A look at Canada’s capabilities. In essence, the same as every navy smaller than the USN… augmenting the American force with the key focus on interoperability.
The Royal Canadian Navy in the Pacific – a look at capabilities
By David McDonough
Canada could benefit from expanding its military presence in the Asia-Pacific. As I described in a previous Strategist post, the government faces certain budgetary constraints likely to limit the size of its future naval presence and capacity for maritime diplomacy. Yet such a challenge isn’t insurmountable. To ensure sufficient fleet funding, Canada has the option of placing greater priority on the capital portion of the defence budget—even if it comes at the expense of personnel and operations/maintenance spending.
Such a move would offer Ottawa some leverage to join the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus. More importantly, Canada would have a means to help augment America’s naval power in the region, which is expected to be under increasing strain as a result of defence cutbacks—at a time when China is expanding its own naval fleet and showing greater assertiveness in its maritime disputes with its neighbours.
Other like-minded countries have already begun to focus on their own maritime forces. For example, Japan has strengthened its naval fleet with advanced (e.g. air-independent propulsion) submarines, helicopter destroyers, and plans for helicopter carriers, with a keen eye for possible amphibious operations to protect its vulnerable south-western approaches. Australia has also been eager to deploy a more formidable naval presence with its planned acquisition of Aegis destroyers and replacements for its Collins-class submarines. Both platforms are expected to have the high-end command, control, communications, and weapon systems necessary to ensure operational interoperability with the US Pacific Fleet.
Like the Australian navy, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) also has a strong tradition of interoperability with its American counterparts, to the point where Canadian warships can also be seamlessly integrated into US naval task forces (PDF). It would serve the RCN well to ensure that its future naval platforms can continue to be integrated with the US and other regional navies. Much depends on the capabilities offered by these naval platforms, which should be designed to complement America’s efforts at maintaining operational access to the Western Pacific.
The RCN needs to maintain some of its high end maritime war fighting capabilities. Of particular relevance is area air defence (AAD), a capability that should be retained and upgraded on its destroyer replacements—much as Australia has done with upgrades to its Anzac frigates and the Aegis equipped destroyers. Indeed, the United States, Japan, and other allies have become increasingly wary of China’s advanced anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, from shore-based aircraft and missiles to an undersea and surface fleet heavily armed with anti-ship cruise missiles—a concern reportedly also shared by the RCN, at least according to drafts of its unreleased Horizon 2050 naval strategy.
For the RCN to maintain interoperability with its key regional partners, Canada should also ensure that some of its next-generation Canadian Surface Combatants incorporate the Aegis combat system—joining other regional powers including Japan, Australia, South Korea, and the US Navy. Importantly, Aegis can also be upgraded to provide a mid-course and terminal ballistic missile defence (BMD) capability. Both the United States and Japan have proven eager to expand their BMD fleet, due to China’s development of a much feared anti-ship ballistic missile. Other countries may soon follow suit.
An anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability would also be highly valued in a region where many countries are expanding their submarine inventories. Much of the concern is on China’s undersea fleet, as a possible ‘assassin’s mace‘ capable of challenging American and allied sea control in this maritime theatre. For this reason, the US Navy has already been increasing its ASW assets in the region, with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) operating a formidable fleet that specializes in undersea and surface ASW.
The RCN already has a long history of ASW operations. Indeed, with its fleet of Victoria-class submarines, the RCN would be better placed for these missions than in the past, when it largely relied on surface ASW and escort duties. It also provides the natural locus for cooperation with regional navies, like the JMSDF. Of course, ASW isn’t necessarily cheap. Canada would eventually need to replace its fleet of Aurora maritime patrol aircraft and Victoria submarines. But, given the growing demand for ASW, we shouldn’t underplay the benefits that could be accrued by returning to this specialisation.
With such capabilities, the RCN would be well placed to support American and allied efforts to ensure sea control in the Western Pacific. If required, Canada would also be able to join in defensive missions envisioned in the US Air-Sea Battle concept, while avoiding its more offensive plans to disrupt and destroy A2/AD systems at their source.
