Tag Archives: Arctic

The Royal Canadian Navy in NATO

HMCS Vancouver and "The Rock"
HMCS Vancouver and “The Rock”

By Tomasz Trembowski

On August 16, 2011, the Canadian government announced the re-naming of Canada’s naval forces from “Maritime Command (MARCOM)” to its original designation, the “Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).” The last time Canada’s naval forces were known as the RCN was in 1968, when Lester B. Pearson amalgamated the three branches of the Canadian military under one command, named the “Canadian Forces.” Whatever name they operate under, Canada’s naval forces will continue to prove their importance in decades to come by playing a key role within NATO in increasingly critical waters.

Canada is proving its maritime mettle in a number of NATO operations around the world. Canadian vessels have played an active role in the NATO operation Active Endeavour. The operation was initiated on October 6, 2001, as a response to the September 11th attacks, which invoked NATO’s collective-security defence clause – Article 5. The aim of Active Endeavor is to keep the Mediterranean trade routes open and safe from pirates or terrorists, and to track and control vessels suspected of transporting weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Among the Canadian vessels that have participated in Canada’s portions of Active Endeavour, operations Sirius and Metric, are the Halifax-class frigates HMCS Charlottetown (FFH 339) and HMCS Vancouver (FFH 331). Most recently, Charlottetown returned to the Mediterranean in January 2012, continuing to patrol the area for suspect vessels until re-tasked to join Operation Artemis in April as part of Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150) in the Arabian Sea. To date, Active Endeavour operations have hailed over 100,000 vessels and boarded some 155 suspect ships. Continued RCN participation in this operation not only gives Canada the capability to respond to crises in the immediate region but offers security to a region where a tremendous amount of world trade is conducted.

Another recent Canadian effort has been as part of Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1). SNMG1 is an integrated maritime force, consisting of four to six destroyers and frigates from different NATO Member and Partner countries, that plays an important part in maritime security. It normally operates in the eastern Atlantic Ocean during peace time. However since August 17, 2009, SNMG1 has been operating in and around the Gulf of Aden, a body of water that lies between the southern coast of Yemen and Somalia. The current operation, Ocean Shield, has made significant contributions to international efforts aimed at combating piracy off the Horn of Africa.

Within Ocean Shield Canadian vessels  have played crucial roles. Among them, Charlottetown helped disrupt the movement of illicit cargo off the coast of Yemen. On May 5, 2012, for instance, Charlottetown successfully intercepted 600 pounds of hashish.  Speaking at the changeover of Charlottetown with HMCS Regina (FFH 334) on August 19, Canadian Minister of National Defence, Peter Mackay stated, “Regina’s deployment continues our strong tradition of participation in overseas operations with our allies, while making meaningful contributions to international security and stability.” Ocean Shield is expected to end in 2014, but until then the Canadian Navy will no doubt continue to take an active role in the operation.

CDR Craig Skjerpen, commanding officer of HMCS Charlottetown, uses the "Big Eyes" binoculars to look for small boats crewed by Libyan pro-regime forces.
CDR Craig Skjerpen, commanding officer of HMCS Charlottetown, uses the “Big Eyes” binoculars to look for small boats crewed by Libyan pro-regime forces.

On March 23, 2011, NATO initiated Operation Unified Protector, under the command of Canadian Lt. General Charles Bouchard, to enforce UN resolutions 1970 and 1973 concerning Libya. The resolutions authorized NATO forces to maintain a no-fly zone and arms embargo against the Libyan government.

Both Vancouver and Charlottetown participated in the operation. On May 12, 2011, Charlottetown, along with French and British warships, engaged several Qadhafi regime small boats involved in an attack against the port of Misrata, and 18 days later came under fire from BM-21 rockets launched from shore. Meanwhile Vancouver worked alongside NATO allies to enforce the arms embargo placed against the Libyan government until its fall. As shown, Canada can and does play a leading role in NATO operations on the seas and oceans of the world.

NATO’s Arctic Future
In addition to its involvement in NATO operations abroad, Canadian vessels can perhaps play a key role in shaping NATO’s Arctic policy. As the Arctic becomes more navigable, there will be much more traffic in the region, commercial and military, which will necessitate a stronger RCN presence. On June 3, 2010, the Canadian government announced its new National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). This strategy will see $35 billion dollars spent to construct both large and small combat vessels. Among the first batch of vessels slated for delivery are the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships in 2018. These vessels are seen as fundamental to securing Canada’s security and sovereignty in the Arctic.

