Closing Canada’s icebreaker gap

Closing Canada’s icebreaker gap

By K. Joseph Spears

Canada is both an Ocean and Arctic Nation. Canada has operated government-owned icebreakers for well over a hundred years. For example, the museum ship CHS Acadia moored in Halifax was built to chart Hudson Bay as part of the development of the port of Churchill in the early 1900s. A number of sources have raised concerns about Canada’s impeding “icebreaker gap”, which was first addressed three years ago in a Canadian Sailings article entitled Canada’s Icebreaker Gap. Little, if anything, has been done to alleviate this problem during the past years, which has now assumed critical proportions.

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China’s Arctic rising

China’s Arctic rising

By K. Joseph Spears

China’s presence in the Arctic, like recent winter temperatures, continues to increase. China considers itself a near-Arctic power, even though it has no territory in the region. It is playing the long game in the region on many fronts: commercial, academic, political and philosophical. China has continued to expand into the region for the last decade which has surprised many. Many China watchers have speculated about its objectives, and there is a great deal of concern about what China’s true intentions are in the region. Given its complex internal political processes, is difficult to determine, as its intentions have never been stated. On January 26, 2018 China released a formal white paper on its Arctic policy which, combined with recent research expeditions, commercial and diplomatic efforts, show China’s continued interest in the Arctic and its directed focus on commercial shipping in the Arctic Ocean basin. China recognizes that as sea-ice continues to diminish, the Arctic will impact its people.

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The United States – a reluctant Arctic power—making it great again

The United States – a reluctant Arctic power—making it great again

By K. Joseph Spears

The 21st century has been called a maritime century as well as an Arctic century. A rapidly changing Arctic has brought the world to the Arctic. The United States is a key Arctic player and an Arctic neighbour of Canada’s. America has long recognized the strategic importance of the region, a key hotspot during the Cold War. The Arctic has the potential to become another hotspot as both China and Russia exert their power. However, America has never thought of itself as an Arctic nation. Trying to read the signals on recent U.S. Arctic policy from the Trump White House is like trying to predict sea-ice conditions in a warming Arctic. Both the ice and presidential positions are constantly in flux. President Trump’s sole public comments about the Arctic have been in a bemusing interview stating “The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now. But now they’re setting records. They’re at a record level.” The best we can do is make an educated guess on American Arctic intentions. The overall goal from the Trump White House that remains constant is the 2016 Trump campaign slogan—“Make America Great Again”.

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Project Resolve resolving a Canadian naval capability gap

Project Resolve resolving a Canadian naval capability gap

K. Joseph Spears

Canada’s Navy was founded in 1910 and has a long and illustrious history through two world wars, the Cold War and into the 21st century, a century which has seen a war on terrorism and piracy. In a complex threat environment, navies have become increasingly important and relevant globally. Over time, Canada’s Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) pioneered a variety of naval capabilities including the use of large helicopters from small warships, in support of antisubmarine warfare. Canada’s RCN is an integral part of NATO and works closely with allied partners around the world in support of counterterrorism and force projection maintaining the security of global maritime shipping, which is the foundation of international commerce.

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Canada’s Defense Policy Review: Full Speed ahead on NSS

By K. Joseph Spears

On June 7, 2017 Canada’s Liberal government released its 113-page Defence Policy Review entitled Strong Secure Engaged. The review was a culmination of a year-long process that sought input from Canadians along with that of our allies, parliamentarians and subject matter experts. The goal was to set the stage going forward to 2027 to provide a roadmap for Canada’s Defence policy in a changing world and signify priorities and sustained funding for these policy goals. It also provides a twenty year funding commitment that is set out in the document. The day before, Canada’s Minister of Global Affairs announced a new direction in foreign policy that arguably interacts with the Defence policy review. Both of which demonstrate the need for Canada to have a robust naval capability.

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Defending Canada’s Arctic in the 21st century – a review of Strong Secure Engaged, Canada’s new Defence Policy

Defending Canada’s Arctic in the 21st century – a review of Strong Secure Engaged, Canada’s new Defence Policy

K. Joseph Spears

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a Defence Policy Review in 2016. This was to be the first review of Canada’s Defence policy in many years, with the most recent white paper on Defence published in 1994. The review sought the input of Canadians in an extensive engagement and outreach process. The advice of Parliamentarians and our Allied and NATO partners were sought in the formulation of policy. The Minister of National Defence hosted a series of roundtables around the country to discuss the subject matter with experts prior to the formalizing the policy by releasing it on June 7, 2017. The resulting 113-page document, Strong Secure Engaged, sets out a blueprint for Canada’s Defence policy into the future to 2027. It talks about anticipating, adapting and acting on future Defence threats. It also speaks to the funding commitments required to give effect to these Defence requirements. While National Defence represents the single largest Budget item, Canada spends only one per cent of its GDP on Defense and is far from meeting the NATO prescribed 2 per cent of GDP. Of 28 NATO countries, Canada ranks among the lowest in terms of Defence spending as a percentage of GDP.

