Published on 14 Apr 2013
HMCS Bonaventure (CVL 22) was a Majestic class aircraft carrier. She served in the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Forces Maritime Command from 1957 to 1970 and was the third and the last aircraft carrier to serve Canada. The ship was laid down for the British Royal Navy as HMS Powerful in November 1943. At the end of World War II, work on the ship was suspended in 1946. At the time of purchase, it was decided to incorporate new aircraft carrier technologies into the design. Bonaventure never saw action during her career having only peripheral, non-combat roles. However, she was involved in major NATO fleet-at-sea patrol during the Cuban Missile Crisis. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMCS_Bonaventure (CVL_22)
September 23, 2014
September 22, 2014
A few months back, the French amphibious assault ship Mistral took part in joint exercises with Canadian troops from the Royal 22e Régiment (the “Van Doos”). I wondered at the time if it might be an opportunity for the RCN to “kick the tires” of the Mistral with an eye to eventually adding that to their theoretical shopping list (if they ever manage to get anything built this decade). At USNI News an opinion piece by Jim Dorschner looks at the benefits to NATO if the RCN leased one of the Mistrals being built for Russia while NATO itself took on the other one:
The September decision by France to withhold delivery of two Mistral-class Landing Platforms Helicopter (LPH) building for Russia is an opportunity for NATO, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and for the French shipbuilding industry and economy. France should not suffer economically for taking a stand against Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine. Rather, NATO, France and Canada can benefit if a little mutually beneficial creativity is applied.
While France desperately wants to complete the two amphibious warships — and get paid for them — NATO and Canada need the capabilities these ships can provide.
For Canada, an LPH would help buttress logistic support for the upcoming Canadian Joint Support Ship (JSS). The replacement to Canada’s fleet oilers originally required a level of expeditionary capabilities which were ultimately not included in the final ship design.
Furthermore, while one of the Russian Mistrals is already undertaking sea trials and the second is scheduled for completion in 2016, the first of three new Queenston-class JSS for the RCN will not even begin building in Vancouver until 2017 or 2018 at best, with delivery by 2019 or 2020.
It was just announced that one of the two the current support ships HMCS Protecteur and the three Tribal-class destroyers HMCS Algonquin, HMCS Athabaskan, and HMCS Iroquois will be withdrawn from service immediately, and the Queenston-class are not going to be built any sooner.
A RCN Mistral could operate the full range Canadian helicopters, including CH-148 Cyclones and CH-147F Chinooks. Ideally, Canada should obtain 6-8 additional Cyclones configured for the Commando Helicopter role as part of a financial settlement with Sikorsky over the Maritime Helicopter Program (MHP). Commando Cyclones would be optimized for Special Operations, tactical assault, medical evacuation and utility missions, with troop seats in place of maritime sensors, though retaining the CH-148’s FLIR system.
The make-up of a Tailored Air Group (TAG) for the RCN LPH would depend on the mission. A mix of Commando Cyclones, Griffons and Chinooks for amphibious, SOF, Arctic support and humanitarian operations. Cyclones for maritime security and ASW task forces. Exchange aircrew from the US Marine Corps, the Royal Navy Commando Helicopter Force and the Royal Danish and Norwegian Air Forces should be embedded within the Cyclone squadron forming the core of the TAG. This is critical for building expertise and interoperability among Arctic and NATO partners. By way of building a more direct partnership, Resolute could regularly embark RDAF EH-101 Merlin tactical helicopters and MH-60S Seahawk maritime helicopters.
Not least of the challenges facing the RCN would be manning. Fortunately, Mistral was designed from the beginning to operate with a small crew – just 20 officers, 80 petty officers and 60 sailors.
The foremost challenge for Canada may be convincing the government and the public that obtaining a Mistral LPH for the RCN is sensible and affordable, despite being outside the NSPS construct. Given the challenges now emerging for NATO member states and for Canada itself, the answer is surely a resounding ‘Yes’.
