Navies and Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Response

Response to the earthquakes that recently hit New Zealand includes warships from that nation and her allies.  The ships were in the region to participate in naval celebrations (see Fleet of international warships to help out with earthquake response).  Now they may be participating in a different naval mission, humanitarian assistance/disaster response (HADR).  This is not at all untoward.  HADR has long been part of what navies do, summarized as combat, constabulary and diplomatic roles.  The option of carrying out HADR missions is one of the courses of action available to governments that maintain globally-capable (“blue water”) navies.  A balanced blue-water navy cannot be composed just of combatants such as frigates.  Frigates are general-purpose patrol and escort combatants.  They have limited capability to undertake HADR, especially when they have not been loaded out with that mission in mind before they sailed for a long deployment, as is the case of the frigate HMCS Vancouver.  Nonetheless, the ship is there and can be employed by the Canadian government as a message to a good ally, New Zealand, and to the world generally.

In the future, the Canadian government will be in a stronger position to undertake HADR missions.  When the ‘interim AOR’ (auxiliary oiler replenishment) Motor Vessel (MV) Asterix finishes conversion by Chantier Davie from containership to contracted naval auxiliary, and when the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Vessels (AOPV, to use their assigned type designations) are provided by Irving Shipbuilding as part of the Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) project, the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will be better balanced to deploy appropriate ships to stricken locations.  Of course, transit to distant places can be a factor.  That is a factor that can be addressed by the RCN having multiple vessels so that there are always some in high readiness to sail, and maybe even some already deployed close to the location of the disaster.  The RCN could well use six AOPV and three or more AOR, Asterix and the Queenston-class to be built under the Joint Support Ship (JSS) project.

It will be good someday to see a Harry DeWolf-class AOPV, or Asterix or a Queenston-class AOR, offshore an ally as a sign of Canadian support.

Colin Darlington

Colin Darlington is a retired naval officer of the Canadian Armed Forces.

This work is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Canadian Armed Forces, the Canadian Department of National Defence, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Royal United Services Institute of Nova Scotia.