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Defence Policy  –  Conservative Party  –  December 2005

Stephen Harper announces the new defence policy
put forward by the Conservative Party of Canada – Pt 2


Dianne DeMille & Stephen Priestley  –  this article has been expanded from
'briefing  notes'  prepared  by  CASR  for  the  CBC  on  22  December  2005

Update:  On 09 July 2007,  Prime Minister Harper announced a plan to procure six- to-eight Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships. AOPS would act as OPVs in the Pacific and Atlantic most of  the year, venturing into the Arctic only during summer months – wags immediately dubbed the ships "slushbreakers". Were promises kept? AOPS is not the 'armed naval heavy icebreaker ' promised, nor was it delivered within the announced 5 years  –  first delivery slipped from 2013 to 2015 to 2018 to unknown.
Proposed Armed Heavy Icebreakers  and  Arctic Docking Facilities in Nunavut

Designing, building and deploying three new  "armed naval heavy ice breakers" (and creating deep-water docking facilities for these vessels on Baffin Island in Nunavut) is the most dramatic aspect of  the newly announced  Conservative plans  for ensuring  Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic.

The general concept is a good one. But such ships would take at least a decade to design and build.  Conservative defence critic,  Gordon O'Connor,  claims that the first  icebreaker would be in service within 5 years.  This sounds overly optimistic.
A cost of $2B for both ships and deepwater port seems equally doubtful. Election promises are more convincing when  better  fleshed-out.  So, where are the  flaws?

The Conservative plan is quite insistant that these icebreakers will be armed naval vessels.  It must be remembered  that Canada's Navy has not operated icebreakers for half a century. HMCS Labrador was turned over to the Canadian Coast Guard  and  it is the CCG who have operated all substantial icebreakers ever since. It is to the CCG  that the Conservatives should have turned. If the Conservative Party were serious about using icebreakers for sovereignty enforcement, they would  be  looking  for  nearer-term  solutions,  such as the  modification  of  CCG - operated  icebreakers.

There was another option not considered, a hybrid, partly-militarized Coast Guard armed icebreaker. In such a scenario, the CCG would staff and run the icebreakers, the gun crews would be seconded from the Navy, while boarding parties could be seconded from the RCMP or CBSA. In the interim, existing CCG Arctic icebreakers might be armed. Unfortunately, politicians are more apt to be showy not effective.

According to the Globe&Mail (Jane Taber, 23 Dec 2005), Mr. Harper "would not indicate what weapons the icebreakers would have". There was no real reason to be coy. Take a look at the potential opposition. Ice-resistant Thetis class frigates operated by the Danes in Greenland waters have a main armament of  76mm M/85 rapid fire guns.  This is same 76mm/62 SR arming Canada's Tribal destroyers one of which, DDH 282 Huron, was paid off in 2005 making one gun surplus. The three other Tribals (and their weapons systems) will retire by 2010 –  the date given for the Conservative's icebreakers entering servive. So why the armaments mystery?
Update:  One criticism of the proposed AOPS is its tiny, 25-40mm main armament.
Mr. Harper proposed building icebreakers from scratch  –  this would be costly in both money and time. The Canadian Coast Guard already has ice-breakers. But no thought was given to immediate solutions and, as a result, this campaign promise rings hollow.  Such  'big ticket'  items  tend  to  run  long,  and  over - budget.

Should the  Conservatives  form  the  next  government,  most  likely  the  bill  for armed  icebreakers  would  be dumped on  to  the  following  federal  government.


<   Part 1  —  Conservative Party's "Canada First" Plans for Arctic Defence
>   Part 3  —  Listening In:  the Proposed "Arctic National Sensor System"