A key Canadian federal cabinet committee has given the go-ahead for a plan to construct six corvette-sized Arctic patrol vessels. It has been reported that a preliminary approval was given to the program to build the 100-metre-long, 6,000-tonne ships. The vessels, which will be capable of smashing through "fresh ice," are expected to be based on the Royal Norwegian Navy's Svalbard class design. That particular type vessel is armed with a 57-millimetre deck gun, missile-launching tubes and also has a helicopter pad. The recommendation has gone forward to the Prime Minister for final approval.
Cabinet is proposing to build the ships in Canada under a competitive process similar to the Defence Department's program to construct joint ships for the navy. Currently two consortiums, which involve foreign and domestic defence contractors, are vying to build three 28,000-tonne replenishment vessels.
Last year, Fisheries Minister responsible for the coast guard, was warned that the agency's fleet was experiencing severe "rust out" and needed to be replaced.
As it stands, coast guard icebreakers are not due to begin being replaced until 2017. Icebreaking has traditionally been a role for the Canadian Coast Guard – one it has been loathe to give up – and many have argued that if new ice-cutting ships were to be built they should go to that agency, not the military. With global warming melting the northern icepack, many experts have predicted the Northwest Passage will become a commercial waterway within the next few decades.