as to what their investment buys them in terms of capability, geo-political influence, and the ability to deal with extant threats to world stability. To do less than this is a dis-service to the rank and file of the Canadian Forces and more generally to all Canadians.


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