Thursday, November 6, 2014

Maple Mistrals? Mais Non

David Pugliese has fun in his new post, basically raising a possibility and then dashing it: that Canada could take the French Mistals that they had built to sell to Russia.  Now that selling amphibuous assault ships to Russia seems politically incorrect, people are looking for Canada to take on these beasts.  Seems like a win-win since Canada would get some bitchin' platforms and France would not have to worry about giving Russia the ships.

But pleeeeasssse!  This is about as realistic as any of Canada's procurement projects coming in early and under budget.  Why not?

First, Canada would have to pay up front a couple of billion dollars.  The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy keeps taking longer and longer, which is actually cool for this government since it can defer and defer the spending and thus have a balanced budget.

Second, everyone ignores the costs that go with these ships.  Canada has had a tremendously hard time just getting new helicopters for its navy--for the handful of frigates and destroyers.  These Mistrals would need a squadron of helos each to be functional, not to mention landing craft (which Canada does not have), and so on.  Operating these ships has to be more expensive than operating frigates.  And the Canadian Navy is already stretched when it comes to operations and maintenance.

Third, what would Canada do with an amphibious assault ship?  Yes, folks have tweeted at me that this would be handy for some humanitarian emergencies, but those are pretty rare.  So, you would be spending billions on something that is rarely needed.

Fourth, ships built elsewhere are explicitly not in Canada's future.  Why?  Because being built elsewhere would mean jobs/votes for people in other countries, not for the politicians in Canada.  The emphasis here has been on industrial benefits, which, for me, seems like a codeword for pork.

The idea that NATO would buy them and then base them in Canada is perhaps even less realistic. Looking at NATO's AWAC program ignores the dark sides of that effort--that deploying the planes anywhere leads to debates in France about whether they support such efforts since they don't like paying the costs and debates and votes in Germany about whether to deploy them.  Oh, and remember that the Germans did not support the Libyan mission so that posed big problems for the NATO AWACS effort.  Not to mention that some NATO countries opted out of the AWACS flying over American cities after 9/11.  Finally, this idea suggests that NATO has a big bag of cash laying around, when, again, this would be the product of the members agreeing to do this and agreeing to share the costs.  Yes, share the costs.

I feel bad for the French, but they are stuck and neither Canada nor NATO is going to bail them out.


Anonymous said...

Welcome to my world of frustration with the public's bright idea fairy Steve.
Best to ignore that kind of talk.
At the end of the day, it's what we do.

-Sunshine Exports

Anonymous said...

To add to your point no 2, the Canadian Navy had trouble finding enough crews for four destroyers, that they were reduced to three (now down to one!) - How would the RCN find enough people to crew a Mistral and find enough qualified personnel in the proper trade too?

And, besides, the deployment of a Mistral would require it to always have an escort ship, so a Canadian frigate would need to be assigned to it at all times...So additional cost and crews required.

I would argue, however, that your point 3 is a little weak...A Canadian Mistral could have played an added-value role to CF operations off the coasts of Libya, Somalia, Lebanon, East Timor in the past 15 years or so.