Requiem for a Navy?

By Dan Middlemiss, 2 December 2023

So, how bad can it get for the RCN and the CAF as a whole? During the past year, senior officers have been publicly depicting the steady decline in all branches of the Canadian military.

       The latest revelation has come from the head of the RCN in a video recently released on YouTube.[1] Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee stated that Canada’s navy is in “a critical state” and “faces some very serious challenges right now that could mean we fail to meet our force posture and readiness commitments in 2024 and beyond.” He noted that the Navy had not achieved its recruitment targets for more than 10 years. While the RCN is understaffed as a whole, Topshee pointed out that the West Coast fleet is “beset with a shortage of qualified techs” which has  meant that ships cannot meet operations and maintenance objectives.

       Admiral Topshee stressed that the aging Halifax-class frigates could not begin being retired until the RCN had received at least four of the new surface combatant replacements. Thus, the Navy is in a precarious position, apparently with no way out.

       Admiral Topshee was simply confirming the deteriorating operational readiness of the RCN, a situation that has befallen all three branches of the services. According to the latest DND Departmental Results Report for 2022-23, only 61% of the CAF’s force elements were available to meet their operational readiness targets, a figure that drops to only 40% for concurrent operations. For the RCN, only 51.2% were available to meet concurrent operations against a target of at least 60%.[2]

       Other commentators have noted that the RCN had not participated in key international naval exercises because of the non-availability of ships, and another report showed that the RCN has not deployed a true 3-4 ship Task Group for some time, and had but one Single Ship International Deployer (SSID) which was ‘double-hatted’ as part of the National Task Group.[3] This was a far cry from the multiple Canadian Naval Task Groups that were promised in the 1994 White Paper on Defence.

       The fact that Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) General Wayne Eyre and Vice-Admiral Topshee and other senior CAF officers are speaking out now about the woeful state of the forces is commendable. In a real sense, they have a duty to do so. The Canadian government and the people of Canada need to be told the truth. In a similar set of budgetary constraints in the mid-1970s, the then CDS Jacques Dextraze bluntly asked the federal cabinet which of the many missions assigned to the CAF they wished to have cut out altogether – there simply was not enough funds to carry them all out. At that time, this led to a complete high level review of the structure and funding of the CAF and, ultimately, to an increase in the defence budget. This was a real wake-up call for our political leaders in Ottawa.

       If nothing is done now to improve the readiness of the CAF (and along with it the pathetic state of the entire process of defence procurement), then with respect to the navy, should we be asking: how small a navy will we be left with? And what roles and missions will this reduced number be able to carry out?


[1]. VAdm Angus Topshee, “The State of the Canadian Navy,” 28 November 2023. Available at:

[2]. Ottawa, Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, “2022-23 Departmental Results Report,” pp. 43 and 46.

[3]. Ottawa, DND, ADM (Review Services), “Evaluation of Ready Naval Forces,” March 2019, p. 20.


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