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HMCS Protecteur AOR ( Auxiliary Oil Replenishment)

Mobility and time on station are essential factors in the conduct of effective operations at sea. Supply ships substantially increase the warfare capability of Canada's Maritime Forces by enabling warships to remain at sea for longer periods without returning to port for fuel, supplies and maintenance. Underway replenishment is a critical aspect of naval ship operations. Fuel, fresh water, food stuffs,and machinery parts are among the supplies that must be routinely transferred to a ship operating atsea for long durations. Due to the close proximity of ships during underway replenishment, hydrodynamic interactions can affect their maneuvering properties and motions in waves.

Replenishment at sea was a major concern in the post-1945 RCN, and great efforts were put into defining the concept within a fleet of moderate size and limited financial resources. By the late 1950s the navy had determined that support for Canadian warships at sea should come from "on station" replenishment ships and debated the numbers and types of vessels needed. In the early sixties and seventies Canada pioneered the concept of multi-purpose, underway replenishment vessels to fuel and provision warships at sea. These vessels increased sixfold the length of time the fleet could remain at sea for operations.

Some Canadians have perpetuated the myth that the multi-cargo replenishment ship was a Canadian innovation. It is clear that this honor goes to the German Kreigsmarine and the Dithmarschen-class of fleet supply ships, from which the USN developed the current concept of multi-cargo underway replenishment ships (AORs). Canada's adoption of the AOR concept was a bold initiative, but was not a groundbreaking innovation.

However, financial realities essentially left the tanker supply ship (HMCS Provider) as the sole survivor, the object of one-stop shopping in RCN replenishment at sea. Commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in September 1963, Provider was the first of her kind for this country, the "one stop shop" replenishment at sea vessel, elder sister to Her Majesty's Canadian ships Protecteur and Preserver. In 1998 HMCS Provider, then the eldest of the Canadian underway replenishment vessels, was paid off, ending a long journey.

HMCS PROTECTEUR is the Canadian Navy's only supply ship stationed on the Pacific Coast. Her role is to provide Canadian and Allied warships with fuel, food and supplies. PROTECTEUR is a large vessel displacing nearly five times the tonnage of one frigate. This allows her to carry enough provisions to supply a task force of six destroyers for six weeks without having to return to port for resupply.

The second of two Protecteur-class auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) vessels, Preserver was commissioned into service August 7, 1970, at Saint John Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. Ltd. in Saint John, N.B. Both Preserver and sister ship Protecteur integrated the many lessons learned through extensive sea trials conducted by the first AOR built in Canada, HMCS Provider. Commissioned in 1963, Provider allowed the Royal Canadian Navy to make considerable advances in the transfer-at-sea of stores, food, ammunition and fuel, and to develop optimal stowage and handling capabilities that would eventually be implemented in the Protecteur-class ships and those auxiliaries of several allied navies.

These ships were at the very edge of modern underway replenishment procedures and technology when they came into service, providing Maritime Command with a uniquely flexible strategic capability that allowed the development of self-sufficient forces worldwide. Halifax remained Preserver's home port as the ship spent much of the Cold War era supporting Canadian ships and those of NATO allies conducting operations in the Atlantic, ranging from the equator to the farthest reaches beyond the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap. Such operations were primarily focused on anti-submarine warfare, seeking to deter Soviet forces and contributing to the larger strategy of containment until the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

The rise of a new world order in the wake of the Cold War resulted in a tremendous increase in the CF operational tempo, and Preserver was pivotal to many of the deployments assigned to the Navy. From Operation EXCURSION in 1988 to Op APOLLO in 2001, Preserver was out doing the business, standing by to evacuate Canadians from zones of conflict; providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Andrew in Florida and the Bahamas; supporting Canadian troops deployed in Somalia under UN mandate; enforcing the NATO-led embargo off the coast of the Former Yugoslavia; and sustaining the deployment of the Canadian task group to Southwest Asia immediately after 9/11. Closer to home, Preserver was central to sustaining ships patrolling off our coasts, and led the joint inter-agency recovery effort that followed the crash of Swissair Flight 111 in 1998.

The Canadian Navy did have plans to replace both ships, but the Conservative government refused to do that in August 2008 because of high costs of industry proposals – that is why two outdated vessels were not decommissioned. The Protecteur was formally retired; the Preserver is next in line. But according to the new program, replacement ships will be supplied only in eight years’ time. For a long time the ships were in precarious shape and getting worse but a briefing note on May 9, 2014, which was also sent to the head of military procurement said, it “was no longer viable to expend limited resources” to keep them going.

The National Defense had been insisting on retirement of Preserver and its sister ship HMCS Protecteur, both 45 years old. Technicians sought to keep HMCS Preserver in service, but it seems to have been losing their battle. Broken parts were repaired, but “once this was fixed, the next question was which equipment or system would be the next to fail.” To fix the Preserver, Navy mechanics had to turn to eBay to find spare parts: the original manufacturers had long-since ceased to produce them.

According to navy commander Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s notes, many parts at ‘Preserver’ – one of the two Her Majesty's Canadian Ships (HMCS) – are “beyond acceptable limits.” Corrosion has compromised the vessel’s structural integrity, he said according to the Canadian Press. “It will be very difficult to continue to confidently operate her at sea until her planned divestment date in 18 months,” a briefing concluded as quoted by The Canadian Press.

Protecteur, the west coast fleet’s only supply ship, was taken out of service after a debilitating engine room fire during its transit back to Victoria from Hawaii. Sailors gave three loud cheers and a brass band belted out Auld Lang Syne to honor a Canadian navy supply ship during a farewell ceremony 14 May 2015. The event marked almost 46 years of military service for HMCS Protecteur, including the Cold War, Gulf War and hurricane relief.

The Royal Canadian Navy has decommissioned, or payed off as the act is referred to in Canada, its auxiliary oilier replenishment HMCS Preserver after 46 years of service. During a 21 October 2016 ceremony at HMC Dockyard Halifax, Preserver received a final salute from current and former sailors, soldiers, airmen, and airwomen. The term “paying off” refers to the British age-of-sail practice of paying a crew their wages once a ship has completed its voyage. In the RCN, the tradition continues with the term paying off referring to the formal ceremony where the naval jack, ensign, and commissioning pennant are hauled down, the crew departs a ship for the last time, and the ship is then no longer referred to as HMCS.

The absence of supply ships meant Canadian warships would have to operate individually; they cannot form task forces of their own, and must rely on other nations for replenishment.

A collaboration was formalized by a Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement (MLSA) between the Chilean Navy and Royal Canadian Navy following Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s 2014 announcement that the Protecteur-class supply ships would be retired. 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 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.



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Page last modified: 02-08-2018 13:45:12 ZULU