Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship/Vessel 

By Bill Featherstone, 4 October 2022

There has been much rhetoric about the viability and use of the new AOPS/V Harry DeWolf (HDW) class, of which we now have three in service and three more in construction. Also in this mix are two slightly modified versions for the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG). 

The amount of negativity being heaped upon these vessels as being useless in terms of combat effectiveness is surprising. Well, that might have some validity if they were in fact designed for combat, which they are not, hence the name, Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship/Vessel. It is clearly stated in their proposed use that they are not combat vessels, but some critics, who should know better, think they were just poorly planned and designed. Some of that criticism is perhaps well intended, but there is always a limit as to what the public (electorate) will tolerate in terms of any spending, let alone defence spending. If there needs to be a focus of criticism, it really should be directed there, where a possible difference could be made. Likely not immediately, but over time. 

The critics also need to return to some of the basics about Arctic climate change, currently occurring at about three to four times that of the rest of the world. Canada owns a vast portion of the Arctic Archipelago and we have little to no maritime surveillance capability in our North. Fundamentally, the AOPS were designed to assist in that role. Some even suggest that the AOPS are only rated for Arctic summer use. This is nonsense. HDW class vessels have Polar Class (PC) 5 rated hulls which state: “Year-round operation in medium 1st year ice, which may include old ice conditions.” The bow portion of the HDW class is strengthened to PC 4. This allows breaking up to 1 metre of ice. This equates to what is also referred to as 5/10 ice (open sea with 50% ice cover). 

They were designed to provide surveillance and assist in Arctic sovereignty as may possibly be required. Obviously, they would not be in the North West passage (NWP) in the winter, when no other surface vessels would likely be there either. Adam Lajeunesse stated it perfectly: “The AOPS were designed to provide that measure of control [sovereignty], manifested in the increased awareness and response and support capability which they will provide.”i This is a constabulary role, clearly stated in the AOPS specification of use. The precise idea of use is to show a visible presence as Arctic Sea ice diminishes and maritime traffic increases. The AOPS have the ability to assist and support other government departments as required. 

I am well aware of the argument of many, stating: ‘what good is a warship that can’t go to war.’ I hate repeating myself, but the AOPS is not, nor was ever intended to be a combatant or man-of-war vessel. The RCN has a role in the Arctic currently for the AOPS as designed. It has a strong constabulary role with a 25 mm MK 38 cannon on its bow and a Sikorsky CH148 Cyclone helicopter on its stern capable of about 160 mph. With a small RCMP complement as required or needed, this is more than sufficient to chase down any Arctic transit smuggling or piracy that might occur. Deterrence without a shot being fired is also quite possible. 

Some suggest that the RCN AOPS should be transferred over to the CCG. There is a possibility of that some years from now when the RCN has further developed and procured its requirements for Arctic operations. But I doubt they would all go. The CCG really requires more heavy icebreaking capability. There may be some combatant vessels in that RCN Arctic mix, i.e., the Type 26 CSC style under consideration. Although, there is considerable critique about these as well.  

Space is limited for this response, and all the abilities of the AOPS have not been covered, nor have they all been realized on the current vessels in operation. My experience has shown, that these capabilities -- that are certainly and technically state of art -- require sometimes a year or two to be fully operational. There will always be criticisms about defence procurement. The real question in the case of the AOPS is what did we have before to do this job? Can the AOPS fulfill the role? I think the real answer is clearly we will just have to wait for awhile. 

i. Adam Lajeunesse, Unarmed Warships: What are the AOPS for? CGAI, June, 2018. Pp. 1-7.  (p. 3)


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

13 thoughts on “Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship/Vessel ”