COLUMN | The Royal Canadian Navy: An Evolving Force [Naval Gazing]


The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is a small but very active force. Ottawa is committed to the Canadian Armed Forces participating in international operations, which is why the RCN regularly deploys warships in support of NATO and other multinational engagements, including counter-terrorism and anti-piracy operations. Most recently, the Canadian frigate Vancouver and the American destroyer Higgins participated in a joint freedom of navigation operation in the Taiwan Strait.

Over the past 20 years, the RCN has suffered greatly from poor procurement decisions and insufficient funding, but the service is now recovering a lot of lost ground.

Other RCN roles in support of national interests include monitoring Canada’s 599,000 square kilometer Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and, increasingly important, Canada’s potentially rich Arctic. in resources. In order to fulfill these roles, the RCN maintains a fairly well-balanced force of surface warfare ships and submarines, although fleet focus and budget combine to ensure it is short of both ships amphibious warfare and dedicated aviation support platforms.

Powerful new frigates on the horizon

HMCS Halifax-class frigate Vancouver and the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis underway (Photo: US Navy/Photographer’s Mate Airman Tina R. Lamb)

The workhorses of the RCN are the 12 Halifax-class frigates, which date from the 1980s. advanced Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), torpedoes and a 57mm gun. They can also each operate one CH-148 Cyclone helicopter for anti-submarine and surface warfare duties.

The RCN’s capabilities are expected to be significantly enhanced by the construction of up to 15 Type 26 frigates by Nova Scotia-based Irving Shipbuilding with Lockheed Martin Canada as prime contractor. These heavily armed 7,800 ton ships are being built as part of a tripartite program (Australia, Canada, United Kingdom).

Photo: BAE Systems/Stephen McHugh

Their impressive planned armament should enable the RCN to play a key role in the international response to maritime security issues. The armament will include naval strike missile ASCMs, Sea Ceptor SAMs, Tomahawk land attack missiles, torpedoes and a 127 millimeter gun. Advanced search and targeting radars and sonars will also be installed.

A Cyclone helicopter will be carried and a powertrain consisting of GE electric motors, Rolls-Royce gas turbines and MTU diesel engines will allow a speed of 27 knots.

The RCN’s near-water operations are carried out by the Kingston-class multi-purpose coastal defense vessels, manned by both regular and reserve personnel. These craft can be configured for mine warfare, diving and security patrol missions.

Relaunch replenishment capacity at sea

The RCN’s long-standing supply-at-sea (RAS) shortage has been temporarily alleviated by the commissioning of the converted civilian tanker Asterix. This vessel, unarmed and staffed by a mixed crew of the RCN and civilians, is however only a palliative.

In service by 2025 is Protective, the first of two new support ships. These 20,000 ton vessels will be powered by two MTU diesel engines, allowing a speed of 20 knots. They will each carry two Cyclone helicopters and be armed with two Phalanx close-in weapons systems.

New focus on Canadian Arctic security

The order for six Harry DeWolf-class Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOPS) marked Canada’s increased focus on the security of the country’s Arctic waters. Three of these ships have already been completed. They feature ice-strengthened hulls, diesel-electric propulsion and armament consisting of a 25mm cannon and two 12.7mm machine guns. A large flight deck and hangar allow operations by helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The submarine fleet must be replaced

HMCS Victoria-class submarine Windsor (Photo: Canadian Armed Forces/Alan Rowlands)

Canada’s submarine force consists of four former British Victoria-class (formerly Upholder-class) diesel-electric attack submarines. These are widely used for covert surveillance of Canada’s EEZ, but have proven expensive to maintain and are approaching obsolescence.

The Canadian government therefore commissioned a study on how to replace them. Options being considered range from nuclear-powered boats to large unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs).

The RCN is renowned both for its innovation, such as the pioneering operation of large anti-submarine helicopters from frigates, and for punching above its weight. The ongoing upgrade of its inventory should enable the service to continue to be an effective player in the maritime security scene.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Chief Superintendent of the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritimeresident maritime security expert and columnist.


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