Fleets of ships

I’m going to write, for a few days, on how I believe Canada can (because it has the resources) and should (if it has the will) establish, maintain and use its military forces and ancillary service, too.

The structure I am going to describe will require a lot more than 65,000 to 70,000 regular (permanent) force members (maybe half again or twice as many (100,000 to 135,000 full time, regular force members) and more than 1% of GDP ~ perhaps even more than 2% of GDP while the force is being rebuilt.

I have some views on how the force should be organized. Personally, I favour a joint, geographically based system: four fully joint commands ~ Pacific, Western Eastern and Atlantic ~ one of which also has, as a sub-component, a Joint Special Operations Group. But I recognize that there was considerable merit in e.g. Paul Hellyer’s mid-1960s “functional command” model and that there is, probably, some merit in having three services and a Joint Support Command. But I will not advocate for one over the other ~ there are enough experts out there, but I will continue to argue for a ‘leaner’ and simpler command and control (C²) superstructure.

I will begin by talking about ships.

First I need to discuss the whole of the federal ‘navy.’

Canada is a great and important maritime nation … there are those who would try to ignore this, but they are shallow, narrow minded, indeed stupid people ~ and some of them hold political power and influence.

Canada needs two sorts of fleets: Commercial and Government. Some provinces might, arguably should have their own government fleets but I am, mainly, concerned with the national government’s fleets. They two are of two sorts: civil and armed.

Let me dispose of the civil fleet, first: it consists, very broadly, of two sorts of CCGS_John_G._Diefenbaker_conceptual_rendering_570_ships: scientific (oceanographic and fisheries, mainly) research and “service” ships ~ icebreakers, navigation buoy tenders and the like. All these vessels are crewed by unarmed civilians ~ civil servants, members of e.g. the Cost Guard, or contracted employees. These may be very very large, very capable ships with more than one large helicopter or small, coastal vessels. They are vital to Canadians’ safety and prosperity.

The armed fleet is also divided into two:

  • Constabulary; and
  • Military.

The general difference is that the constabulary fleet is charged with enforcing Canadian laws (and international ones, too) in Canadian waters and on the high seas. The ships are aops_1earmed but they are not “warships,” per se. The constabulary fleet should include e.g. the currently building Harry DeWolf class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), some very capable, long range (say about 5,000 nautical K32_HMS_Helsingborg_Anchored-of-Gotska-Sandoen_croppedmiles) armed corvettes that are able to, equally well, conduct fisheries patrols in the North Atlantic, off the Grand banks, and counter drug-smuggling operations in the Caribbean or Eastern Pacific, very fast, armed, coastal patrol vessels, including those needed to counter e.g. smuggling on the Atlantic and Pacific coats, in the rcmp-boatSt Laurence River and the Great Lakes, and all should belong to a much expanded and revitalized RCMP Maine Division. My sense is that many of the “threats” that the Royal Canadian Navy is asked to counter are, in fact, “threats” to Canadian civil laws and regulations and should be countered by a civil police fleet. I think that the “threats” to Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic are, for the next generation or two, going to be of a similar nature and should have a similar response.

That brings me to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Some years ago the RCN produced a strategic plan which, as I recall, called for a fleet of 20+ major, first rate, surface combatants plus submarines, support ships and so on. That document has disappeared from official websites.

Somehow, in the early 2000s, during the gestation period of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy that requirement was “massaged” down to about a dozen “Canadian Surface Combatants” and eight AOPS. That’s 20 “bottoms” but I do not believe that the DeWolfe class AOPS can be called a “first rate” combat vessel. They are, as I mentioned above, well designed for constabulary duties but not well suited for operations against a sophisticated enemy force.

One of the first questions that must be asked is: will the RCN need to have an amphibious capability?

My answer is: I don’t know.

During my career in uniform I received some formal training in and did some reading about amphibious operations but I am not, in any useful way, equipped to speak on the subject. What I do know is that, despite what retired General Rick Hiller may have thought and said about a “big honkin’ ships” for the RCN, he did not offer up a vision of an amphibious force, which would be much larger and much more expensive that what I propose here.

