Tag Archives: Arctic

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. 

Winter is Coming

Heat waves, rising temperatures, and retreating ice grab headlines today. However, receding sea ice in the Arctic and a concurrent increase in shipping traffic will intensify attention on the globe’s (still) frigid northern reaches. Though the United States issued a forward-looking Arctic policy with National Security Presidential Directive 66 in 2009, it has not seriously faced the implications of matching these policy goals to strategic ends and backing its interests in the region with capital investments. Our Canadian allies have, and we should seek to learn from their experience.

The Arctic was important to Canada and the United States well before the ice started melting.

Canada’s adaptation to the Arctic’s changing maritime geography is instructive. For starters, it serves as a reminder of Canada’s importance as an ally of the United States. Geography, heritage, and shared sacrifice have forged a special relationship between Canada and the United States and, like the Night’s Watch in the cold Northern reaches of the fictional world in Game of Thrones, I think we too infrequently give them proper credit for their support of our defense. This isn’t the first era requiring US-Canadian security cooperation in the Arctic – both countries jointly manned the “Distant Early Warning” Line of radar stations above the Arctic Circle during the Cold War.

The United States can look to Canada’s experience in matching ends, ways, and means in a new Arctic geography while under austere fiscal constraints to inform our own decisions as we contemplate our role in the region.

Canada is an Arctic nation, and this identity figures heavily in the Canada First Defence Strategy. Among the most important declarations in the strategy:

In Canada’s Arctic region, changing weather patterns are altering the environment, making it more accessible to sea traffic and economic activity. Retreating ice cover has opened the way for increased shipping, tourism and resource exploration, and new transportation routes are being considered, including through the Northwest Passage. While this promises substantial economic benefits for Canada, it has also brought new challenges from other shores. These changes in the Arctic could also spark an increase in illegal activity, with important implications for Canadian sovereignty and security and a potential requirement for additional military support.

and:

Canadian Forces must have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. New opportunities are emerging across the region, bringing with them new challenges. As activity in northern lands and waters accelerates, the military will play an increasingly vital role in demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in this potentially resource rich region.

Canada First proposes Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) as the primary strategic means to accomplish the policy goal of demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in the Arctic. In early July of this year, the Canadian Government announced a preliminary contract to draft an execution strategy for the project and execute a design review of the proposed vessel, which will be based on the Norwegian Svalbard-class of ships. While representing a significant step towards realizing Canada’s goals in the Arctic, the proposed class has received a fair amount of domestic criticism. Some Canadians call the design too small, too light, and too slow. Others point to the vessel’s lack of armament, though some propose incorporating space for future weapons systems into the design. A final criticism of the class is that it is designed for light icebreaking duties, earning them the moniker “slushbreakers” in the Canadian American Strategic Review. Vessels designed for polar cruising typically conform to a “Polar Class” indicating a specific level of icebreaking capability. The proposed AOPS will be Polar Class 5, which means “Year round operation in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions,” and represents the lowest year-round capability to negotiate polar waters.

A portent of future Arctic FONOPS?

The AOPS represents, as some Arctic watchers have noted, a compromise between an offshore patrol vessel and a dedicated Arctic warship. This is the essential difficulty in planning an Arctic force structure: though the ice is retreating, there is still plenty of it and significant seasonal variations present new design challenges to Naval and/or Coast Guard vessels. True Arctic vessels require completely different hull, mechanical and engineering systems that significantly impact their tactical performance. No bow mounted sonar. Poor speed and maneuverability. Et cetera. Indeed, given the fact that American and Soviet/Russian submarines have a long, distinguished history of operating under the sea ice, I would question a surface vessel’s ability to operate in a submarine threat environment while noisily plowing through ice floes. This is just one challenge among many to tactical surface operations in the Arctic, and they are probably the reason why (as noted at Information Dissemination yesterday) the US Navy hasn’t seriously considered itself an Arctic player beyond ICEX and some limited research and development projects.

There are similarities between Canadian and US Arctic policy. While, geographically speaking, Canada seems to have a stronger need for an Arctic presence due to its more extensive maritime claims in the region, the Bering Strait – a critical choke point – is in Alaska’s back yard. US policy for the Arctic includes the following as summarized in a recent report:

The USA names several military challenges with implications for the Arctic, including missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

It’s possible to fulfill many of these goals with submarines, but once the discussion veers towards sealift, missile defense, and freedom of navigation, a polar surface combatant seems a necessary part of an Arctic force structure. The United States will have to answer many key questions raised by these stated goals:

  1. Should Navy, Coast Guard, or joint assets fulfill these roles?
  2. How important is it to the United States to lead the exploration and militarization of the Arctic?
  3. What metrics of civil use and sea ice change will determine the extent and timing of the United States’ Arctic presence?
  4. What functions can/should an Arctic ship fulfill?
  5. How does receding ice impact the existing Polar Classification system? What baseline of Polar Class is appropriate to Arctic warships/coast guard cutters?

Answering these questions is the work of strategy, and it’s telling that a recent letter signed by both of Alaska’s senators requested just such a strategy. If the United States does forge a detailed Arctic plan, it would do well to consider the experience of Canada’s government. Canada has pioneered the militarization of the Arctic region and revealed many of the challenges inherent in operating beyond “The Wall.”

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.