Given the current government’s allergy to spending actual money on military priorities (as opposed to nice-but-cheap uniform changes for photo ops), this grand notion is probably dead in the water with no hopes of success … but it’d be a nice boost for the RCN, and nearly as useful for the Canadian Army and RCAF. But it wouldn’t win key voting blocks in Halifax or Vancouver.
July 13, 2014
In Maclean’s, Nick Taylor-Vaisey has a video and photos from HMCS Regina‘s most recent tour of duty.
Peter Bregg boarded HMCS Regina on a fateful day for the ship’s crew. Bregg, a former Maclean’s chief photographer who spent 18 days observing Canadian anti-smuggling operations in the Indian Ocean, arrived in Dar es Salaam on April 21. He left the steamy Tanzanian port city the same day Leading Seaman Brandon South, a sonar operator, died in a nearby hospital, while off-duty, of causes not yet released to the public.
The next day, Daniel Charlebois, the ship’s commanding officer, informed the crew. Morale plummeted, says Bregg. “It was really depressing,” he recalls. “I stayed out of their way and put my camera away.” During a memorial service two days later, Bregg was in a Navy helicopter that paid tribute to the late seaman with a flypast. He called the sombre service “almost like a burial at sea.”
South’s death was a rare dark moment aboard Regina, says Bregg, where the 265 sailors normally kept “extremely high” spirits as they went about their business: maintenance, target practice, personal training, and the self-explanatory “Sundae Sundays.” When necessary, they transition easily between the formal chain of command and lighter moments at sea. While sailors chow down on ice cream or unload the ship, rank dissolves.
May 4, 2014
On the first Sunday in May every year, we remember the Battle of the Atlantic, one of the major contributions to allied victory in World War 2, and the Canadian part in that multi-year battle:
The Battle of the Atlantic campaign was fought at sea from 1939 to 1945 with the strategic outcome being sea-control of the North Atlantic Ocean. It was the longest, largest, and arguably the most complex campaign of the Second World War. Over the course of 2,075 days, Allied naval and air forces fought more than 100 convoy battles and perhaps 1,000 single ship actions against the submarines and warships of the German and Italian navies. Enemy vessels targeted mainly the convoys of merchant ships transporting material and troops vital to safeguarding the freedom of the peoples of North America and Europe.
On any given day, up to 125 merchant vessels were sailing in convoy across the North Atlantic. It was during these treacherous, stormy crossings that Canada’s navy matured and won the mantle of a professional service. Our navy escorted more than 25,000 merchant vessels across the Atlantic. These ships carried some 182,000,000 tonnes of cargo to Europe — the equivalent of eleven lines of freight cars, each stretching from Vancouver to Halifax. Without these supplies, the war effort would have collapsed.
Thousands of Canadian men and women – members of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), the Merchant Navy (MN) and the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), mostly volunteers from small town Canada – had to face situations so perilous they are difficult for us to imagine. As Canadians, we should be proud of their courage.
Although largely unprepared for war in 1939, Canada’s navy grew at an unparalleled rate eventually providing 47 percent of all convoy escorts. Rear Admiral Leonard Murray, who as Commander-in-Chief Northwest Atlantic from March 1943, would become the only Canadian to hold an Allied theatre command during the war and direct the convoy battles out of his headquarters in Halifax.
During the Second World War the RCN grew from 13 vessels to a strength of nearly 100,000 uniformed men and women and nearly 400 vessels, the fourth largest navy in the world. It had suffered 2,210 fatalities, including six women, and had lost 33 vessels. It had destroyed or shared in the destruction of 33 U-Boats and 42 enemy surface craft. In partnership with Canada’s maritime air forces and merchant navy, it had played a pivotal and successful role in the contest for seaward supremacy.
April 22, 2014
As I’ve pointed out before, navies require more ships to do certain jobs because naval vessels require extensive service, repair, and upgrade work such that up to a third of a given ship’s working life will be spent in port and out of service. The Royal Canadian Navy is at a very low point in vessel availability right now:
Of a total of 33 main ships and submarines, 15 are being repaired or undergoing upgrades, while another four are at a lesser state of readiness as they conduct tests on recently installed and modernized systems.
