There is an article in the Spring 2017 issue of the Canadian Naval Review by Kevin M. McCoy (who served for 36 years in the US Navy and led the Naval Sea Systems Command as a Vice-Admiral. VAdm (ret) McCoy holds graduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Naval Architecture and he is currently President of Irving Shipbuilding Inc.) and Tom Tulloch who served in the Royal Canadian Navy for 37 years, retiring as a Captain, (He holds a Master’s Degree in Defence Studies from the Royal Military College and is currently Special Adviser at Irving Shipbuilding Inc.) that says that “In recent years there have been many natural and manmade disasters, particularly in coastal areas where 80% of the world’s population resides (see Figure 1). Canada has responded to global catastrophes with billions of dollars in aid. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have been sent to deliver assistance, alleviate suffering and rebuild infrastructure. is has involved deploying the Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), airlifting food and stores, and employing naval vessels to sealift relief supplies and expertise. Nevertheless, Canada’s response to disasters has been often small scale and ad hoc in nature. Canada has never possessed a large-scale capability to undertake humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) or to conduct large-scale evacuation operations. There are options, however, for a maritime capability to improve significantly Canada’s ability to render assistance and evacuate citizens.” They discuss the issue and propose another new ship ~ a Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Ship based, not surprisingly given their corporate affiliation, on an Irving model.
This is not the first time that this sort of proposal has been “floated.” They hark back to a (2006) suggestion from former Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hiller for Canada to have “a “big honkin’ ship” that would carry up to half a dozen heavy lift helicopters and up to 900 soldiers from a standing rapid reaction force.“
Now, I was, and remain, a fan of General Hillier’s concept with one big caveat: before we even think about a “big honkin’ ship” we have to have an Army that can staff and sustain an amphibious/air assault battle group of 1,000± soldiers and a Navy that can staff and buy fuel for that big ship and keep it well maintained and do the same with the three or four escort vessels that a “high value” target like an amphibious assault ship needs to operate safely in what might be dangerous situations. The essence of my caveat is that we need a military that is funded at an appropriate level ~ which is, I believe, about 2% of GDP or about $40 Billion in FY 2017/18, about double what is currently in the budget. In other words, a military that can afford and make good use of a “big honkin’ ship” is bigger and better funded (and managed) than the one we have now.
But Vice Admiral (ret) McCoy and Captain (ret) Tulloch are not proposing a “big honkin” warship which would look rather like one or the other (or some mix) of these:
The Irving proposal is for something that might look like this (photos from the linked article) …
… after conversion …
… and would be operated, under contract, by a civilian crew.
I am not at all opposed to this concept … in fact I think converting civilian ships to support ships makes good fiscal and industrial (and, sometimes, military) sense. But this is not a warship; it is not, unlike say the Project Resolve ship, a support ship for military operations. It is, as the authors say, a ship designed for disaster relief and humanitarian assistance and support. While the Canadian Forces is a big player in the disaster relief and humanitarian assistance field it is always a secondary, even tertiary task for almost all of the sailors, soldiers RCAF members who are, primarily, found in operational combat, combat support and combat service support units. There are a only a handful of people in the DART (Disaster Assistance Response Team) proper; most of the people needed by the DART are “earmarked” while they continue to do their primary jobs in other units. They are brought together only when required and when the emergency mission is done they return to their regular, combat, units.
I’m not opposed to Canada building these ships, nor to the government leasing them … I am opposed to DND being the lessee. If Canada needs these ships, then, as with the proposal for a hospital ship, then the funding and management ought to come from the Global Affairs Department, and not at the expense (even indirectly) of the (totally inadequate) defence budget.