Canada Spared Fleet Cuts, For Now
The People have spoken. In the midst of celebrating the Canadian Navy’s 100th Anniversary, the head of that Navy in an apparent desperate move for funds, planned to mothball half the fleet. After news leaked to the press, the order was rescinded by a flustered Canadian Government. Here’s more details from David Akin at The Gazette:
Last month, Vice-Admiral Dean McFadden, the head of Canada’s navy, ordered half of the country’s maritime coastal defence vessels to be docked indefinitely and also shelved upgrades and maintenance on many other ships, including frigates.
McFadden’s order, first reported by the Ottawa Citizen earlier this week, said he was forced to take such drastic action because he simply didn’t have enough funding…
But after two days of tough questions, Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk reversed McFadden’s decision, saying the Canadian Forces will re-allocate some financial resources so that McFadden and the navy won’t have to tie up a substantial portion of the fleet.
A bold move by Vice Admiral McFadden, whose job may now be cut before any ships! Still, it is not a long term solution, and brings up more questions about what type of fleet the Navy can afford. The planned cuts would have hit the small fleet of patrol vessels worse, but is saving the most expensive, though not necessarily the worse needed, platforms in your fleet any way to produce savings? As we have learned from the British and America navies who also deploy expensive Cold War vessels, that replacing quantity with capability has led to historical decline in fleet numbers. In other words, replacing numbers with capability has actually produced less-capable fleets.
The Canadian Government currently is spending a lot of money in order to restore and rearm the Navy’s frigates, plus more funds on the technically troubled Victoria class submarines. Concerning the subs, the Navy purchased these off the shelf warships early in the century, which had been in storage for much of the 1990s in Britain. Seemingly a bargain at the time, there were numerous glitches found during the transfer, one even caught fire on the trip over, and currently only 1 of the 4 is operational. Don Martin at the National Post had this recent observation:
I was standing in St. John’s harbour when HMCS Corner Brook pulled in last Friday. It was one of those used subs we bought from Britain in 2003, most of them having spent far more time in repairs than under water.
The Corner Brook has deep pockets of rust from bow to stern. Dozens of external panels appear to have fallen off. A foreign-looking steel plate has been screwed into the hull. I asked one of the seamen if he felt safe submerging in this relic. He shrugged. “I just follow orders.”
The government will spend $3 billion dollars upgrading the Halifax frigates, a good ship, fairly large and expensive. I don’t think it a stretch to call them Cold War relics, since this is the type of combat they were geared to fight, against a large conventional Soviet Navy, supporting allied navies and fighting deep-diving nuclear subs. This hardly seem the right kind of ships needed to chase pirates, smugglers, or support disaster relief, the principle missions called on the Navy in the new century.
Any cuts would have involved dismantling the patrol fleet, the Kingston class of 12, which would have been halved. Goes to show where the admiral’s priorities are, since these vessels are tailor-made for patrolling the vast Canadian coastline, as the poles continue to melt, and incursions by foreign vessels increase. The main criticism for these vessels is lack of capability, which again comes from the Cold War mantra that nothing be spared on high tech services and weaponry. Yet in a era of sparse funds, economy is a plus, and it certainly beats having exquisite warships tied up in port or minimally operational. Journalist David Axe puts it in perspective:
The proposed cuts would have resulted in an unbalanced Canadian fleet. Canada is blessed and cursed with one of the world’s longest coastlines. As a consequence, the Canadian navy is essentially a three-coast navy, with vessels divided between Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic squadrons. The cuts would have hit the Pacific squadron hardest, with British Columbia losing two frigates and six patrol boats. This at a time when the world’s strategic center of gravity has clearly shifted eastward toward Asia. The “new” Canadian navy would have surrendered its already-limited ability to maintain a wide presence.
Quantity then, becomes more important than quality in such a situation. The Canadian Navy needs to increase, not decrease her numbers, and you won’t get there by investing in high tech warships geared to fight another era of warfare. The moneys spent on obsolete frigates or archaic submarines could maintain and even purchase a great number of patrol vessels. As Phil Ewing of Scoop Deck puts it “it makes you wonder how much money the fleet can really save by not powering up some radars or servicing the CIWS.”
Really a drop in the bucket, but think of the manpower and operating costs saved by retiring unneeded frigates, and building a Navy geared for the future! Buying ships you can’t maintain, crew, or arm adequately, no longer makes sense.