“This is our most challenging year but we have a plan to make sure we have ships available all the time,” Commodore Brian Santarpia, director general, navy strategic readiness, said in an interview with the Citizen. “We’re still quite confident we can fill all the tasks given to us.”
The navy’s 12 frigates are being upgraded as part of the Halifax-class modernization program. Involving $5 billion worth of work, the project will see engineering, radar and weapon systems upgrades, as well as other improvements made to the vessels, Santarpia said.
As part of that process, five frigates are unavailable for operations because they are either in dry-dock or being prepared for the upgrade process.
The Halifax-class frigates are considered the backbone of the navy.
As vessels come out of the modernization process, they go through various stages of readiness as the new systems are being verified and tested and the crew conducts training. “They are available for operations, just not at the very highest levels,” Santarpia explained.
Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said the situation is a result of having a “compact” maritime force and a large number of aging vessels that had to be modernized.
“The navy has known this period was approaching but in the short term they don’t have much choice but to live with it,” said Shadwick, a strategic studies professor at York University in Toronto.
He said a further crunch time for the maritime force will come in the next four years. That is when three aging destroyers, which provide command and control as well as overall air defence for naval task groups, are removed from service.
At that point, the navy goes from the 15 frigates and destroyers, which are the mainstays of the service, down to 12 frigates. In addition, the navy will be without supply ships to provide fuel and provisions at sea. Those two aging ships are to be retired before 2019 and their replacements will not be ready in time.
Under normal circumstances, the RCN would have about 10 frigates and two destroyers available, with the other ships in varying stages of refit, maintenance, and repair. With the recent engine room fire on board HMCS Protecteur, the navy is far more restricted in the kinds of activities it can undertake (only one support ship, HMCS Preserver is available). And let’s just not talk about the state of the RCN’s submarines.
March 27, 2014
HMCS Protecteur had an engine room fire while in transit back to Canadian waters last month after taking part in multinational naval exercises in the Pacific. Along with the 279 officers and crew, there were 17 family members and two civilian contractors on board at the time of the fire. The initial reports severely underestimated how much trouble the ship was in:
CBC News has learned Canadian sailors aboard fire-stricken HMCS Protecteur last month battled the blaze that disabled their ship for more than 11 hours before they were able to put it out.
The life or death fight was made even more difficult after the unexplained failure of the supply ship’s back-up generator, leaving Protecteur dead in the water, in the dark of night, her 279-strong crew struggling through smoke and blackness to fight the fire.
The generator failure also left crews scrambling to find a way to power water pumps to fight the blaze, and refill the oxygen bottles fire teams needed to sustain them as they tried desperately to save their ship.
This new information comes as Commander Julian Elbourne, captain of Protecteur, prepares to welcome naval investigators to the ship, which is tied up in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in the coming days.
I’m boggled that the investigators weren’t in Hawaii the same day Protecteur was towed in … why the excessive delays? Or is there no real rush because the initial survey indicated that it would not be economic to repair the ship?
The ship was scheduled to be retired from service in a few years, partly due to the problems with getting replacement parts for her engines, although the new Joint Supply Ships won’t be ready to go into service for a few years after that (at best). David Pugliese has more on the damage to the ship:
The deck and other metal structures on HMCS Protecteur, which caught fire and was towed to safety by the U.S. navy, may have warped because of the intense blaze, significantly damaging the vessel.
The extent of the damage is still being assessed. It will also take several months before a board of inquiry has the full details of the fire. However, the Canadian Forces fire marshal expects to deliver a report about the blaze to senior naval officers soon. Sources say the fire started on the port side of the engine room. Large amounts of oil from systems on board the vessel helped feed the fire, they add.
There are concerns the deck and hull may have warped due to the intense heat. The navy hasn’t released details but has acknowledged in a statement “significant fire and heat damage to the ship’s engine room and considerable heat and smoke damage in surrounding compartments.”
