Canadian DM: ‘Naval Capabilities at a 40-Year Low’
By DAVID PUGLIESE, Special Correspondent
VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada’s defence minister has warned that the country’s naval capabilities are at a 40-year low and military spending will need a substantial boost to deal with rebuilding maritime and other forces.
Canada has taken five operational ships out of service in the last two years but because of a lack of investment did not have replacements, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said May 3 during a televised address to a crowd of defense industry executives and analysts in Ottawa. “Canada’s naval capabilities are at a 40-year low,” he added.
Sajjan said the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) had identified the need for 15 new surface combatants to replace its frigates and destroyers. But the budget for that is insufficient, he noted.
Sajjan warned that Canada is becoming increasingly reliant on its allies for some of its naval capabilities. “Without a single destroyer in its fleet, Canada will rely on the United States and NATO for area air defense until the introduction of our new Surface Combatants,” he said. “Without a single supply ship, Canada is reliant on the capabilities of allies and partners for its replenishment needs, as well.”
Since 2015, the RCN has been leasing replenishment-at-sea ships from Chile and Spain.
Sajjan’s speech was setting the stage for a new long-term defense strategy to create a future military that is properly financially supported. He said the Liberal Party government will soon release that strategy although he declined to provide more details on what would be in the policy document or a more specific timetable on when it might be made public.
But analysis done for the new policy showed the current state of defense spending was worse than realized, Sajjan added. “We are now in the troubling position where status quo spending on defense will not even maintain a status quo of capabilities,” he said. “Current funding has us digging ourselves into a hole, a hole that gets deeper every year.”
Canada spends just over 19 billion Canadian dollars ($14 billion) a year on defense.
It is expecting to announce by the fall of the warship design it has selected for its new Canadian Surface Combatant. That program is expected to cost more than 26 billion Canadian dollars. The first of those vessels are to be delivered sometime after 2023.
Next year, the RCN will accept the first of five Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships. But two new supply ships aren’t expected until after 2020.
Over the last two years, Canada took out of service its two aging supply vessels, HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver, both of which are more than 40 years old. Protecteur had been severely damaged by a fire while sailing off the coast of Hawaii in February 2014. An extensive assessment of the ship concluded it was damaged beyond economical repair.
Preserver was being taken out of service because of levels of corrosion that degraded the structural integrity of the ship below acceptable limits, the RCN noted.
Both of the supply vessels carried fuel, food and ammunition for warships. They also provided medical services and helicopter support and maintenance facilities.
To fill the gap, the RCN started leasing supply ships at particular times from the Spanish and Chilean navies. The RCN will use the Chilean and Spanish supply ships again this year, RCN commander Vice Adm. Ron Lloyd told Seapower in an interview.