Canada is considering leasing and converting a second auxiliary tanker to help bridge the gap until its long overdue Joint Support Ship project comes into fruition.
The move is being pushed along by Davie Shipyards in Quebec who are attempting to secure a second contract for a converted supply ship from the Liberal-led Federal Government. The company claims it has the base vessel, a container ship known as the Obelix, available for immediate conversion.
The Royal Canadian Navy has had a capability gap in the replenishment space since 2015 when the well-aged Protecteur class were withdrawn. Two new vessels to form a new Protecteur class, based off the German Berlin-class design, are about to begin construction in Vancouver and will not be available until the early 2020s at the earliest. In the meantime, Canada has been relying on allied navies for support and utilising vessels leased from other navies including the Spanish ship Cantabria and Chilean Admiral Montt.
Under project Resolve the Royal Canadian Navy has recently leased the German-built commercial vessel Asterix which underwent conversion at Davie to operate it as a stopgap replenishment vessel for the next few years. Asterix has recently left Davie on sea trials and all going well should enter full service in the new year. Now Davie want to convert the Obelix as well to strengthen this stopgap capability, and most importantly from the political perspective prevent further job cuts in the Montreal area.
According to Davie CEO Alex Vicefield at least 800 jobs could be on the line across the shipyard and its supply chain, with redundancies already made at their plant in Levis. Vicefield argues that converting the Obelix would cost only CA$600 million and could begin immediately, compared to the CA$2 billion cost of the new Protecteur class with a delayed start.
The Joint Support Ship project has been an ongoing drama in Canadian defence policy since 2004 when it was initially announced that construction would begin in 2008. Since then there have been numerous proposals, tenders, reviews and debates over ship names but little visible progress. A contract for the modified Berlin class vessels has now been awarded to Seaspan and construction is expected to begin shortly following the recent launch of their last project – a scientific vessel for the Canadian Coast Guard.
The Royal Canadian Navy maintains two largely separate fleets on its Pacific and Atlantic coasts which necessitates the optimal requirement for at least two replenishment vessels in service. This is a core part of the argument for extension of project Resolve. The Resolve project is being managed privately by Davie in association with Federal Fleet Services, who own the ship and are leasing it to the Canadian government, and the contract includes a buyout option for the navy after ten years.
At this stage the Liberal Government remains officially committed to building the two new vessels at Seaspan, with political wrangling likely to continue however it is hard to predict how many more twists and turns there will be in the ongoing drama that has been the Joint Support Ship project.