Does an ‘Interim Supply Ship’ solution for the Royal Canadian Navy suggest a more permanent gap-filling for the RCN’s AOR shortfall?

Originally Published on Canadian American Strategic Review October 2015

With the retirement of both of Canada’s auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) ships, HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver, the Royal Canadian Navy is without at-sea supply ships of  its own. Canadian naval planners identified a need for three replacement replenishment ships, but Canada plans on building only two Queenston-class Joint Support Ships.

In the interim, the Government of Canada has accepted a proposal from Lévis, PQ-based Chantier Davie Canada to convert a used container ship into a replenishment ship run by contracted civilian crews. Davie’s ‘Project Resolve’ is intended to fill the gap until the two Queenston class Joint Support Ships are ready for RCN service (sometime in 2019-2020).

The RCN’s support ship shortfall will mean that refits and maintenance will occasionally deprive Canada of a vital strategic asset. One option would be to increase funding for the Joint Support Ship AOR project in order to build a third Queenston class vessel.  But this is highly unlikely due to the nature of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS).

 

ft-project-resolve-aor-1

Chantier Davie image of Project Resolve.

 

Under the Tory National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, the same shipyard was set to build all of Canada’s ‘non-combatant’ ships. Were a third JSS hull to be added, this would further delay the building of  the Canadian Coast Guard’s heavy polar class icebreaker. [1]

Another obvious option is retaining Davie’s Project Resolve interim support ship in service. Keeping that interim AOR available to the RCN would ensure that Canada had the required three AORs to call on. That’s a viable option, but one with considerable challenges. Resolve will be a completely different ship type from its two Queenston class companions. As such, Resolve will require separate maintenance plans and training. And, Resolve’s civilian origins means that this ship won’t be suitable for every role that purpose-built military AORs fulfill.

If an Interim AOR were a CCG asset,  it would be available to support the RCN as required

There is another option – retain Resolve but not as a military AOR. At present, the plan is to lease Resolve and operate the ship with a civilian crew. Canada has another federal fleet besides the RCN, the Canadian Coast Guard, and it too has civilian crews. Were Resolve a CCG asset, it would still be available to support the Navy when required.  But, the rest of the time, Resolve would be available for Northern Resupply or disaster/humanitarian relief missions, and for at-sea support of  the CCG fleet.

The CCG is not accustomed to AOR operations, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use one. Resolve’s prodigious fuel-carrying capacity would have a profound effect on all Northern Resupply operations. Resolve will also have a NATO Role 3 hospital – a full-care medical facility including basic surgery – another huge benefit on Northern Resupply. Cargo space normally assigned for fleet support can easily be tasked to support northern communities.

The real advantage of operating Resolve as a CCG asset is that the ship would remain local, involved in domestic operations. CCG icebreakers, or RCN Arctic/Offshore Patrol Vessels, heading north could refuel immediately prior to entering the Arctic icepack. RCN ships requiring underway replenishment training would have an AOR asset available, regardless of  the deployment state of the RCN AORs.

As a domestic asset, Resolve would also usually be immediately available in time of crisis, whether foreign or domestic. Resolve would be part of Canada’s response to calls for help. Remaining close to home, Resolve can answer a call faster than an RCN AOR which may be deployed halfway around the globe on military operations. Resolve’s flight deck and hangar space allow operations by any helicopter in Canadian service. Should a mission call for the use of the RCAF’s largest helicopter, the twin-rotored CH-147F, Resolve could handle it.

The biggest objection to assigning an AOR to the CCG will be that they have no experience operating an AOR. That is true.  But, just as the CCG have been teaching the Navy how to operate AOPS in Arctic ice, the RCN could instruct CCG crews in ‘underway replenishment’ (UNREP) operations. Current Canadian Coast Guard ships may lack that UNREP capability, but here we can actually benefit from the desperately needed CCG fleet renewal. There’s no reason that future CCG major vessels cannot be be designed to incorporate UNREP gear.[2]

A ‘CCGS Resolve’ may seem like an odd idea. Canada is a huge country but one with limited budgets. Occasional odd ideas are exactly what’s needed to resolve some of our challenges.

[1] The CCGS John G Diefenbaker is meant to be commissioned in 2021-2022 – 4-to-5 years after the CCGS Louis S St-Laurent must retire. Delaying the ‘Diefenbreaker‘ is hardly deal, given the urgent need to get this ship – and potential follow-on icebreakers – into service.

[2] In theory, this could include a second Project Resolve conversion. As part of  its $20M purchase of  the 183 m MV Asterix, Davie negotiated an option on one of its sister ships – MV Atout, MV Idéfix, or MV Obelix. Expected conversion costs are another $250-to-300M.
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15 year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces. I now write to let the thoughts in my head get out where I can see 'em. :)

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Posted in Arctic, Canadian American Strategic Review, Canadian Forces, CASR, Modest Proposal, NSPS, RCN
One comment on “Does an ‘Interim Supply Ship’ solution for the Royal Canadian Navy suggest a more permanent gap-filling for the RCN’s AOR shortfall?
  1. Roy Paquette says:

    I think due to our Government continually cutting defence spending on constantly deferring programs, I think the resolve class A O R is a good thing. Lets do some math. The cost of converting the Asterix is 450 million dollars (the last time I checked) So for argument sake lets peg it at 500 million. To convert 2 container ship would be 1 Billion dollars. That would be a quick fix for our navy. 3 type 702 Berlin class A O Rs would be 3+ Billion dollars if not more. Look at the cost, other navies have converted container ship for there navies including the U S.Canada does not have alot of money to play with thanks to this Government and it predecessor. This Government is deferring major expenditures until after the next election. If Seaspan were to cut steal after the next election on the Berlin type 702 class, it would not enter service I believe until 2022-23, then they would start on the icebreaker which when completed would not enter service until 2026-27 then back to the A O R. This is foolish. In my opinion.

    I believe that our planners at D N D have to start thinking outside the box. Buy the remaining sister ship to the Asterix, that would make 4. Convert them to A O Rs. Have 2 on the East coast and 2 on the west coast. When the first Queenston class comes online the first resolve class can be put to Northern supply or the Canadian Coast Guard. When the second Queenston class come online, that Resolve class can be put to Humanitarian relief or N A T O duties. The last 2 can be use in case the Queenston class is down for deep maintenance it can be used to keep ships operating at sea. Either way, I personally believe it is a cheaper way and putting more resources to our Navy. So in conclusion, 2 Billion dollars for 4 ships, 3+Billion for 2 maybe 3.

    Like

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Canadian ~ American Strategic Review

CASR has announced that it will cease operations on 31/December/2016.

I have grateful to have been given the opportunity to write for them, and to repost my material on Defence Muse.

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