Yet it would all be for naught if Canada lacks the logistics for sustained operations in the Pacific, therefore raising the issue of operational sustainment. Sadly, little attention has been paid to the future of the RCN’s auxiliary oiler replenishment fleet. Indeed, it’ll now have to settle for the acquisition of only two Joint Supply Ships, thereby increasing the chances that Canadian warships will be unable to be deployed for sustained operations abroad—unless an ally provides at-sea replenishment, which can no longer be guaranteed given the growing demand for such logistics ships.
In such a situation, the RCN might find its emphasis on Pacific operations curtailed, even if it otherwise enjoys high-end capabilities well-suited to that region. But, more importantly, it could also find its historic role as a blue-water fleet possibly endangered. Such an outcome would be doubly unfortunate, and is an important reminder not to ignore the logistical tail.
David S. McDonough is a SSHRC post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Political Science, University of British Colombia and a research fellow in the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Image courtesy of Flickr user U.S. Pacific Command.
Although it’s possible to pilot large cargo vessels through Arctic Waters, there are a number of reasons why it is not particularly attractive to operators. You know… icebergs an’ all that. Getting insurance can be a bit of a bugger, too.
Arctic Shipping Route Plagued by Icebergs and Insurance
The new shipping route opened up through the Arctic by climate change will not be crowded any time soon.
Cargoes of coal, diesel and gas have made the trip but high insurance costs, slow going and strict environmental rules mean there will not be a rush to follow them.
Looser ice means icebergs. One vessel has already been holed, and large ice breaking vessels, not always on hand, are a must.
“Significant safety and navigational concerns remain an obstacle to commercial shipping in the Northern Sea route, despite recent media reports of ‘successful’ transits,” said Richard Hurley, a senior analyst at shipping intelligence publisher IHS Maritime.
“AIS (ship) tracking of vessels in the area shows all vessels are subject to deviation from direct routes as a result of ice, and many areas still cannot be navigated safely without the presence of large icebreakers able to provide assistance such as lead through to clearer waters.”
Last month, a dry bulk vessel carrying coal from Canada passed through the Northwest Passage to deliver a cargo to Finland, in a trip its operators said would save $80,000 worth of fuel and cut shipping time by a week.
The world’s top oil trader Vitol brought tankers in October with Asian diesel to Europe via the Northern Sea route over Russia, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs.
The fast-growing liquefied natural gas market, in which Arctic players like Russia and Norway play a big role, has also seen maiden Arctic voyages.
Hurley said the passage of the Yong Sheng cargo vessel in August from China to Europe via the Northern Sea was only possible with the aid of the world’s largest nuclear powered icebreaker, 50 Let Pobedy, to get it through the Lapatev Sea. Ship tracking showed only four large icebreakers were available at any one time to cover the whole Northern sea route.
Separately, a small Russian oil products tanker was holed in September in the Kara Sea, also off Russia.
“Even though damage was minimal and did not cause a pollution incident, the holing revealed fragility of emergency help,” Hurley said. “Taken together, all the inherent dangers and concerns over potential Arctic pollution count heavily against time and cost savings alone when assessing the commercial viability of the seaway.”
INSURANCE AND CONTAINERS
The market is also still nascent for insurers.
“The key obstacle here will remain the insurance, as it’s still simply too risky a proposition for standard commercial insurers,” said Michael Frodl of U.S.-based consultancy C-Level Maritime Risks, who advises insurers.
“The ships aren’t ready, the support facilities and port infrastructure are not yet in place, and the risks haven’t been figured out enough to price insurance correctly.”
Others say the commercial potential is unlikely to be viable for container ships, which transport consumer goods, partly as trade flows develop beyond China in coming decades towards other regions including Africa and South America.
“The further away global trade moves from a totally China-centric export pattern, the more a short ‘polar’ route looses its appeal,” said Jan Tiedemann, shipping analyst with consultancy Alphaliner.
“The Southern route – even if longer – will always have the advantage of serving numerous markets at the same time. Think of the Middle East. Think of transshipment via the (Malacca) Straits to Australia and New Zealand. Think of transshipment in Arabia for East Africa. Think of Med and Black Sea loops.”
Until recent years harsh weather conditions, which can drop to 40 to 50 degrees centigrade below zero, had limited Arctic shipping mostly to small freighters and ice-breakers that supplied northern communities in Canada, Norway or Russia.