Canadian naval operations in the Pacific will be curtailed for at least a few years if Protecteur can’t be economically repaired, as the only other ship of that capability in service is sister ship HMCS Preserver, based in Halifax.
March 8, 2014
Terry Milewski reports on the state of Canada’s shipbuilding program for the Royal Canadian Navy, and it’s not pretty:
An internal government memo obtained by CBC News shows that all four parts of the government’s huge shipbuilding program are either over budget, behind schedule, or both.
Written Oct. 7 last year by the deputy minister of national defence, Richard Fadden, the memo shows that three of those four programs also face “major challenges” of a technical nature, as well as difficulties lining up skilled manpower to get the ships built at all.
The memo, released to the CBC following an Access to Information request, leaves little doubt that Canada’s crippled supply ship, HMCS Protecteur, won’t be replaced before the year 2020.
The spectacle of the 46-year-old Protecteur, Canada’s only supply ship in the Pacific, being towed into Honolulu after an engine-room fire has thrown the lack of a replacement into sharp focus. Although there’s a plan to build two new supply ships, there’s no sign the work will even begin until late 2016. That means a new one won’t enter service until the end of the decade.
A chart summarizing the state of the shipbuilding effort uses green and yellow squares to indicate where those problems are — the green meaning, on track, and yellow meaning, trouble — and there’s a lot of yellow.
For the Joint Support Ships — that’s the pair of supply ships — the chart shows trouble with both the schedule and the price. The memo explains that this means the program is up to 20 per cent behind schedule and up to 10 per cent over budget.
As I’ve said many times before, the Canadian government is managing to get the least possible bang for the buck on shipbuilding because they view the shipbuilding program as a regional economic development scheme (and a way of funneling money to marginal constituencies) rather than as an essential part of keeping the RCN properly equipped. It’s pretty obvious in this case:
Take the supply ships. “Yellow” suggests they’re over budget, but doesn’t indicate what the budget should be. But comparisons with Canada’s allies could raise eyebrows even further.
Britain, for example, opted to build its four new naval supply ships much more cheaply, at the Daewoo shipyard in South Korea. The contract is for roughly $1.1 billion Cdn. That’s for all four. By contrast, Canada plans to build just two ships, in Vancouver, for $1.3 billion each. So Canada’s ships will be roughly five times more costly than the British ones.
But there’s a twist. Canada’s supply ships will also carry less fuel and other supplies, because they’ll be smaller — about 20,000 tonnes. The U.K. ships are nearly twice as big — 37,000 tonnes. Canadians will lay out a lot more cash for a lot less ship.
February 6, 2014
The Royal Canadian Navy’s submarines are in the news again:
The Royal Canadian Navy’s only submarine on the East Coast will be pulled from service for up to a year because of engine woes, CBC News has learned.
HMCS Windsor, which completed a $209-million refit just 18 months ago, will be hauled from the water in March, the navy has confirmed to CBC News.
A navy spokesperson said one of HMCS Windsor‘s two diesel engines will be removed and replaced during the unscheduled docking.
A naval source told CBC News the job will take at least seven months but could last longer, depending on how the massive 16-cylinder diesel engine is stripped from the submarine.
And here’s the part that boggles my mind:
Blondin said the cost for the engine itself is $1.35 million, which he said is already a part of the “national spare parts inventory for the submarine fleet.”
The broken Paxman Valenta engine weighs eight tonnes and was commonly used to drive British trains.
Canada’s used British-built submarines are fitted with a special hatch that may allow the navy to simply pull the engine from the 20-year-old HMCS Windsor. But if the hatch — called a Dutch breach — turns out to be too small, the navy will be forced to cut the submarine in half to remove the engine.
They don’t know if the engine can be removed through the hatch that was designed to allow the engine to be replaced? I hope that’s just a mis-communication between the RCN spokesperson and the journalist!
October 31, 2013
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) both are badly in need of new ships. The federal government has been aware of this for quite some time and has made plenty of announcements about addressing those needs … but the actual steps taken do not give me hope that the needs will be met economically or in a timely fashion. Canada no longer has a domestic ship-building industry with experience in producing military vessels, and it does not make economic sense to re-create it for the relatively small number of ships the RCN and the CCG actually need.
