A Modest


by Steve Daly, CD




Modest Proposal


In Detail
OPV Types


In Detail
OPV Specs



Canadian Sovereignty – Offshore Patrol Vessles – ModProp – June 2010

A Pregnant Pause? The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy
Presents an Opportunity to Shift Priorities to Sovereignty Assertion

A Modest Proposal  by  Stephen Daly, CD

Update Aug 2015: Recent developments in Australia support Steve Daly's OPV argument. A RAND report commissioned by Australia suggested  that OPV construction would ensure a 'continuous build' by local shipyards. According to RAND, the cost of building these OPVs would be negligible compared with loss of experienced workers during gaps in shipbuilding.

This RAND recommendation was approved  by Canberra on 04 Aug 2015, with  the Abbott government announcing A$89B (Cdn $86.7B) for new RAN surface ships, including 20 new OPVs under Project SEA 1180 (moved forward two years). OPV construction begins in 2018.

Newly-Announced National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy Presents an Opportunity

The recent Federal Government announcement of a new National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy was met with mixed reviews. Critics of this NSPS point to a lack of specifics, while NSPS supporters claim that the plan is vastly better than the former ad hoc boom-and-bust approach that had been the status quo. Both sides may be right. Whatever flaws the NSPS has, this plan does represent a way forward without repeating past acquisition mistakes.

NSPS also represents an immediate opportunity. A one-to-two year delay has been imposed while defining the 'combatant' and 'non-combatant' shipyards for DND projects. This delay is a 'procurement pause' within which sober reflection can assess whether currently-planned ships are truly suitable and necessary for the needs of Canada and of  the Canadian Forces.

An obvious target of such sober reflection must be the Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship, or AOPS.  AOPS  Project Management Office looks to spend $3.1B  for 6-to-8  6000+ ton, limited-duty,  military icebreakers. As class 5 icebreakers,  the AOPS' Arctic duties will be limited to summer and  to the beginning and the end of ice season in the Northwest Passage.  Off-season,  AOPS  must pull  double duty as offshore patrol vessels on Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coasts.  In other words, through this compromise between incompatible responsibilities, AOPS is likely to be severely handicapped in most of what it's meant to do.

Limited as an icebreaker, critics have disparaged AOPS as 'slush breakers' of  limited utility. As offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), AOPS are burdened with the vast weight of  icebreaking hulls unnecessary for that role. Carrying that extra bulk around in temperate seas mean that AOPS will be relatively slow while fuel costs and similar operating expenses are very high.

How to address disparate requirements for Arctic and offshore patrol? An obvious solution is to split the AOPS program budget between ships dedicated to the specific tasks – that is, give $1.5B to Arctic icebreaking and  $1.6B to offshore patrol of  Canada's temperate waters.

Arctic Icebreakers  –  Just Replace the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent  or  Build Capabilities

The Government of Canada has announced plans for a highly capable new Arctic icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard –  the future CCGS John G. Diefenbaker. Taking $1.5B from the AOPS budget would allow for the construction of two follow-on Diefenbaker-type ships –  true Arctic icebreakers. Three  Heavy Arctic Icebreakers [1] would make a far greater contribution to Arctic sovereignty than limited AOPS patrols. [2]  Retiring older, less capable, more manpower-intensive icebreakers would actually increase CCG  (and general Canadian)  sovereignty capabilities in the Arctic.

New for Old  –  Replacing the Canadian Coast Guard's Four, Old Offshore Patrol Vessels

Of the budget for AOPS, the remaining $1.6B would be dedicated to acquisition of specialist offshore patrol vessels designed for use in temperate seas. A Canadian-designed example is the PV85 OPV from STX Marine Canada  –  a firm involved  in the AOPS program.  PV85 is a highly-automated but reasonably-priced design.  A $1.6B OPV program should be sufficient to acquire four coast guard vessels (replacing the CCG's current, mixed fleet of  4 OPVs) and 6-to-8 identical ships for the Navy as corvettes (to fulfill naval domestic patrol obligations).

