The Royal Canadian Navy suffers from recruiting and ‘visibility’ problems that are rooted in geographical seperation from the majority of the Canadian populace. Unlike the Army and Air Force, who both have bases scattered across Canada, the Navy is currently limited to two primary bases at Halifax and Esquimalt. Out of sight does equate to out of mind. To a certain extent this can be offset by good media exposure, but even the best media lacks the visceral impact afforded by presence.
This lack of presence is compounded by a growing sense that Naval Reserve Divisions lack purpose. Many Reservists are finding the available career path unsuitable. They don’t intend on a career, they are simply looking for a short term path to excitement, a rewarding period of service… and summer employment.
To address the relevance issue and the Navy’s profile with Canadians requires the Navy be seen by more Canadians while engaged in interesting and readily comprehensible activities. One certain way to accomplish part of this goal is to establish operations in the densely populated Quebec City-Windsor Corridor. The second part of the solution is to select a task which is better suited to today’s target audience.
One attractive solution would be to establish the Naval Reserve Divisions in the Great Lakes area as littoral forces, equipped with assault boats (CB90 for example). The local terrain is perfect for training in littoral operations featuring virtually every type of littoral challenge within only an hour or two’s sail. Such units would be similar in concept to the US Navy’s recently re-established riverine capability.
The local Naval Reserve would find itself equipped with smaller vessels ideally suited to the skillset of part-time sailors. Additionally, the seasonal navigability of the Lakes is tailor made for a split ‘afloat and ashore’ training cycle that allows for work or school schedules. Finally, the proximity of numerous Army and Air Force units, both Regular Force and Reserve, provides for ample cooperative training opportunities.
For the Navy such vessels would represent assets little required in day-to-day ‘blue water’ operations. The vessels would, however, make substantial contributions to disaster relief, humanitarian or littoral combat operations. The littoral role is a natural extension of the coastal mission of the MCDVs or AOPS. The local Naval Reserve units would master a vital role while also enhancing Seaway security, SAR and cooperation with other Federal, Provincial or local agencies.
And visibility? Few things can enhance visibility more than a demonstration beach assault carried out by the local Militia aboard assault craft crewed by local Naval Reserves while Air Reserve Griffons fly cover overhead… All carried out under the watchful eye of a ‘local’ media beaming images into the homes of a population greater than Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia combined.