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Founded: 6 June 2001

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March 2006

With its destroyers and supply ships reaching the end of their effective lifespan as we approach 2010, the Canadian Navy is at a critical stage in determining its next-generation fleet composition following the anticipated decommissioning of the remaining active classes in 2025. In 2005, the Navy brass tackled the question of what Canada’s next-generation navy must be composed of in order to carry out its duties at home, and abroad.

In the post-Korean War period, the Canadian Navy found itself acting primarily as an international expeditionary force, as Canada’s “first-responder” to international crises. Following the September 11th attacks, the role of Canada’s Navy began to refocus on domestic marine security with intent on protecting Canada’s waters from possible terrorist attacks. The Navy also began providing more attention to the issue of enforcing Canada’s Arctic sovereignty from other nations, such as Denmark which sent a warship to violate Canadian sovereignty and land at Hans’ Island, in an attempt to claim that piece of land. The new focus on domestic operations is very important as, on a typical day, there are over 1700 ships in Canada’s three ocean jurisdictions, and that only accounts for known contacts.

There are now several missions for which the Canadian Navy is preparing itself in the coming decades. These missions include:

  1. Coordination of Government Maritimes Security Operations.
  2. National Maritime Presence: sovereignty patrols through Canadian waters to show the flag to foreign nations.
  3. Forward Security: responding to global threats and emergencies as required.
  4. Maritime Interdiction: recent operations over the past two decades in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea have shown how important maritime interdiction operations are to ensuring the security of the global theatre.
  5. Task Group Command
  6. Sea-based Joint Operations: operations which involve all three components of the Canadian Forces, utilizing the navy as an operational platform (ex. Amphibious landings)
  7. Sea-based Logistical Support: the new Joint Support Ships will be able to provide a wide-range of support to land forces, including being configured for sealift operations, military hospital operations, and command and control.

The Canadian Navy Fleet Composition of 2025

A word of caution: this is a projection that is almost twenty-years into the future. That means that, by the time 2025 is realized, many changes in government will occur in Canada and the Navy may never see any ships from these future building/acquisition plans.

Single Class Surface Combatant (SCSC)

The IROQUOIS class air defence destroyers currently in service are expected to be decommissioned beginning in 2010, following fourty-years of distinguished service to the Canadian Navy. The HALIFAX Canadian Patrol Frigates are currently beginning mid-life refits, tentatively setting their retirement for the 2020-2025 range. These two classes currently combine to form the basis on which the Canadian Navy is formed. 

The Single Class Surface Combatant program would replace the HALIFAX CPFs in 2025 with a modular “plug and play” system. This system is similar to what is seen in the currently KINGSTON Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel class – the ship will have mountings that can be configured to handle a range of armaments that will be installed as the mission of the individual vessel requires. For example, if one SCSC vessel was being deployed in support of an international task group, it could be configured to an air defence role; whereas if the vessel was being deployed by itself to support a Canadian operation within our waters, its armament could be configured to provide a package more suitable for interdiction and anti-shipping operations. Given recent emphasis on Arctic security operations, it can be academically deduced that these vessels will have capability to operate in the Arctic ice pack.

The SCSC class would provide many different adaptive variants of warships throughout the Navy fleet. It would also bring back the ability to provide area air-defence for the Canadian Navy, a capability that is slated to be lost with the retirement of the IROQUOIS class, as no interim replacement for the 2010 – 2025 timeframe will be provided for this function.

The Joint Support Ships (JSS)

Currently under development, and expected to be delivered by 2015 (approximately), the Joint Support Ship will be a multi-role platform that will provide sealift, fleet re-supply, command and control, and medical evacuation capabilities to the Canadian Forces. The JSS will integrate a roll-on/roll-off (RORO) function for sealift operations, and it will have a configurable command and control suite to act as headquarters for joint or inter-agency operations, with the ability to rear-link with regional and national operations centres. Linked with the traditional support ship role of fleet supply, the platform will provide the Canadian Forces with an expanded and versatile range of operations in response to various crises.

Enhanced Offshore/Inshore Patrol Capability

At present, the Government of Canada does not have the range of maritime platforms in its Navy and Coast Guard fleets to ensure a high-level of maritime patrol capabilities. This is mainly due to the Navy lacking a large fleet of smaller vessels to patrol Canada’s waters (utilizing a frigate is very cost inefficient and removes that platform from its primary operations – with only 12 vessels available, this is a major concern), and the Canadian Coast Guard is not permitted to be equipped with the armaments necessary to engage hostile ships.

The Canadian Navy fleet of 2025 will incorporate a class of smaller vessels designed for domestic maritime operations, thus relieving the limited number of SCSC platforms for international operations. These vessels will be crewed for domestic joint operations with agencies such as JTF2 and the RCMP, and will have the ability to operate in the vicinity of the Arctic ice pack, and have sea keeping and endurance sufficient to operate in the conditions of the North Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Patrol Submarine (SSK)

With the recent, albeit controversial, acquisition of the VICTORIA class diesel-electric submarines from the Royal Navy, the Canadian Navy once again has an important capability. The patrol submarine is a key part of both domestic and expeditionary operations given its stealthy nature. While it is not expected that the VICTORIA class will still be in service in 2025, there remains the possibility that Canada will acquire new submarines to fill the capability gap caused by their retirement around that timeframe.

Air Capabilities

The fleet of aircraft for the Canadian Navy in 2025 will include the current product of the Maritime Helicopter Project – the CH148 Cyclone. That platform is due to enter service in late 2008 and will have an operational lifespan of more than fourty-years, as is typical for any aircraft.

In addition to the CH148, the Canadian Navy will begin using uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) to complement shipborne helicopters within the near future. It is also expected that these will begin to replace manned aircraft in the Navy further down the road as the CH148 fleet begins to retire.  The primary motivation for this embracement of the UAV craft is that they permit significant savings in crews and airframe hours, especially when used in the areas of general surveillance, tactical targeting, and delivery of precision weapons.

The Biggest Change for Canada’s Navy?

The composition of navy fleets is a regularly changing part of maritime defence. While this “wish-list” for the 2025 fleet composition is the current thought of the Navy brass, it is by no means set in stone. This composition plan may change, but one thing that is rest-assured as a major factor in the future composition of our Navy is Arctic defence. With global warming opening the Northwest Passage within the next fifty-years, there will be increased foreign-claims on Canada’s Arctic sovereignty in order to exploit the resource-rich region. Canada’s Navy in 2025 will undoubtedly be the first in our nation’s history to have the capability to operate throughout the Arctic in defence of what is rightfully ours.

Fleet Composition Source: Securing Canada’s Ocean Frontiers: Charting the Course from Leadmark, Department of National Defence, Canada, 2005.