Steve Harper has done it again. Without a comprehensive defence review in place, without a white-paper and contradicting the methods laid out by the Canadian navy to secure the Arctic, he has decided to tell the navy what type of ships they will have to form a fleet.
The federal government will fund the construction of six to eight new Arctic patrol ships to help reassert Canada's sovereignty over the North, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.Based on the only existing defence policy the military has to use, the Canadian navy produced this strategic planning document entitled Leadmark: The Navy's Strategy for 2020. (Which has now disappeared from the navy's frontpage on the DND site.)
The ships will be custom-built, state of the art and made in Canada, Harper said during a ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt on Vancouver Island.
Nowhere in that document will you see a specific requirement identified by the navy for any ice-resistant ships. Which means that the Harper government has inverted the process and is now telling the navy, not what needs to be done, but exactly how to do it.
There is a large component in the navy who will disagree that six to eight ice-resistant ships are the way to go. There are cheaper, more effective options. And as for the ships Harper is touting:
He said the ships' hulls will be reinforced with steel and be able to crunch though ice up to a metre thick — allowing the ships to patrol the length of the Northwest Passage during months when a Canadian naval presence is necessary.A meter? That's a little on the wimpy side. There is every chance that, in order to patrol the length of the Northwest Passage, an ice-breaker would have to be capable of taking on ice up to two meters thick with a "reverse and ram" configuration which would give it a capability of taking on up to three meters of ice.
The vessels will be armed and will have a helicopter landing pad, Harper added.
Of course they will be armed - but to do what and deal with what threats? You don't just say they will be armed, fitted with helicopters and send them out patrolling. As much as Harper makes it sound simple, each mode of warfare requires special attention by the designers, builders and crews. Are they to be designed to fit into a task organization or are they expected to be a self-contained anti-submarine, anti-aircraft, anti-surface platform? What is the defensive range expected to be? What is their proposed endurance? How are they to be resupplied? Since they're only ice-resistant, what type of ship will be there to groom the ice-path? (Oh shit! You forgot about that!)
The government estimates the project will cost $7 billion and take five years.There is no plan. Harper is making this up as he goes. This question still applies.
Harper also said the government will construct a deepwater port somewhere in the far north, with the location to be announced soon. The port will be used as an operation base for the new patrol vessels.
In truth, the Canadian navy would love to have Arctic patrol ships... after all other requirements and resource demands are met. They would also love to have the people to man them, or has it been lost on this government that there are really only nine crews to run twelve frigates?
The announcement has no timeline, no real funding, an estimate that means nothing and no materiel project. The five years Harper is talking about could start in 2050 for all we know.
If you ask an admiral in the Canadian navy what is the most suited vessel, (assuming the need for a vessel), to patrol the Arctic archipelago, most would answer, a submarine with under-ice capability.
That idea sank at the hands of the Mulroney government when they too meddled in trying to tell the navy what type of ship they needed without properly consulting the experts.
The question remains: Is this government going to acknowledge the dismal state of affairs in the Canadian Coast Guard and do something to bring that fleet up to an acceptable standard?
No... I suppose not.