In my opinion Canada can and should afford to have a Navy that can, simultaneously:

  • Sustain two task forces (one based on the Atlantic and the other based on the Pacific coats) conducting prolonged, “blue water” operations far from Canada;
  • Sustain two coastal patrol task forces conducting a variety of operations (and training missions) in Canadian waters and in the maritime approaches to them;
  • Deploy submarines anywhere in the world; and
  • Conduct training and other tasks.

My guess is that calls for:

  • Three or more large (20,000+ tons), long range (10,000 nautical miles) support ships (AORs, replenishment ships or tankers in naval parlance);
  • 1024px-nave_bergamini_3Twelve to sixteen large (7,000 tons), long range (7,500 nautical miles) sophisticated, flexible, combat vessels ~ destroyers or frigates, some optimized for different tasks like air defence, anti-submarine or patrol;
  • Eight to ten corvettes, smaller (say, 2,500 tons), medium range (5,000 nautical miles) sophisticated corvettes, all able to deploy helicopters or UAVs;
  • Six to ten submarines able to operate globally and, especially, under the Arctic ice ~ air independent propulsion boats, in other words; and
  • Many small auxiliary and training vessels, including diving tenders, tug boats and training ships.

That’s about 35 sophisticated, expensive, combat capable warships of all kinds that are ready and able to promote and protect Canada’s vital interests around the world ~ that’s going to cost a lot more than all the money allocated to the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy but, in my opinion, it is what a great maritime nation with the longest coastline the world needs … not what I want, it’s what Canada needs.

5 thoughts on “Fleets of ships”

  1. That’s a big navy, but I’ll take it.
    I’ll argue for amphibious capability, but it doesn’t need to be an extravagant one like the US (and only the US) maintains. It can be something as simple as larger (10,000 ton) tenders with connectors (sea-planes, helicopters, and LCU/LCVPs) that can dock in sheltered waters and serve as sea bases. We need to be able to operate a joint force in “places without bases” and if the Navy is not equipped to support that, it is not a true part of the Joint Force.

    1. Thanks, Infanteer: I was hoping that someone who actually knows a bit (rather a lot in your case) about amphibious operations might comment. I agree that we need not have a force as big as even the UK but being able to operate in “places without bases” is an excellent point.

      1. I think that a reasonable amphibious capability could be gained by the Navy by adding an additional 3 – 5 platforms to your estimate above. These could range from something more conventional like a mid-size landing platform dock (LPD), which countries like The Netherlands and Spain possess, or something a like a tender (“expeditionary sea base” in modern parlance) which is essentially a converted tanker that can push out and support amphibious forces – I think Davie is developing an ability at making use of tankers….

        These ships would require somewhere in the ballpark of 300-500 sailors. On top of this, there would be a requirement for some development in joint command and control, a process the Aussies are well into with the commissioning of their amphibious ships. Add another 100 Army, Navy and Air Force personnel or so for this.

        The real investment needs to go into the ship-to-shore or ship-to-objective “connectors system”, which demands a few niche capabilities. First is the “combat cargo network” which is soldiers and sailors who understand how to pack ships for amphibious disembarkation. Next is the landing craft themselves, which can be crewed by Navy (US) or Army/Marine (UK) personnel. Next up is the beach party unit, which is the amphibious equivalent of a DZ controller, making sure beaches aren’t congested. Beachmasters control the surf to the end of the beach, and from the beach on is the domain of the shore party, which would be specially trained Army logisticians who get stuff off the beach and into a support area. The final piece would be some sort of aviation asset: perhaps cargo variants of the CH-148? So add another couple 200 or so RCAF personnel to increase our Maritime Helicopter capacity.

        So, while a few extra platforms and a couple hundred sailors may get your amphibious force to an operational area, amphibious capability demands probably and extra 500 or so personnel from the Army, Navy, and Air Force – along with some specialized platforms and equipment – to run the connectors system.

        All this is to say that, while I am a proponent of such capability, even a modest one will come at some cost.

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