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Questioning Canada’s Naval Policy

May 22, 2010

The Canadian destroyer HMCS Algonquin (DDG 283).

W.E. (Bill) Belliveau writing in the Times & Transcript wonders why the Canadian Navy recently sought to dispose of its most economical and effective platforms:

Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDVs) are crewed mainly by Naval Reservists, not permanent naval forces. These are civilians, living civilian lives while pursuing a military career. They can be students, teachers, lawyers, secretaries, or other members of society.

The MCDVs’ primary mission is coastal surveillance and patrol, search and rescue, law enforcement, resource protection and fisheries patrol. MCDVs offer an economical alternative to major surface units for routine but nevertheless important patrolling duties, vital in maintaining sovereignty and protecting our shores.

I can’t imagine a more intelligent way to run a navy on a budget, the combination of reservists and low end platforms. At first glance, these Kingston class vessels might seem less capable, but as a network whole represents power and presence of the nation, and backed by land-based air, its abilities are enhanced considerably. Instead, though, the practice has been to spend sparse funds on high end warships like the Halifax frigates or the ancient Tribal destroyers.

As much as we pride ourselves in being a peaceful nation — we love to own the toys of war and peace — think of the monster Boeing C-17 military transport aircraft purchased by the federal government in recent years. The excuse for purchase is found in our readiness to assist in response to natural disasters and global skirmishes. To be a first-responder requires us to be independent, well equipped and prepared

A good point, such capability doesn’t ensure availability. As we revealed early in the week, the powerful frigate based navies are increasingly frustrated in stretched-thin attempts to grasp hold of the elusive, impoverished, yet highly effective speedboats navies in the Gulf.

I suspect Minister MacKay’s announcement that Canada’s frigate program will not be mothballed is more about local economics, jobs and votes than it is about the protection of our borders or the balancing of our national budget.

Instead of constructing only a few high end warships, built to fight an enemy of another time, plus which navies like Canada can’t afford to even maintain, there is a better way. A decentralized, dispersed forced, equipped with low end assets, then networked to a few high end platforms would extend the power of the fleet, at less cost, while increasing numbers, and taking advantage of modern weapons, sensors, and communications. I leave it to Chris Rawley to explain. Talking specifically about the USN, but it fits for all:

Navy command and control schemes must be flattened and better networked. The more independently deployed vessels can operate, the faster they can react to dynamic situations. If the US Navy is to remain relevant against decentralized threats and still be able to cover a wide number and variety of distributed missions globally, it will have to build a larger quantity of less expensive surface vessels to complement the high end capabilities such as DDGs. These ships will be much smaller, less expensive, and hence more numerous than the LCS; ie, something like the “Fords” of the Henry Hendrix’s Influence Squadrons.


15 Comments leave one →
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  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 24, 2010 1:37 pm

    These are really small vessels, smaller than the Corvettes of WWII. Much the same size as American MSOs built in the 50s.

  7. Jolly Tar permalink
    May 24, 2010 12:54 pm

    X- The MCDV’s are more suited toward coastal waters, however deployed to Europe 3 times and to Pearl Harbor on the West Coast. They have been in storms with up to 15 meter seas with no problems. The MCDV are MARLANT asset, crewed mainly by reservists. The original model for the ship’s was to operate with part time reservist’s like the old gate vessel class, when the ships came out they become operational assets for MARLANT and have operated that way ever since.
    This did not bode well for the part time reservist, although they still come out for the summer. The core crew are full time pers who stay anywhere from 1 to 3 year contracts and in a lot of cases have sailed constantly for the last 15 years and have made a career out of the reserves.
    These are the people who were looking at a unemployment check a few weeks ago when the ships were announced to be cut.

  8. May 24, 2010 6:05 am

    I thought the Kingston’s were poor sea boats? Here the government did away with all RNR vessels sometime ago. Of course our security situation is different. But I sometimes think RNR recruitment would perhaps benefit if there was regular sea time as a unit not just gapping. Further here in the UK the MoD(N) funds a small fleet of 12 or so craft for use by university units. This isn’t done to attract officer candidates into the service; it is done so future leaders of society are aware of the RN. The success of this strategy is easily judged.

