There’s an interesting sidebar discussion over on Army.ca (pages 45 and 46) about the helicopter that the Royal Canadian Navy’s new Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (the Harry De Wolf class) will carry … it will be a Coast Guard helicopter which has no weapons, not much in the way of radars, sensors, etc, normally operates in daylight, only, and, therefore, comes with a very small “air detachment” ~ just one pilot and one technician ~ unlike the much larger and more complex and capable military Cyclone helicopters which require more aircrew (for sustained 24 hour a day operations) and more technicians and which are often suggested in artist’s renderings of the new ships.
That leads me back to an idea I had several months ago about Canada needing more than just an unarmed Coast Guard and a heavily armed Navy.
It seems to me that Canada should respond to “visitors” ~ expected, welcome or not ~ at three distinct levels:
- Friendly but official ~ Canada Border Services and the Coast Guard, for example: unarmed “civil” agencies;
- Officials who have the full weight of force behind them ~ typically, at the national level, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police;
- The Canadian Armed Forces.
Those levels correspond to three types of visitors:
- The vast majority of people who want to come to Canada for honest, legitimate purposes and who, so long as they obey the rules, are welcome;
- Those who might appear innocent but who might want to break the rules by e.g. smuggling drugs or fishing in prohibited areas; and
- Those who pose a direct armed threat to Canada’s national safety and security.
Our (national) capacity for the second, mid-level, constabulary response at sea is quite limited by the capabilities of the vessels in the Marine Division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In my opinion that capability should be strengthened, at sea, in ALL of Canada’s coasts, including in the far North.
We need to look back more than ten years to the inception of the Harry De Wolf class Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships. It was in late 2006 and early 2007 that Prime Minister Harper, mainly in response to American, not Russian, claims over our Arctic waters promised the new ships and a full scales naval base at Nanisivik. Of course we’re only getting five (maybe six), not eight ships and the Arctic base at Nanisivik has been reduced to a refuelling station, despite new Russian military bases in the Arctic and continued American bluster and, now, Chinese transits. The Defence of Canada needs to include ALL of Canada but the Canadian Armed Forces are not the only agency that can and should have a role in that.
I appreciate that a proposal to rebuild and expand the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Marine Division and make it elbow it’s way in between the Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy, would be unpopular and expensive. People will, rightly, ask if this is the best way to spend scarce national security resources; is it really necessary to go through a painful and costly reorganization just to gain a “constabulary” fleet? But it is not an uncommon thing for countries (including e.g. Germany and Singapore, with much, much smaller coastlines than Canada’s to have Marine Police units with large, capable, armed ships. It would, of course, be possible to arm the Coast Guard, as the Americans do, but I really think the graduated response to maritime “visitors” is more correct and I believe it is worth the expense.
The new Harry De Wolf class ships are bigger and more capable than many coast guards or police forces would want or need, but Canada has the longest coast line in the world and it is one that covers three oceans and includes major inland seas … we need a constabulary force with bigger, better ships and aircraft in order to provide a fully calibrated response to those who visit Canada for peaceful purposes or for less benign pursuits.