Canada’s shrinking navy still valued by allies, analysts say
Canada’s navy isn’t exactly a juggernaut. According to Michael Hennessy, a professor of naval history at the Royal Military College in Kingston, the Canadian navy has 33 commissioned vessels but only 14 fighting ships.
“The ships Canada sent during the first Gulf War were immediately relegated to patrolling as far away from Iraq as possible so they didn’t get in harm’s way,” he said. “They are old.”
In 2008, the government promised to invest $490 billion in new equipment and upgrades, including new icebreakers and Arctic patrol ships.
Two years later, plans were announced to replace aging Canadian navy and coast guard vessels — including nine new ships at a cost of $194 million.
Hennessy said it’s unclear when new navy and coast guard vessels might be ready because formal contracts and design plans have not been finalized.
It is possible the new ships could be replaced by cheaper radar installations or a program that would give Canada underwater listening capabilities.
Still, the Canadian government appears determined to have an on-the-water presence in the North, particularly when countries are redefining international borders.
In the 1980s, the United Nations created the Law of the Sea treaty, which allowed countries to claim territory extending to the end of their continental shelf. Countries were given until 2014 to submit detailed maps with new proposed boundaries.
Canada has pledged to enforce its claims in the Arctic as the deadline approaches.
Coming out of World War II, Canada had the world’s third-largest navy, with 450 commissioned warships, said David Zimmerman, a professor at the University of Victoria.
“It was really so big because everybody else’s had been wiped out.”
In 1962, the Canadian navy oversaw the defence of the North Atlantic, filling in for U.S. warships involved in a blockade of Cuba.
But over the years, Canada’s navy has been repeatedly downsized.
By the 1980s, a decade after the decommissioning of HMCS Bonaventure, the last of Canada’s three aircraft carriers, Canada’s navy was in shambles. During a naval review for the defence minister in 1983, more than half the ships on display broke down.
“Going to sea in wartime would be suicidal,” said a Canadian admiral, according to the Wall Street Journal.
While the Canadian navy has been pared to about 9,000 personnel, down from 90,000 in the 1960s, several analysts said it is still valued by its allies.
“The Canadian navy is one of only a handful that can really operate around the globe,” Zimmerman said. “We have these logistical supply ships which are incredibly old but allow us to operate anywhere. We can deploy off the coast of Sudan in support of anti-terrorist operations, off the coast of Pakistan to help with disaster relief or off the coast of Libya if need be.”