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Technically the RCN wouldn't be able to invade NZ (quickly) without amphibs, landing craft, etc. >
In 2017, Canada’s last destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan, will be retired, forcing the Royal Canadian Navy to lean on the U.S. to protect its ships from air attack. Last year, the vessel, flagship of the Atlantic fleet, twice broke down while at sea. Meanwhile, even Canada’s newly renovated submarines won’t last more than a few years without a few billion dollars in upgrades.
Critics have called the Royal Canadian Navy “decayed,” “neglected” and “embarrassing.” But how small is our once-mighty navy, really? The National Post called up naval experts and defence thinkers and dug through troves of international naval data to find out just how the Royal Canadian Navy stacks up on the high seas.
Canada has a grand total of 29 warships
One (soon-to-be-retired) destroyer, 12 frigates, 12 coastal defence vessels and four submarines. That’s every single ship in the Royal Canadian Navy designed to break things (which is to say, a ship with guns, torpedoes and missiles on it). The Navy has other ships, of course, but they’re for training, research or harbour work. Naval type often hasten to mention that Canada has a very large coast guard that does navy-esque things on occasion, but none of those ships have guns or are under naval command. And if one is really pushing it in calculations of Canada’s naval strength, they can mention that Canada is home to dozens of commercial vessels that can team up with the navy when things get bad.
Smaller than any other G7 country
The biggest pitfall of comparing navies is simply to compare fleet sizes. (An aircraft carrier trumps a destroyer, after all.) Nevertheless, on almost any metric, Canada is out-navied by its G7 colleagues. France, the U.S. and the U.K. have nuclear-powered subs, unlike Canada. Italy has an aircraft carrier. Even Japan, which has maintained a famously pacifist foreign policy since the Second World War, has four times more submarines than Canada, 40 more destroyers and two helicopter carriers.
Smaller than Australia
Australia is essentially a hotter Canada with 12 million fewer people and $400 billion fewer in GDP. Nevertheless, the Australians have 3,500 more sailors, a larger fleet and a bigger budget. “They live in a rougher neighbourhood,” Rob Huebert, a University of Calgary naval researcher, told the National Post. Most importantly, the Aussies fluff up their naval budget with the full knowledge that, if something goes down, they can’t simply wait for the Americans to save them.
Canada’s entire naval strength is less than a single overseas U.S. Navy base
If Canada’s navy were to sink tomorrow, the Americans could completely replace it without touching any of their stateside vessels. A base at Yokosuka, Japan is the U.S. Navy’s largest overseas installation. Stanley Weeks, a retired U.S. Navy Officer and former professor at the U.S. Naval War College, noted that Canada could swap out all its frigates by pinching the base’s far-more-powerful collection of destroyers and cruisers. Throw in the base’s aircraft carrier and its command ship, and Canada’s submarines and patrol vessels would have their capability replaced many times over. Of course, as the University of Calgary’s Rob Huebert noted, this holds true for virtually every other country that counts the U.S. as an ally. Of the world’s 36 aircraft carriers, for instance, the United States owns 19 — and none of the American ones are clunky and rusty. Canada, meanwhile, scrapped its last WWII-era aircraft carrier in 1970.
Canada’s fleet size is matched with Bangladesh and Spain
The Bangladeshi fleet contains roughly the same number of big, grey, oceangoing vessels as Canada, in addition to dozens of armed speedboat-y type things. The Armada Espanola, meanwhile, is roughly a facsimile of the Canadian fleet in terms of frigates, subs and patrol vessels. Now again; it’s somewhat misleading to simply “count hulls,” as the lingo goes. Bangladesh lags behind Canada on training and technology, and Spain does a lot of its navy stuff in sheltered Mediterranean waters far from the storms that Canada has to deal with. But it’s not entirely pointless to rank fleet sizes.As Stanley Weeks told the National Post, “a ship can only be in one place at a time.”
The Pacific Fleet is outmatched by Singapore
Canada is unique among most countries on this list in that its navy is split in two and permanently kept 4,000 kilometres apart. Half in Halifax, half in Esquimalt, B.C. and a long journey through the Panama Canal if one end of Canada suddenly needs more ships than the other side. It’s akin to if Germany had to keep half its navy in the Baltic Sea, and the other half anchored off Saudi Arabia. Given this limitation, the tiny nation of Singapore easily trounces the part of the Canadian navy that it is closest to; more and faster ships in each category, and even some missile corvettes for good measure.
Canada’s east coast, meanwhile, has as many warships as a landlocked country
This entire entry is admittedly a bit of a stretch, but on the Atlantic Coast Canada only has 15 warships, at least several of which are inactive at any time for whatever reason. Azerbaijan, meanwhile, has no ocean access but a fleet of 15 warships in the Caspian Sea. Of course, Azerbaijan doesn’t have missiles and electronics and all the other expensive things on Canada’s Atlantic fleet — so Halifax can take heart that it could still sink them if it came to it.
