Much has been written about Canada’s long history of naval presence on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. As a changing climate dramatically alters the Arctic seascape, a greater naval capability in the North has never been more necessary. However, little has been written on Canada’s need for a three-ocean navy and the full scope of this requirement has yet to be fully defined.
The rapidly changing dynamics of international relations are testing the laws that govern the oceans commons. Whether it is nations seeking to expand their sovereignty, criminals exploiting maritime access, or humanitarian disasters requiring a response from the sea, navies are being forced to assess their roles.
As Vice Admiral Dean McFadden, Chief of the Maritime Staff, recently said: “I would maintain that the most essential public good of this globalized era is a regulated ocean commons…[and] the strategic organizing principle for the application of Canadian seapower in this maritime century is to defend the global system both at sea and from the sea. The strategic requirement this calls for is a globally deployable sea control navy with its strategic operating concept being a maritime force not only held at readiness, but also forward deployed, both at home and abroad.”
What will that mean for tomorrow’s navy? Does the current structure of frigates, destroyers and submarines provide sufficient capability? Captain (N) Casper Donovan, director of maritime requirements (sea), spoke with Vanguard about the three-ocean concept and some of the navy’s considerations.
The major focus of the navy as it pertains to Canada’s ocean estate as we move into the future is to ensure that we are well prepared to execute our role in support of the government and the other departments that have mandates in the safety and security of Canada. We already have in place world class Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOC) and are working with our fellow departments to make them even more capable in knowing what is happening on our coasts and more effective in coordinating governmental response to threats or incidents at sea. In terms of the future fleet, a substantial amount of effort goes into ensuring that our ships and submarines are not just capable of working with our sister services within the CF or our naval allies, but that they have the equipment, procedures and training to work alongside our partners in government.
Climate change is happening and the Arctic is changing. Consequently, the navy is looking to its role in the North in exactly the same light as we do for our east and west coasts – there is a requirement for naval presence and capability. The existence and potential future extraction of strategic resources like oil and gas, the migration of fish stocks and the increase in Arctic tourism should be of interest to all Canadians; likewise international shipping traffic and routing. Consequently, the CF and the navy will have to work with other government departments to ensure that the laws and regulatory framework that Canada imposes in the north are respected. This means the navy needs the capability to operate in the north. At present, we are limited in what we can do with our current ships and submarines, all of which have significant limitations operating near ice and certainly are not capable of operating in or under the ice.
We are currently defining the requirements for six to eight Arctic offshore patrol vessels (AOPS). The intent is to build a ship with teeth but not a warship with torpedoes, guns and missiles. It will be able to work with the army and air force. It will have to deal with ice thickness up to one meter and provide a naval presence in conjunction with the Coast Guard, Transport Canada, RCMP and Fisheries and Oceans. There has been some discussion as to why Canada cannot get by with armed Coast Guard vessels; navy ships are, by definition, more responsive and sailors, as military personnel, are trained in the use of force. That said, I see our closest partner being the Coast Guard, with its decades of experience operating in the Arctic. Lastly, the relationship we have with the U.S. Coast Guard on our two traditional coasts will be just as solid in the north; the U.S. Coast Guard already works closely with Canada’s Coast Guard in the Arctic.
Our response to the earthquake in Haiti clearly demonstrated the navy’s tremendous flexibility, responsiveness and ability to get into difficult places. Haiti demonstrated the important need to connect the ship to the shore, using boats, landing craft and helicopters to get material from ship to shore where no port exists. Although not ideal to the task, HMCS Halifax and Athabaskan were capable of bringing medical and humanitarian support to affected areas. Halifax even provided air traffic control services for the Jacmel airport to further assist in the inflow of aid. As a result, I think Canadians were afforded the opportunity to gain a better appreciation for how the navy can be used to great effect in such a mission with other elements of the army and air force. Even without the ideal kind of ship, the flexibility they brought was impressive, in particular the effective use of the Sea King – sort of like having your best friend with a pick up truck.
