SEAPOWER, By DAVID PUGLIESE, Special Correspondent, 9 June 2017
VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian government has committed to modernizing the country’s submarine fleet and building 15 new surface combatants. The announcement June 7 in the Liberal government’s new defense policy ends speculation about the number of new warships the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will operate in the future.
In addition, there were concerns among analysts and naval officers that Canada would abandon its submarine capability to save money.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the defense policy increases funding for the Canadian military so it can proceed with much needed equipment purchases and meet its commitments at home and abroad. The move has been linked to pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump on Canada and other allied nations to increase military budgets.
“Reversing a pattern of decline this new policy will see annual cash funding for defense increased by more than 70 per cent in ten years,” Sajjan said during a televised news conference. “It will grow from $18.9 billion in 2016-17 to $32.7 billion in 2026-27.”
Canada, Sajjan noted, will set aside up to 60 billion Canadian dollars ($42 billion) to construct a fleet of 15 surface combatants. The new ships will replace Canada’s frigates and destroyers.
The previous Conservative Party government had budgeted 26 billion Canadian dollars for that purchase, prompting concerns that amount of funding would only allow for the construction of a small number of warships. “This plan fully funds for the first time the Royal Canadian Navy’s full complement of 15 Canadian surface combatant ships,” Sajjan said.
The Canadian government expects bids for the new ships by the end of August. A winner is to be announced sometime next year. Construction would start in the early 2020s.
The surface combatants will consist of two variants – an Area Air Defense and Task Group Command and Control variant and a General Purpose variant.
The Canadian government would also acquire a fleet of new multi-mission aircraft to replace the existing Aurora maritime patrol planes in the early 2030s.
In addition, the Royal Canadian Navy’s Victoria-Class submarines will undergo modernization in the mid-2020s, which will allow them to continue operating into the 2040s. Last year, RCN commanders said the government had to decide whether to upgrade the boats or remove them from service.
The modernization program is expected to cost between 1.5 billion to 3 billion Canadian dollars, depending on the extent of the upgrade.
The Liberal Party government also recommitted to two previously announced programs; the acquisition of two Joint Support Ships to be used for resupplying navy task groups at sea and the construction of six Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships.
The Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships are already being built, with the first ship expected late next year. The vessels will carry Canada’s new Cyclone maritime helicopter, built by Sikorsky, and provide a capability not only for the Arctic but also for longer missions in domestic and international waters such as counter-narcotics and humanitarian assistance, Vice Admiral Ron Lloyd, head of the RCN, told Seapower in an interview in October.
The Joint Supply Ships have yet to be constructed. They are expected in 2021. The RCN is without a supply ship capability. It has been leasing Chilean and Spanish supply ships at various times over the last two years.
Canada will also upgrade its lightweight torpedoes currently used by the RCN and the Royal Canadian Air Force, according to the defense policy.
Improvements will be made in maritime surveillance and Canada will enter into negotiations with the U.S. on modernizing the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD. New systems will be acquired for NORAD, not only to deal with air threats but “maritime and underwater threats,” Sajjan said.
He didn’t elaborate on what might be involved with those surveillance systems.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a statement on Canada’s new defense policy, noting that the commitment to a strong defense relationship with America as well as the increase in military investment is welcomed. “This new defense policy demonstrates Canadian resolve to build additional military capacity and a more capable fighting force,” Mattis stated. “In light of today’s security challenges around the world, it’s critical for Canada’s moral voice to be supported by the hard power of a strong military.”