Building a Navy
Nov 15, 2007

As 2007 comes to a close, it is timely to take stock of the remarkable tempo of operations maintained by the ships and submarines of the Canadian Navy at home and abroad, and to outline the important progress made in laying out the foundations of the recapitalization process required to build the navy Canada needs over the long term. Fundamental to that ­rejuvenation is the Joint Support Ship, a platform that will not only replace the ability to sustain forces at sea (as is currently found in our ageing replenish­ment vessels) but also to bring transformational capabilities to the Canadian Forces in terms of sealift and supporting a sea-based joint headquarters for forces operating ashore and at sea in the littoral regions.

The year 2007 highlighted the requirement for Canada to maintain globally deployable naval forces capable of projecting our values and defending our interests both abroad and for our sovereignty at home, and also contributing to national security throughout the country’s oceanic approaches. Canada is a maritime nation, bounded by three great oceans. Our maritime estate equals two-thirds of our immense landmass, encompassing territorial waters, Economic Exclusive Zones, and additional continental shelf claims that involve not only long-recognized sovereign rights but national jurisdiction and natural resources management responsibilities as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Ultimately, these significant responsibilities require us to have the capacity to act (based on our understanding of what is happening in, on and above our ocean estates); to exert national presence where and when required; and always to be in control of events through the latent or actual use of force at sea.

Operation ALTAIR
November 2007 – Background to foreground: USS Carney(64), USS Hue City (66), HMCS Charlottetown (339), and USS San Jacinto (56) conduct Officer of the Watch manoeuvers while transiting the Atlantic Ocean.  

Charlottetown is currently deployed on Oper­ation ALTAIR (Roto 3), Canada’s ­maritime contribution to the continuing U.S.-led ­campaign against terrorism, known as Operation Enduring Freedom.

Under Commander Patrick St-Denis, with a crew of  250 Officers and sailors, including a CH-124 Sea King helicopter detachment, HMCS Charlottetown is conducting surveillance patrols and ­maritime interdiction ­operations to control sea-based activity in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. (Photo: Cpl Robert LeBlanc, Formation Imaging Svcs, Halifax)

There is also a requirement to defend Canada well beyond our domestic maritime approaches. Our prosperity as a major trading nation in a global economy depends upon the free and unimpeded use of the global oceans. Fully 90% of all goods and raw materials produced worldwide travel by sea and most of this must transit through a handful of oceanic chokepoints. The very nature of the confluence of oceanic superhighways and the land results in a transportation system that is highly susceptible to disruptions. Combine that with the current security constraints, and you will find effects and consequences that frequently have global economic resonance. Canada is a G8, western democratic nation with an abiding stake in the values, norms and institutions upon which the international community is built. Therefore, it is clearly in Canada’s interests to contribute to ensuring global maritime security.

Such concerns explain the employment of ships and submarines of the Canadian Navy during this last year. A few highlights help illustrate the strategic effects achieved by Canadian sailors in support of government’s policies and objectives. Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Ottawa returned to her homeport of Esquimalt, British Columbia, in March, following a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia under Operation Altair – Canada’s maritime contribution to the Campaign Against Terrorism. The frigate joined a large coalition of like-minded nations that provide ships, submarines and aircraft to re-enforce maritime security and regional stability in an area that ranges from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea and from the coasts of India to the shores of Somalia.

This maritime effort directly complements the peace and reconstruction endeavour in Afghanistan as the proceeds of piracy and the traffic of weapons, drugs and other illicit goods are often directed to sustaining terrorist organizations and other movements that are opposing the UN-mandated, NATO-led effort in that war-torn country. Canada remains committed to this effort at sea – the frigate Charlottetown recently departed her homeport of Halifax, Nova Scotia, to join the USS Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group en route across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean to resume Canada’s maritime presence in that theatre until next spring.

