Back to news

December 26, 2019 | Local, Naval

Canada's new frigates could take part in ballistic missile defence — if Ottawa says yes

Canada's new frigates could take part in ballistic missile defence — if Ottawa says yes

Murray Brewster

Canada's new frigates are being designed with ballistic missile defence in mind, even though successive federal governments have avoided taking part in the U.S. program.

When they slip into the water sometime in the mid- to late-2020s, the new warships probably won't have the direct capability to shoot down incoming intercontinental rockets.

But the decisions made in their design allow them to be converted to that role, should the federal government ever change course.

The warships are based upon the British Type 26 layout and are about to hit the drawing board. Their radar has been chosen and selected missile launchers have been configured to make them easy and cost-effective to upgrade.

Vice-Admiral Art McDonald said the Lockheed Martin-built AN/SPY-7 radar system to be installed on the new frigates is cutting-edge. It's also being used on land now by the U.S. and Japan for detecting ballistic missiles.

"It's a great piece, and that is what we were looking for in terms of specification," McDonald told CBC News in a year-end interview.

Selecting the radar system for the new frigates was seen as one of the more important decisions facing naval planners because it has to stay operational and relevant for decades to come — even as new military threats and technologies emerge.

McDonald said positive feedback from elsewhere in the defence industry convinced federal officials that they had made the right choice.

"Even from those that weren't producing an advanced kind of radar, they said this is the capability you need," he said.

The whole concept of ballistic missile defence (BMD) remains a politically touchy topic.

BMD — "Star Wars," to its critics — lies at the centre of a policy debate the Liberal government has tried to avoid at all costs. In 2017, Canada chose not to join the BMD program. That reluctance to embrace BMD dates back to the political bruising Paul Martin's Liberal government suffered in 2004-05, when the administration of then-U.S. president George W. Bush leaned heavily on Ottawa to join the program.

In the years since, both the House of Commons and Senate defence committees have recommended the federal government relent and sign on to BMD — mostly because of the emerging missile threat posed by rogue nations such as North Korea.

Liberals reluctant to talk BMD

The question of whether to join BMD is expected to form part of the deliberations surrounding the renewal of NORAD — an undertaking the Liberal government has acknowledged but not costed out as part of its 2017 defence policy.

Missile defence continues to be a highly fraught concept within the federal government. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan made a point of downplaying a CBC News story last summer that revealed how the Canadian and U.S. militaries had laid down markers for what the new NORAD could look like, pending sign-off by both Washington and Ottawa.

Asked about Sajjan's response, a former senior official in the minister's office said it raised the spectre of "Star Wars" — not a topic the Liberal government was anxious to discuss ahead of last fall's election.

The current government may not want to talk about it, but the Canadian navy and other NATO countries are grappling with the technology.

Practice makes perfect

Last spring, a Canadian patrol frigate, operating with 12 other alliance warships, tracked and shot down a supersonic target meant to simulate a ballistic missile. A French frigate also scored a separate hit.

For the last two years, NATO warships have practiced linking up electronically in defensive exercises to shoot down both mock ballistic and cruise missiles. A Canadian frigate in the 2017 iteration of the exercise destroyed a simulated cruise missile.

At the recent Halifax Security Forum, there was a lot of talk about the proliferation of missile technology. One defence expert told the forum Canadian military planners have been paying attention to the issue for a long time.

The frigate design is an important example.

"I think what they've tried to do is keep the door open by some of the decisions they've made, recognizing that missile proliferation is a significant concern," said Dave Perry, of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. "They haven't shut the door on doing that and I think that is smart."

Opponents of BMD, meanwhile, have long argued the fixation by the U.S. and NATO on ballistic missile defence is fuelling instability and giving Russia and China reasons to co-operate in air and missile defence.

Speaking before a Commons committee in 2017, Peggy Mason, president of the foreign and defence policy think-tank Rideau Institute, said the United States's adversaries have concluded that building more offensive systems is cheaper than investing in defensive ones.

"The American BMD system also acts as a catalyst to nuclear weapons modernization, as Russia and China seek not only increased numbers of nuclear weapons but also increased manoeuvrability," said Mason, Canada's ambassador for disarmament from 1989 to 1994, testifying on Sept. 14, 2017.

She also warned that "there would be significant financial costs to Canadian participation" in the U.S. BMD program "given American demands" — even prior to Donald Trump's presidency — "that allies pay their 'fair share' of the collective defence burden."

On the same subject

  • Move of Canadian Forces aerospace testing organization to Ottawa delayed by construction problems, other issues

    September 7, 2023 | Local, Security

    Move of Canadian Forces aerospace testing organization to Ottawa delayed by construction problems, other issues

    Fifty-four Aerospace Engineering Test Establishment members are in temporary space now, and the move from Alberta won't finish until 2026.

