Will our Naval Reserves Have an Anti-terrorist Role?

by GB Stanford, RCN (retired)

The question of “mandating” the Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels’s, “manned” by naval reservists, for the anti-terrorist role is a non-issue. Unfortunately, the MCDV’s are inadequate for the role. The MCDV’s do have small arms for individual issue/use and fittings for a 40 mm gun (not installed), but, I would say that the term “none of which are adequately armed” is a better one.

However it’s not just that aspect: those vessels were designed for mine warfare and have various different fitments with which they may or may not be fitted. For instance minesweeping or mine clearance equipment, as well as being fitted for but not with Bofors guns. However while a maximum speed of 16 knots may be sufficient for mine warfare it is far too slow to deal with merchant ships which they may have to deal with in the Coastal Defence role, either in the anti-terrorist role or to combat smuggling.

Cruise ships generally range in speeds up to 24-25 knots, as do container ships. A small inadequately armed MCDV couldn’t get or keep close to such ships. Bulk carriers and Liquid Natural Gas carriers are in the 16 knot range, if not more. How could our MCDV’s cope against their speed unless they were able to maintain a closing course? Without adequate armament they couldn’t hope to disable such ships either. With their small crews they also have insufficient personnel to take action against a ship in the hands of terrorists and, while their crews are well trained for “normal” operations of their ships, they do not have the numbers or training to be able to take effective action to board and deal with terrorists (who see death as a way to glory and paradise).

Presumably while assisting in that role in the sense of “coastal defence” or patrol within their capability, they would require support and action by our Halifax class frigates and/or Iroquois class destroyers. The question I raise there is that with our naval resources being strained with commitments to the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Eastern Mediterranean, are we maintaining sufficient ready ships with the equipment and personnel to be able to sail at short notice to take such action?

I agree that there has been little (no) indication by the Federal government that it is coming to grips with terrorist threats in or through Canadian coastal waters. There are only minor moves in respect to our ports: agreement on the basing of U.S. Customs officers in Halifax, Montreal and Vancouver for inspection of containers (presumably those destined for U.S. inland destinations), but do we have the required technology (Gamma-Ray) equipment to scan the containers? I have heard of only one such recently arrived in Vancouver which has four or five container terminals.

The Canadian Coast Guard is not a para-military or policing agency as the U.S. Coast Guard is. That flows I believe from the decision made on formation of a Canadian Coast Guard that it would not have such role or “peace officer” status and no naval role. It is concerned with lights, buoys, and to some extent safety equipment on vessels (even though that really comes under Transport Canada Ship Safety). So its ships, equipment and personnel are inadequate for an anti-terroirst role.

It seems that integration of our homeland defence with the United States is the best that we can do and suffer that which may need to be done in Canadian waters by U.S. ships, naval or coast guard, failing availability of our own. Yes that is a denigration of our sovereignty, as sovereignty entails the ability to adequately defend ourselves and enforce our laws and security.

While the proposed extension of North American defence in the naval/coastal waters in a similar form to NORAD makes sense, only for the latter do we have credible contributions for air defence. At sea we will be inadequate and reliant on the United States to do the job for us.

It is past high time that the federal government took this seriously and made available the necessary funds and resources and displayed the leadership to do so by telling the country that is what we need to do and to pay for, together with ships, equipment and personnel.

The CDA and the Senate Committee have it right … O Canada!

GB Stanford, RCN (retired)

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