Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Asterix more Survivable than her Immediate RCN Predecessors

By: David Pugliese, Defence Watch 

There has recently been a flurry of discussion about the Asterix, the new supply ship being leased by the federal government to support the Royal Canadian Navy. The ship is expected to see much use as the RCN no longer has any supply ships of its own.

Asterix on Maiden Voyage from Quebec City to Halifax 25/12/2017 (CNW Group/Davie Shipbuilding) 
But there was some discussion about whether Asterix, a commercial vessel converted to a supply ship configuration, could be used in a combat zone. The RCN says no. That is because the ship does not carry defensive weapons.

The company behind Asterix, Davie Shipbuilding, says the ship can be used in a war zone.

So how would a supply ship be used in a conflict? Would it normally go into combat or stay on the outer perimeters of a conflict zone? Is Asterix much different from the RCN’s previous class of supply ships?

I turned to the Navy League of Canada for those answers. They weren’t of any help though and instead responded with a talking point that looked like it had been approved by the government (the league was confident the RCN would not send forces into harm’s way without proper preparation.)

Thankfully the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia was able to provide information that the Navy League couldn’t.

Colin Darlington, a retired commander in the Royal Canadian Navy, who is now vice president of the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia sent this information in a background paper on the subject:
The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has previously deployed contracted employees in dangerous areas (recall the very-Canadian Tim Horton’s in Afghanistan).
WhilstAsterix’sfirst line of defence is not to be put in harm’s way, that can be done at a tactical (local) level, not precluding her deployment into a danger zone (which tend to be wide area).
Asterix’sbest defence is an escort (e.g., frigate), as it is for any logistics ship.

Asterixlacks weapons and combat sensors plus dedicated operations spaces. She can, however, be fitted with sensors and weapons (e.g., containerized point missile defence system) and with additional working spaces. It is understood she has points for heavy machine guns and strengthened decks for heavier systems. Fitment could take time which may affect the speed with which the ship could be deployed. However, it can be foreseen at this time that by far the majority of likely missions for her would not involve high-intensity combat so she is unlikely to need much outfitting.

Asterixis more survivable than her three immediate predecessors. She has a double bottom. Of course, any ship carrying significant amounts of ship fuel, aviation gas and munitions is very vulnerable.

WhilstAsterixhas modern merchant ship damage control systems (firefighting and the like), she is not compartmented like a naval ship nor has she a chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear defence ‘citadel.’ She also lacks a large crew, capable of undertaking significant damage control as is the company in a naval ship. These are major factors that differentiate her from a naval design replenishment oiler.

Asterixis an excellent interim replenishment oiler and, once the Protecteur-class replenishment oilers are built by the Joint Support Ship (JSS_ project, would make a great second line oiler, especially for operations off North America.

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) needs the Protecteur-class replenishment oilers as they will be even more capable of operating in danger zones thanAsterix, and ultimately the CAF needs to procure equipment and train people to fight in high intensity conflicts. For that, it is Canada’s responsibility to have the best and be as ready as possible.

Major decisions of defence procurement are the purview of the Government of Canada. It is evident that the government sees the necessity of two replenishment oilers as a steady state for the RCN, but also assesses that until then one interim oiler will suffice. Ultimately the numbers and capabilities of the ships is the result of decision based on geo-strategic-economic cost-benefit risk analyses.

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