Canadian navy weakened: analyst
by Fram Dinshaw (feat. David Perry)
March 29, 2017
A senior defence analyst has branded last week’s federal budget as “unhelpful” for Canada’s navy at a time when Vladimir Putin’s submarines increasingly lurk off Nova Scotia’s coast.
David Perry, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, said that this year’s budget essentially kicked $8.48 billion of funding down the road to 2035-36, meaning that Canada’s navy will not receive needed submarines to patrol its Atlantic shores.
“The Canadian government does not have funding at present to maintain a modern submarine capability,” Perry told the Chronicle Herald.
The Royal Canadian Navy is further hamstrung by its current lack of destroyers. All four of its Iroquois-class vessels are now decommissioned and construction of the new Canadian Surface Combatant vessels in Halifax’s Irving Shipyard will not begin until the mid-2020s.
Their construction must wait until Irving completes the construction of six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships, vessels designed to secure Canada’s Arctic frontiers against Russian naval incursions.
Perry noted that Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic is back up to levels not seen since the 1970s and 1980s, when the Cold War between NATO and the Soviet Union was at its height.
As in the Cold War, Russian submarines set sail from their bases on Russia’s Arctic coastline, track around the Norwegian coast and thread their way past Scotland, Iceland and Greenland into the North Atlantic. Once there, they can roam as far as Nova Scotia and America’s Eastern Seaboard.
The Russian submarine fleet is now less than one-fifth of its peak Cold War size,when it numbered 250 vessels, according to a 2016 report by The National Interest.
But Putin’s navy is significantly better-trained and more technologically advanced than immediately after the Cold War, when a lack of funding meant that aging submarines remained stuck in port through the 1990s.
The Russians have recently deployed new Borey-class nuclear-powered subs capable of launching ballistic missiles and have also upgraded their diesel-powered Kilo submarines, among other improvements.
Perry warned against western complacency, saying that Putin’s navy possessed “multiple and varied modern subs.”
A resurgent Russia challenges Canada on two fronts: submarine activity in the Atlantic and increased military activity on its Arctic borders where significant reserves of oil and gas may be located.
The Russian military can deploy submarines and icebreakers to probe Canada’s Arctic and also possesses long-range bombers and missiles, meaning that Canada and the U.S. must upgrade the North American Aerospace Command’s capabilities. This may mean installing missile defence systems on Canadian soil, but in 2005 Ottawa rejected an American invitation to join such a program.
Since then, Moscow has deployed long-range cruise missiles in Syria, launching them from the Caspian Sea over Iran and Iraq against rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad’s government. Such missiles may also threaten Canadian Arctic security.
“(The Russians) can probe, they can sense, they can do a lot of things to improve their knowledge of our northern passages, so that is a potential threat that Canada should take some measures to counter,” said Brian Wentzell, director of Nova Scotia’s Royal United Services Institute.
A third land front is in Eastern Europe, where ethnic Russian militants are fighting in eastern Ukraine against that country’s pro-Western government and Putin’s troops continue to occupy the Crimean Peninsula along the Black Sea. Canada and its NATO allies have provided support and training to Ukraine’s military.
Wentzell warned that Putin’s intelligence operatives may use ethnic Russians in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to stir up a Ukraine-style conflict in the Baltic Republics.
“The concern that I have is that we’re not sending a strong enough message to Russia — or anyone else for that matter — that we’re prepared to stand up for what we believe in,” said Wentzell.
Adding to Canada’s military challenges is Ottawa’s ongoing Defence Policy Review, a nationwide public consultation that has not yet been completed.