Canadian Navy scaling back plans for Arctic flotilla

The Canadian navy is delaying its plan to construct a fleet of Arctic patrol boats. It has still not submitted formal requests to shipbuilders for blueprints, and probably will not do so for some time now.

The navy’s project management office wrote to the Defence Ministry that “the extent of the delay is unknown at this time.” Most likely, the delay is due to cost overruns. This development deals a blow to the Conservatives’ Northern strategy, which has four objectives. The first objective is to “defend sovereignty,” and within thta heading, the creation of an Arctic patrol fleet to defend Canadian sovereignty in the north is listed as the second most important priority.

In September 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that the government would acquire six to eight ice-ready patrol boats. While the ships would not have been icebreakers, Canada had previously been the only country besides Russia that was increasing its ice-ready flotilla. There, President Dmitri Medvedev announced last year that four new icebreakers will be built, which will be designed some time this year.

Now, Canada is looking just to purchase six Class-5 ice-cutting ships rather than true icebreakers. Ice-cutters use their stern to cut through frozen seas, while icebreakers crush the ice with their weight from above. The ice-cutting ships will be armed with 25-millimeter cannons rather than the 40-millimeter ones previously envisioned. They will also have reduced cargo carrying capacity and speed.

Critics were quick to pounce on the reduced size of the gun, which is the same size as those on the Canadian army’s light armored vehicles. They claimed that the new ships will be little different from those employed by the coast guard. An analyst with the Navy League of Canada, Ken Bowring, called the 25-mm type of gun a “peashooter.” Referencing Russia, he noted,

“There are ships out there, other nations; what kind of resolve does it show? How much importance to they put on the Arctic when you put something up there that’s got nothing on it?… It’s important to have something that shows your resolve.”

Contrastingly, Commander David Soule, who has supervised the development of the Arctic flotilla, emphasized that the tasks the ships would undertake, such as search-and-rescue operations and patrolling, “tend not to be like a warfare situation.” However, that is little comfort to people like Bowring, who foresee a general militarization of the region and view other Arctic states as threats to Canada’s sovereignty.

Other links

“Navy waters down plans for patrol ships,” CTV.ca

Video of a Canadian icebreaker, the Griffin

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