  9. Jed permalink
    May 23, 2010 9:49 pm

    Jolly Tar – I bow to your greater experience, having only one friend in the Naval Reserve who has actually served on such vessels. However, my point to Mike, was that there is value in his proposition if a critical mass can be achieved, and the Canadian Navy will never achieve it. Not knocking the Kingston Class as a design, but the government for funding – lets face it, there are not enough “Jolly Jack Tar’s” to the man all of the vessels as you said. That is largely because the due to Afghanistan the army has been getting the lions share of the operational budget for nearly ten years.

  10. Jolly Tar permalink
    May 23, 2010 5:54 pm

    Jed, did you know the MCDV’s have trialled and are capable of launching and recovering a UAV?, not to mention other mission fits. The strength of the MCDV is versatility. Often a “product ” will come along for the navy and the MCDV will get the job trialling it, for instance a remote control .50 cal weapon system. Generally the public doesn’t know what the ship’s actually do. I speak from experience, dollar for dollar they have been a success story for the navy.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 23, 2010 5:15 pm

    Jolly Tar-Thanks for the extra info!

  12. Jolly Tar permalink
    May 23, 2010 1:57 pm

    The MCDV’s each are suppose to have a crew of 37 Naval reservists, up to 44 if full with a accommodation module embarked. They also sail with one regular force electronics tech and a regular force electrician. Most of the reservist are full time with some having over 10 years full time on the ship’s, part timers play a very small role crewing the ship’s and it has been like that for some time. The ship’s generally sail 140 days at sea each year, with a maximum of over 240 plus days.

    The midlife refit was cancelled several years ago, although systems continue to be upgraded, new radars, new ops room fit etc. The design life for these platforms was 25 years, and the oldest hull being 15 years. To upgrade the ship’s, you not talking a lot of money. To send a CPF to do a job a MCDV can do is say $100000 dollars a day compared to $10000 a day for a MCDV. MCDV’s for the past 15 years have saved the navy millions of dollars, often taking on less glamourous missions the regular force don’t want to do.

    As it stands now there is about 3.5 crews for every 6 MCDV’s, this is because of the heavy sailing schedule and people being burnt out and not being treated very well. People are moving on to greener pastures. Even though the order to tie up 6 ships have been resinded, the reserves simply do not have the personnel to sail the ships and the regular force don’t have the personnel either. What I suspect you will see is 6 ships operating , with 6 ships along side with the appearance they are operational.

  13. Chuck Hill permalink
    May 22, 2010 2:22 pm

    I still want to know if they have only a single reserve crew or do they have multiple crews?

    If they have only a single crew, they could not stay underway as many days per year as a ship with an active duty crew, perhaps only a couple of weeks. To stay underway say 140 days a year, they would need 10 reserve crew per ship.

    Perhaps they ought to man the frigates with reserve crews with a core of specialist regulars and man the Kingstons with the regulars.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 22, 2010 1:26 pm

    Jed, the Kingston’s would have been upgraded, but now this has been put on hold. The upgrades for the submarines and frigates will go ahead (a $100 million plan versus $3 billion for the frigates alone!). I wonder which could be brought up to standard at less cost, which can be affordably operated, and which is needed more now? I personally think these ships are inadequate as they are as well. They can certainly be replaced easier than $ 1/2 billion frigates!

    Perhaps if all funds were not spent to maintain Cold War era capabilities, in a new era of many threats, there would be enough air/land/sea assets, in adequate number, to go around.

  15. Jed permalink
    May 22, 2010 11:38 am

    Mike said: “I can’t imagine a more intelligent way to run a navy on a budget, the combination of reservists and low end platforms. At first glance, these Kingston class vessels might seem less capable, but as a network whole represents power and presence of the nation, and backed by land-based air, its abilities are enhanced considerably….”

    But there is your problem with this idea Mike – there is no network effect, 12 Kingston class is not enough to gain it along the longest coastlines in the world. Nor are they equipped to actually do anything (they are Coast Guard style patrol vessels with surface search radar and a 40mm gun) – they have no ASW sonar for example. Nor does Canada have the air assets you mention, so the Kingston class are not the way to achieve Nirvana for the Canadian Navy !

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