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.
From the Arctic to the Horn of Africa… the Royal Canadian Navy seem to be everywhere.
Canadian Warships Depart for Canada’s Arctic Waterways
NR 13.242 – July 29, 2013
OTTAWA – Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Summerside departed today from Halifax, N.S. for Canada’s arctic, where she will be joined later in August by HMCS Shawinigan. This deployment is a part of a 39-day mission north of the 60th parallel, marking the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) longest uninterrupted arctic naval presence in recent years.
During the deployment, HMCS Summerside and HMCS Shawinigan will participate in Operations QIMMIQ and NANOOK, conducting surveillance and presence activities, as well as joint training scenarios, showcasing Canadian Armed Forces assistance to civil emergency management and law enforcement agencies during threats to public safety.
““Overcoming the challenges associated with operating in Canada’s northern regions is an important area of focus for the Canadian Armed Forces. Accordingly, we will continue to play a key role in supporting Canada’s Northern Strategy,”” said General Tom Lawson, Chief of the Defence Staff. ““With these ship deployments the Royal Canadian Navy will, alongside other government departments, establish a visible and important federal presence in our northern communities during the next two months. The ships will also be pre-positioned to participate in our largest annual northern training and sovereignty activity, Operation NANOOK.””
““The deployment of maritime coastal defence vessels in Canada’s northern waters serves as an example of how our Navy demonstrates sovereignty in the North and, when authorized, assist other government departments in enforcing national and international law,”” said Vice Admiral Mark Norman, Commander of the RCN. ““The experience will also help us prepare the stage for more extensive operations in the ice, to be conducted in the future by our Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships, by ironing out some of the logistical and operating challenges generated by the sheer distances, remoteness, and generally harsher environmental conditions in the North.””
Operation NANOOK, the most widely recognized of all the northern deployments, and Operation QIMMIQ, a year-round persistent surveillance and presence operation, are directed by Canadian Joint Operations Command. Other yearly Northern deployments include the springtime Operation NUNALIVUT in the high Arctic and the summertime Operation NUNAKPUT in the western Arctic.
Only the “majors.” Smaller vessels (less than 10,000 HP), such as the Royal Navy’s HMS Protector, and “ice-strengthened” vessels such as the British Antarctic Survey’s RRS Ernest Shackleton, are not included.
U.S. Coast Guard’s 2013 Reivew of Major Ice Breakers of the World
The Coast Guard Office of Waterways and Ocean Policy (CG-WWM) began producing the chart of major icebreakers of the world in July 2010. Since then, we have gathered icebreaker information and recommendations from a variety of sources and experts, including icebreaker subject-matter experts, internet posts, news updates, Arctic experts and Coast Guard offices with icebreaker equities. We validate our information within the public forum and update the chart at least semi-annually based on new information and feedback. This chart represents the Coast Guard’s current factual understanding of the major icebreaker fleet. This chart is not intended for icebreaker fleet comparisons and no inference should be drawn regarding a country’s icebreaker “ranking” against another.
Scope. Vessels meeting the general definition of a polar icebreaker per the 2007 National Research Council report on Polar Icebreakers in a Changing World are included. These vessels “have sailed in significant sea ice in either the Arctic or the Antarctic,” have “ice strengthening sufficient for polar ice” and possess “installed power of at least 10,000 horsepower.” Minimally ice-strengthened ships (enough to survive in ice, rather than operate in it) and icebreakers of less than 10,000 horsepower are not included. With the exception of the Baltic icebreakers, this chart does not indicate where their owners may actually operate them. In addition, the chart does not specify whether a vessel’s crew is civilian or military.
Classification Methodology: The chart organizes the icebreakers first by country, then by installed power category, and finally in order of placement in service, youngest to oldest. The chart colors icebreakers by their relative capability estimated using brake horsepower as the most common basis. The most capable icebreakers are black, the next level sea-green and the lightest icebreakers are blue. Icebreakers in construction are colored yellow, and planned icebreakers are white. Planned icebreakers are placed on the chart if we can reliably state they are funded. The chart identifies government-owned or -operated icebreakers with the country’s flag next to the icebreaker. Nuclear-powered icebreakers are marked with an N. Baltic icebreakers designed to operate solely in seasonal, first-year Baltic Sea ice but meeting the ice-strengthening and horsepower criteria are marked on the chart with a B. Most Baltic icebreakers may not have operated in the Arctic due to concerns with open-ocean sea-keeping ability for open water transits.
Fleet numbers and Icebreaker Size in Context. The fleet numbers and icebreaker size tend to align along each county’s economic necessity for icebreaker resources. For example, the economies of Finland, Russia and Sweden have greater dependence on major icebreakers to pursue economic goals in the Arctic and Baltic winters than the economies of other nations. Also, ice in these countries’ shipping lanes, rivers and ports forms earlier, lasts longer, and requires more power to break, requiring more extensive icebreaking capabilities. Similarly, the Canadian icebreaker fleet supports summer access and supply to Canada’s Arctic communities. In contrast, in addition to the polar icebreakers already listed, the U.S has a number of icebreakers operating in the Great Lakes, New England and the mid-Atlantic to facilitate commerce and for exigent circumstances, but these are not listed in this chart because the icebreakers are not required to meet the threshold of at least 10,000 BHP.