By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch
Defence department bureaucrats rejected a plan to outfit the navy’s new supply ship with high-tech guns needed for its protection because they wanted to save money, officials with a Quebec shipyard say.
Davie Shipbuilding is pushing back against recent claims by the Royal Canadian Navy that the Asterix supply vessel it converted for the Canadian Forces can’t go to war.
Company officials point out Asterix can be used in combat as the vessel has been outfitted with similar navigation and other systems that will eventually be installed on a new future fleet of Canadian warships. In addition, the company has acquired insurance coverage for the vessel to operate in high risk and war risk areas, Davie noted in a statement on its website.
The vessel can also be outfitted with weapons, a capability Davie originally proposed to the Department of National Defence. But the installation of high-powered gatling guns – currently in storage in a military depot – was turned down by bureaucrats as a cost-saving measure, Davie sources and industry representatives point out.
“The ship can go wherever the Canadian Armed Forces require it to go,” Davie said on its website in response to questions about whether Asterix can be used in combat.
Naval officers acknowledged at a news conference in late January with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan at CFB Esquimalt that a number of Phalanx guns are in storage but those are being saved so they can be outfitted on the new Joint Support Ships.
It is unclear when the navy will get those new supply vessels as construction has yet to start. Some estimates put the delivery of the first ship at 2022 but there have been suggestions that vessel could come as late as 2024 or 2025.
The Asterix, which is being leased to the federal government by a sister company to Davie, is being prepared to head to sea in March in support of Royal Canadian Navy operations. It is expected to be at sea for up to six months.
DND did not respond directly to specific questions about why it rejected the installation of Phalanx guns on Asterix.
But Pat Finn, assistant deputy minister for materiel, told a Commons defence committee on Feb. 1 that getting Asterix as quickly as possible was the main focus for the department. He said the Davie supply vessel is different from the Joint Support Ships in terms of its robustness. “We did not impose that upon a commercial ship, because of the speed at which we needed it,” he said. “What it needed to do, what kinds of areas it could go to, and the things it can do are quite different. The Asterix, in the context of that service contract to us, is delivering exactly what we asked of it.”
The ship can go wherever the Canadian Armed Forces require it to go
Davie, however, disputes claims Asterix is not as robust. “Operationally it is able to perform an identical role to that of the potential future Joint Support Ships,” the company added.
The Asterix is also at the heart of federal government’s case against Vice Admiral Mark Norman.
Norman has been accused by the RCMP of warning Davie that Liberal cabinet ministers wanted to derail the Asterix project.
That development leaked out to the news media and the resulting embarrassment forced the Liberal government to back down on its plans and Asterix proceeded. Norman, who was suspended from his job by Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jon Vance more than a year ago, has denied any wrongdoing. No charges have been laid against Norman and the claims made against him by the RCMP are so far unproven.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has twice predicted that Norman will eventually wind up in court, prompting concerns of political interference and concerns the Liberal government is punishing the officer.