Politically, it can be a good election ploy to pour lots of government money into new shipyards which will employ hundreds of skilled and unskilled workers. The newly employed will be spending their salaries in Halifax, Vancouver, and Quebec and the visible signs of construction (both of the facilities themselves and of the hulls of the ships) will be a steady reminder to voters that the feds are investing in their cities. From the political viewpoint, it makes lots of sense to design and build the ships in Canada.
Economically, the situation is quite different. None of the remaining shipbuilding firms have the trained staff for either designing or assembling modern military ships. They’ll need to expand their yards and hire new skilled workers to take on the contracts. The civilian economy probably does not have all the necessary trained would-be employees ready to hire, so many would need to be brought in from other countries while training courses eventually turn out enough Canadians able to take those jobs. This will all increase the cost of the shipbuilding program, and delay the already belated eventual delivery of the ships. J.L. Granatstein explains:
The government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy aims to provide Arctic patrol ships, supply vessels and eventually replacements for the RCN’s fine frigates, as well as a large icebreaker and 10 smaller ships for the Coast Guard. The cost, including the frigate replacement, is estimated at $80 billion, and the process involves re-establishing the nation’s shipyards in Vancouver and Halifax, in effect re-creating a defunct industry. Up to 15,000 jobs are to be created.
But this is Canada, so pork and high costs are inevitable. National Defence and Public Works are deeply involved, politicians’ hands are all over the plans, and costs are sky-high. Consider the two Joint Support Ships to be built in Vancouver for $3 billion. They will likely be fine ships when they hit the water, years late. Britain’s Royal Navy, however, is buying four roughly similar ships from South Korean builders for $750 million — for all four. Should the RCN ships cost eight times those of the British? The Dutch navy is buying ships built in Romania; the Danes use ships built in Poland. Why? Because the cost is far less, the quality is good, and the work of installing the armaments and communications systems can be done in home waters, creating good jobs.
Take another case, the 10 small vessels to be built on the west coast for the Coast Guard for $3.3 billion. In 2007, the Danes bought similar, larger ships for $50 million each, ships with an icebreaking capacity the CCG ships will not have. Even with six years of inflation factored in, the CCG ships will cost at least three to five times as much.
But, the government will say, the jobs being created on the coasts are good ones, paying well for the skilled workers who are being trained to fill them. It is true, but will the Canadian public support the RCN and the Coast Guard when it realizes the massive costs involved to create each job? Moreover, no government can bind its successors to follow any policy. Jean Chrétien killed the maritime helicopter project when he came to power two decades ago, and the RCN still has no new ones. A future government might well say that the deficit is too high and the ship projects cannot proceed. After all, governments have killed the shipbuilding industry in this country before — after the two world wars and after the RCN frigate program ended in the 1990s. There are no guarantees in politics, and neither the Liberals nor the NDP seem high on defence spending for anything other than peacekeeping.
However, any time the political equations and the economic equations point in very different directions, you can almost always count on the politicians to go for the most expensive/most politically advantageous answer.
October 10, 2013
Submariners love other ships … as potential targets:
In 2007 HMCS Corner Brook, a diesel-electric submarine of the Canadian navy, sneaked up on Illustrious during an exercise in the Atlantic.
To prove they could have sunk the carrier, Corner Brook’s crew snapped a photo through the periscope — and the Canadian navy helpfully published it. “The picture represents hard evidence that the submarine was well within attack parameters and would have been successful in an attack,” boasted Cmdr. Luc Cassivi, commander of the Canadian submarine division.
Corner Brook, a former British submarine displacing only 2,400 tons, is no more capable than Dallas — and probably much less so once crew training is taken into account. American submariners spend far more time at sea than their Canadian counterparts.
Dallas and Corner Brook scored their simulated carrier kills against allied warships in the context of a scripted exercise. But many other close encounters between subs and flattops have occurred between rival nations deep at sea, in a usually bloodless duel that is nevertheless deadly serious.
