By: David Pugliese, National Post
Canada’s last destroyer will be taken out of service in the spring, leaving the country’s navy reliant on allies for longer-range air defence for at least the next seven years.
HMCS Athabaskan, and similar destroyers, provided command and control capabilities over the years for the Royal Canadian Navy as well as what was called area air defence.
But Athabaskan, Canada’s last destroyer, will be taken out of service within the next year, most likely in the spring, Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, the new commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, told Postmedia Wednesday.
Canada’s warships still have the capability to protect themselves from direct, incoming air threats but will have to rely mainly on U.S. ships to deal with missiles and aircraft at longer ranges.
“We won’t be able to fill that long-range air defence gap,” Lloyd said. “You would be looking at your U.S. longrange air defence platforms for that coalition support as we go forward.”
The RCN won’t have that air defence capability back until about 2024 when the first of the new Canadian Surface Combatants is expected to be in the water.
Lloyd said some of the command and control functions that the destroyers had provided have been moved over to four existing Halifaxclass frigates. “We’re quite happy with the interim command and control capability we’ve put into the four modernized frigates,” he said.
The Navy will continue to ensure its training prepares sailors for area air defence capabilities so they are ready when those systems return in the new surface combatants.
Over the years, naval officers have continued to warn the Canadian government that a capability gap would emerge.
The first Canadian Surface Combatant was originally expected to be delivered in 2016 but problems with the Conservative government’s shipbuilding strategy derailed that plan.
In late 2007, Vice-Admiral Drew Robertson, then head of the navy, warned the Conservative government it needed to approve immediately a plan to replace the destroyers or face a gap in providing air defence and command and control for maritime task forces.
“Without both the force air defence and command capabilities these ships provide, Canada will not be able to safely operate a Task Group in contested waters — the key capability that provides to Canada the capacity for sovereign and independent action at sea, either at home or abroad, and from which derives the ability to lead international coalition or alliance operations,” Robertson wrote in the navy’s strategic assessment, obtained by Postmedia.
Lloyd noted that the Navy has more frigates available than it did several years ago, when many were in the process of being upgraded.
The multibillion-dollar modernization included a new combat management system and radars, a new electronic warfare system and upgraded communications and missiles.
“Now that we’re coming out of that extraordinarily successful modernization program, we have our capacity back so we have more ships available to go to sea,” Lloyd said.
He said at any one time the Navy has between nine to 10 frigates available.
Lloyd noted that the Navy also expects a return to refuelling capability when an interim supply ship becomes available in the fall of next year. A commercial vessel is being converted at Davie shipyards in Quebec and will be leased to the federal government for that role.