The Canadian government was initially quite bellicose in its rhetoric regarding Arctic sovereignty, but more recently that stance has softened. The number of speeches mentioning new science and economic endeavours are outnumbering those proposing military bases, for example. However, in leaked US cables dating from 2010, Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper apparently cautioned NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that NATO had no role in the Arctic and any such moves would only serve to increase tensions with Russia. According to the cable the PM commented that there is, “no likelihood of Arctic states going to war, but that some non-Arctic members favored a NATO role in the Arctic because it would afford them influence in an area where they don’t belong.”

In fact, there are plenty of reasons to get NATO involved. While a war among Arctic nations is indeed a far-fetched and unlikely event, there are other considerations to take into account. First, as the Northwest Passage becomes more easily navigable, experts predict the route may become the busiest waterway in the world. As the passage sees increased commercial traffic, a greater military presence will be required to inspect passing vessels for illicit or dangerous cargo, and to enforce possible environmental regulations.

Furthermore, Russia, the other major player with a massive interest in the Arctic, is already militarizing the region. Over the past few years, Russian air and submarine activity in the Arctic has reached levels not seen since the Cold War. It has even re-opened its old airbases on frozen archipelagos located above the Arctic Circle. Since Canada’s Arctic forces at current can’t hold a candle to Russia’s, a simple solution would see Canada include all NATO allies in current discussions taking place in the Arctic Council. This would be followed by working closely with all NATO allies to establish a new force primarily dedicated to the Arctic. This new force would naturally include the new Canadian vessels being built to operate specifically in the region. Such a move would no doubt give Canada a leading role in the matter considering the country’s proximity and forward position in the region. Why wait until Russia has moved deeper into the region and takes advantage of slow-moving talks in the Arctic Council?

Canada has already proven that it is a power on the oceans and seas of the world by aiding in counter-terrorism operations, anti-piracy operations, and naval warfare operations. It can be proud of its RCN and the contributions and leadership it provides to both past and present NATO operations. Now, however, is the time to codify a new role for the RCN for the new century – the Arctic. This of course, is solely in the hands of the Canadian government. All it has to do is reach out and include its NATO allies.

This article appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from The Atlantic Council of Canada.

Rough Waters For the Canadian Navy?

The first batch of the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) is expected in 2018.

By Milos Zak

The Canadian navy’s recent rebranding back to its “royal” roots constitutes one in a series of initiatives best described as a “renaissance” for the Canadian armed forces. The navy is set to replace aging vessels and fundamentally alter Canada’s power projection on the high seas – most notably, taking a definitive step into the mineral and energy-rich – and increasingly accessible – High Arctic.

With one the longest navigable coastlines of any other nation, a changing climatic reality in the North, bold moves challenging Canada’s sovereignty from maritime neighbours, and increased interest in northern development makes the timing and scale of Ottawa’s move hardly a coincidence.

The Background

On October 19th, 2011, the Harper Government announced a 35-billion dollar plan to revamp Canada’s naval hardware as part of the “National Shipbuilding Strategy”, with around 25 billion going to Halifax’s Irving Shipbuilding for twenty-one combat vessels, and an 8 billion going to Vancouver’s Seaspan Marine for eight non-combat vessels.

The losing party is Davie Shipbuilders located in Lévis, Québec, marred by bankruptcy protection well before the October 2011 announcement.

Initially, focus fell on the supposedly politics-free pledge for awarding the contracts (which turned out to be merit-based and transparent according monitors) accompanied by demands for more information from the NDP opposition critic Peter Stoffer, few could deny that the announcement was also very favourable for CEO Jim Irving and Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

2012 is the year in which each of the shipbuilders finalize their contracts with Ottawa. Without a doubt, those same businessmen and politicians which celebrated in October of 2011 are now faced with a belt-tightening reality in Ottawa which could delay the delivery of Canada’s new fleet of combat ships. This makes 2012 the year in which the greatest revisions to the deal could occur.

The Ships

Arctic offshore patrol ships, the first scheduled to be completed under the contract are seen as critical to securing Canada’s Arctic security and sovereignty. Melting sea ice and increased traffic in Canada’s arctic is a key catalyst for the move.

The ships will help enforce laws, and above all, will constitute a very real practice of territorial sovereignty challenged by other custodians of the high Arctic. Patrol craft, new coast guard vessels, and a new polar icebreaker constitute only a small part of the grand total, the replacement of aging destroyers and frigates is expected to consume the lion’s share of the money.