Hardening AOPS to Ice Class 5 provides little added utility for substantially higher material and operating costs. A dedicated OPV, like the PV85, offers a lower acquisition price as well as reduced operating costs (due to lower crew demands and much-improved  fuel economy). What is surrendered with the PV85 is full Arctic ice capability – but PV85s are ice-protected.

Two PV85s for  New Zealand are ice-protected for  RNZN use in the Southern Ocean and  into Antarctic waters. These  Protector class  OPVs are hardened to provide Ice Class 1C protection for operations in thin or broken first-year ice.[3] That  is nowhere  near AOPS  protection  levels
( 1m of  first-year ice)  but it would allow PV85s to operate in sub-Arctic conditions more safely than the CF's thin-hulled Halifax class frigates.

So, ice-hardened PV85s could safely patrol the edge of Arctic pack ice. They could not push into medium ice like AOPS but then the OPVs wouldn't need to with three new Heavy Arctic Icebreakers serving the CCG  –  the force already trained and experienced in dealing with the heaviest of  Arctic ice. At present, there is no plan to replace the CCG's four existing, mixed- bag OPVs. This proposal would make such a replacement (and a rationalization) possible.[4]

What's Old is New Again  –  Corvettes or Offshore Patrol Vessels  for the Canadian Navy

In this, the anniversary year of  Canada's Navy, there will be many recountings of the deeds of  the Flower class corvettes during the Battle of the Atlantic. Since WWII, the debate has raged over the value of  putting corvettes back into Canadian service. The time is now right.

Today,  the Canadian Navy finds itself  pressed  for both recruits and operating funds. In a recent, ill-considered manoeuvre, the Chief of Maritime Staff threatened to tie-up half of the Kingston class patrol ships and 'restrict' major warships to domestic, offshore duties. There was a simpler and more politically-palatable solution available to the hard-pressed CMS.

With corvettes, the Navy gains vessels able to fulfill its domestic waters patrol mandate far more economically than its current major warships.  The PV85 has a core ships company of 35, the Halifax class frigate requires a crew of 180. And crew costs are a major operating cost for naval vessels. Other operating costs for warships are rarely revealed. It stands to reason though, that the frigate with a hull almost twice as long and displacing 2.5 times as much as the OPV design will be substantially more expensive to operate than a PV85-based corvette.

Capabilities and Commonality –  the PV85,  a Canadian-Designed  Offshore Patrol Vessel

The PV85 is descended from a line of Aker/STX OPV designs. [5]  The PV85 has a maximum range of 6,000 nautical miles (versus the Halifax' 9,500 nm) and can maintain a continuous 22 knots. In some circumstances, a higher dash speed might be desirable but the PV85's current top speed is much higher than that of the CF's Kingston class MCDV.

Like AOPS, the PV85 is helicopter-capable and has an enclosed hangar. The RNZN intended to operate its full-sized maritime helicopter [6] aboard the OPVs but that plan was dropped in favour of  the more economical 3 t  A109 LUH  helicopter already chosen for the RNZAF. [7]

The choice of shipboard helicopter for the CCG is obvious – the in-service,  2.5 t,  MBB Bo-105-CBS now used for ice scouting and 'vertrep'. But those aging  Bo-105s will soon need replacing.  Perhaps there's another opportunity for commonality here, a new  light helicopter  for use on both CCG OPVs and CF corvettes. [8] The flying decks of the OPV and corvette would need to accommodate CH-148 Cyclone and CH-149 Cormorant helicopters landing-on  (with rotor diameters of  17.2m and 18.6m, respectively ) but hangarage could be scaled  for more economical shipboard aircraft.

Update: Since this article was published, the Canadian Coast Guard  has chosen  its Bo-105 replacement, the Canadian-made Bell B429.  See also: Steve Daly's B429 Modest Proposals.

As a  CCG  OPV,  the PV85 would be unarmed  –  the Canadian Coast Guard is not a military force. The RNZN Protector class carry 25mm main guns – in the same range as that planned for AOPS. [9]  Fire from such guns would have a dramatic effect upon light craft but there is an argument to be made in favour of  heavier firepower as a deterrent to larger vessels. Here again, weight-control issues come into play.  In any modestly-sized corvette, a decision will have to made assigning the priorities of  firepower, ice-protection belts, or other equipment.

