Destroyer replacement lags

On the way out: Canada's Iroquois-class destroyers

The Royal Canadian Navy’s three destroyers are due to be reach the end of their planned service life in as little as five years, before their replacements can be delivered.

The aging Iroquois-class vessels were built in the early 1970s and upgraded in the 1990s to provide anti-aircraft defence and command-and-control capabilities for naval task forces in addition to their anti-submarine warfare capabilities. In 2017, the destroyers will begin to reach the scheduled end of their lives.

The Conservative government has annouced a $35-billion national shipbuilding procurement strategy, but Defence Department insiders and internal documents confirm that the Iroquois-class ships will be retired before they can be replaced (Lee Berthiaume, “Navy ships will retire before replacements ready,” Postmedia News, 21 June 2012).

The Defence Department is hoping that the next generation of ships will begin to enter service in the early 2020s.

That timeline is likely to prove optimistic. But even if the project comes in on schedule, the minimum 3-5 year gap between the scheduled demise of the current destroyers and the availability of new counterparts raises the question of how the navy will compensate if the destroyers are indeed retired on schedule.

The navy is putting in place plans to ensure the loss of the destroyers won’t negatively impact the maritime force’s capabilities, and [Andrew Warden of the Navy League of Canada] said Canada’s 12 Halifax-class frigates can take on many of the tasks currently assigned to the destroyers.

However, the loss of the Iroquois-class “will definitely limit some of our options” in terms of what type of operations the navy can undertake during that period, Warden said, while the key question is exactly how long the gap will last.

Postmedia News obtained May 2011 briefing notes for Associate Defence Minister Julian Fantino that indicate that delivery difficulties could arise from the project’s late start and staffing limitations:

…Fantino’s briefing notes warned that the “critical” $26.6-billion Canadian surface-combatant (CSC) project to replace the destroyers as well as the frigates would need to enter the design phase in 2011 to ensure the rest of the process — including contract negotiations with industry — moved ahead smoothly.

On top of that, senior naval officers noted at a recent conference there were more than 400 people working directly on the Halifax-class frigate program in the 1980s and another 1,000 contributing in other ways.

In contrast, there are about 30 currently assigned to the project that will replace the frigates and Iroquois-class destroyers, with that number expected to peak at only a couple hundred in the coming years.

Photo credit: DND

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