Friday, April 18, 2008

Jolly jack is not a happy sailor

This should come as no surprize to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention:
Canada's naval capabilities will diminish in the next several years and be severely reduced after the turn of the decade, limiting the military's ability to conduct maritime operations at home and abroad, the head of the navy says.
The capacity of the fleet will likely be reduced by half as the service modernizes its aging frigates, docking some while upgrades are underway, and mothballing its 40-year-old Iroquois-class destroyers, according to a 2008 strategic assessment prepared by Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson.
That, in turn, will create a period starting around 2013 and ending 2018 where there will be an overlap between taking old ships out of the water and not having new vessels to replace them. During that period, the navy will be limited in what it will be able to do, says the assessment, leaked to Canwest News Service.
There's more to that than what is being said. Within the navy itself the attempt to get those four Upholder/Victoria-class submarines into a functioning state has sucked up money at a phenomenal rate and the surface fleet has paid the price.

Also consider that the 280 Tribal-class destroyers (built during the Trudeau era) are approaching 40 years old, have been modernized once and have reached the end of their serviceable life. Of the four originals, there are three left, one of them having been permanently retired without a replacement.
The documents point out that an $8.5-billion plan to build new destroyers has to be approved by the fall, and even then new ships won't be in the water and available for operations for another 10 years.
There hasn't even been a decision yet as to whether to even replace the destroyers. If a decision is made tomorrow the lead ship of class building project would enter service until at least 2020. (Unless things suddenly change and we buy an existing design from outside the country, and the chances of that ever happening are about the same as a cat giving birth to puppies.)
The assessment points out that the navy's capabilities to conceive, design and build a future maritime force have dwindled over the years.

Defence analysts note most of the recent investments in new equipment have been for the army and air force.
As in, C-17 strategic airlift which was a Harper government initiative against the advice of the Canadian Forces. Main battle tanks, which was a shift in focus from a lighter armoured capability, and which were supposedly an urgent purchase to support the Afghanistan mission - except that they won't be available until around 2012. That's just two items. There are more which were never a part of any comprehensive defence planning document.

There is a shiney bit.
But work is underway on purchasing new supply ships, and the groundwork is being set for modernization of the frigates. The Harper government has said it will purchase a new fleet of Arctic patrol ships, but construction of those vessels is years away.
OK, maybe not so shiney. The new combat support ships are to replace the two aged supply ships, HMC ships Protecteur and Preserver.

The Arctic patrol ships are jokingly referred to, in the naval bazaars, as Slush-Breakers. Most are viewing them as a useless item which is little more than a poorly thought-out political pipe-dream. Not to mention that in any conversation with anybody in the navy about how useless, but expensive, these ships will be, no one has yet come up with a plan on how to man them.

Oh yeah. That. People.
The navy also faces issues with recruiting. It blames the problem on a competitive job market for skilled workers, the requirement to send personnel to the new commands that chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier recently created and the need to support military operations in Afghanistan.

The assessment notes that the navy has been falling short of its recruiting targets since 2004. At this point, the navy is down 400 personnel, but the document predicts that by 2011-2012 the service will be short by 1,000 sailors.
What that translates to, in rough numbers, is that the navy is presently short two complete crews for the ships it already has. By 2011, it will be short five crews. That means the ones that are there end up spending even more time away. That creates a vicious cycle leading to dissatisfaction and a higher attrition-rate of trained personnel.

Of course, if the current government had ever produced the Defence Review they promised, there might be something around which the navy could plan. As it stands now, they're guessing at what happens next.

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