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Seeking Solutions for Canada’s Navy Pt 2

February 16, 2010

Formerly the Military Sealift Command oiler USNS Andrew J. Higgins (T-AO-190), she is now a support vessel of the Chilean Navy.

Proposing Canada’s Mothership

Last week the following story concerning the Chilean Navy appeared in the news:

The United States, and Atlantic Marine in Mobile have made it possible for Chile to add a new ship to its Navy. The Almirante Montt was commissioned by members of the U.S. and Chilean Navy in Mobile Wednesday. Brand new maritime flags whipped in the freezing wind as U.S. and Chilean naval officers commissioned the Almirante Montt to the Chilean Navy.
The 678 foot long ship, formerly the U.S.S. Andrew J. Higgins, has been under renovation at Atlantic Marine in Mobile. Wednesday the ship was ready to set sail, but under a new flag and a new ship commander.

Canada could do well with a 31,000 ton mothership like the former U.S.S. Andrew J. Higgins, bought off the shelf. Within her on again, off again search for a new Joint Support Ship, she had even considered a smaller vessel with the Danish built Absalon, a command and support ship, which priced at least $269  million(US) each! Not bad for a 6000 ton frigate type vessel, which is specially geared for cargo and troops as well as a proven “pirate buster“.

The Danes aren’t the only Navy to use their motherships as warships. The British Royal Navy has been consistently deploying Royal Fleet Auxiliaries to make up for their lack of frigates on patrol. For example, read a few of the exploits of one such vessel, the RFA Wave Ruler:

In 2006 the Wave Ruler carried out three major cocaine seizures at sea. In September it recovered £64m of cocaine from an estimated cargo of £500m, after the crew of the fishing boat carrying the drugs set it on fire. On November 2 the ship and its accompanying Royal Marines captured 3 tonnes of cocaine worth £300m. On November 29 it seized a further 2.9 tonnes, again from a fishing boat. All the raids took place in the Caribbean.

An amazing accomplishment for a 31,000 ton fleet oiler, that barely qualifies the title of auxiliary warship, and prices at $172 million each! Except it is the future of warfare, where you don’t need billion dollar missile destroyers or frigates when the main threat at sea are terrorists smuggling WMDs, or pirates in skiffs backed by their own converted freighter/motherships, or drug runners of the Caribbean. In other words, you do not always need an exquisite, expensive, purpose built supership to manage problems of modern seapower. The admirals may argue against this inconvenient truth, surrounded by their shrinking and aging number of battleships, but there it is.

The HSV Mothership

As much as any Navy, Canada’s stand to benefit from a New Wars proposal to divide the frigate mission among motherships and low cost corvettes. One such mothership we have offered as an LCS replacement has been the JHSV, which the US Army and Navy are buying for various roles. Ironically some Canadians considered a similar idea for a JSS replacement a few years back. Here is a modest proposal from the Canadian-American Strategic Review:

There is an opportunity here – build  aluminum catamarans that would satisfy JSS’ transport role as well as the TSV (Theater Support Vessel ) requirement for the US Army. BC shipyards already have experience in welded aluminum construction and the exports would subsidize the CF’s purchase costs. So the proposal is simple –  abandon the over-elaborate concept of JSS in favour of  two dedicated types: a small oiler, and a fast transport closely based on the US Army’s TSV.

The high speed vessel would have been a perfect transport for disaster supplies in earthquake damaged Haiti, as 2 Superferries are operating their today. Few large ships can sail right up against a coastline to offload its supplies as these fast catamarans, then speed away at up to 40 knots to reload again. HSV’s could likely perform long range patrol missions in low threat areas, as they have done in US service. These motherships would be for the nation’s long distance commitments to NATO within the Mediterranean, the Gulf, and elsewhere. They could also guard her massive coastlines, especially near the Arctic Circle, now much coveted by a resource hungry planet.

Capability Versus Availability

6-8 motherships, bought off the shelf, converted from existing vessels like the O’Higgins, or purchased or designed in foreign yards such as the Absalon, or one built to commercial standards like the Wave class, would not only be cost-efficient, but provide enormous capability. Prices should be capped at $400 million each but $100 million should not be unthinkable. Not only would they be for disaster relief, they could resupply smaller warships which are needed to defend the Arctic, transport supplies and troops for land wars, perform patrol duties like frigates, and also for disaster relief. Specifically, they would be for the unexpected crisis as in Haiti, available in the numbers when they are needed most, something which a couple very large, very expensive JSS cannot promise to provide.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Rashdan Ramly permalink
    February 8, 2011 2:15 am

    The Royal Malaysian Navy used the auxiliary vessel MT Bunga Mas 5, conveted from a container vessel for anti-piracy patrol in the Indian ocean. It carried a Fennec helicopter and a Navy Special Forces Team (Paskal).

  2. Jed permalink
    February 18, 2010 12:10 pm

    Vic – just like CASR guys, I think the Rangers are the model – give the Rangers some aircraft and helo’s with public-private partnership handling maintenance and ‘Rangers’ crewing. More over recruit heavily from the Inuit and other local indigenous / first nations peoples for the CG !

  3. February 17, 2010 2:16 pm

    I think it’s that has suggested putting military people on any Canadian Coast Guard ships that need a bit of bang. Both the military, especially the air force (eg SAR) and the Coast Guard (CG), are homebodys. They avoid the arctic. Canada has some rangers who live in the arctic. I’d advocate putting ’empowered’ locals on board ships, not just the military/CG. The RCAF won’t willingly spend time nor money on arctic related stuff, so the airforce approach to patrols is token too.

    All of which means that the ‘powers-that-be’ aren’t really effective, too hobbled and ‘unionized’.

