The AOPS: A critical part of Canada’s answer to Arctic sovereignty

Navy News / February 12, 2021

Designed specifically to operate in northern waters, Canada’s new Harry DeWolf-class Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) will provide the capacity needed to monitor the country’s sovereignty and security, economic and environmental concerns in the North.

This cutting edge ship – the first of which was delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in July 2020 – will be a critical part of increasing Canadian presence in the Arctic. Canada’s coastline is the longest in the world, with the Arctic comprising 70 percent of its 243,000 km.

Although the RCN has deployed ships to the Arctic for years, conventional warships do not typically have ice-breaking hulls, leaving much of the region inaccessible as thick ice can damage hulls and sink ships.

But that is all about to change as the RCN brings the new Harry DeWolf class online. These new ships can break through new and first-year ice and have anti-icing features to protect equipment and personnel in the Arctic environment – a particularly important capability as Arctic waterways continue to open up.

Able to remain at sea for longer periods of time, the AOPS can carry large water and fuel reserves, and additional rations and supplies. Once reaching its full operational capability, the ship will soon also be able carry a helicopter and air detachment, increasing its range in an area where fuelling and resupply facilities are limited or non-existent.

The AOPS will participate in Arctic missions like Operation NANOOK that allow sailors to practice the skillsets required to operate in the challenging northern environment, improve coordination with Indigenous and northern partners, and respond effectively to safety and security issues. The ship will conduct underwater surveys using side-scan sonar to help build a more accurate underwater map for the safe transit of vessels in the North.

With the AOPS, the RCN will support other government departments and agencies regularly. The RCN:

  • Will support the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) by taking on more scientific research missions;
  • Will, together with the CCG, provide greater search and rescue coverage in the Arctic, where immediate support to a vessel or aircraft in distress is often days away; and
  • Will support the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Border Services Agency, which have the authority to control and influence seagoing vessels in Canadian waters, through specific missions or routine domestic sovereignty and enforcement patrols.

Proving its multi-role capabilities, the AOPS will participate in international missions like Operation CARIBBE, a multinational campaign against illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean Sea and eastern Pacific Ocean, and Operation PROJECTION, whose aim is to improve peace and stability, and strengthen relationships with other nations around the globe.

With ample space, technology and versatility, as well as vehicle bays, capacity to embark multiple shipping containers and a large crane, the AOPS will be able to:

  • Provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief response by transporting essential, life-saving supplies and equipment ashore via helicopter, rescue boats or landing craft;
  • Serve as an operations coordination center for representatives from agencies and forces onboard;
  • Conduct aerial surveillance with drones; and
  • Provide small all-terrain vehicles to transport personnel on the ground.

In a nutshell, the new Harry DeWolf-class AOPSs will provide Canada with the critical infrastructure needed to monitor our Arctic sovereignty while adding the capabilities of a multi-role patrol vessel.