Canadian navy needs a tune-up

The Canadian Navy needs to change its way of thinking and plan how future wars will be conducted or risk sinking according to a report penned by an expert at the University of Calgary’s Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

The report warned the navy needs to focus on developing a long-term strategy for dealing with crises in the world such as failed states, piracy and new ship replacement.

During the war in Afghanistan, the entire Canadian navy taskforce was deployed in an area from the horn of Africa to Central Asia in Operation Apollo. The purpose of the operation was to support American efforts in Afghanistan, fight piracy and intercede smuggling and terrorism.

“The navy was near exhaustion after Afghanistan and now it needs to look at long-term strategies, especially with purchasing new replacement ships and technology,” said Military and Strategic Centre associate director Robert Huebert.

At its peak, over six warships and about 1,500 naval personnel were deployed in the operation, the Canadian Navy’s largest operation since the Korean War. The navy is also going through a period of transition with most of its frigates, destroyers, supply ships and icebreakers retiring. The federal government recently pledged billions of dollars for 15 new ships, but the orders for six new icebreakers have since been put on hold. This has Huebert concerned.

“I am worried that delaying getting new ships will hurt us the most when we need them most, as our two remaining icebreakers were built in 1965 for example,” said Huebert. “Technology change is becoming an issue of the future. How do you defend against this becomes the question.”

While he said the nations and technology the navy deals with will change, he admitted the strategic requirement will not.

“Canada can’t do anything by itself, but it needs to be able to work with its allies,” he said. “But also having a capable navy, we get a major voice on the table, which is important in any international challenges.”

For his research, Huebert read naval papers and interviewed naval personnel. He was able to get access to all levels of information, including all information available to the admiral in charge. Huebert explained the Navy tends to be very open and likes academic debate because it is a “thinking service” that relies on long-term strategies to be successful.

The navy will be called to do three things in the future Huebert said: meet security threats in the Arctic, provide diplomatic and military support in failed states and fight piracy in Somalia, which threatens international trade.

“First it will need to continue doing what it does now, providing security for Canadian maritime approaches including the Arctic Ocean,” said Huebert. “As the Arctic ice melts, there will be more and more ships like fishing vessels, tourist liners and oil rigs. We need vessels that can sail though the remaining ice to monitor the Arctic to preserve our sovereignty.”

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