Navies are predictable. At least in regards to their size and composition their future state can be accurately predicted. It can take more then ten years from the start to finish building a major warship. That means the navy of the future is being built, or not built, today. Every ship not building today will not be available tomorrow, or the next day, or the next year and possibly the decade after that. Every ship in the fleet today is getting older and closer to the time it is obsolete, obsolescent or literally unsafe to go to sea.
According to the 1994 Defence White Paper; (1) “Canada must continue to maintain an appropriate balance of flexible contingency forces if our politicians want to remain active on the world stage while also ensuring national security, regardless of how troubled or complex the world becomes.” For the Canadian Navy, the 1994 Defence White Paper established a mix of naval contingency capabilities that also served as the basis for force planning and operational training.
The role of the Navy was described as:
“To assist in the evacuation of Canadians from threatened areas;
To deploy a naval task group of up to four combatants (destroyers, frigates, or submarines) and a support ship with appropriate maritime air support;
To maintain one ship with the NATO Standing Naval Force Atlantic;
To provide one ship on an occasional basis to serve with the NATO Standing Naval Force Mediterranean; and
To provide forces for national maritime security and sovereignty protection.”
In May 2008, the Government of Canada released its Canada First Defence Strategy (CFDS). (2) This document stated the requirement to replace Canada’s existing destroyers and frigates such that the military “can continue to monitor and defend Canadian waters and make significant contributions to international naval operations.”
Based on this strategic direction, the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) Project (3) is designed to replace the existing surface combatants of the Royal Canadian Navy through the procurement of new ships in two variants. While these warships will be based on a common hull design, the destroyer and frigate variants may be equipped with different weapons, communications, surveillance and other systems. The first ships to be built, the Area Air Defence and Task Group Command and Control variant, will replace the capabilities currently resident in the Iroquois Class destroyers which provide both area air defence and proper command and control capabilities. Follow on ships of the General Purpose variant will replace the capabilities found in the Halifax Class frigates.
The Iroquois-class was originally scheduled for retirement around 2010 after 40 years in service however, the remaining three vessels will have their service years extended until the replacement vessels are delivered.
On October 19, 2011 the NSPS Secretariat announced the results of a Request for Proposals (4) to build large vessels for Canada. Irving Shipbuilding Inc. (ISI) has been selected to build the combat vessel work package. The combat package includes the Royal Canadian Navy’s Canadian Surface Combatant ships.
With the timelines currently proposed, it is likely that the Canadian Navy will be left without both area air defence and command and control capabilities for at least a decade if not longer. This will limit the Canadian Navy to having no more than self defence capability against aircraft and missiles during this time, which is at odds with the desired capabilities and will increase our reliance on our NATO partners in achieving those capabilities.
The RCN in ten years is easily described; as no new ships are being built at this time, it is the Navy of the present, ten years older. No matter what new tasks the government may feel they need to accomplish in the future, they will have only the same resources that are available today to accomplish them.
(1)1994 White Paper on Defence
(2) Canada First Defence Strategy
(3) Canadian Surface Combatant
(4) Results of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy