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).
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. 
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.
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.
 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.