There is a great deal of work being devoted within the navy and the CF to acquiring new ships for tomorrow’s fleet. Two major steps well underway are the introduction of the Victoria class submarines into service and the modernization of our Halifax class frigates. Those two programs are the bridge to the future. We are working on reaching our full steady state submarine capability in 2013. The Halifax class ships were built in the 1990s and are ready for their mid-life refit to make them as capable as possible to meet their assigned missions. The modernization program will commence in September when HMCS Halifax, as the lead ship, begins its refit. As for the new capital projects, the navy is working three major files, the Joint Support Ship, the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship and the Canadian Surface Combatant. We are working hard to strike the right balance in terms of understanding the operational environment of the future and the requirements the ships will need. For JSS this means finding the right weighting between the support that it provides to a task group at sea and other areas such as sealift, command of forces ashore and other potential capabilities. The major challenge with AOPS is to design a vessel that can serve both in the Arctic and off our east and west coasts, execute missions in support of other government departments and be flexible enough to meet other needs that will undoubtedly arise in the future. Finally, the Canadian Surface Combatant is the next generation of warship – one that I expect will be leading edge in terms of technology, use of people and innovation. The future security environment from a maritime perspective is becoming increasing complex, whether because of the proliferation of sophisticated weapons or the growth of hybrid warfare – CSC will have challenging requirements to meet.
We are working to ensure that new ships such as the Joint Support Ship meet our foreseeable requirements. But when a ship is designed to do all of the missions required by the navy, those requirements can conflict. The JSS is still on the books. We are rethinking what it will be required to do. There continues to be a need for heavy sealift, and possibly an amphibious capability. At present, these capabilities may be beyond our reach. But assuming the effects of climate change lead to more frequent humanitarian responses, we will have meet that need.
We are only beginning down the path of understanding unmanned systems and how they will play a part in the future naval force. Trials of the airborne ScanEagle, built by Insitu and Boeing, have gone well. Additional trials will provide a better understanding of the potential roles for UAVs and how they can be fully integrated into ship operations at sea. At the same time, we’re examining other types of remotely operated unmanned underwater vehicles. These vehicles could: examine the ocean floor for mine detection and disposal; provide underwater surveillance of surface or subsurface vehicles; conduct intelligence gathering; and monitor the water mass for pollution and environmental concerns. All this to say, we are not necessarily close to fielding an unmanned vehicle capability into the fleet yet, but we are progressing the development work to support doing so in the future.
There are clear requirement differences between operating in the Atlantic/Pacific and the Arctic. The Arctic has very specific communications issues which must be addressed. This will likely require new satellites with special orbits and special footprints. In terms of surveillance, we are working within the CF to ensure that we get the right mix of capabilities, which will undoubtedly include satellite-based systems, UAVs, aircraft, ships, regulatory reporting networks and personnel on the ground, including Canadian Rangers.
Recently, the Canadian Forces selected the Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone, a twin-engine, multi-role shipboard helicopter to replace the Sea King, which has been in operation since the early 1960s. Its role will be to conduct anti-submarine warfare, surveillance, and search and rescue missions from Canadian warships. It will also provide a tactical transport capability. It is currently undergoing harbour and sea trials on HMCS Montreal. It will bring a massive increase in capability to our ships and to the CF as a whole. Perhaps in the future, the Cyclone and a shipboard UAV capability will broaden the navy’s surveillance capability and reach.
Maritime coastal patrol vessels will continue with littoral patrol. They have deployed to the Arctic as part of Operation NANOOK, and their role will continue to evolve to a suite of capabilities, including route surveys, sea bed intervention, mine warfare, and training to regular and reserve personnel.
There is no mistaking the fact that the navy needs more people today. We are short in many occupations and what makes matters worse is that many of these occupations are quite technical in nature. Thus, we not only need people, but the right people. Looking to the future, with changing demographics, we must ensure that the navy has sufficient personnel to meet its obligations. Decisions today on how we design, operate and crew all of our ship classes, including how we make use of technology, are critical to our future. We are trying to engage communities across Canada to get them more interested in military careers. Further, there is an initiative currently underway to look at the naval reserves and their mission sets, to see whether they should be more fully integrated with the regular navy. As we transition from old to new ships, we expect personnel requirements will be neutral from a numbers perspective. There is still some debate surrounding the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships and that is being analyzed closely.
At present, many don’t appreciate the full capability of the navy. I believe we must keep Canadians fully aware of the capabilities the navy brings to Canada. The government has already signaled this understanding with the Canada First Defence Strategy and the direction and commitment it provides from a navy perspective. With the modernization of the Halifax class, new submarines and the introduction of AOPS, JSS and eventually CSC, the fleet will be well positioned to respond to the government’s needs well into this century. This is a long-term investment for Canada and one that will support Canadians in everything from safety, through security and defence. As I look into the trends pertaining to the future, I really do see a need for more navy, more often and in more places.
An interview with Captain (N) Craig (Casper) Donovan