HMCS Ottawa’s Naval Boarding Party keep a watchful eye on the crew of a fishing dhow during a boarding operation while sailing in the Arabian Gulf. (Photo: Mcpl Robert Bottrill, CF Combat Camera)

HMCS Toronto sailed in some of the same waters after joining the Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 in July. This was a historic occasion as this formation, a standing group of ships maintained at high readiness by various contributing nations, undertook the Alliance’s first maritime out-of-area deployment by circumnavigating the African continent, establishing presence and contributing to maritime security in such troubled waters as the Gulf of Guinea and off the Horn of Africa. Toronto also made an important national contribution to Canada’s diplomatic and trade effort in South Africa during a very busy period alongside in Cape Town in September. The force generated much goodwill in the Arabian Peninsula following an October rescue effort undertaken in the wake of a volcanic irruption on a small Yemeni island that literally drove the local army garrison into the sea as the NATO group was transiting north towards the Suez Canal.

Canada’s role as a continental partner with our North American neighbours and the government’s renewed commitment to this hemisphere were also in evidence when the frigate Regina sailed to the west coast of Central and South America in the fall. Regina participated in a large-scale maritime security exercise in the Pacific approach to the Panama Canal – a key artery that is fundamental to the free flow of goods within the global economy. The US Navy and a number of regional partners also participated, practicing common operating procedures and protocols aimed at increasing response effectiveness in the event of a crisis threatening this passage. Regina’s presence in the region was also leveraged during port visits to Mexico, Peru and Chile in support of Canadian diplomatic and trade efforts with these hemispheric partners.

October 2007 – Able Seaman Andrew Fletcher watches through the “big eyes” as HMCS Toronto transits the Suez Canal as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group1. This milestone in the circumnavigation of Africa, has never before been completed by a Canadian warship. (Photo: MCpl Kevin Paul, CF Combat Camera)

Earlier in the summer, HMCS Fredericton set sail for the Caribbean, conducting anti-drug patrols under the aegis of the U.S.-led Joint Interagency Task Force South, an organization established to counter illicit trafficking operations in the region (particularly the flow of drugs to North America), and promoting security cooperation with regional partners. Before proceeding north to participate in Operation Nanook 07 with the coastal defence vessel Summerside, Fredericton ­provided direct support to Prime Minister Harper’s visit to Bridgetown, Barbados on the occasion of his July talks with leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), further illustrating the inherent flexibility of a warship.

Nanook 07 was a large-scale sovereignty and security operation conducted in the Canadian Arctic in August. This event very much embodied the whole-of-government approach required to effectively defend our sovereignty in the North and enforce Canadian jurisdiction in the region. Personnel and assets from the navy, army and air force joined those of other departments and agencies to actively patrol a designated area and exercise the common procedures required for success when dealing with scenarios such as pollution incidents and illegal trafficking. This operation also included the first deployment to the Arctic of a Victoria-class submarine as HMCS Corner Brook conducted an extensive covert surveillance patrol in the Davis Strait.

The sum of the activities conducted by the Canadian Navy over the course of the last year clearly underlines the reality that future operations will likely unfold within complex and often ambiguous environments, requiring all elements of national power to be integrated within the context of a single joint campaign conducted for national purposes or as a part of wider coalition of like-minded nations.

The future navy must be structured to deliver maritime security at home and abroad, and also to project influence and power from the sea. As such, it will ­con­tinue to be organized around the naval task group and remain of sufficient size to sustain ongoing overseas deployments while retaining the capacity to deploy robust forces at home, capable to operate in all three of Canada’s oceanic approaches.

