Surface Forces: Doing Much With Little

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July 21, 2021: In Canada, the navy added its first new warship in 25 years with the mid-2021 commissioning of the DeWolf, the first of six AOPS (Arctic and Offshore Patrol ships). Russia, the other nation with a massive arctic coast, has already been reintroducing this type of ship, which has a stronger hull that is capable of safely operating in off-shore waters featuring a lot of floating ice and thin sheets of unbroken ice. The 6,500-ton DeWolfs are based on the 2001 Norwegian Svalbard, a 6,300-ton ship that became the model for other nations seeking new arctic patrol ships. The Norwegian ships also served as the model for three Russian 8,500-ton Papanin class ships, the first of which will enter service in 2023. Russia has already put similar, but less capable Arctic patrol ships with reinforced hulls to handle light ice conditions.

Canada is buying eight AOPS, six for the navy and two for the coast guard. OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels) have become more popular and abundant because they are corvette-to-frigate size ships designed to patrol coastal waters to protect fishing grounds, and in some regions, discourage drug smugglers and smugglers in general. OPVs have become more necessary since the 1990s when the 1994 Law of the Sea treaty confirmed that the waters 22 kilometers from land were under the jurisdiction of the nation controlling the nearest land. That means ships cannot enter these "territorial waters" without permission. Moreover, the waters 360 kilometers from land were recognized as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), of the nation controlling the nearest land. The EEZ owner can control who fishes there, and extract natural resources (mostly oil and gas) from the ocean floor. But the EEZ owner cannot prohibit free passage, or the laying of pipelines and communications cables. Many nations now have reason to patrol waters farther from shore and that requires OPVs.

OPVs come in two basic models; lightly armed coast guard ships and more heavily armed ships for navy use. The AOPS is an arctic version of the coast guard model. The DeWolfs are armed with one 25mm autocannon and two 12.7mm machine-guns. The Dewolfs has a hangar and landing pad for a ten-ton helicopter or one lighter helicopter and a smaller helicopter UAV. The larger CH-148 helicopter is designed to carry two lightweight torpedoes and the DeWolf has a detection system for incoming anti-ship missiles. The Dewolf is designed to patrol arctic waters, not take on hostile warships. To that end the ship carries two rescue boats and a 12 meter (39 foot) long landing craft. There is a vehicle bay that can hold pickup trucks, ATVs (All-terrain vehicles) and snowmobiles. There is a crew of 65 plus accommodations for 22 additional people. Top speed in open water is 31 kilometers an hour and 5.6 kilometers an hour when icebreaking. Onboard generators can produce 3.6 MW of electrical power. Using onboard fuel, DeWolf can travel up to 12,000 kilometers and stay at sea for up to three weeks at a time. The Dewolfs were built with more protection from extreme arctic weather than the Svalbard and more space for the helicopters and ground vehicles.

The RNC (Royal Canadian Navy) consists of twelve frigates, four diesel-electric submarines, one AOPS, twelve coastal minesweepers and eight patrol vessels, some used for training. The new AOPS are the start of a major construction effort by the RNC to replace most of its ships before they have to be retired because of age. Canada has the world’s largest coastline but most of this 243,000-kilometer coastline is in the Arctic. The air force controls most aircraft, with the RCN only having a few helicopters. The air force handles most aerial surveillance, including coastal areas. The Canadian Coast Guard is considered a non-military force that concentrates on protecting fishing waters and keeping arctic sea lanes open using one of the largest fleets of icebreakers in the world.

 


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