However, timeline projections have already been beset by a series of revisions, with the first announcements pegging the arrival of the first batch of ships first for 2015, then moved to 2016, and now expected three years after that, for 2018.

The Burn of the Not-too-Recent Past

While it may be easier to buy military hardware than actually building it, the Royal Canadian Navy has had to face disappointment and moves for trans-Atlantic litigation stemming from past procurement deals – best exemplified by the United Kingdom’s sale to Canada of four Upholder/Victoria Class diesel-electric submarines in a 1998 deal, for a supposed bargain of $750 million.

The F-35 jet deal is another example of procurement policies gone awry, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page. However, the F-35 deal was likely informed by overriding continental strategic considerations, pressure and geographic proximity to the United States. In the end, both the Harper Government and the Canadian public continue to watch closely as the issue develops, each hoping that the jets will live up to their high promises at, or at least near, to their productions, delivery, outfitting and servicing costs.

The procurement policies of the F-35 aircraft have also faced setbacks.

Financing

The procurement policies of the F-35 aircraft have also faced setbacks.

In July of 2012, Ottawa announced an initial 9.3-million dollar contract for Irving Shipbuilder to undertake the initial steps of ship design as part of a related “Canada First” defence strategy.

It should be emphasized that the 35-billion dollar figure is at best an estimate that will be subject to change and revision. The final monetary scale of the project could range from anything between 30 billion to the 35-billion dollar marked.

If the 1980s procurement for Halifax-class frigates is any indication of evolving shipbuilding deals (an original deal where twelve of eighteen frigates were built), the 35-billion dollar announcement is unlikely to remain without a downward reassessment.

British Columbia’s Seaspan Marine Corporation will construct vessels totalling 8-billion for eight non-combat vessels. On the other hand, Halifax’s Irving Shipbuilding was awarded about 25-billion of the total for twenty-one combat vessels; considering the history of shipbuilding financing and the post-2008 budget deficit reality, it is likely that of the two, it will be Irving Shipbuilders which will feel revisions most sharply.

Addressing Sector-Specific Boom-Bust Cycles and Investing in Skilled Jobs

Shipbuilding in Canada has experienced a classic boom and bust cycle since time immemorial. With the last national shipbuilding enterprise dating back to the 1990s, the 2012 announcement has been touted as an attempt to address swings in coastal economies and their respective labour markets. The Minister of Public Works and Government Services estimated that the deal should produce around 15,000 new jobs nation-wide over a period of twenty to thirty years. More importantly, the jobs will be of the high-skill variety, which more often than not, comes with a lot more than a living wage.

However, the supposed predictability of monetary inflows into the Maritime and coastal British Columbian communities is likely to turn out to be an illusion. Assuming that no external developments in the foreign affairs sphere spurs on a sudden expansion of the Royal Canadian Navy, thus sustaining the 35-billion mark if not resulting in new deals, the 35-billion deal will remain at the mercy of exogenous shocks in the world economy, the nation’s fiscal reality, and Ottawa’s political will.

It is in 2012, when the dividends of the October 2011 announcement have been cashed in, both for the Conservative Party and the affected politicians, the incentive to renege, renegotiate, and adjust – especially under conditions of uncertainty and weak growth – become increasingly greater. Although this dynamic does not guarantee downward adjustments, it does point out that robust, long-term national strategies are inevitably beset by an ever-changing fiscal and economic reality, to say nothing of developments in foreign affairs.

Milosz Zak is an MA ERES candidate at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs, with a BaH in Political Science from the University of Guelph and the Jagiellonian University in Krakόw, Poland. He works closely with the Toronto Chapter of the Canada Eurasia Russian Business Association, the Canada-Poland Chamber of Commerce of Toronto, and the G8/G20 Research Group, writing on financial and economic issues facing the G20, European Union member states, the Russian Federation and the countries of the CIS.

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and the news agencies and do not necessarily represent those of the Atlantic Council of Canada. This article is published for information purposes only.

This article appeared in its original form and was cross-posted by permission from The Atlantic Council of Canada.