  • Davie aims to replace Canadian Coast Guard's entire icebreaker fleet

    July 3, 2018 | Local, Naval

    Davie aims to replace Canadian Coast Guard's entire icebreaker fleet

    Kevin Dougherty Shipbuilding firm will start work on icebreaker conversion this summer Chantier Davie Canada Inc., the country's largest shipbuilding firm, is gunning for contracts to build new icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard. "Given the age of the Canadian Coast Guard fleet, the entire icebreaker fleet will need to be replaced in the near future," says Alex Vicefield, CEO of Inocea Group, which has owned Davie since 2012. "We have every intention of submitting a world-class proposal together with global leaders in icebreaker design." Until then, Davie, located across the river from Quebec City in Lévis, is in the home stretch of negotiations with the federal government to convert three surplus commercial icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard. Under its new management, Davie has made its mark in the industry by turning surplus ships into lower-cost solutions. The first converted icebreaker will be ready in time for the 2018-2019 ice season on the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes. However, when it comes to building new ships, there remain doubts about Davie's ability to deliver at a competitive cost. Canadian ships cost 'twice as much' Marc Gagnon is director, government affairs and regulatory compliance for the Montreal-based Fednav, which operates a fleet of nearly 100 ships. Fednav buys its ships in Japan because, Gagnon says, Canadian-built ships cost "at least twice as much." "Davie no longer has the capacity to build an icebreaker or a frigate," Gagnon said. "To do so, they would have to re-equip their shipyard." Vicefield said Davie is aware of the challenges ahead and has invested $60 million to upgrade its steel-cutting and IT infrastructure. The University of British Columbia's Michael Byers, who argues that Ottawa's current shipbuilding strategy is too costly and needlessly slow, says building government ships in Canada makes sense and Davie is definitely up to the task. "For every $100 million that is spent on building a ship in Canada, you would get several times more than that in terms of knock-on economic activity," Byers said. "And Davie is the logical place to do it. They have a very large shipyard. They have a very capable workforce. The labour costs are relatively low and it's an active shipyard." Asterix 'very impressive' Last year, before Ottawa agreed to sit down with Davie to discuss the icebreaker conversions, Davie delivered the Asterix — a container ship converted into a supply ship for the Royal Canadian Navy — on time and on budget. ​In 2015, when the navy's existing two supply ships were no longer seaworthy, Vicefield and his team proposed converting the Asterix to a naval supply ship for about $600 million. "What they did with the Asterix was very impressive," Byers said. "There is no other shipyard in Canada that could have done that." In comparison, Vancouver-based ​Seaspan was chosen to build two new navy supply ships for $2.6 billion. But the first new supply ship will only be ready in 2020. "This is a cutthroat business and there is a lot of money involved and a lot of politics involved," Byers said. "Davie has the capacity and the experience to build icebreakers, plus they have the lowest costs in terms of labour of any shipyard in the country," he said. The Canadian Coast Guard has an aging fleet of 13 ice-breaking vessels and two hovercraft. Ice still a hazard to navigation Canada's oldest and largest icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, was commissioned in 1969. It was to be replaced in 2017 by the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker. But from the initial estimate of $720 million, the Diefenbaker is now expected to cost over $1.4 billion, with delivery in 2022. To meet Ottawa's need for "interim icebreakers," Davie found four icebreakers built for oil and gas drilling off the coast of Alaska that were idled when oil prices fell, putting an end of Shell's Arctic venture. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed to negotiations with Davie to acquire the three smaller ice-breaking vessels, leaving aside the larger Aiviq. With no other shipyard matching Davie's proposal, the conversion work will begin this summer.

  • Journée de l'industrie Irving - Faits saillants

    April 27, 2021 | Local, Naval

    Journée de l'industrie Irving - Faits saillants

    'Au cas où vous n'auriez pas pu assister à la journée de l'industrie Irving d'hier sur le projet de la NCC (CSC), voici les faits saillants de l'événement: Un sondage sur les capacités canadiennes a été publié par Irving avec l'aide des consultants de Kearney. Les entreprises intéressées à travailler avec Irving sur le NCC doivent compléter ce sondage avant le 7 mai 2021. Lorsque vous remplissez le questionnaire, assurez-vous d'inclure autant d'informations que possible sur votre produit, service ou projet. Le sondage permettra aux entreprises de soumettre des fichiers, tels que des plans d'affaires, du matériel de marketing, des conceptions techniques, etc. dans le cadre de la soumission. Les entreprises considérées pourraient ensuite recevoir un appel téléphonique de Irving pour une discussion technique plus approfondie en automne 2021. Les premiers appels d'offres seront diffusés au premier trimestre de 2022 aux candidats qualifiés. Irving évaluera les fournisseurs sur les critères de faisabilité suivants: Convenance de la base d'approvisionnement Calendrier de livraison et coûts Risques techniques Risques d'intégrations Exigences de sécurité Les fournisseurs sont aussi appelés à démontrer comment leurs produits, services ou projets pourraient offrir au Canada des avantages économiques. Cela pourrait prendre la forme de: Création d'emploi Potentiel de partenariats avec les écoles locales Programmes coopératifs ou programmes d'apprentissage Propriété intellectuelle Pour être considéré comme candidat qualifié, il est d'abord essentiel que vous compléter le sondage Kearney avant le 7 mai, 2021 et que vous vous inscrivez au portail de fournisseur de Irving : 1. Lien vers le sondage: 2. Lien vers le portail de fournisseur : Ces liens sont également disponibles sur le site web d'Irving, Veuillez contacter vous avez des questions.

All news