|ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESSRoyal Canadian Navy Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, left, speaks with Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd during a change-of-command ceremony on Thursday.|
The comments came during a ceremony that saw Norman relinquish command of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) to Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd after three years at the helm. That period coincided with the retirement of a quarter of the navy’s major ships, none of which have been replaced.
Speaking to a crowd of military officers and defence officials that included Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance, Norman said the navy had no choice but to retire its two resupply ships and two out of three destroyers before replacements were ready. (The last destroyer will retire next year.)
“The need to retire four of our ships before their replacements had arrived no doubt hurt us, both from a capacity and a capability standpoint,” he said. “This was out of necessity, and certainly not by design or intent.”
A modified civilian resupply ship is scheduled to enter service in fall 2017, which will help make the navy more self-sufficient. However, the first real replacement won’t be ready until 2019.
Meanwhile, with the destroyers all retired, the navy will have only 12 frigates capable of operating overseas until the mid-2020s.
“The fact (is) that the RCN has gotten notably smaller, both in terms of fleet and its establishment on my watch,” Norman said, which has resulted in “acute losses in warfighting capabilities.”
Rather than blame someone else for the problem, Norman said the navy’s inability and failure to make tough decisions are the reasons new resupply ships and warships won’t be ready for several more years.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the situation we had to manage was completely avoidable,” he said.
“It should act as a powerful reminder of what happens when we allow ourselves to continually manage risk by putting off tough decisions in the interests of short-term expediency.
Norman’s speech wasn’t all doom and gloom. Delays and criticisms aside, he said there are legitimate reasons to celebrate the federal shipbuilding plan, which promises to produce a state-ofthe-art navy as well as return Canada to being a worldclass shipbuilder.
He also noted the first Arctic patrol ships should be rolling off the line in the next year or so, and the navy has been using its coastal defence ships on anti-drug trafficking operations in the Caribbean and other places in the Western Hemisphere.
And he applauded the Liberal government for having stuck with the federal shipbuilding plan.
During his speech, Vance applauded Norman for having “made difficult decisions, tough decisions that will protect his sailors and the future of his fleet.”
He added he has “never been more hopeful for the future of the Royal Canadian Navy than I am today.”
Meanwhile, bubbling below the surface was the question of what to do about Canada’s four submarines. In an interview last week, Norman said the government has to decide in the next year or two whether to spend more money to keep the submarines running until the 2030s.
For his part, Vance applauded the “incredibly hard work” the navy has done in getting the subs up and running.
“And let me assure you, submarines are vital to those operational results,” he said.