Well. It’s finally official. With the announcement in September 2014 of the removal from service of four of Canada’s warships, the Royal Canadian Navy has confirmed Canada no longer has a fleet it can send to distant waters. “If we find ourselves in a situation where extended-range capability is required, we’re not going to be going anywhere by ourselves”, said the navy’s commander Vice Admiral Mark Norman.
The Canadian navy today is effectively down to six operational frigates (while six others are being refitted) and three operational submarines (yes, submarines), with no supply ships to replenish them at sea. Until two new replenishment vessels are built, the Canadian navy is going to have to rely on “smart scheduling”, arrangements with allies who themselves are facing a shortage of supply capabilities, or commercial options such as leasing a tanker.
By the Royal Canadian Navy’s own definition, it’s been reduced from a Rank 3 medium-sized global force projection navy to a Rank 6 navy good only for offshore territorial defence.
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(Source: Leadmark: The Navy’s Strategy for 2020, Directorate of Maritime Strategy,
|Rank 1: Major Global Force Projection Navy (Complete)
Capable of carrying out all the military roles of naval forces on a global scale. It possesses the full range of carrier and amphibious capabilities, sea control forces, and nuclear attack and ballistic missile submarines, and all in sufficient numbers to undertake major operations independently.
|Rank 2: Major Global Force Projection Navy (Partial)
Possess most if not all of the force projection capabilities of a “complete” global navy, but only in sufficient numbers to undertake one major “out of area” operation.
|Rank 3: Medium Global Force Projection Navy
May not possess the full range of capabilities, but have a credible capacity in certain of them and consistently demonstrate a determination to exercise them at some distance from home waters, in cooperation with other Force Projection Navies.
(Canada, Netherlands, Australia).
|Rank 4: Medium Regional Force Projection Navy
Possess the ability to project force into the adjoining ocean basin. While they may have the capacity to exercise these further afield, for whatever reason, they do not do so on a regular basis.
|Rank 5: Adjacent Force Projection Navies
Some ability to project force well offshore, but are not capable of carrying out high level naval operations over oceanic distances.
|Rank 6: Offshore Territorial Defence Navies
Relatively high levels of capability in defensive (and constabulary) operations up to about 200 miles from their shores, having the sustainability offered by frigate or large corvette vessels and (or) a capable submarine force.
|Rank 7: Inshore Territorial Defence Navies
Primarily inshore territorial defence capabilities, making them capable of coastal combat rather than constabulary duties alone. This implies a force comprising missile-armed fast-attack craft, short-range aviation and a limited submarine force.
|Rank 8: Constabulary Navies
Significant fleets that are not intended to fight, but to act purely in a constabulary role.
|Rank 9: Token Navies
Some minimal capability, but this often consists of little more than a formal organisational structure and a few coastal craft. These states, the world’s smallest and weakest, cannot aspire to anything but the most limited constabulary functions.
This is a pretty sorry condition for any serious country to find itself in, especially Canada which had a 400-ship navy to fight the Battle of the Atlantic in World War Two. And it’s not because the Canadian navy lost ships in combat or because Canada is too poor to buy new ones. It’s because politicians of all persuasions have made political sport of military procurement, catered far too much to short-term commercial interests, and abrogated their responsibility for the safety and security of citizens. In November, Admiral Norman told the House of Commons committee on national defence that “The fleet of today represents decisions of nearly 50 years ago”. That’s a long time to sustain such stupidity so contrary to our self-interest. What other serious country insists its navy keep its ships going until their engines finally wear out and catch fire and their hulls corrode?
Things will get better. There are plans for new warships and replenishment vessels, but none will be available for years and most not for two decades. That’s because we’re still doing military procurement the same dumb way, slow and expensive, with the defence of Canada just about the last consideration. Meanwhile, Canadians will have to try to hide their embarrassment that their navy can’t venture out into blue water anymore without some other navy’s help.