According to French ship classification society Bureau Veritas, there were 40 Arctic route trading voyages in 2012 for all vessel classes including oil tankers, with around one million tonnes of cargo moved. That compared with 700 million tonnes transported through the Suez canal.
Knut Espen Solberg of Norwegian shipping and offshore classification group Det Norske Veritas, said dry bulk vessels carrying coal were best suited for Arctic shipping as the potential for environmental potential was less.
“Oil and container spills have a much bigger potential environmental impact than coal, so their shipping is likely to be restricted heavily,” said Solberg, a former Arctic mariner.
Good news there for the Canadian Coast Guard. Their current fleet of medium endurance vessels dates to the 1960s-1980s and, while there’s life in an old body, only 1 of these is scheduled for a refit during the next 10-yr cycle. The addition of 5 new MEMTVs to the fleet will ease any anxiety over the CCG’s longer-term operational capability.
Vancouver Shipyards awarded another 10 NSPS vessels
OCTOBER 7, 2013 — Diane Finley, Canada’s Minister of Public Works and Government, says that Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards will build an additional 10 non-combat vessels for the Canadian Coast Guard at an estimated cost of Canadian $3.3 billion..
The new ships, confirmed during a visit to the shipyard today by Minister Finley and James Moore, Minister of Industry and Regional Minister for British Columbia, increase Seaspan’s non-combat build package to 17 ships from the seven ships originally announced on October 19,
The additional ships are five Medium Endurance Multi-Tasked Vessels (MEMTVs) and five Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs).
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to build the next generation of vessels for the men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard and Royal Canadian Navy,” said Brian Carter, President – Seaspan Shipyards. “Today’s announcement marks the latest milestone in the future of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) and the rebirth of the shipbuilding industry in British Columbia.
“We are one year into our Shipyard Modernization Project, and with approximately one year remaining, the transformation of Vancouver Shipyards has been profound,” added Mr. Carter. “In addition to the progress on facilities, we are making a huge investment in people, processes and tools. We continue to recruit the best and brightest engineers, project managers and procurement personnel to join the Seaspan team and look forward next year to increasing the number of unionized tradesmen and women once we commence construction of our first ship under the NSPS project.”
Nope. Not gonna translate this article into French. All that “Garde côtière canadienne” stuff is down to you folks.
HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) is an auxiliary oiler commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in 1969 (due to be replaced… eventually… under the Joint Support Ship Project). HMCS Algonquin (DDG 283) is an Iroquois-class destroyer commissioned in 1973 (due to be replaced… eventually… under the Single Class Surface Combatant Project).
Following collision, RCN oiler under way but destroyer repairs continue
- Repairs to destroyer HMCS Algonquin’s (DDG 283) hangar have commenced
- Oiler HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) is currently under way conducting a task group exercise
A Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) destroyer that collided with an RCN auxiliary ship in the Pacific in late August 2013 is still receiving repairs, while the oiler has returned to the fleet, an official told IHS Jane’s on 2 October.
Iroquois-class destroyer HMCS Algonquin (DDG 283) remains at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt and is undergoing a “thorough and rigorous damage assessment with the goal of getting her back to sea as soon as possible”, Lieutenant Greg Menzies, a spokesman for the RCN’s Marine Forces Pacific, told IHS Jane’s . “Early stages of repair work have commenced to her port side hangar,” he added.
HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) returned to fleet operations on 10 September 2013 and is currently at sea conducting a Task Group Exercise, Lt Menzies said.
Algonquin and Protecteur collided on 30 August 2013 while conducting manoeuvres en route to Hawaii. The two ships had departed Canada’s western coast on a four-month deployment to the Asia-Pacific region when the incident occurred at approximately 1100 hours local time during a towing exercise that required close-quarters manoeuvring.
No one was injured on board either ship, each carrying a crew of more than 300 personnel.
Both ships returned home to Esquimalt near Victoria, British Columbia, on 31 August 2013. Assessment teams surveyed the ships and determined that Algonquin had sustained significant damage to its hangar on the port side while Protecteur suffered only cosmetic damage to its bow.
The two ships had been expected to complete a routine deployment in Southeast Asia, to include participation in the Royal Australian Navy’s International Fleet Review in Sydney in October. Algonquin ‘s deployment was scrapped and an official inquiry was opened to investigate the collision’s cause.
