The Spirit of HMCS Bonaventure Calls for the Political Will to Beef Up Canada’s Defence

The Spirit of HMCS Bonaventure Calls for the Political Will to Beef Up Canada’s Defence
The HMCS Fredericton, guided by tugs, returns to Halifax after a six-month deployment in the Mediterranean Sea, on July 28, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Andrew Vaughan)
John Mills
Perhaps forgotten in Canadian history is that the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) once had aircraft carriers. The last one was the HMCS Bonaventure, which plied Atlantic waters with jet fighters and anti-submarine warfare aircraft until 1970. Economies of budget then set in and the shrinking of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) began and subsequently plummeted in the post-Cold War environment.

Those were heady days when the Bonaventure was part of a robust Canadian military. The ship provided significant capabilities to defend the northern waters from Soviet submarines and long-range aircraft.

Canada had nuclear warheadsunder U.S. lock and keyfor its air defence missiles based at home and its strike aircraft based in Europe, as part of the NATO deterrent against the Soviet threat of invasion. At the time, Canada provided a substantive component of NATO. Since then, the Canadian military component has withered to a shadow of its former self.

Significant Lag

NATO members committed to spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on defence by 2024. For Canada, this promise has been unkept since the 2014 signature. Canada’s defence spending hovers at around 1.29 percent of GDP, for a 2023 spend of $36.7 billion. If this rose to 2 percent of GDP, the spending would increase to approximately $56.89 billion.
Currently, Canada’s Navy lingers on the edge of irrelevancy due to a small force structure of about 16,000 regular force personnel, reservists, and civilian employees—significantly smaller than even half of the New York police force of some 55,000 officers and civilian employees.
The RCN is struggling with personnel shortages, with many occupations experiencing shortfalls of 20 percent or higher. Its commander, Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee, recently stated that it is in a “critical state,” with overage ships and poor recruiting and retention. Although not directly cited in the admiral’s statements, it appears that Canada is experiencing a “wokeness” phenomenon similar to the U.S. military.
Canada’s Navy has only 12 small surface warships, four submarines, and one large, interim resupply ship. It has several dozen coastal patrol vessels for the east and west coasts and the Arctic, but these are lightly armed and undeployable beyond Canadian waters.
An expanded Navy is needed to better assert Canadian interests and make a more meaningful contribution to international efforts, especially in the Western Pacific. The submarines, old and high-maintenance platforms plagued by technical issues, are planned to be held in service until the 2040s.
The rest of Canada’s military suffers from shrinkage, underfunding, and inability to fill the diminished numbers of slots, and it would be a “challenge” to support larger missions, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has roughly 80 aging fighter jets to support air defence and deployments around the world, while the Canadian Army has four divisions with several deployable active and reserve brigades. Canada has a small, special operations force, but all of these Canadian military elements would grow substantially if Canada was meeting its goal of spending 2 percent of its GDP on defence.

Sovereignty and Deterrence

Going from 1.29 percent of GDP to 2 percent is a 55 percent increase in defence spending. This would allow a return of naval aviation and force projection to the Royal Canadian Navy.

The Australians had two large, aircraft carrier-like vessels built partially in Spain and then brought to Australia for final outfitting. These ships could operate the F-35B because they retain the “ski-jump” to assist in takeoff.

Canada could establish a similar arrangement with Spain, South Korea, or Japan for the construction of new ships or even take the two, large amphibious warfare vessels the U.S. Navy has in storage at the Middle Loch of Pearl Harbor and bring them back to service. The combination of a large flat deck for flight operations along with a well deck for landing craft would make these multipurpose ships suitable for the projection of Army forces, humanitarian assistance, or disaster relief operations.
The RCN has been sorely in need of large replenishment vessels since the retirement of its two large supply ships: the Preserver and Protecteur, in 2015. The first of two new ships may be delivered in 2025, but two more that could serve as multipurpose supply and expeditionary deployment support vessels would greatly enhance Canada’s ability to support its partner nations.
Two aviation-capable ships, two large supply vessels, and two expeditionary support vessels could be the centrepiece for an Atlantic and Pacific deployable task forces. Currently, Canada is substantially dependent on others for supplying and supporting its own Navy and has no ability to project force.

A Naval Expansion for Canada?

The AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, United States) Agreement arrangement seems to be growing by leaps in scope and schedule. With a British recommendation for Japan and South Korea to join, it is intuitive that Canada should also be brought in for maximum efficiencies in expanding the RCN and the rest of the CAF.

Australia will be getting Virginia nuclear attack submarines in this arrangement, which will substantially expand the capabilities of the Royal Australian Navy. Canada may not seek nuclear submarines, but by being included in the AUKUS Agreement, it can derive benefit from non-nuclear submarines from Japan or South Korea in a short time to replace its aged submarine force.

There are ample opportunities for Canada to return to the spirit of Bonaventure. This can be achieved if political will is amassed to fulfill the promise of spending 2 percent of GDP to recapitalize the RCN and all of the country’s armed forces back into a world-renowned military force that can contribute to the deterrence of China, Russia, and other nations intent on overthrowing the world order.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Col. (Ret.) John Mills is a national security professional with service in five eras: Cold War, Peace Dividend, War on Terror, World in Chaos, and now, Great Power Competition. He is the former director of cybersecurity policy, strategy, and international affairs at the Department of Defense. Mr. Mills is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. He is author of “The Nation Will Follow” and “War Against the Deep State.” ColonelRETJohn on Substack, GETTR, and Truth Social
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