Do We Need Other Resources for International Operations? A Case for Naval Ship Building

By WLD (Bill) Farrell

The Federal Government says that it will presently review Canada’s defence requirements. What can we expect? Months of deliberation by politicians with shallow knowledge of military matters and a result fudged to meet some arbitrary dollar figure – not one addressed to real need?

I am a retired naval officer with a deep disdain for my country’s proclivity to load its defence budget onto the backs of American taxpayers. We let our neighbours pay for the preservation of our own sovereignty! We end up with a kind of pseudo-sovereignty. I have expressed this disdain directly, in face-to-face talks with two local Members of Parliament and one Senator, offering the following view of how Canada can “put its money where its mouth is” and so validate its claim to genuine sovereignty.

Canada’s government has been quick to offer military aid in overseas crises but woefully slow in delivering forces to the theatre involved: “Sept 11th” is only the latest, albeit the most egregious, case. We have no Rapid Response Force in being. We doddle and cobble together ad hoc contingents while our allies hold the fort for us. The current operations in Afghanistan and the Arabian Sea reveal our forces as mere adjuncts of United States Forces. We have neither the sealift nor the airlift to bring ground forces to the scene of action, to provide logistical support while there or to extract them when the job is finished. We trumpet sovereignty while we ride to war on Uncle Sam’s coat tails. We freeload!



Recent PR photos show some of our warships in a formation centred on an aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. That should have been a Canadian carrier – a multi-purpose carrier. The concept I have been promoting is a carrier capable of carrying troops, landing craft, helicopters and fighters. A Task Force centred on such a ship would permit Canadian operations to be allied with, but not under direct command of, American or other nation’s Theatre Commanders.

We are talking about a major warship. We are talking a lot of money. But we are talking Canadian sovereignty! Of what use would such a warship be in non-hostility times? Plenty! Such a ship could be re-configured quickly with portable containers of field hospitals, disaster relief food and other humanitarian services to meet the emergent need. Occasional “show-the-flag” cruises carrying exhibits of Canada’s manufacturing and service industries would help it earn its keep. And, in times of an all-out global war? Then it becomes the heart of an independent, Canadian-commanded, naval Task Force.

The politicians, when presented with this vision, shrug and allow as how defence is not a real priority with the government; and, with the present Prime Minister, it is likely to remain at the Luxembourg level as long as Uncle Sam is prepared to foot our defence bills.

Sadly, by the time our Federal Government appreciates the need for a carrier, the shore base on which it must be based will have been sold off to real estate developers. The great military airfield at Shearwater (Halifax)

An aerial shot of CFB Shearwater

An aerial shot of CFB Shearwater

, with its runways, barracks and dock, into which DND has invested many millions of dollars over many decades, will pass into the hands of Canada Lands Company, as early as the end of March 02, and thence to the highest (or most favoured) bidder. This Shearwater base is irreplaceable! To borrow from Mark Twain, “Buy land son, they ain’t makin’ no more of it.” I know there “just ain’t no more suitable land around Halifax Harbour”: No supporting airfield, no carrier; and, we commit to riding Uncle’s coat tails well into the 21st Century!

WLD (Bill) Farrell, East Lawrencetown NS, is a long-retired naval officer with service in the carrier Magnificent during the 1957 Suez crisis and with the U.N. Force in Korea. He was a founding staff member of the School of Maritime Warfare.

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