Ship Cuts Send RCN Naval Rank­ing Tum­bling Ac­cord­ing to Their Own Sys­tem

RCN News - - Contents - By Ken Hansen, CFPS Res­i­dent Re­search Fel­low

The an­nounce­ment on 19 Septem­ber to cut four ships from the Cana­dian naval fleet, the de­stroy­ers Iro­quois and Algonquin and the re­plen­ish­ment ships Pro­tecteur and Pre­server, was done, quite typ­i­cally, on a Fri­day af­ter­noon. The news re­lease was phrased op­ti­misti­cally as “[a] tran­si­tion to the fu­ture fleet.” The prob­lem is that any fu­ture fleet is still many years off, and the rem­nants of the cur­rent fleet are in the process of be­ing up­graded to try and keep them use­ful for another decade of hard ser­vice. By that point, the Arc­tic and Off­shore Pa­trol ships and the two re­place­ment sup­ply ships should be en­ter­ing ser­vice. Whether or not the 15 new com­bat ships will be any­where on the hori­zon by then is any­body’s guess.

As the age of ships goes, the four be­ing de­com­mis­sioned are so old that none of this should come as a sur­prise. They were de­scribed var­i­ously in the navy’s me­dia back­grounder as “hav­ing reached the end of their op­er­a­tional life,” “dam­aged beyond re­pair”, and “[the] struc­tural in­tegrity of the hull is be­low ac­cept­able lim­its due to high lev­els of cor­ro­sion.” After com­mis­sion­ing into ser­vice in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they are all long past the point where they could be con­sid­ered ef­fec­tive. HMCS Athabaskan will re­main in ser­vice for the short term, but her end can­not be all that far off. The cost of keep­ing th­ese an­tiques run­ning was pre­vi­ously de­scribed to me by one of­fi­cer as “es­ca­lat­ing un­con­trol­lably.”

This re­duc­tion in num­bers will leave the navy with­out two key ca­pa­bil­i­ties that al­lowed it to claim to be a “Rank Three Navy.” Again and again in the navy’s pro­fes-

sional lit­er­a­ture, the RCN refers to it­self as a “Medium Global Force Pro­jec­tion Navy.” It was heady stuff with a pleas­ing sound. The view that Canada could dis­patch a self-con­tained and self-sus­tain­ing naval force any­where in the world at short no­tice gave it stand­ing and recog­ni­tion. Cana­di­ans that saw our coun­try as a G-8 na­tion and a world leader could point to it and jus­tify their in­ter­na­tion­al­ist per­spec­tive. All of that is gone now.

The def­i­ni­tion of a Rank Three Navy from Lead­mark: The Navy’s Strat­egy for 2020 reads: Th­ese are navies that may not pos­sess the full range of ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but have a cred­i­ble ca­pac­ity in cer­tain of them and con­sis­tently demon­strate a de­ter­mi­na­tion to ex­er­cise them at some dis­tance from home wa­ters, in co­op­er­a­tion with other Force Pro­jec­tion Navies. E.g., Canada, Nether­lands, Aus­tralia.

Now, the RCN ranks far be­low the Royal Nether­lands or Royal Aus­tralian Navies.

In­stead, the ap­pro­pri­ate cat­e­gory from Lead­mark for the RCN is a “Rank Six Navy.” The def­i­ni­tion for this level reads: Th­ese are navies that have rel­a­tively high lev­els of ca­pa­bil­ity in de­fen­sive (and con­stab­u­lary) op­er­a­tions up to about 200 miles from their shores, hav­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of­fered by frigate or large corvette ves­sels and (or) a ca­pa­ble sub­ma­rine force.

Hav­ing lost the abil­ity to de­fend it­self against a long-range threat and to ef­fec­tively com­mand a Cana­dian for­ma­tion, the RCN no longer has the choice or even the right to in­sist on in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tions or to com­mand any­thing. They will go where the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of oth­ers can as­sure their se­cu­rity, and they will be re­quired to con­form to the in­ten­tions of other lead­ers. Hav­ing lost the abil­ity to sus­tain it­self with the nec­es­sary sup­plies, fuel and am­mu­ni­tion, the RCN will have to go where the lo­gis­tics are lo­cated. They will be obliged to ac­cept what­ever is avail­able to them and will have no right to in­sist on any pri­or­ity for their needs. They will ei­ther have to get used to this new re­al­ity, or stay home. Some might say that is a good thing.

This is a ter­rific fall in sta­tus (the sys­tem only goes to Rank Nine: To­ken Navies) and it is go­ing to sting for a long time. What should hurt even more is the fact that a suc­ces­sion of ad­mi­rals has let it come to this ter­ri­ble state.

Re­ally hard ques­tions need to be asked now about why the RCN has failed to ef­fec­tively make its case known long be­fore this predica­ment arose. How is it that naval lead­ers can­not take re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fu­ture of the navy? How is it that th­ese lead­ers can­not speak in a com­pre­hen­si­ble fash­ion that lets the gov­ern­ment and the peo­ple un­der­stand their prob­lems? How is it that sim­ply ‘let­ting things slide’ from leader to leader with lit­tle change or progress can be viewed as an ac­cept­able prac­tice?

Change comes to all or­ga­ni­za­tions. It’s how they han­dle change that sets the great lead­ers apart. In a book en­ti­tled Or­ga­ni­za­tional Change: A Com­pre­hen­sive Reader

(Jossey-Blass, 2009), pp. 4-5, W. Warner Burke laid out his “Four Bedrock Prin­ci­ples for Or­ga­ni­za­tions.” They are:

Equi­lib­rium leads to death;

In­no­va­tion of­ten oc­curs on the edge of chaos;

Self-or­ga­ni­za­tion and emer­gence hap­pen quite nat­u­rally; and

[The cul­ture of] Or­ga­ni­za­tions can only be dis­turbed, not di­rected

The navy may not be dy­ing, but it is cer­tainly di­min­ish­ing. The sta­tus quo should not ever have been seen as an op­tion. De­spite the fact that the Na­tional Ship­build­ing Pro­cure­ment Strat­egy prom­ises a bet­ter fu­ture, the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is a dis­as­ter. It is time for the in­no­va­tors and rad­i­cal re­or­ga­niz­ers to come to the fore and fig­ure out how this can best be dealt with. Wait­ing and hop­ing for change is not an op­tion. Some­thing needs to hap­pen, and soon.

Most im­por­tantly, un­less the navy over­comes its cul­ture of silent obe­di­ence, they will not be able to at­tract and re­tain bright young peo­ple that want to serve at sea and who will be­come the naval lead­ers of the fu­ture. Let’s hope they learn to avoid the mis­takes of the present and past gen­er­a­tions of lead­ers.

Two vet­er­ans en­joy­ing a visit to HMCS Sackville dur­ing the Con­voy Cup at the

Dart­mouth Yacht Club

Adm. Harry Har­ris Jr., com­man­der of U.S. Pa­cific Fleet, gives a pre­sen­ta­tion about the

United States’ re­bal­ance to the Pa­cific to more than 50 Cana­dian of­fi­cers at the Naval Of­fi­cer’s Train­ing Cen­ter. Fol­low­ing the pre­sen­ta­tion, Har­ris served as a key­note speaker for the bi­en­nial Mar­itime Se­cu­rity Chal­lenges sym­po­sium. (U.S. Navy photo by Se­nior Chief Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Spe­cial­ist

Michael Lewis/Re­leased)

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