While it is easy, when discussing the “best frigate for Canada”, to get caught up in the technical merits of the competing designs or the political considerations that are inevitable when considering a procurement of this magnitude, a more important consideration is just what kind of navy does Canada want to have these frigates for?
According to the Royal Canadian Navy, “Leadmark 2050 is a discussion piece encapsulating the Royal Canadian Navy’s long-range vision for the future. The concepts within it are designed to encourage dialogue and debate about maritime issues, and to support the important public discussion that is underway about the kind of naval force Canada needs now, and as we look to 2050.”
The navy believes that “in an era of unprecedented and complex interdependency and hence great uncertainty. Leadmark 2050 offers a coherent design for the strategic application of 21st century Canadian seapower.”
As articulated in Leadmark 2050 the Navy believes that what it needs to do to is:
• Protect Canada by exercising Canadian sovereignty in our home waters, securing the maritime approaches to North America and contributing to maritime peace and good order abroad.
• Prevent conflict by strengthening partnerships and deploying forward to promote global stability and deter conflict.
• Project Canadian power to shape and, when necessary, restore order to the global system.
They intend to achieve these goals by having:
• A strategically agile and adaptive RCN that anticipates how future conflict is likely to evolve to drive forward the changes in how we prepare, train, equip and organize naval forces for future operations.
• Sailors and officers prepared as warriors and mariners for the complexities and challenges of future operations, equipped as leaders and managers to guide the future RCN/Canadian Armed Forces at the tactical, operational and strategic levels.
• A broadly balanced, combat-effective fleet, capable of independent action at sea and able to contribute substantially to operations ashore.
It is this last goal that can be most easily quantified. What would a “broadly balanced, combat-effective fleet, capable of independent action at sea and able to contribute substantially to operations ashore” look like?
It would be, at least based on the classification system designed by professors Daniel Todd and Michael Lindberg, be rated as a blue water navy. In recent years The RCN has not been rated as such.
World Naval Hierarchy, according to the Todd & Lindberg classification system (c.2015)
It is interesting to note that Canada is the only member of the G7 group of counties that does not possess a ‘blue water’ navy.
To achieve even the lowest rank of “Blue water Navies” the R.C.N would have to be capable of ‘force protection from sub-surface, surface and airborne threats and a sustainable logistic reach, allowing a persistent presence at range.’ Add to that the R.C.N.'s desire for the ability to “contribute substantially to operations ashore”
To fulfill these functions the navy would need ships with characteristics and in quantities not currently available. They would have to have afloat logistics support in the form of ships with greater number and capability then the current MV Asterix. They would need to have Air Warfare Destroyers capable of defending naval forces (plus assets ashore) from aircraft and missile attack. These destroyers would also have to incorporate command and control functions.
Even with these assets, which the R.C.N. hopes to acquire, it is not clear how they would be able to contribute to operations ashore, unless it is intended that the new platforms include the capability to deploy some form of cruise missiles.
On paper at least it appears that what the R.C.N wishes to achieve is the ability to patrol our coast, secure those maritime approaches to North America within their area of responsibility and, at the same time, maintain a balanced force of at least squadron strength (i.e. an air defence destroyer, two frigates, an AOR and possibly a submarine) at sea for an extended period.
It should be noted here that all these missions would call for significant air power contributions in the form of patrol aircraft of various sizes and ranges and ship board helicopters.
It is the fond hope of the government that the Canadian Surface Combatants will be “Canada’s major surface component of maritime combat power. With its effective warfare capability and versatility, it can be deployed rapidly anywhere in the world, either independently or as part of a Canadian or international coalition. The CSC will be able to deploy for many months with a limited logistic footprint.
The CSC will be able to conduct a broad range of tasks, in various scenarios, including:
· decisive combat power at sea and support during land operations
· counter-piracy, counter terrorism, interdiction and embargo operations for medium intensity operations
· the delivery of humanitarian aid, search and rescue, law and sovereignty enforcement for regional engagements”
Operating ships that can perform these functions will no doubt be very helpful, but Canadians have never been presented with the analysis that drove the belief that procuring 15 surface combatants and 2 AOR’s would allow the RCN to achieve their stated goals.
In the final analysis, according to Leadmark 2050, Navies exist so that states may pursue their national interests in peace and war. Navies are also important symbols, says that same paper, of the state projected onto a global stage. In the absence of war it is quite possible that a fleet made up of ships that cannot achieve the objectives assigned to them in a wartime scenario could be seen, by some, as “important symbols of the state”. What they might not be is the Blue Water Navy which can achieve all the tasks our maritime professionals tell us we need and which Canadian taxpayers might think they are paying for.
Canada in a New Maritime World LEADMARK 2050
What are the G7 and G8?
Asterix joins Canadian Navy fleet after completing trials
Canadian Surface Combatant