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National Defence blames 'fiscal restraints' for cutting third navy resupply ship

by Lee Berthiaume (feat. Dave Perry)

The Canadian Press
September 30, 2017

The Department of National Defence is blaming “fiscal restraints” for promising only two new naval resupply ships in the Trudeau government’s new defence policy, even though navy officials say three are required.

Resupply vessels are considered critical for conducting naval operations around the world. Not only do they carry supplies for naval task groups, but they also have medical and maintenance facilities on board.

The Liberal government’s defence policy, released this past June, promised a navy capable of deploying and sustaining two naval task groups, each composed of up to four warships and a resupply vessel.

Such a fleet, the policy said, would let Canada contribute to any international mission “while assuring the ability to monitor our own ocean estate and contribute to the security of North America.”

Yet while the Liberals committed to buying 15 new warships to replace Canada’s existing frigate and destroyer fleets at a cost of between $56 billion and $60 billion, they promised only two resupply vessels.

While that would be enough to sustain the required two task groups if both ships are operational, officials worry the navy could be hamstrung whenever one of the vessels is in maintenance or otherwise unavailable.

Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd alluded to that problem during a recent interview, telling The Canadian Press: “The requirement is three. And right now ? two is what the commitment is.”

The Harper Conservatives actually promised three new resupply ships for $2.1 billion shortly after coming to power in 2006, the first of which was supposed to be in the water by 2012.

But the Tories went back to the drawing board after industry said that wasn’t enough money, and the new plan announced in 2010 was to build two vessels for $2.3 billion, with an option for a third.

The Liberals removed even that option in their defence policy, despite promising an additional $62 billion for the military over the next 20 years.

National Defence spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier said the defence policy “does not explicitly include the option for a third ship given fiscal restraints,” even as he played down the need for three vessels.

The 15 new warships and two resupply vessels promised in the defence policy, along with Canada’s four existing submarines, will provide the navy with “the necessary fleet mix and capability,” he said.

The Royal Canadian Navy has in fact been without any resupply ships since a fire on HMCS Protecteur and serious corrosion problems on HMCS Preserver forced the two vessels into early retirement in 2014.

This winter, the navy will start leasing a converted civilian ship, the MV Asterix, to serve as a stop-gap until construction of the new resupply vessels – or joint support ships, as they are officially known – is finished.

Exactly when that will happen, however, remains unclear as federal procurement officials have said they are currently reviewing the project’s schedule and budget.

The vessels will be built by Seaspan Marine in Vancouver.

As for how much they will cost, Le Bouthillier said the previous $2.3-billion figure is no longer accurate, but that detailed costing for the resupply vessels won’t be released until next year.

Some might question why the navy says it needs three resupply vessels when it only had two for decades, but David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said that doesn’t mean two was enough.

“If you went around to anyone of the services, they’ve been making do without things they actually need,” he said.

“Tankers would be a prime example of that. And I think the navy’s point would be that if the government wants them to reliably put out the outputs…they need the logistical support to enable that.”

The navy’s requirement for a third resupply ship could be addressed if the government bought the converted MV Asterix from Quebec-based Chantier-Davie, though it has not yet indicated an interest.

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