August 2007– Iqaluit
CCGS Martha L. Black and HMCS Fredericton conduct a fuel replenishment ­exercise during OP Nanook 07. (Photo: MCpl Blake Rodgers, Halifax)

Government announcements over the course of the summer laid out important markers to the future navy. The Halifax-Class Modernization encompasses a number of projects required at the mid-life stage of the frigates to ensure their continued effectiveness in the contested littorals of the 21st century. The acquisition of new Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships, as well as the establishment of a deepwater refueling facility in Nanisivik, will enable the navy to exercise a potent and sustained presence in the North during the navigation season (when it counts) – the ships will also be effectively employed in our Atlantic and Pacific approaches throughout the year. In addition to these approved projects, navy planners have commenced defining options for the eventual replacement of the Area Air Defence, and Command and Control capabilities of the Iroquois-class destroyers that are due to be decommissioned by 2015.

More immediately, the replenishment ships Protecteur and Preserver (Provider was de-commissioned in 1998) will be replaced with three new ships – as initially announced by government in 2004. For close to four decades, these vessels have done much more than just re-fuel and re-supply other ships at sea. They have contributed to humanitarian aid missions in Hurricane-struck areas, peacemaking missions in Somalia and East Timor, and deployed to Southwest Asia supporting Canadian task groups and other coalition forces participating in the fight against terrorism. Regardless of such accomplishments, these ships are fast approaching the end of their service lives and the cost of maintaining them is increasing.

The Joint Support Ship is envisioned as a vessel with a notional displacement of 24,000-28,000 tonnes (much of this tonnage being liquid fuel cargo), with a hull conforming to Panama Canal restrictions. Capable of 20-knots, the JSS will have an operating range of 10,500 kilometers at 15 knots. Automation will allow a reduction in crew size, as compared to the Protecteur-class of today, while maintaining core “naval” capabilities in terms of replenishing other ships at sea with fuel, food, spare parts and ammunition; providing modern medical and dental care facilities (including an operating room for urgent requirements); and offering facilities to operate and repair maritime helicopters, namely the new CH-148 Cyclones. Lastly, these ships will be fitted with a self-defence suite and the hulls will be capable of operating in first-year ice.

More fundamentally, the Joint Support Ship will provide capabilities that will allow the navy to remain at the leading edge of the transformation of the Canadian Forces in terms of sealift and joint Command and Control. Each platform will provide 1,000 lane metres of covered deck space for vehicles, and space on the weather deck for the stowage of sea containers. Space will be designated for a joint headquarters staff, to provide command and control of assigned forces. In addition, the ship will be able to offer survivors or evacuees a safe haven and medical care following a natural disaster or conflict.
Aug 2007 – HMCS Corner Brook sails past an iceberg during OP Nanook, a Canada Command sovereignty operation in the Baffin Island Coastal and Hudson Strait areas. The exercise prepares for domestic operations in close cooperation with the RCMP and the Canadian Coast Guard. (Photo: MCpl Blake Rodgers, Formation Imaging, NS)

The JSS project is currently in the Definition Phase. Following the evaluation of four responses to the Request for Proposal issued in June of 2006, contracts for the funded definition were awarded in December 2006 to two successful bidders. These firms are currently proceeding with preliminary design work, in preparation for the delivery of their respective proposal for project implementation and the follow-on in-service support requirement. These proposals are due in early 2008, after which the Project Management Office will conduct an evaluation – using criteria that have already been provided to the competing companies. Implementa­tion and in-service support contracts will be awarded to the successful bidder in late 2008, while delivery of the ships will take place, sequentially, between 2012 and 2016.

Looking back, the year 2007 has illustrated the wide range of roles covered by the navy in projecting Canadian values and defending our interests abroad as well as protecting sovereignty at home and providing security throughout the country’s maritime approaches. As we look to the future, it is clear that such requirements will continue well into the future. In response, Canadians can be assured that plans are well underway to provide suitable platforms for fulfilling these roles and missions. The Joint Support Ship’s unique design will usher in a new joint capability at the forefront of the transformational process that is shaping the Canadian Forces while renewing core attributes essential to the operation of globally deployable maritime forces well into the 21st century.
Commander Hugues Canuel is Head of Strategic Communications, Canadian Navy
© FrontLine Defence 2007