“A board of inquiry [BOI] is currently ongoing to further investigate the incident and circumstances surrounding it. The BOI will make recommendations as to how to prevent a similar event from occurring in the future,” said Lt Menzies.
Nordic Orion is a Panama-registered bulk carrier (40,142 GRT) built by Oshima, Japan and launched in 2011 and operated by Nordic Bulk Carriers. Considered an “ice bulker” the Nordic Orion is 1A for summer/autumn operation in thin-to-medium first-year ice. The shorter direct route from Vancouver, Canada to Poli, Finland saves time & fuel… allowing the Nordic Orion to carry 25% more cargo.
Danish firm seeks to be first to bring bulk carrier through Northwest Passage
Earlier this month, the ice-strengthened bulk carrier Nordic Orion was loaded with coal at a Vancouver terminal. From there, it headed to Finland via the Northwest Passage, undertaking a voyage that could make it the first commercial bulk carrier to traverse the route since the SS Manhattan broke through in 1969.
The Northwest Passage sailing marks another milestone for Nordic Bulk Carriers, the Danish company that owns the ship and has staked its future on northern routes. But it is a bigger breakthrough for international trade and for the fabled waterway, which defied early explorers’ efforts to map its bays and channels and led many to an icy grave. Now, with its ice cover changing and receding and a bulk carrier poised to plow through it, the Northwest Passage stands to witness history again while potentially becoming a viable route for commercial traffic.
“I think this pretty much cements our position as a world-leading ice operator,” Christian Bonfils, managing director of Nordic Bulk, said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Denmark. “In four years, we have created history in two new shipping routes – we are a small company and that’s pretty special.”
Nordic Bulk became the first non-Russian company to sail the Northern Sea Route – which runs across the northern coast of Russia – when it shipped iron ore from northern Norway to China in 2010.
“For some routes, it [the Northwest Passage] can save up to 7,000 kilometres – and that’s not just a distance savings, that’s a savings in terms of fuel, time and salaries,” Michael Byers, an international law expert at the University of British Columbia, said on Wednesday. “Time is money in the international shipping business and a 7,000-kilometre shortcut is of great interest.”
Transport Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard are monitoring the journey and the Nordic Orion is required to check in daily with Nordreg, a Coast Guard agency, Transport Canada said. The ship is scheduled to arrive in Pori, Finland, in early October.
“If they are complying with Nordreg, this is good for Canada’s legal position,” Prof. Byers said. “This is an example of an international shipping company accepting the obligation to register with Canada – essentially recognizing Canada’s jurisdiction over the Northwest Passage.”
Such compliance would be more significant if it involved an American ship, as Arctic disputes have involved Canada and the United States, not other countries, but it still sets a welcome precedent, he added.
Nordic Bulk complies with the rules of the country in which it is sailing, Mr. Bonfils said, adding that the 25-person crew includes a Canadian ice pilot with a couple of decades’ experience in the waterway.
When Nordic Bulk bid on the job to carry coal from Vancouver to Finland, it had the Northern Sea Route in mind. But with its customer’s blessing, Nordic Bulk scrapped that plan in favour of the Northwest Passage.
The fabled route has taken the lives of many explorers. But changes in ice cover attributed to climate change, as well as advances in ship design, have opened the prospect of commercial traffic.
The SS Manhattan, undertaken to test the viability of shipping oil from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, was repeatedly trapped by ice and the U.S. turned away from the idea and instead built a pipeline.
The Nordic Orion is carrying B.C. metallurgical coal bound for Rautaruukki Corp., a Finnish steel company. Nordic Bulk beat other contenders for the job with a bid based on savings of about 1,000 nautical miles and four or five days of sailing time. Nordic Bulk was also able to carry more coal – a fully-loaded 73,000 tonnes – than the 60,000 tonnes or so that could pass through the shallower Panama Canal.
Insurance – once difficult to obtain for Arctic routes – has become more readily available as traffic on the Northern Sea Route has increased, Mr. Bonfils said.
In recent years, there has been considerable debate over whether commercial shipping would become a reality in the Northwest Passage, with Prof. Byers among those arguing such traffic was likely to arrive sooner rather than later.