At Think Defence, Fedaykin wonders if the best solution for the Royal Canadian Navy’s Sea King helicopter might just be the Merlin which is in Royal Navy service:
With the Canadian government threatening to cancel the CH-148 contract, the sending of team to inspect Royal Navy Merlin is an interesting development.
Whilst the Merlin has developed a bit of a reputation for being fragile and expensive to maintain it has nevertheless seen many years of service now and is finally catching its second wind of maturity.
The Royal Navy is upgrading 30 Merlin from HM1 to HM2 standard leaving 8 airframes unchanged. Initially, thinking was these 8 spare airframes would probably form part of Crowsnest getting a permanent AEW fit. Sensibly (in my opinion) the MOD and navy has decided that Crowsnest will instead be a quick fit solution to any of the HM2 fleet ensuring that we don’t end up with “fleets within fleets”.
That leaves 8 standard HM1 going spare and possibly a home for them.
If the Canadian government was to suck up the embarrassment they could buy the AW Merlin HM2 with the 8 HM1 being given to them at a throw away price as a hot swap to get them going.
Once new build HM2 become available off the line the older HM1 in Canadian service can be upgraded to the common standard. The second article does clearly state the Canadian team did look at the HM1 in particular so is a happy solution close to hand.
The main barrier as it stands is the Omni-shambles of the Victoria class procurement, the Canadian public is not exactly happy about that disaster despite a significant proportion of blame being laid at their own door.
The UK does not do enough in terms of defence co-operation with Canada, New Zealand and Australia and there is much we can learn from each other.
H/T to Tony Prudori for the link.
September 5, 2013
The Royal Canadian Navy is still operating the Sea King helicopter — which is 50 years old — and the planned replacement helicopters appear to be no closer to delivery than they were 20 years ago:
A naval helicopter procurement program described as the worst in Canada’s history was doomed from the start but could be made “viable and operationally relevant” if the federal government urgently adopts a new approach, says a confidential new report obtained by CBC News.
The independent evaluation of the multibillion-dollar purchase of 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to replace a 50-year-old fleet of Sea Kings, obtained by CBC News Network’s Power & Politics host Evan Solomon, concludes the government can get the problem-plagued program back on track by negotiating with primary supplier Sikorsky to “re-scope” the project’s structure, specifications and delivery approach.
“[The] project could be viable and operationally relevant with a new structure and governance model as described in our recommendations,” reads the report from Hitachi Consulting.
“A fundamental problem existed at the outset of this project — this set the stage for significant misalignment,” reads the key finding.
The report says the government believed it was buying an “off-the-shelf” product by Sikorsky — a conclusion also drawn in a 2010 auditor general’s report. Yet the project should have been treated as a development program because the “state-of-the-art” aircraft incorporates advanced technology and an in-service support capability “that is likely unsurpassed in the world today,” according to the report.
While the fleet was to begin delivery in late 2008, so far only four of the Cyclone helicopters have been delivered — and only on an “interim” basis. The government won’t formally accept them because they don’t fully meet the specifications.
Last year, then defence minister Peter MacKay cited the Sikorsky deal as an example of how procurement can “go badly wrong.”
“This is the worst procurement in the history of Canada, including the $500-million cancellation costs that are attached to the maritime helicopter program and then the costs of the further maintenance to fly the 50-year old helicopters,” he said at the time. “They’re going to go right out of aviation service and into the museum in Ottawa. And that’s not a joke.”
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.
August 16, 2013
Sir Humphrey explains in detail the problems facing the Canadian Forces:
The biggest question arguably facing Canada today is how to address what is a three pronged axis of interest. As an Atlantic and Pacific power, with substantial economic interests in both areas, Canada has an inevitable interest in both regions, which have extremely different challenges. At the same time, the emerging interest in the Arctic, where global warming and climate change is seemingly allowing an opening of trade routes, means a previously neglected region suddenly takes on far more strategic role. Beyond this home position, Canada continues to play a major role overseas, providing troops, aircraft and ships to participate in operations across the globe from the Gulf to Afghanistan.
