Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, Canada has always deployed at least one Halifax-class frigate in the North Atlantic or the Mediterranean.
For the first time in eight years, Canadian warships are not participating in either of the two “Standing NATO Maritime Groups” charged with patrolling European waters and defending against Russian threats.
Observers and experts say the absence highlights growing compromises Canada must make with the Royal Canadian Navy, which is struggling with a shrinking fleet of aging ships and a lack of skilled sailors .
Since Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014, Canada has always been part of the standing maritime groups of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). It has always deployed at least one Halifax-class frigate in the North Atlantic or Mediterranean, on rotation.
Last March, as part of its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Liberal government made it a point to deploy a second frigate to the region. This ship was originally scheduled to be deployed for several months in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East.
But the spokeswoman at the Department of National Defense , Jessica Lamirande, admitted that Canada has not deployed a frigate to either NATO sea group since HMCS Montreal and HMCS Halifax returned to their home base on July 15, in Halifax.
“This is the first time this has happened since 2014. »
— Jessica Lamirande, Department of National Defense Spokesperson
The spokesperson linked the decision not to send new frigates to Europe to the deployment of two such ships in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the maintenance and training needs of the Halifax-class fleet.
Canada has instead deployed two small Kingston-class coastal defense vessels to work with another NATO maritime group, which focuses on searching for enemy mines and clearing mines.
Chief of the Defense Staff General Wayne Eyre said this will allow Canadian sailors to gain experience in an important area of naval warfare, while by showing Canada's commitment to European security.
General Wayne Eyre said he approved of the choice to send two frigates to the Pacific Ocean , where tensions between the West and China are rising.
But in an interview with The Canadian Press on Monday, he conceded that resources were limited and that the government was struggling. staff had to make decisions about when and where Canadian engagements took place.
He added that he approved of the decision to send two frigates to the Pacific, where tensions between the West and China are increasing, because we deliberately want to increase our presence in Asia-Pacific, since we are a Pacific nation.
China last week launched a massive military drill around Taiwan, the self-governing island Beijing considers its territory, after US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taipei. The exercise took place amid growing fears of a possible Chinese invasion.
The shipbuilding expert from the University of Calgary Timothy Choi believes the decision to send two frigates to Europe at the same time earlier this year played a significant role in limiting the Atlantic Fleet's ability to deploy another frigate at short notice.
In my opinion, this does not mean that the availability of ships and crews has deteriorated in recent years, said Mr. Choi.
“Rather, these are the unavoidable consequences of forcing a small fleet to concentrate more resources in a shorter amount of time, which results in more time needed to recover.
— Timothy Choi, University of Calgary shipbuilding expert
But defense analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute predicts that Canada will have to make increasingly difficult trade-offs when it comes to security. where to deploy its warships, given the size and condition of its navy.
With Canada's military fleet numbering 12 frigates, Perry said the navy's maintenance and training needs mean that only a few ships can be deployed at any given time. Canada also had three destroyers, but these ships were retired in 2014.
Not to mention the increasing age of the frigates, which entered service in the 1990s and become increasingly difficult to repair and maintain, according to senior officers and internal reports.
Adam MacDonald, a former naval officer now studying at Dalhousie University in Halifax, believes the Royal Canadian Navy and Canadian Armed Forces will also face increasing pressure to maintain a presence in Europe, Asia and in the Arctic, as there are going to be demands in these three regions – in addition to the regions where Canada already has a presence: the Caribbean, West Africa and West Africa. South America, he said.
The federal government is overseeing the construction of a new fleet of military ships to replace frigates and destroyers, but the multi-billion dollar project has experienced repeated cost overruns and delays.
And the navy, like the rest of the military, also faces severe personnel shortages.< /p>
Meanwhile, Mr. MacDonald predicts that the Kingston-class minesweepers will be tr in high demand as the Royal Canadian Navy faces increasing demands overseas.