Canada’s military is said to be ironically sinking, caused by years of neglect and underfunding, the giant nation’s navy can no longer operate in global waters. The nation once had the 3rd best naval military in the world, then it dropped ranks to currently 23rd in the world. Even smaller nations can best this giant nation in terms of naval power, even though it has the largest coastline in the world and a vast Arctic region of thousands of islands to cover.
In recent years, federal leading parties have shown their interest in bringing back the Canadian navy after its shortcomings in global military navy games. Through all of this, their budgets have failed to bring change, and only one good news has been announced for the navy – 15 new frigates – but their cost effectiveness is questionable. Canada’s naval force is in serious decline caused by outdated equipment which is costing the country billions to ineffectively ‘modernize’, low investment in technological diversification in the fleet, and insufficient levels of personnel to staff the navy’s ships due to fewer incentives, all of which is made worse by the nation’s expansive coastline.
Canada is spending billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to modernize naval equipment arguably ineffectively. The navy’s decades old ships and submarines are so old and broken down that they need billions to maintain. As of now, the navy is backboned by 12 Halifax-class patrol frigates that were commissioned in 1992. Canada refitted these ships from 2010 to 2018 for $5.3 billion total, and for comparison 3 Arleigh Burke class American destroyers could be bought, a very capable ship that is the backbone of the US navy destroyers. On top of this, Canada is investing 77 billion dollars in making 15 Type 26 frigates, a very high end frigate displacing about 8000 tonnes but not a destroyer (backbones of a modern navy) nonetheless.
For comparison for 60 billion dollars, Canada could buy 11 of the brand new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers that displace 65,000 tonnes, or 6 Nimitz class aircraft carriers displacing 97,000 tonnes, or finally various other missile launch capable destroyers. All of these options would change the world balance in terms of naval strength as high end destroyers or aircraft carriers is a feat that only some countries can boast.
On top of this, Canada runs 4 diesel-electric submarines of the Victoria class. These submarines are simply very old second hands from a greater military power from more than 40 years ago and for much of their life they have not been able to run smoothly. They were built in the UK in the 1980s but the UK decided that maintaining diesel submarines would not be worth it and these extremely expensive submarines that had constant issues both electrically and mechanically, were simply decommissioned and sold to Canada in 1994.
This means Canada is mainly running equipment that another naval power deemed useless over 25 years ago. Every 6 to 9 years, the Victoria class submarines go past an extended docking work period (EDWP), including incredibly expensive and thorough maintenance. In 2008, the subs were modernized for 3.6 billion, and it should be kept in mind that Canada paid only $610 million for all 4 submarines themselves at the time of purchase, plus another $140 million for training, spare parts, and other fitting. This means that the cost to maintain highly surpasses the cost of the submarine itself, and it would be much more efficient to buy new nuclear modern submarines one time than spend billions renovating them over several years.
Low investment in the technological diversification of the fleet really also changes the effectiveness of the Canadian navy. Diversification includes backbones of a modern navy, which includes destroyers and aircraft carriers. On top of this, it could be said that cruisers, battleships, and especially anti-submarine warfare vessels are essential considering the high level of technologies that other countries, especially nations that may pose a threat to Canada, hold. Canada has no such plans for all of this diversification that could ultimately mean the difference determining if Canada has a blue-water capable navy. On top of this, Canada planned a replacement for the patrol frigates but has not planned a proper equivalent replacement for the retired Iroquois-class destroyers.
This means that Canada seemingly wants to keep the diversification down by apparently combining the replacements of the destroyers and patrol frigates into a very packed frigate, that might as well be Canada’s most expensive lightweight surface ship to date. Diversification also means different types of certain vessels, such as nuclear powered submarines. Nuclear powered submarines are used in the most powerful navies globally and are considered the future due to less maintenance (no engine problems) and unlimited deployment and reconnaissance range. Canada did consider a new Canada-class submarine, 8 nuclear powered attack submarines that were much more modernized than the diesel-electric Victoria class, but many politicians were against it. Unfortunately the designs never left the paper and all the planning was halted in 1988 after American politicians feared attack submarines in Canada (their only bordered country), and called it off due to a peace treaty formed in 1958.
