Robert Smol, a retired Canadian Forces Intelligence Branch officer, writing in iPolitics, takes aim at Canada’s new Harry DeWolf class of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS), the first of which is almost ready to enter the water. “Unlike NATO and allied ships of comparable size and function,” he says, “Canada’s AOPS will not be armed with the standard cannon, surface-to-air missiles and Anti-submarine Warfare torpedoes that comparable NATO Arctic naval and coast guard vessels are typically armed with. Nor will these ships be able to operate in the Arctic against large amounts of ice … [thus] … Once operational, Canada can proudly boast that we will be patrolling our increasingly contested Arctic with floating security guards … [because] … The Harry DeWolf class of navy boats will be armed with a single, remote controlled MK38 25mm machine gun. This weapon, designed by BAE systems, is a common supplementary weapon on naval and coast guard ships. It is designed to provide close range defense against High Speed Maneouvering Surface Targets (HSMST) better known as small speed boats.“
It harks back to something I said almost a year ago. Then I described three national government fleets: one civl and two armed ~ a military fleet and a “constabulary fleet.” “The general difference, ” I explained, “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 armed 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 miles) 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 St 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.“
The Harry DeWolf class ships will be capable … but they are not warships. They should not count as part of the 25+ surface combatants that the Royal Canadian Navy needs. Those Navy ships should be some mix of large, fast, long range heavily armed warships and some smaller, faster, shorter range, but still well armed vessels. Ships intended to police our coastal waters and able to assists with e.g. the interdiction of drug smugglers in the Caribbean should be police vessels: in police ‘livery’ and crewed by police officers.
It would, of course, be disruptive to switch these vessels to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police … disruptive but not impossible. And there is a good policy reason for doing so: it provides a more measured response to intrusions into our territorial waters … in a perfect world civilian intruders would be “greeted” (challenged), first, by civil agencies, then, if necessary, by a constabulary (police) force and only as a last resort by the Royal Canadian Navy which represents the full weight and power of Canada. With the potential for increased traffic through a navigable Northwest Passage such measured responses will be increasingly necessary.
Canada needs more than just “floating security guards” in our coastal waters, on all three coasts, but it doesn’t always need the full force of the Royal Canadian Navy. The new Harry DeWolf class Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships are, in fact, constabulary ships, not warships and they are best suited to a constabulary fleet.