Following a debilitating fire on HMCS Protecteur and because her sister ship, HMCS Preserver, was deemed unfit to sail due to advanced corrosion, the Royal Canadian Navy had been operating without supply ships, or AOR’s as underway replenishment ships are known, since 2014.
Built in the late 1960s these ships were the support backbone of the RCN, so their loss significantly impacted the navy’s ability to deploy abroad. Since then, Canada has relied on Chile to support the Navy on the West Coast for 40 days in 2015, and Spain to support the Navy on the East Coast for 40 days in 2016. Of course these vessels are really only available in peace time.
In a November 2014 internal document the Navy outlined the requirements of an interim supply ship noting that the Joint Support Ship being built at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver “remains a critical component for achieving success in both international and domestic” Canadian military missions.
That Joint Support Ship was supposed to be delivered by Seaspan in 2017 but that schedule slipped and the latest delivery date for the first of two ships is now 2022-2023 .
Recognizing Canada’s AOR deficit Federal Fleet Services Inc. (a sister company to Davie Shipbuilding) submitted an unsolicited bid to the Canadian Government proposing an interim AOR solution dubbed Project Resolve. On 30 November 2015, the Government of Canada announced the signing of a contract with Federal Fleet Services to develop the interim AOR capability. The contract entailed the conversion of a commercial container ship (MV Asterix) into an AOR, the provision of the ship’s crew, its overall operational management, and all maintenance. The initial Provision of Services Agreement (PSA) outlines a lease to Canada, which means a fixed, transparent cost to the Canadian taxpayer. The PSA is for five years, with options to extend that period for another five years and also an option for Canada to purchase the vessel.
The ship was delivered on time and on budget to the RCN in late 2017, and was formally accepted by the RCN on 6 March 2018 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, following an intensive period of at-sea trials and testing. It is the first new supply ship for Canada in almost 50 years.
With a Deadweight tonnage of 23,792 DWT (DWT is the sum of the weights of cargo, fuel, fresh water, ballast water, provisions, passengers, and crew) and a length of 182.5 metres long Asterix features include four STREAM-type RAS masts. Each of these stations is able to deliver fuel oil, aviation fuel (JP5), and water. This means Asterix is able to refuel two ships at a time (one on each side of the ship), and can also do dual-point RAS forward and aft on the same side to provide liquids and solids simultaneously, the latter via heavy jackstay. Asterix is also designed to carry two Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclones and has 2 hangars capable of holding Chinook size helicopters.
The ship was designed to carry 15,500 cubic metres of F76 (Marine Diesel); 1,500 cubic metres of F44 (Aviation Fuel - also known as JP5); and 600 cubic metres of fresh water. Asterix also has the capacity to carry sea containers in two separate locations at the forward part of the ship. One location has the capacity to carry 20 standard-size sea containers of general cargo (which can also be refrigerated), many of which can be accessed from below decks. The second location can accommodate 18 sea containers of hazardous goods, including ammunition. These areas are protected from the elements, and are serviced by cargo elevators.
Elsewhere on the ship’s Tween deck are spaces where equipment and vehicles can be carried via Lift-on/lift-off (LoLo). Such vehicles can include LAVs, trucks, jeeps and other light vehicles. To facilitate this, Asterix is fitted with two large cranes, each of which can lift up to 30 tonnes.
Federal Fleet Services Inc. and Davie Shipbuilding have offered to build a second supply ship at a reduced price. Asterix was built on time and on budget in a deal worth $659 million, a second ship was priced, at the time, at $500 million in order to entice the government to go ahead with such a purchase.
On Dec. 12 the government was asked in the House of Commons why it was not moving ahead with acquiring a second ship, to be called Obelix. At that time Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quoted as saying “The armed forces did an assessment,” Trudeau said. “They don’t need the Obelix.”
Asked about the assessment, the Royal Canadian Navy referenced a November 2014 internal document which outlined the requirements of a interim supply ship. The document was produced before a deal was reached on Asterix. The navy’s statement noted that the Joint Support Ship being built at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver “remains a critical component for achieving success in both international and domestic” Canadian military missions.
In fact statements from the Navy make it clear that two support ships are being procured and that two ships are number considered necessary to “renew the capabilities of the two current Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment Ships that are approaching the end of their service lives and need to be replaced”
Those joint supply ships were supposed to be delivered by Seaspan in 2017. That schedule slipped and the 2019 and 2020 delivery dates were proposed. The latest delivery date for the first of two ships is now 2022-2023 but with the caveat attached “with risk”, which means, government officials have confirmed, that they could fall further behind schedule, government officials confirmed to Postmedia.
It clear to any observer that the Royal Canadian Navy needs at least two supply vessels. Without a second supply ship in the interim, the Navy will only be able to sustain operations offshore on one coast for a matter of days. With two supply ship, it can sustain operations for months.
In fact it could be argued that in the long-term Navy needs four supply ships, two on each coast. Four vessels would allow the Navy to have one vessel on high readiness on each coast, while one was undergoing maintenance or on foreign deployments, another could be standing by or on operations on both coasts.
What is not clear is why the government failed to procure another Asterix class vessel. Those reasons would appear to have as much to do with politics as they do with a broken procurement system.
It has been pointed out that the proper name for the ship is MV Asterix. NRU Asterix is the land-based unit (Naval Replenishment-At-Sea Unit) that generates the detachment of naval personnel who man selected equipment onboard, alongside the ship's civil crew.
Quebec's Davie offers second supply ship at reduced cost to entice Liberal government to buy
Joint Support Ship Design Decision