Commonality between near-identical CCG and Naval classes would offer economy of scale both in the initial purchase costs and during the inevitable overhauls and refits to come.

Reallocation of  Resources and Reaffirmation of  Roles – Trading in AOPS for Real OPVs

Maritime Command made it clear from the outset that it wasn't keen on AOPS. They became more enthusiastic when it was made clear when it became apparent that the Navy might lose the funds if AOPS was transferred to the CCG as recommended by the Senate Fisheries and Oceans Committee. That committee might be playing to self-interest but it is true that AOPS has forced an understaffed Navy into a learning curve already well-covered by the CCG.

A redistribution of funds  (which requires no new spending by the Government of  Canada ) would substantially improve Canadian Coast Guard capabilities in both the High Arctic and the patrol of  Canada's Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). Such a shift in funding, in concert with previously announced programs  –  Mid-Shore Patrol Vessels and Off-Shore Fisheries Research Vessels  –  would beget a major revitalization and rationalization of  the CCG fleet.

For Canada's Navy, the pressure to take on new Arctic ice-pack navigation skills would be dropped  ( the CCG could also take over  primary responsibility  for  the new Nanisivik base). The Navy would be taking on the same (or more) new vessels but  these would  be more  like  warships. Operated  as corvettes,  PV85s would be performing patrol duties vital  to Canada's security and, in the EEZs, future prosperity. [10]

The Conservative government of Stephen Harper has been intent on fulfilling its campaign promises. No one in Canada ever accepted AOPS as a viable substitute for the three heavy icebreakers promised. Splitting AOPS funding in two can better meet that campaign promise while also strengthening Canadian sovereignty claims – on all three coastlines.  Both major government fleets benefit and  Canada cannot  be accused of  militarizing the Arctic Ocean.

[1] As promised by the Conservatives during the 2005-2006 election campaign (albeit, these vessels were envisionaged as "armed naval heavy ice breakers" not Canadian Coast Guard). Costs for the 'Diefenbreaker' design and construction has been forecast at $720M (per hull).

[2] The CCGS John G. Diefenbaker is expected to be able to operate in Arctic ice conditions for up to nine months of the year.  AOPS would only be able to move through first-year ice (1m thick ), the Diefenbaker will be able to continuously break second-year ice (2.5m thick ).

[3] Even this modest degree of ice-hardening has given Kiwi defence planners weight-gain concerns for the PV85. Any real value to ice-hardening OPVs must be vigourously debated.

[4] Part of the CCG's on-going economic burden is financing the overhauls and upgrades for a fleet of  disparate design origins.  The four existing Coast Guard OPVs are a case in point.

[5] The PV85 series has its origins in the CCG's 72m Leonard J. Cowley. This led to the PV75 (MCGS Vigilant for Mauritius) and the PV80 (Irish LÉ Róisín and LÉ Niamh). LÉ Róisín was damaged attempting to assist the burning HMCS Chicoutimi off Ireland's NW coast in 2004.

[6] The RNZN operates Kaman SH-2G Seasprites (6 ton, 13.4m rotor dia.) from its warships.

[7] In late 2007, it was decided to adapt the RNZAF's new Training/Light Utility Helicopter, the Agusta-Westland A109 LUH, as an OPV shipboard aircraft. Contracts for a further five A109 LUHs were signed in May 2008. At 3.2t, the A109 LUH is half the weight of an SH-2G.

[8] Plus a new training and light utility helicopter were that New Zealand example followed.

[9] The M242 Bushmaster main gun is the same cannon used in CF light armoured vehicles.

[10] Corvettes on relatively short offshore patrols also offer greater training opportunities for Naval Reservists.

[11] Our conceptual  CF corvette differs from built  PV85s in main armament  (the Protector class OPV's 25mm RWR is shown in the scrap view). Name and hull number are resurrected from a wartime Flower class corvette (presupposing retirement of Kingston class MM 702).

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