The problem which looms is that Canada has deferred expenditure for so long on so many fronts that it is rapidly reaching the point where barring a major change of budget; something is going to have to give. As a nation Canada is a superb example of the many mid-tier powers, other examples being the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Australia to name but a few, who have historically been able to afford and operate armed forces capable of working across a wide range of areas, but where future budgets may constrain this over time. All of these nations are typified by having a lot of legacy equipment in service, and a willingness to employ their militaries overseas on operations. These nations all face a similar challenge — the cost of military equipment is so great that all face a problem — what has to be sacrificed in order to keep some form of capability, and what are they no longer willing to do militarily?
Considering the Navy alone, one sees a fleet which has been hard worked for many years, and which has not seen new surface ships enter service for nearly twenty years. The destroyers are so old that it is nearly fifty years since the design was approved, and forty years since they entered service. The decision to continually defer replacements means that no military shipbuilding capability exists in Canada any more. This means any replacement will be built at far greater cost on a shipbuilding industry which will be created from scratch. This issue alone highlights the real challenge for many medium powers — the inability for domestic political reasons to consider purchasing certain from overseas. Despite there being several designs (such as the Royal Navy’s Type 26 / Global Combat Ship) entering service in the time-frame for replacement, the desire by Canada to retain a ‘made in Canada’ label on its surface warships means that the Canadian taxpayer will not get the best value for money. One only has to consider that most warship replacement programmes these days will only replace half to two thirds of the hulls in the preceding class due to cost, and it quickly becomes clear that Canada is going to be forced to establish a military shipbuilding capability for just 8-10 hulls.
Domestically there are many good reasons to build at home — creation of jobs in vulnerable constituencies, a sense of national control over a hugely visible symbol of national prestige, and an ability to support domestic industries (e.g. having far greater sovereignty over the weapons and equipment than may otherwise be the case with a foreign purchase). Additionally even with offsets, it is difficult to justify to taxpayers spending huge sums of money abroad, particularly for a capability traditionally built at home. There are several nations who have traditionally built their large warships at home, and who face a need to build replacement hulls in the next 10-15 years. It becomes increasingly difficult to see how they can afford to do this without making major cuts elsewhere to their procurement plans, or buying overseas.
June 28, 2013
An interesting post at the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic, and Disarmament Studies looks at the real reasons the Royal Canadian Navy has had such a rough time with the current class of submarines:
Submarines are perhaps the most misunderstood weapon system in the Canadian Forces. Few Canadians, even those well-versed in military matters, understand their role in Canada’s defence. Worse, the technical issues that have afflicted the Victoria class submarines have dominated the media narrative for a decade, convincing many that they really are a set of lemons put upon us by the crafty British. In actuality, the navy had relatively few options to replace its aging Oberons in the 1990s. It was the decisions made then, rather than any inherent technical shortcomings, which created many of the problems experienced after these vessels entered active service. Yet, the choices for the navy were stark. Faced with a government that was essentially hostile to the idea of submarines, and limited in what it could spend, the used, but highly modern Upholders were the only option open to the RCN: it was either that or the end of the Submarine Service.
[. . .]
However, submarines were politically unpopular within the Chretien government. The former foreign minister called them “un-Canadian” in nature, and Chretien himself dithered on the decision. Sensing that the window was about to slam shut, the navy lobbied hard for their acquisition in what was called the deal of a century – four slightly used subs for $750 million. The old supply vessel HMCS Provider would be paid off early and planned refits for the O-boats foregone.
But the navy had to live within the tight limits that had been established by that $750 million figure. As such, much of the spare parts the RN had warehoused for the submarines were not purchased, nor was some of the technical information concerning the engineering of the submarine’ systems acquired from VSEL (later BAE Systems). In addition, a series of technical problems were discovered in the submarines as they began to be reactivated by the Royal Navy. Many of these were fixed before the boats were delivered to Canada, but several expensive fixes remained after they were acquired. The heavy demands made on the navy at the beginning of the War on Terror in 2003, just as the submarines were arriving in Halifax, also limited the ability to move quickly in resolving these issues.