Maritime Blindness

U.S. and Canada: Arctic Icebreak Tango

The U.S. runs a succesful series of Fleet Weeks across the country, bringing exposure to the sea services even in those corners of the country far from a sea. These events aim in part to educate Americans on the importance of their sea services for ensuring freedom of navigation for the 99% of overseas trade by volume that is transported by ship and the ability to project power abroad(CDR Doyle Hodges had a good article last week on the importance of international maritime security). From a self-interest standpoint, this outreach is also important when these citizens’ elected representatives look to make cuts to spending and military programs. After a decade of land wars, the sea services have some ground to make up. Last year, Gallup polled Americans on the relative importance of the different branches of the Armed Forces using the following question:

Just off the top of your head, which of the five branches of the Armed Forces in this country would you say is the most important to our national defense today?” 

Respondents gave the Air Force 17%, Army 25%, Marines 24%, Navy 11%, Coast Guard 3% and equal importance 16%. In May 2001 the numbers were Air Force 42%, Army 18%, Marines 14%, Navy 15%, Coast Guard 0%, and equality at 9%. Operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya appear mostly to have bolstered perceptions of the Army, Marines, and equality at the expense of the Air Force; but this still leaves large room for improvement in the understanding and appreciation of the functions of the sea services.

Canada has a similar problem, and CIMSECian James Bridger calls it “Maritime Blindness.” Writing for the Atlantic Council of Canada, he states:

Maritime Blindness: Three Oceans is No Cure.

As a nation surrounded by three oceans and the great lakes, Canada’s maritime security has been of preeminent importance throughout the country’s history. A secure marine environment is also essential to Canada’s prosperity. Despite this marked significance, there has been recent concern that Canada has slipped into a state of “maritime blindness,” characterized by a general lack of awareness concerning issues of national and global oceanic security.  This problem is particularly pronounced in central Canada, along the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor.

 

Seeking to address this weakness, The Atlantic Council of Canada (ACC) has taken a greater role in investigating and highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of Canadian maritime security and matters concerning our surrounding waters. Our goal is to raise public awareness and encourage debate about Canada’s most important frontier.

Doing good work in the land of Moose and Ice Hockey, James developed this idea into a primer on the Canada’s maritime background, and with another CIMSECian, Andrew Walker, in May kicked off the publication Maritime Nation to help Canada counter the effects of maritime blindness. In addition to helping illustrate the challenges and opportunities of the sea for the Canadian public, the products provide some good nuggets on Canadians approaches to maritime problems and concepts, such as a focus on maritime domain awareness:

Reflecting a “whole of government” approach to the problem, the Department of Defence, in cooperation with the Canada Border Services Agency, Department of Fisheries, Canadian Coast Guard, RCMP and Transport Canada, have recently established three Marine Security Operations Centres (MSOC)—located in Esquimalt, Halifax, and on the St. Lawrence Seaway.

If you have a few minutes, both the primer and the publication are easy to read and definitely worth a look, offering insights on cooperation with the U.S., and options arising from the unfreezing Arctic.

Ice-basing the Arctic

So the trappings of life under the thumb of your home country have finally forced you to the seas. Why not strike out to the pristine, untouched mineral-rich reaches of the Arctic? Climate change in the far north may soon open the long-sought Northwest Passage which will allow ships summer time passage from Europe to Asia a fraction of the travel time. Oil exploration is booming with all the big oil companies vying for their slice of the pie. Increased shipping capacity could mean a black gold mine for your tiny floating kingdom, if you can find a place to put it.

This map shows just how complicated the Arctic seascape really is.  Russia has already planted their flag at the North Pole sealed in a titanium capsule.  They are still working out the particulars on the definition of their continental shelf, which may validate their claim of the pole and a huge swath of the frozen north.  But don’t forget, once clear of Russian claims you still have to contend with Danish, Norwegian, Canadian, U.S. and Icelandic territory.  A sea-based nation could benefit from partnership with any of these nations for security and export potential, assuming any of them would be interested in having a little neighbor to the north. 

An Arctic sea-base would mean a harsh existence for its inhabitants. Long periods of cold and darkness would require advanced climate control. Keeping the whole thing afloat on or amid constantly shifting polar ice and occasional liquid water would require clever flotation systems.  Yet all the expense of setting up this sea-base will be worth it.  Others have made significant investment with seemingly impractical logistical hurdles but still continue to make the far north work, there is such a huge economic incentive to do so.  

Creating a sea based nation in the Arctic could provide a tiny floating country with vast mineral wealth and, if the climate models pan out, an easy way of getting it to market. And as of this writing, the Somali pirate threat to the Arctic is pretty much non-existent, good news for security.