Now proven correct, he worries Canada is short of search-and-rescue and other safety capabilities, including clean-up capacity in the event of a fuel spill or other accident..
“This is the kind of challenge that by all rights should necessitate hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars of fairly rapid investment by the government of Canada to ensure that vessels like this … if they come into the Canadian Arctic, they can do so in relative safety.“
Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark.
– Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Arctic coast guard helicopter crash kills 3
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board is investigating a tragic incident in which three men were killed Monday when the helicopter they were on crashed into the Arctic Ocean.
The helicopter was on a reconnaissance mission at the time, travelling with the Amundsen, a coast guard icebreaker. There were no survivors.
The men who died were:
- Marc Thibault, commanding officer of the CCGS Amundsen.
- Daniel Dubé, helicopter pilot.
- Klaus Hochheim, an Arctic scientist affiliated with the University of Manitoba.
The Amundsen had recently departed Resolute on a research voyage.
The crash occurred at 8 p.m. ET (6 p.m. MT) Monday in the McClure Strait, about 600 kilometres west of Resolute. The McClure Strait is north of Banks Island on the opposite side of the island from Sachs Harbour, N.W.T.
The helicopter, a Messerschmitt BO 105S, was doing a reconnaissance mission on the state of the ice in the area when it crashed.
A spokesperson with the Coast Guard said Tuesday that weather conditions in the area of the crash were “clear, with good visibility.”
The first responder to the crash site was the Amundsen itself. The crew was able to recover the three victims, and are returning to Resolute with their bodies. All three were wearing standard issue orange survival suits.
Louis Fortier, the scientific director of the mission of which the three men were part, said their deaths came as a shock.
“Commandant Thibault and Daniel and Klaus were friends,” he said. “And this is the main message this morning, it’s the sadness for those people with whom we’ve been working with for 10 years now and it’s a major loss.”
The ship is expected to arrive back in Resolute on Wednesday.
Psychologists will be there when the ship arrives to offer support to the nearly 80 crew members and researchers aboard the Amundsen.
TSB reviewing incident
Thibault was born in L’Islet in the Chaudiere Appalaches region of Quebec in 1965. Dubé was born in Abitibi, Que., in 1957. He was married with four children. Hochheim was 55 years old. He leaves behind a wife and three children.
“Klaus was a friend and colleague. We’re devastated at the news of his passing,” said Tim Papakyriakou, one of Hochheim’s colleagues at the University of Manitoba. “He was a veteran of high Arctic field campaigns and an outstanding research scientist. We extend heartfelt condolences to his family. He will be sorely missed by all.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper also issued a statement on the death of the three men.
“On behalf of Canadians, Laureen and I offer our deepest condolences to the families and friends of [the victims],” Harper said. “It is a grim reminder of the very real dangers faced on a regular basis by those brave individuals who conduct research and patrol our Arctic – one of the harshest and most challenging climates in the world – to better understand and protect Canada’s North.”
“The courage and dedication of these three brave individuals will be honoured and remembered,” the PM said.
The vessel had gone through a full crew change on Sept. 5 in Resolute.
The coast guard spokesperson said it is standard practice for helicopters to depart on reconnaissance missions to gauge ice around the ship following a crew change.
The Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday it is probing the crash.
“One of our biggest challenges is that there are no eyewitnesses,” said John Lee, who is with the TSB in Edmonton. “And of course the helicopter itself, which is going to have a lot of important information for us, is located at the bottom of McClure Strait so until we retrieve the wreckage it’s going to be difficult to be able to come to any kind of determination as to cause or any underlying issues.”
Lee said the TSB is still trying to figure out how it’s going to retrieve the helicopter. It’s about 450 metres under water north of Banks Island.
The last time a coast guard helicopter crashed was in 2005 in Marystown, Nfld.
HMCS Haida, a Tribal Class destroyer built in England, was commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943, serving in many theatres of operation through the Second World War. After a post-war refit, Haida continued in service through Korean War and Cold War situations, until she was decommissioned in 1963. The ship was acquired by the Province of Ontario and moved to Ontario Place (Toronto) in 1971. The ship was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1984 by the federal government, and ownership was transferred to Parks Canada in 2002. HMCS Haida arrived at Pier 9 in Hamilton Harbour on August 30, 2003, the 60th anniversary of her commissioning.