In many ways, the problems experienced by the subs represent an “own goal” on the part of the navy. The decisions that were made at the time in order to get the boat were to come back to haunt the navy years later. The failure to acquire sufficient spares or establish supplier relationships resulted in many of the significant delays in making the subs operational as the navy worked to create its own network of industrial relationships to manufacture the specialized equipment found on no other naval system. It is this fallout from the procurement process, rather than the frequent argument that the subs were poorly constructed, that is responsible for the delays and technical setbacks in the programme. Given the constraints under which the navy had to operate in the mid-1990s there really were no other alternatives if the service was to be preserved. Despite the problems that came with the boats, it really was the deal of the century!
May 27, 2013
The Royal Canadian Navy is supposed to be getting some new ships (eventually), at a proposed cost of $25 billion. But the best way to get the most bang for our buck is not the way the government is going about it … building these highly specialized vessels in Canada does two things: it guarantees that we’ll pay far more money for fewer hulls, and it briefly raises employment in certain fields (metalworking, electrical work, welding, etc.). What it doesn’t do is create a viable industry for building naval or coast guard ships for other countries — because most other countries can either build their own (France, Germany, the UK, and the US) or have the economic sense to buy from friendly countries that can build efficiently at reasonable cost. Even if we pay a significant premium to build frigates or destroyers in Canada, once that job is over the shipyards will close down and most or all of the workers will be looking for new jobs.
Michael Whalen has more:
Given the above, the second, far more strategic, issue to be discussed is: Should we in fact be building warships in Canada at all? What is the long-term benefit to Canada?
The immediate answer from politicians of all stripes is, interestingly, not great ships, but jobs, jobs, jobs. However, the jobs they are talking about may well be far less valuable than we imagine.
There is no standard breakdown of the costs of building a warship, but a recent study by the South Australian government (as part of its input to that country’s proposed 30-year, $250- billion naval shipbuilding strategy) suggests the actual shipbuilding represents much less than half of the cost of a warship, perhaps 30 per cent to 40 per cent.
The rest comes from the design, armament, engines, electronics, etc., which will largely be procured outside of Canada, certainly outside of Nova Scotia. The benefits to Nova Scotia and to Canada will be in largely blue-collar jobs such as shipwrights, welders, electricians and general labour. In a job-poor province such as ours, these are nothing to sneeze at. This massive expenditure will not, however, create a sustainable long-term industry for our province.
To put it bluntly, there is no market for Canadian-built warships. The major buyers, the Americans, the British, the French, the Chinese, etc., build their own. They will never buy a ship from Canada.
Our governments, federal and provincial, will spend billions establishing a small, inefficient industry for which there is no market outside the government of Canada.
There are economies of scale to consider: for a dozen ships, it makes no sense to essentially create an industry from scratch. For a hundred ships, the costs start to be reasonable (but we don’t need that many, couldn’t crew that many, and nobody will buy them from us). We have an infamous historical test of this, too:
There is something of a parallel here with the aircraft industry. John Diefenbaker has been condemned for nearly 60 years for cancelling the Avro Arrow, Canada’s last attempt at building a warplane.
In retrospect, he was right. Instead of spending billions on a jet for which there was no market, subsequent governments invested in companies like DeHavilland and Canadair (both ultimately purchased by Bombardier) and Pratt and Whitney Canada which focused on the growing market for commercial aircraft, particularly small airliners serving regional markets.
Today this country has a vibrant aerospace industry that is among the world’s largest. Canadian-built aircraft fly on every continent and jobs have been created across the country, including many here in Nova Scotia.
Large parts of this industry resulted from the identification of a sustainable, growing niche market (regional airliners) and investing in the components (e.g. airframe design, small turbine engines, landing gear) required to meet that demand. There is no evidence that kind of strategic thinking has gone into Canada’s shipbuilding program.