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Danny Lam's picture
Will CSC need anti-ballistic missile capability?
Posted on Oct 17, 2016
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I can't help wondering if the new Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC) will be obsolete by 2018 if we purchase an off-the-shelf design, as announced on 13 June 2016 by the Honourable Judy Foote, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC).

Currently, there are no anti-ballistic missile requirements for the CSC, and yet North Korea’s latest nuclear test, on 9 September 2016, and its growing thermonuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability (likely capable of reaching North America as early as 2020), materially altered many assumptions behind Canadian defense policy. 

Emerging threats like ICBMs and strategic cruise missiles tipped with credible thermonuclear warheads will become major threats to Canada by the time the new Surface Combattants enter service. Canada will need ballistic and cruise missile defences to deter states like North Korea. Shore based anti-ballistic missile systems will not be sufficient if the threat evolves into submarine-launched missiles, as happened in August.    

The Liberal government announced that its new approach is to buy an “off-the-shelf” design for the Canadian Surface Combatant Program – and modify it to save time and money. Will the existing designs be upgradeable enough to deal with the threats and mission profiles expected in their lifetime – both at the high and low end?

Critical to an anti-ballistic missile role by 2025, will be tight integration with NORAD systems and sensors applying a combat cloud concept.    This enables many platforms to cue missiles on the CSC with Cooperative Engagement Capability.

Rogue states like North Korea will foreseeably develop the capability to simultaneously fire volleys of missiles, some with dummy warheads and penetration aids to increase the likelihood of reaching target. This places a premium on vessels with large Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) that are compatible with expected upgrades in missiles.      

Inventories of missiles are expensive to maintain in peacetime, and subject to wear and aging at sea. This results in many vessels sailing with partially filled magazines. Moreover, missiles obsolete rapidly and require frequent updates as the threats are better understood. Hardware updates are difficult to do with deployed missiles.  

Based on such new threats, a critical issue for the CSC candidates will be the capability of the supplier to supply missiles from inventory as needed, and continuously update and upgrade them to deal with the latest threats are a concern.  

Given Canada’s vast territory with few major ports, and extremes of climate, forward VLS rearming and field service / upgrades can potentially become a capability where Canada can excel in. Canada does not have a program for a specialized vessels with this capability. Such a vessel, if developed with supporting and rearming a range of NATO vessels in mind, will likely find a ready market abroad providing that the CSC VLS system is not a niche product.

Finally, there is the question of how Canada would field an anti-ballistic missile deterrent by 2020 – the time when the CSCs are scheduled to come into service. A capability may be required that cannot be met via upgrading the existing Canadian fleet. Acquiring an interim capability that plug the gap and give more time for technologies to mature and craft a clean-sheet design based on 2018 requirements may be a lower lifecycle cost alternative to the modified “off-the-shelf” option.

Canadians are complacent about threats to the homeland because we have been safely sheltered under the US nuclear umbrella for a half century.   That is no longer the case in the second nuclear age with many new and emerging nuclear weapons powers like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, etc. that challenge the status quo. Canadians have to do their part in anti-ballistic missile defense and deterrence. That may not be possible in the penny-pinching style dating from the end of the cold war.

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