David Pugliese, writing in the Ottawa Citizen, reports that “MV Asterix is now operating with HMCS Regina in Middle Eastern waters as part of a Canadian-led coalition task force.” He reminds us that “The Asterix, a commercial ship converted by Davie shipyards in Quebec and leased to the federal government to perform a military supply role, has been going almost non-stop since it was launched. It has refueled both Canadian and allied warships.“
But, he says, “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said there is no need for a second such interim supply ship and the head of the Royal Canadian Navy, Vice Admiral Ron Lloyd, says he is happy with having the Asterix as the force’s only supply ship until 2023 when the first of two Joint Support Ships, to be built at Seaspan in Vancouver, is expected to be ready.” But, he adds, Chantier Davie, Canada’s largest shipyard, “has offered to convert a second such ship, MV Obelix, to the same capabilities of Asterix and lease it to the government.“
Again, as background, he reminds us that “At one point the navy had three of its own supply ships supporting its vessels,” and at other points in time defence experts said it needed four such ships to be properly effective as a global force and I also commented on this about six months ago.
“Information recently tabled in Parliament,” David Pugliese says, “indicates that even though Asterix has been going full-tilt over the last year, there was still a requirement for Canadian warships to receive fuel and provisions from supply vessels operated by foreign navies or for Canadian ships to head to port to receive fuel and supplies.” Now, in fairness, ALL allied navies, even the huge and mighty United States Navy needs to “receive fuel and provisions from supply vessels operated by foreign navies or … to head to port to receive fuel and supplies;” that’s one of the reasons we work with allies: to share the logistical burden. In fact this image, from an article that Matthew Fisher wrote for the Canadian Global Affairs Institute …
… shows Canada’s Asterix refuelling two American destroyers, simultaneously. Just as, Mr Pugliese tells us, Parliament reported that in 2018 Canada spent over $5 Million on “At sea replenishment by partner and allied naval ships” we know that the United States Navy paid Canada for the fuel and supplies those destroyers took from Asterix. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s part of an allied system (called Smart Scheduling) that ensures that in any multi-national task group (which are quite common) every ship, from every nation, knows how to get fuel and supplies from every supply ship and the supply ships, sometimes from more than one nation, always have enough fuel, ammunition and supplies on board to support the task group. So, there’s nothing wrong with Canadian warships being refuelled by allied supply ships or in doing the reverse.
The problem is that even when the new supply ships from Seaspan are built, in the next decade, Canada will still not have enough to guarantee that we can deploy two task groups, simultaneously, in two oceans, and still have something in reserve. Canada needs four supply ships to operate a credible, blue water Navy.
Maybe the right answer is for this government (or, more likely the next one) to take up Davie‘s offer to build a sister ship to Asterix … Chantier Davie has already proposed that and has, tentatively, named it the Obelix. Or, maybe the better answer is to convert one or two much larger ships (displacing, say, 30,000± tons (as opposed to only 20,000+ tons for Asterix and for the as yet unbuilt Protecteur class supply ships) that are highly suitable for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HA/DR) operations, for which the Royal Canadian Navy said, in Leadmark 2050, (page 47) “recent operations by the RCN and allied navies have highlighted a pressing need for the Canadian Armed Forces to consider the acquisition of a dedicated peace-support ship to meet the unique demands of HA/DR.“
My guess, based on a lot of reading and listening but still just an informed guess, is that the RCN needs two of the fully military Protecteur class supply ships, currently being built by Seaspan, and two or perhaps even three converted support ships, leased from a builder/operator like Davie‘s Federal Fleet Services, which can do fleet resupply missions and are also suitable for HA/DR operations.