The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) saw its newest Arctic patrol ship touch saltwater for the first time this month and could be deployed to the Arctic as early as 2020, say navy officials.

Irving Shipbuilding is tasked with building between five and six vessels, though the sixth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) isn’t a certainty, said Rear-Admiral Casper Donovan.

The vessel, built by Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, is 103 metres long, making it the largest navy vessel constructed in 50 years. It was launched in the Bedford Basin, which forms the northwestern end of Halifax Harbour.

The ship will undergo testing before it is delivered to the navy in the summer of 2019, where it will see further trials before its deployment during the navigable season, said Donovan.

The vessel will be able to patrol in Arctic conditions through first year ice around one metre thick, he said.

It is also designed to work with partners including the Canadian Coast Guard.

The shipbuilders at Halifax Shipyard successfully transitioned Canada’s lead Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), the future HMCS Harry DeWolf, from land-level onto a submersible barge for the vessels planned launch September 15. Photo courtesy of Irving Shipbuilding.

“We’ve designed it to be able to work with partners and provide additional spaces if people from other departments need to be on board,” he said.

There isn’t any detail yet from the navy on what communities will see the ship in their waters, said Donovan.

“We are very sensitive to local communities and areas of interest to those communities,” he said.

The navy is engaged with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, but as the ships become operational in the Arctic, the navy will “become much more connected with local communities,” he said.

Until recently, Canada has had limited Arctic patrolling capacity compared to its eastern and western seas, he said.

The navy has 12 Halifax-class frigates on its eastern and western coasts and 12 maritime coastal defence vessels.

For a number of years, the Navy has deployed those vessels into the North for Operation Nanook, though they lack the resiliency to endure Arctic conditions.

“They’re limited to where they can go because they are not capable of operating in ice, which can be very dangerous and cause serious damage to those vessels,” he said.

“The Arctic Patrol Offshore vessel will give us the capacity to do what we do today off our coasts, up in the Arctic. We’ll be better configured as a purpose-designed ship to collaborate with any number of partners,” he said.

The navy hopes its new vessels will support collaboration, search and rescue efforts in the North and reinforce Arctic sovereignty, said Donovan.

“At the basic level, in the context of international agreements and law, a country has the right to claim sovereignty over parts of its ocean estate,” he said.

That includes safeguarding the environment, regulating commercial activity and providing search and rescue services, said Donovan.

“Right now the RCN is focused on that sovereignty, safety and security and reinforcing Canada’s presence in the Arctic. I know from a geopolitical level, Canada is focused on that enduring interest that all Arctic nations have to continue to pursue productive collaboration,” he said.

Climate change and advancements in technology are making Canada’s Arctic more accessible, including to commercial activity and cruise ships, all of which will make the navy’s presence in the North useful, he said.

On Oct. 5, the vessel will be named HMCS Harry DeWolf, after Vice Admiral Harry DeWolf, born in Bedford, Nova Scotia, and commander of the HMCS Haida in the Second World War.

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