Backgrounder: Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment Capability
Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment vessels are a critical component of any true “Blue Water” navy. They are an at-sea replenishment (logistic support) capability that enables a ship or a task group of ships to operate autonomously for extended periods of time in both home and foreign waters.
The RCN is in the midst of the most comprehensive period of fleet modernization in its peacetime history. It is a program of renewal that both touches upon, and goes beyond all current elements of Canada’s naval force. While a number of its current ships are being modernized, and until new classes of ships come on line, the RCN’s at-sea supply requirements will be met through a creative blend of MLSAs, smart scheduling and an interim AOR. Eventually, the fleet’s capability will be augmented by the new, Queenston-class Joint Support Ships.
The Current Capability - Mutual Logistics Support Arrangements with Allies
Mutual Logistics Support Arrangements (MLSAs) are highly flexible Memorandums of Understanding designed to facilitate the provision of logistics, supplies and services. A MLSA is part of the larger process of cooperation between Canadian and allied defence forces. They are very detailed cooperative agreements between navies that should not be confused with a leasing arrangement.
Furthermore, the training that is conducted through MLSAs is vital to maintaining the individual skills and core seamanship abilities within the Canadian Fleet that are essential to deployed operations, and necessary for retaining the expertise that will eventually be required to operate Canada’s future Queenston-class Joint Support Ships.
The RCN’s first MLSA was signed with the Chilean Navy (Armada de Chile) for the use of one of its replenishment ships, AO-52 Almirante Montt, for a dedicated period of 40 sea days in Canada’s Pacific region. This arrangement lasted from early July to late August 2015.
The RCN recently completed an agreement with the Spanish Navy for the use of one of its replenishment ships, SPS Patiño for a period of 40 days in Canada’s Atlantic region. This arrangement took place over the months of February and March of 2016.
MLSAs with partner nations, along with smart scheduling, and the upcoming provision of an Interim AOR capability through Project Resolve Inc., endeavour to provide limited relief to the AOR capability gap the RCN is currently experiencing.
Interim Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment Capability
On November 30, 2015, the Government of Canada announced the signing of a contract with Project Resolve Inc. to develop an interim AOR capability.
This contract entails the conversion of a commercial container ship (MV Asterix) into an AOR ship, the provision of the ship’s crew, its overall operational management, and all maintenance. This interim solution will be used to provide at-sea replenishment services to the RCN in non-threat environments.
Project Resolve Inc. has been contracted to provide this at-sea service by fall 2017. The initial period of service delivery will be five years, with options to extend that period by up to five additional one-year terms. The exercise of the options will be at Canada’s sole discretion.
The interim AOR capability will help bridge the gap until the second Queenston-class Joint Support Ship joins RCN fleet operations in late 2021. Its introduction will allow the RCN’s Halifax-class frigates to continue to operate for extended periods away from home port, without relying on foreign ships or port visits for frequently required support and resupply.
The future - Queenston-class Joint Support Ships
The Government of Canada is committed to building the Queenston-class Joint Support Ships (JSS) under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS).
The JSS will increase the range and endurance of Naval Task Groups by allowing them to stay at sea for long periods without having to return to port for resupply and refuelling. The JSS will supply deployed Naval Task Groups with fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food and water. They will also provide an at-sea platform for the maintenance and the operation of helicopters, a limited sealift capability, as well as the ability to support to operations ashore when needed.
The JSS will be capable of operating across a full spectrum of threat environments. They will house a robust warfighting capability, and be operated by military personnel. The JSS are a critical component for achieving success in both international and domestic CAF missions, with the ships constituting a vital and strategic national asset.
Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards will be responsible for the construction of both JSS at its shipyard in North Vancouver, British Columbia. The first JSS, to be named Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Queenston, is scheduled for delivery in 2020. HMCS Queenston is expected to be operational in late 2020 with the second ship, HMCS Châteauguay, to be delivered a year later and operational in late 2021.
Retirement of HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver
On 19 September 2014, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, Commander of the RCN, announced the retirement of the Navy’s legacy refueling fleet.
HMCS Protecteur was formally paid off on May 14, 2015, and HMCS Preserver was formally paid off on October 21, 2016.