Friday, July 13, 2007

"A job for the Coast Guard"

A former Deputy Commissioner of the CCG (a brilliant public servant whom I knew) argues that the planned Navy Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships are not the right choice to assert sovereignty in Arctic waterways.
It's too bad that the Harper government's preoccupation with the military has caused it to overlook a more sensible solution to Arctic sovereignty...

I was surprised and disappointed to see that "Canada's New Government" seems determined to push ahead with a new generation of medium-capability (probably Arctic Class II) icebreakers for Canada's Armed Forces. Aside from again illustrating their fascination with all things military, Stephen Harper et al appear to have overlooked the reality that it is the Canadian Coast Guard that already operates Canada's icebreaking fleet (such as it is), including in our Arctic waters.

What is particularly disappointing is that the Harper government's decision to spend billions on new Armed Forces icebreaking patrol vessels comes at a time when the Canadian Coast Guard is desperately worried about the future of its existing icebreaking fleet, and scratching around for the money to keep its units in operation.

It is the CCG that annually sends its most capable units into the high Arctic, including Canada's largest icebreaker, CCGS Louis S. St. Laurent. Each summer, up to eight CCG icebreakers provide not only scientific research platforms, search-and-rescue capability, pollution response capacity, support for commercial shipping engaged in the annual "sealift," and occasionally "platform" support for the RCMP and Armed Forces, but the big red and white hulls are also the main element in Canada's sovereignty presence in these waters...

...The costs of building, operating and maintaining an armed icebreaking warship, including the necessary damage control/survivability capabilities if one wants to demonstrate credible military capability against other vessels, is anywhere from two to three times the cost of a Coast Guard vessel of similar operations capability.

Therefore, it is prohibitively expensive to use an Armed Forces vessel for management and administration of civilian programs such as control of tourist traffic, law enforcement and arctic survey, all of which have been cited as examples by the defence minister.

A Coast Guard vessel and its officers are quite capable of administering and enforcing most of Canada's laws and policies in our Arctic waters while providing marine services and expressing in a practical way Canada's sovereignty over these areas, so why would we need two fleets?.. still takes many years of practical, hands-on experience to make a good ice navigation officer or icebreaker commanding officer. This can be done in a career-based professional organization such as the Coast Guard, but is much more difficult in an Armed Forces model, where officers in particular are routinely rotated among various assignments every two to three years.

Combined with the fact that this nation's entire complement of ice-capable marine officers is within the Canadian Coast Guard and a small number of companies operating specialized ships in the Arctic and on the East Coast, it seems highly unlikely that Canada's Armed Forces will even have the necessary skills to operate the proposed new ships in anything but the lightest and safest ice conditions...

...surely we can do better than to create another parallel fleet of icebreaking Armed Forces patrol vessels to "show the flag," while the existing icebreakers of the Coast Guard slowly rust away [emphasis added].

Michael Turner is former deputy commissioner of the Canadian Coast Guard.
Meanwhile, it looks like the A/OPSs will also be the de facto replacement for the Kingston-Class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels.


Blogger arctic_front said...

The is only one useful means to exert our control over the arctic, in all seasons, but the people of Canada are ignoring the elephant in the room. That means is a nuclear submarine fleet of say 3. It is silent, able to sustain operations indefinitely, capable of under-ice movements and combined with air surveilance, can cover the entire region. Our potential aversaries will know they are there, and not risk international disputes because they cannot hide from a submarine and overhead observation.

Too bad we lack the courage to do what's right, instead of what's politically aceptable.

1:05 p.m., July 14, 2007  

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