Canadian Navy prepares for the arrival of Arctic offshore patrol ships

The Royal Canadian Navy has already selected the first commanding officer for its Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessels and preparations are underway for the delivery of HMCS Harry DeWolf in 2018.

Lieutenant-Commander Corey Gleason, along with a small preliminary crew, are preparing for the new vessel, one of six ice-capable offshore patrol ships that will conduct sovereignty and surveillance operations in Canada’s ocean areas of interest, including in the Arctic.

“It’s truly exciting to have this role as first commanding officer,” says LCdr Gleason. “The first ship in its class is always a lot of work and there’s a long road ahead – about five years between shore office work and the first operational cruise for the lead ship. We get the opportunity to pave the way for everyone else.”

Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic, said that the pending arrival of these vessels inspires the RCN to undertake bolder activities in all of Canada’s ocean areas. This past summer, maritime coastal defense vessel HMCS Moncton was patrolling in Hudson Bay, while its sister ship HMCS Shawinigan was far west along the Northwest Passage, creating new learning experiences for sailors in the fleet.

“For several years now our crews have been increasingly busy familiarizing themselves with Arctic waterways and the communities that struggle with shifting economies, climate and human activities,” says RAdm Newton. “We have engaged in new partnerships with government agencies that are keen to benefit from the support of the RCN.”

The future fleet of AOPVs has been designated the Harry DeWolf Class in honor of Vice-Admiral Harry DeWolf, a Canadian wartime naval hero, and the first ship of the class also carries his name.

Construction of HMCS Harry DeWolf began in September 2015, and Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax is building the AOPVs. Over the course of time, 65 smaller units become 21 larger blocks, which then become three mega-blocks.

Updating the progress of Harry DeWolf, LCdr Gleason says the engines have now been installed, the middle section is upright and the entire ship will be soon sitting in the water.

“Trials will begin in 2018 and more routine seasonal deployments will be under way commencing in 2019,” he says. “However, there is a great deal of work to do before those deployments can take place.”

Once commissioned, the ship will undergo sea trials and collective training, and then take part in Arctic-based international engagements supporting northern operations such as Limpid and Nanook.

Considering the seasonal rhythm of operations, Canada’s AOPVs can expect to be tasked with an annual wide range of domestic and international operations, including capacity and confidence building between Canada and new foreign policy interests.

“The actual platform of the ship itself has a capability that lends itself to completing multiple operations,” explains LCdr Gleason. “Therefore we will not just be focusing on bringing this ship into the Arctic to increase the RCN’s presence there, but in all areas the RCN is traditionally employed.”

Harry DeWolf, measuring the length of a Canadian football field, can carry a crew of up to 65 people, plus an additional 22 to support an enhanced naval boarding party, army troops, special operations forces and other government departments to support science and research. It also carries a helicopter, up to six sea containers, and up to seven small boats.

“Despite being 2,000 tonnes heavier than a Canadian patrol frigate, its electrical diesel engine makes it a more economical choice for traveling long distances to a target or for Caribbean operations interdicting smugglers,” says LCdr Gleason.

The sealift capability, sea-to-shore connectors, additional personnel capacity, and ability to carry mission-specific supplies and resources also make it a superior platform for humanitarian and disaster relief missions.

“If a ship can operate in the Arctic well into the navigable season, it can certainly operate anywhere in the world because of its range of capabilities,” LCdr Gleason said. “We’re all looking forward to seeing what it will accomplish.”