Israel has as many sailors
Israel pays remarkably little attention to its navy, handing it a mere 5 per cent of its defence budget. Despite this, the Israeli Navy counts 9,500 sailors to Canada’s 9,068 regular sailors (both countries have roughly 5,000 reservists on call.) Israel has conscription, to be sure, which accounts for 2,500 of those sailors. And it also has much more threatening neighbours. But it also has roughly 0.1 per cent of the coastline.
Fewer landing craft than … well, anyone
A major factor that sets Canada apart from the navies of most other rich countries is that it doesn’t have any capability for amphibious operations. Unlike a lot of other Canadian “capability gaps,” this one was a conscious decision by naval planners. However, if a massive earthquake hits Haida Gwaii, for instance, the Canadian Armed Forces do not have the ability to back up a ship, lower a ramp onto a beach and start filling the area with trucks and supplies.
Fewer support vessels than … also everyone
Canada is currently lacking a pretty basic requirement of any navy that fancies itself an overseas player. The Royal Canadian Navy has no supply ships, and thus no way to refuel, rearm or replenish the mess halls of any navy ship at sea. Canada had a supply ship on each coast before they were both retired in 2015, and replacements aren’t expected until 2019. So in the meantime, if the Royal Canadian Navy wants to do anything more involved than a weekend excursion, it has to rent a used U.S. Navy vessel from Chile.
More coastline-per-ship than most countries have coast
Canada has the longest coastline in the world, but even when leaving out the hard-to-reach Arctic, there’s still about 40,000 km of seaside land on the Atlantic and Pacific. That works out to about 1,400 kilometres of all-season coastline per warship — roughly equal to the total Irish coast, according the CIA World Factbook. However, Canada’s navy doesn’t really patrol the same way as other navies; there’s not really the same need to cruise around and watch out for no-goodniks. “For the amount of domestic patrol performed, it could be argued that the Royal Canadian Navy has too many ships!” Stephen Priestley with Canadian American Strategic Review told the National Post.
But fear not …
Roll in the Coast Guard, and Canada is the biggest non-U.S. naval power in North America
Sharing a border with the most awesome naval power in the history of civilization has a way of diminishing one’s procurement accomplishments. But if the Americans weren’t there (and Canada’s massive coast guard was under naval command) then the Royal Canadian Navy would be the hemisphere’s largest until the Brazilian border. Most Caribbean countries have navies smaller than the average metropolitan police force, and Mexico’s navy is mostly focused on fishing-boat-sized patrol vessels.
Canada has one of the world’s largest icebreaker fleets (but they can’t kill anybody)
Russia is the undisputed leader in icebreaking, with more than 30 such vessels — some nuclear-powered. Then, in a distant second place are Sweden, Finland and the Great White North. Canada has 17 heavy, light and medium icebreakers, but all of these are unarmed Coast Guard vessels. The navy will be getting Arctic offshore patrol vessels, but even those can only operate during the summer. The end result is that Canada can sail its Arctic as well as any non-Russian, but it has very few options if it wanted to sink any enemies while it was there.
The Royal Canadian Navy utterly dwarfs the Royal New Zealand Navy
For years, New Zealand has taken a Canada-style approach to its navy. With Australia as its ally, the isolated Kiwis have kept naval spending to what they call a “credible minimum.” This, coupled with the country’s Montreal-sized population, means that the Royal New Zealand Navy is essentially two frigates, some helicopters and some patrol vessels; mere speed bumps for a determined Canadian invasion fleet. But the Kiwis seem fine with running a shoestring operation. In 2009, the Royal New Zealand Navy commitment to do more with less even won them a business excellence award. The navy chief at the time called it “a significant milestone on our journey to achieving … our vision of being the best small nation Navy in the world.” New Zealand, uh, also has its own support vessel.
The Royal Navy is more Canada-sized than most suspect
Despite the song warning them that they would all become slaves without their navy, Britons have joined Canada in taking a scythe to their naval spending for a few decades. The Royal Navy has amphibious assault ships and nuclear submarines, but in terms of big, front-line vessels that it can send to trouble spots, the size of the British fleet is fast approaching that of Canada: Six destroyers and 13 frigates to one destroyer and 12 frigates. However, Canada and Britain are increasingly alone in the “let’s just leave the navy for a while” camp. Almost everywhere else, the words “Russia,” “China” and “Iran” have become magic words to expand naval spending.
Canada has a curiously large number of frigates
Canada’s navy lacks a number of vessels that are considered standard in other countries. No midget submarines, no submarine rescue capsules and no corvettes. But it has an absolutely massive number of frigates. Twice as many as Norway. Six times as many as Poland, three more than Brazil. When it comes to a ship that can deploy overseas, frigates are about as cheap as they come — and a great way to tag along in a United States carrier group without breaking the bank. After a $4.3 billion refit, meanwhile, they’re also in top form. As Huebert said, they’re really “multi-purpose destroyers.”
More submarines than the West Edmonton Mall
For years, the go-to slam against the Royal Canadian Navy was to say that it had fewer submarines than the West Edmonton Mall, which had an attraction of small submarines leading visitors on an underwater tour of an artificial lake. But those were dismantled in 2012, and Canada has since gotten its own subs to float properly (or dive properly, whichever). However, Edmonton still doesn’t have to rent its oilers from Chile.
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