Time to Rethink Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOPS)
The first vessel out of the Combat vessel stream in the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) is AOPS. Already, two years or more behind schedule, now is the time to rethink whether these ships are actually the right vessels for the jobs they are intended to do.
There were a number of very experienced people, both in the shipbuilding industry, but also in the Navy who felt that the AOPS experiment was wrong headed. These were vessels that had contradictory purposes. On one hand they were to be new-ice icebreakers; on the other hand, they were to be Offshore Patrol vessels. They were not heavy enough to actually break ice over 1 metre; they were too heavy to actually patrol at speed and be successful in coastal interdiction duties. In typical Canadian fashion they were trying to be all things to all people and in the process they would not do either job all that well.
For a couple of years now there has been an Interdepartmental Task Force, headed by the Coast Guard, on the subject of arming the Coast Guard. The work the Task Force is doing has been slow going but recently it has been injected with some new energy and a burr in the saddle so to speak. The result is that there are now rumours floating around that Cabinet is considering arming the Coast Guard and possibly even taking CCG out of Fisheries and Oceans and making it its own Separate Statutory Agency, perhaps as part of the Public Safety constellation. It is not that this idea is new to the Conservatives. Certainly, taking the CCG into Public Safety was a Conservative Party resolution at least 3 elections ago.
Arming the Coast Guard and giving the Coast Guard a stronger mandate in the police and patrol space accomplishes a number of objectives. First, it takes redundancies out of the system and produces cost savings as it makes the RCMP, provincial police fleets redundant in many instances. Second, it means that the need for Naval vessels in the North is reduced dramatically. If CCG icebreakers are armed, the need for the AOPS is drastically reduced. Third, as a service agency, the CCC could be in a position to charge considerably more user fees.
In the short term however, arming the Coast Guard means that it is time to reconsider AOPS. Build Naval patrol vessels that actually patrol. Build more icebreakers, arm them and do a good job in the North, not just a mediocre job on the edges of the North.
This also provides more financial room for the Department of National Defence which clearly has more prospective projects on its books than the Canada First Defence Strategy funding envelope can accommodate. It is inevitable that some projects have to be scaled back (e.g. F-35s)or cancelled. AOPS could be seen as expendable if there are more cost-effective options available.