    I’d even go for privatizing, public-private-partnership (?), in such cases. More wild maybe, but the Somalia mess keeps going ‘forever’ when other means would stop it. Maybe something akin to the suggestions at

    Jumping ahead 20 years, we don’t want an Irxxxn/X/Unknown sub launching cruise missiles from Southern Hudson’s Bay, in a situation where we end up with big hurt and no known/verified source.

  4. Jed permalink
    February 17, 2010 1:31 pm

    Chuck and Vic – as many commentor’s have noted on the excellent Defence Watch blog at the Ottawa Citizen (edited by David Pugliese) the Canadian Coast Guard is not really a para-military organization in the same way as the USCG. Many people more knowledgeable than I on such matters have suggested that they (the Canadian Coast Guard) don’t really even like SAR tasking, and are just “jumped up bouy-wranglers” !

    Thus the debate rages over what they will do with two armed ice-breakers, and 7 to 8 ‘summer ice’ capable patrol ships that are all currently planned. Of course they have been in the planning for quite a while, but are not built yet, so whether the Coast Guard has the right ‘organizational culture’ or not is a bit of an academic argument at this point………

    As for the Canadian north being an archipelago, that might be geologically correct, however the land mass in total might be as great as the whole of the CONUS minus Alaska. Either way, as was pointed out, Canada would have the right to stop and inspect vessels exercising their right of innocent passage. Personally I would be all for dropping (small) depth charges on any confirmed sonar contacts transiting the NW passage submerged :-)

  5. leesea permalink
    February 17, 2010 1:20 am

    t6, Yes its the RFA which is the RN equivalent of MSC where I worked. The RFA back in the early ’90s wanted those hulls to replace some of their older fleet oiler. Both partially complete T-AOs have since been scrapped. What a waste of taxpayers dollars! The Navy is far too quick to dump ships these days. FYI. I brought 3 T-AOs into MSC service.

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 16, 2010 7:19 pm

    It’s only because you have to inspect to determine intent rather than just bomb and strafe that you need a strong Coast Guard there.

  7. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 16, 2010 7:16 pm

    The UN Convention on Law of the Sea, which Canada has ratified and the US has signed but not ratified, is the relevant international law.

    It is only because the numerous islands do constitute an archipelago that Canada can claim waters beyond her 12 mile territorial sea.

    Canada’s rights to protect and exploit the environment of her EEZ and continental shelf are recognized. Even the right of innocent passage for merchant ships is subject to inspection to determine if passage is innocent.

    Looks like the only controversy could be over “transit passage” by warships. Even in that case submarines would be required to transit on the surface.

  8. February 16, 2010 5:59 pm


    leesea said:

    “The RFA came to the Navy and ask to buy the uncomplete ships (about 80 and 40% if I remember right?) The USN asked so much for them the RFA walked away. Dumb idea.”

    By RFA,do you mean the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary or is there an other R.F.A.?
    I can’t think what the British would want with foreign built single hulled tankers.
    They are currently looking for new double hulled vessels for legal reasons.


  9. February 16, 2010 4:40 pm

    > … if she wants to stop ships exercising “innocent passage” through the North West Passage, the preponderance of precedence is against them …

    Not if you mean legal precedence. In legal terms you need specific precedence.
    Canada is not an “archipelago”, it is a continental country, with minimal past usage in that area, so the legal beagles wander off in a different direction. The goofy part for the USA is that it already has agreements for US passage in Canadian waters, so agreeing with Canada’s position would help maintain control over future use of the waterway. By taking the “might is right, move your lighthouse of of the way of our aircraft carrier” approach the US is advertising for everybody’s sub and light carrier to freely wander through the area for all time.

  10. Chuck Hill permalink
    February 16, 2010 2:56 pm

    D. E. Reddick wrote, “Jed may have been writing a bit facetiously, but he has a valid point from a Canadian territorial waters perspective. The Northwest Passage (“a sovereign Canadian internal waterway”) might be considered analogous to the Intracoastal Waterway along the US eastern & gulf coastlines. Canada’s mainland and Arctic Islands border their Northwest Passage.”

    Canada certainly has the right to exercise control over exploitation of her exclusive economic zone, but if she wants to stop ships exercising “innocent passage” through the North West Passage, the preponderance of precedence is against them. There are the numerous similar examples in the Indonesian and Philippine archipelagos.

    In fact even the Amazon River is recognized as an international waterway in that it remains navigatible into two other South American countries (Peru and Columbia if I remember correctly).

    If the North West Passage does remain reliably ice free for a period every year, it is going to become very important economically for much of the world.

    Similarly it’s not in the West’s interest to allow other countries such as China to also claim the right to restrict transit.

  11. leesea permalink
    February 16, 2010 2:31 pm

    First off the USN should not be getting rid of ANY fleet oilers right now. BUT the Higgins is a single hull and NO longer compliant with IMO rules.

    Sea story. There were other Kaisers partially completeed at Tampa Ship. The Navy terminated the contract for lots of reasons too lengthy to explain here.

    The RFA came to the Navy and ask to buy the uncomplete ships (about 80 and 40% if I remember right?) The USN asked so much for them the RFA walked away. Dumb idea.

    BTW the ship transferrred was USNS an MSC NFAF ship not a commissioned vessel as in USS.

    Second problem the Kaisers are pure oilers with minimal dry cargo capacity and NO ammo space.

    A much better solution for Canada and the USN would be something like the German Navy Type 702 Berlin class.

    Thirdly, the JHSVs are tactical platforms not strategic like the JSS concept was looking for.

    AND only one HSF is operating, one was laid up after an severe allision.

  12. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 16, 2010 12:42 pm

    We’re keeping hope alive, Vic! Thanks!

  13. February 16, 2010 12:00 pm


    (but too logical for Fort Fumble aka Ottawa’s gold-plating planners)


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