It is crucial for Canada to have different classes of vessels. Corvettes are needed as an escort for the main vessels or for even normal commercial liners going through disputed territories. Destroyers are needed to really defend if the need comes in a long range. This means that the navy would be able to operate in further reaches from the main bases and could go up North. Aircraft carriers or battleships would be needed in case of an actual convoy needed for foreign support or help as these are the only ships that could traverse these long distances. Comparatively, other countries close to Canada’s level in terms of GDP, economic prosperity, and economic stability have much more diversification in their navies. Italy has a GDP not far higher than Canada’s just a bit more even if it has a larger population.
Despite this, Italy has two aircraft carriers (although small, they are plenty capable), 4 destroyers, and 13 frigates. All of these vessels are much newer than Canada’s and have more constant maintenance to keep the fleet ready for war. On top of this Italy has many patrol and smaller vessels to guard a coastline that is much smaller than Canada’s. On the other side of the world, South Korea has a smaller GDP than Canada and maintains a fleet that is highly modern. The Korean fleet currently runs 2 helicopter carriers, 12 destroyers, 18 frigates, 11 corvettes, 22 submarines, 13 mine warfare vehicles, and 111 patrol vessels. On top of this, the vessels, especially the submarines, are among the most capable in the world. For Canada though, maintaining a navy as powerful as South Korea’s would be unreasonable as Canada does not have any threats, whereas South Korea has to constantly help the USA and be ready for any move that North Korea may make.
Canada’s vessels are undermanned too due to the lack of personnel. The shortage of sailors and maintenance crew makes it hard for the navy to operate its ships and replace the ships too at the same time. The navy is short of about 10 percent of trained sailors, but in some areas of the fleet it could be up to 40% short. This is a huge problem as in a serious problem it would be safer to have a surplus of trained sailors just in case the need be.
The navy is facing a different problem compared to the rest of the Canadian military such as the Air Force. It simply cannot recruit enough people. This is because the sailors have to be mainly from the East and West coasts, where the major naval bases are located. Instead, these sailors find civilian jobs for sea navigation and such more profitable and safer. For the 15 new warships that are planned to have started construction, the navy needs to recruit 1000 more sailors and that right now they have only been able to do so because of the retired Iroquois-class and the sailors that were needed for those ships could work on the frigates.
In fact, throughout Canada’s military, the gap between the actual number of trained and effective members and the required number is increasing yearly. It takes about 3 months to two years to join the Canadian navy, depending on how good the recruit is and how fast the criminal background check clears. A large reason as to why the navy’s recruitment is particularly lower than the rest of the military’s is because of the long six to twelve month deployments that can be challenging for families of the soldiers. It also leads to moving and relocation sometimes for the whole family to accommodate the sailor. In the year 2017, a new defense policy was instituted called Strong, Secure, Engaged, and its purpose was to maintain the Canadian Armed Forces as a combat-ready force. It included multiple increases in funding and goals set for new recruitments and diversity in recruitments to try and get women to make up 25% of the force.
This goal also includes replacements for the Canadian fighter jets, military helicopters, warships, and various other equipment. Even though the nation’s large coastline requires it to have a capable navy, Canada’s fleet is underfunded and not planned well enough as it wastes money in trying to modernize the fleet constantly, while not being able to invest in technological diversification and a lack of personnel to maintain and sail the fleet. Canada has already lost its blue-water status and will soon need to ramp up its navy due to the melting Arctic and coastline to defend up north. It is only a matter of time until we know if Canada will meet these goals to stay safe and free on time or not.
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Scott Gilmore, August 4, 2015. “The Sinking of the Canadian Navy.” Macleans.ca, 14 Aug. 2015, https://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/the-sinking-of-the-canadian-navy/.
Press, The Canadian, and Lee Berthiaume. “Canadian Navy Needs to Recruit 1,000 Sailors to Crew New Warships: Commander.” CTVNews, CTV News, 30 Dec. 2021,
Defence, National. “Government of Canada.” Canada.ca, / Gouvernement Du Canada, 1 Mar. 2021, https://www.canada.ca/en/department-national-defence/corporate/reports-publications/proactive-disclosur e/main-estimates-2020-2021/personnel.html.