Arctic Issues have been a priority item for the Canadian government for some years. The Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) is a manifestation of this. AOPS has been part of the growing pains associated with NSPS and now looks to be on the right track. However there is a much bigger requirement for arctic capable vessels than those purely associated with NSPS.
The CCG has 2 heavy, 4 medium icebreakers and another 12 vessels with some ice capability. They all need to be replaced. There is one heavy breaker (Diefenbaker) being designed and built under the auspices of NSPS. It is not known when the remainder of these vessels will be funded and constructed.
On April 17, 2014 the Federal government awarded a $6.5 million contract to Babcock Canada Inc for refit work on the Coast Guard’s Heavy Icebreaker Louis St Laurent. The shipyard work will be done by Davie Canada Inc. This contract will ready the ship for its Arctic deployment this summer.
During her 45 years of service the rules and regulations pertaining to safety, emissions and discharges from ships at sea have changed dramatically and are strictly enforced. The Louis cannot meet these new standards. Thus she is at a stage of her life where it is excessively expensive to keep her running and an environmental accident could be catastrophic to the Coast Guard and government. The Diefenbaker is scheduled to be the replacement for the Louis St. Laurent and it was needed yesterday.
The situation is similar for the navy and its Joint Support Ship (JSS) ship program. Both the navy’s AORs have been in operation for 40 plus years and Protecteur recently had a devastating fire that may put her out of commission completely. A command decision was made last year to build the JSS ships before the icebreaker. indications are that the icebreaker build will be delayed until 2020.
Meanwhile the geopolitical situation in the arctic is changing. Canada’s sovereignty is being challenged. Russia is flexing its arctic muscles and NATO is encouraging Canada to join in a unified plan to confront Russia. There was an increase in multi-year ice since the winter of 2013 and the exceptionally cold winter of 2014 virtually froze the Great Lakes. There was a greater than average need for icebreakers this year that neither the CCG or the USCG could meet. At a minimum we can predict that it is most likely we will need more icebreaking resources than we have now. How can we do that?
Rethinking the JSS/Icebreaker sequencing decision is not a starter. What does make some sense is to fund and concurrently build in a third yard, like Davie, the second arctic icebreaker that both the Coast Guard and Canada needs.