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
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
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  would make a far greater contribution to Arctic sovereignty than limited AOPS patrols. 
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
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. 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.
What's Old is New Again – Corvettes or Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Canadian
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.  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  aboard the OPVs but that plan was dropped in favour of the more economical 3 t
A109 LUH helicopter already chosen for the RNZAF. 
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.  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
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. 
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
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.
 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).
 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 ).
 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.
 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.
 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.
 The RNZN operates Kaman SH-2G Seasprites (6 ton, 13.4m rotor dia.) from its warships.
 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.
 Plus a new training and light utility helicopter were that New Zealand example followed.
 The M242 Bushmaster main gun is the same cannon used in CF light armoured vehicles.
 Corvettes on relatively short offshore patrols also offer greater training opportunities for Naval
 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).