One of the core functions of Canada’s military is the defense of the realm. In other words, the protection of Canada’s land and ocean space and our maritime approaches. Canada has one of the world’s largest land and ocean area – 9.3 million square kilometers of oceanspace, and 244,000 kilometres of coastline, much of this in Arctic territory where there is little or no infrastructure. It is a monumental undertaking for a country of 38 million people to maintain surveillance and marine domain awareness over this vast region. The challenge is immense, and the threats are difficult to predict in a warming Arctic where international activity is increasing. Canada no longer has the luxury of multiyear sea-ice to restrict activities in its Arctic region which used to curb international activities and force projection by other countries, unless they had invested substantial Arctic capability such as airlift and icebreaking capability. The policy document specifically mentioned this undefinable threat: “Climate change, combined with advancements in technology, is leading to an increasingly accessible Arctic.”

The policy review recognizes that there needs to be sustained funding to fund critical infrastructure and capabilities to protect our sovereignty and security. The review made specific reference to the Arctic. It moved away from specifically referencing sovereignty to more functional terms such as monitoring and surveillance. The policy acknowledges NATO is paying increasing attention to Russia’s ability to “project force” from the Arctic and says Canada will be ready to “deter and defend,” should the need arise. This takes capability to operate in the arctic.

As Arctic waters open up, increased marine traffic will require Canada to be able to respond with search and rescue missions. In Canada, search and rescue is led by the Department of National Defence which deploys dedicated air assets, among which are recently purchased fixed-wing SAR aircraft. These will operate from bases in southern Canada.

The policy review continues to support an Arctic naval presence and holds that the Royal Canadian Navy’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOPV) will work with the Canadian Coast Guard and allied partners to help ensure non-naval research, tourist and commercial vessels are supported in the Arctic. AOPV vessels are being built at Irving’s shipyard in Halifax represent the first element of the surface combatant program of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS, since renamed “NSS”) that has been underway since 2010. It is believed that at least five AOPV vessels will be delivered. AOPV vessels have limited icebreaking capabilities, but have the ability to carry a helicopter for ice reconnaissance and potentially antisubmarine warfare, and will be ice-strengthened for Arctic operations.

The operational role of these vessels is still being developed, but will include a multi-mission capability supporting general government operations, in additional to a naval function. The first vessel of the new Harry DeWolf class-designated vessels will be commissioned in late 2018. As part of Canada’s maritime defense policy, a refueling port is being developed at the former mine site at Nanisivik on Baffin Island at the entrance to the eastern Northwest Passage. Nanisivik Naval Station is not going to have much in the way of port infrastructure other than a seasonal refueling docking facility. This facility is critical for AOPV operations, given the great distances to travel in Arctic regions when operating from southern bases.

The policy review notes the challenges in monitoring the vast region: “In addition to being a vast, sparsely populated area, satellite coverage at extreme northern latitudes and the nature of the polar ionosphere create unique issues for sensor and communications capabilities, …” In order to address these challenges, the review stresses coordinating sensor information collection and the key role of data integration from sensor information generated by drones, submarines, satellites, and personnel.

The review also stresses the important role to be played by the Inuit- and First Nations-led Canadian Rangers which are embedded in the communities throughout the Canadian Arctic, who are an invaluable asset to Canada. The review seeks to expand their training and improve their ability to support other branches of the Canadian Armed Forces. Recent Arctic military operations have shown that the Canadian Rangers and their local knowledge combined with the latest in technology is of key importance to future operations. It also recognizes the importance of engaging Northern communities in operational exercises both with Canada and our defense partners.

Among the numerous challenges in operating in Canada’s Arctic, one of the most critical remains reliable communications, including satellite coverage of the region. In addition, marine domain and situational awareness and tactical movement are two others that are specifically addressed in the review. The policy review seeks to develop a new radar system and sensor system using the latest in technology.

There are challenges in operating in Canada’s Arctic waters from a Defence as well as commercial shipping standpoint. The Defence Policy Review takes a realistic view of the situation and provides an overarching policy direction, with funding allocated to achieve these policy goals by acquiring the necessary infrastructure and capability. Canada also recognizes that involving local communities through the Canadian Rangers is a key component of its strategy moving forward. By bolstering its Defence capabilities in the Arctic, Canada will increase its ability to defend the realm, will get closer to meeting its NATO and NORAD obligations, and will ensure that Canada’s economic potential is realized in the region.

Joe Spears is an Honorary Ranger of 2 CRPG Second Ranger Patrol Group based in Nunavik (Northern Quebec). He has spoken at Northern Watch conference hosted by the Defense Research and Development Canada at Dalhousie University Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. Joe can be reached at joe.hbmg2@gmail.com.