Skip to comments.Once-powerful navy is 'desperate for new ships'
Posted on 06/05/2010 11:46:22 AM PDT by Willie Green
For many wartime veterans, the navy's 100th anniversary this year comes with mixed emotions.
They recall the pride and fondness Canadians once held for the navy in the decades after the Second World War, but are deeply saddened by the state of the navy today -- not only its declining capability and its neglect by Ottawa, but its irrelevance for so many Canadians at a time when the army, and its mission in Afghanistan, dominate the headlines.
"I don't think half of Canada knows anything about the navy's history," says veteran Ted Paxton, "and while the modern navy hasn't been entirely forgotten, it's desperate for new ships. We're surrounded by oceans in this country, but we don't have the ships to protect them."
In many ways, it's a shell of its former self. It emerged from the Second World War as one of the largest and most powerful fleets in the world, with 400 vessels and about 96,000 battle-hardened sailors. It then reinvented itself as a small but highly professional Cold War fleet tasked by NATO with hunting Russian submarines in the northwest Atlantic. At the end of the Cold War, it developed expertise contributing ships and commanders to coalition task groups in the Persian Gulf, or wherever NATO wished to show the flag.
Since the terror attacks of 9/11, however, the navy has fallen off the political radar in Ottawa, and largely disappeared from the consciousness of Canadians. The war in Afghanistan has put the spotlight squarely on the army and diverted most new resources to it.
"Most Canadians never even see the navy unless they live in Halifax or Esquimalt, which is pretty tragic," says Marc Milner, a naval historian at the University of New Brunswick and author of Canada's Navy, The First Century.
"The Canadian navy is the only institution primarily tasked with looking after our interests in our waters. Something like 80 per cent of our current trade, by weight, moves by sea. But the idea that we're a maritime trading nation escapes most Canadians. Most people have only a passing connection to the sea."
Milner says the navy has "suffered enormously" since 9/11. Its skilled trades have been hollowed out, its regular-force strength of about 8,000 sailors is down roughly 20 per cent, and its fleet of 33 warships is in desperate need of renewal.
The 12 large frigates that are the backbone of the fleet -- five of which are based at Esquimalt -- are now more than 15 years old and in the midst of a
$900-million, mid-life refit. They will likely last another 15 to 20 years -- the time it costs to commission and build new ships -- yet no replacements have been ordered.
There are also no signed contracts to replace the navy's three destroyers -- one of which is based at Esquimalt -- the only ships with the communications and weaponry necessary to lead and protect an international task force at sea. The destroyers are now almost 40 years old -- the oldest frontline warships of any western navy -- and being held together with spare parts, ingenuity and TLC by their crews.
The same is true for the Sea King helicopters that fly off the decks of the warships. Sailors say ships now frequently sail on missions without helicopters on board, because airworthy aircraft aren't available. Twenty-eight new Cyclone helicopters were ordered in 2004, but the first fully operational chopper won't be delivered until late 2012 or early 2013, says a navy spokeswoman.
Meanwhile, the four submarines Canada purchased from Britain are now 20 years old, with no replacement contracts in place. One boat, HMCS Chicoutimi -- inoperable since a deadly fire swept through the sub in 2004 -- awaits repair at the naval dockyard in Esquimalt, a grim reminder of the navy's woes.
"I've got to lay keel for ships," said Gen. Walter Natynczyk, soon after becoming chief of the defence staff in 2008. His predecessor Gen. Rick Hillier said the same thing, announcing on the deck of the aging tanker-supply ship HMCS Preserver in 2006 that Canada would build three new supply ships at a cost of $2.1 billion.
That promise failed to materialize because shipbuilders said the project wasn't adequately funded. Today, no firm orders have been placed for new supply ships. By 2015, new safety rules banning old, single-hulled tanker-supply ships from major international ports will render the navy's two, 1960s-era supply vessels virtually useless.
Meanwhile, budgets remain tight. Earlier this month, the navy's top admiral ordered cutbacks to frigate operations, and the mothballing of six of the navy's small, inshore patrol vessels, because of financial constraints -- only to have his order overruled by Defence Minister Peter MacKay after the issue sparked a political outcry.
A new, $35-billion shipbuilding program that includes the construction of ships for patrolling the Arctic -- first announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007 -- was reintroduced this week.
Such announcements are always greeted with great fanfare, but have amounted to little real progress in the past.
Like many countries in the world, they know the Americans will bail them out
Canada had a navy? That's cute. Pretending like it's a real country.
A Canada with no military capabilities worth talking about is not a good thing for the United States of America.
This is very sad.
Hmm, I didn’t even know Canada had a Navy.
Canada had the third largest navy in the world in 1945.
The Canadians don’t really need armed forces. The US will not let anybody else attack them, and if the US decided to take them over their military wouldn’t be able to do anything but get killed.
So why in the world should they take on the bother and expense?
Same is true of Europe, to a much lesser degree, of course, due to geography.
I just wish some Canadians and Euros would quit whining about what we have to do to maintain the peace they enjoy at so little expense to them.
The Islamics are taking over. Meanwhile the US has the Islamics and the Aztlan crowd colonizing us.
What good is a navy when the leftists win elections?
I hope they’re starting to realize that if the progressives have their way the US won’t be in any position to do that for much longer.... They’d better get busy beefing up their defenses.
“Most Canadians never even see the navy unless they live in Halifax or
Esquimalt, which is pretty tragic,” says Marc Milner, a naval historian
at the University of New Brunswick and author of Canada’s Navy, The First Century.
While in Vancouver BC for a conference, I saw a nice Canadian ship
tied up next to world’s fair site in (?) 1997.
Nice ship...I don’t know if it would be classified as a destroyer or
frigate...seeing how missile units have replaced most gun turrets
of a previous generation.
And I do know I’ve heard of Canadian ships on patrol in the waters
of The Middle East (Persian Gulf) doing interdiction service to
help out the USA/UK naval units.
Canada could up their committment to their navy...but they aren’t total
laggards in helping out the US, UK, etc.
Canada was a major player in WWII and afterwords. She had a powerful army, air force, and navy. They were a full partner in NORAD.
The decline only started in the mid to late 60’s.
Unification was thae cause of much of Canada’s military decline.
Prior to 1968 The Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy, and Royal Canadian Air Force were well equipped professional organizations.
Since 1968, particularly under the Liberals, the Canadian Armed Forces are a shadow of their former selves. While they are good, man for man, they are not what they once were.
Thanks for clearing that up.
Wait a minute....Canada HAS a navy?
Well, once had aircraft carrier, anyway. One at a time. The HMCS Bonaventure, which you pictured, was the last, and was scrapped in the early 1970s.