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ASTERIX WRAPS UP ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL YEAR SUPPLYING THE ROYAL CANADIAN NAVY: The Royal Canadian Navy is setting the stage for another year of operations for MV Asterix.

THE RCN IS still working out the schedule for 2020 but Department of National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande tells Esprit de Corps that the supply ship is expected to deploy for approximately 135 days.

The 26,000-tonne Asterix, a commercial vessel converted for naval resupply purposes by Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec and leased to the Canadian government by the firm's affiliate Federal Fleet Services, is now fully Integrated into the RCN's fleet.

For fiscal year 2018/2019 MV Asterix was deployed for 354 days with 191 days at sea and 163 days alongside a foreign port, Lamirande said. "For the fiscal year 2019-2020 the MV Asterix has so far deployed for 170 days with 131 days at sea and 39 days alongside a foreign port," she added.

The Asterix deal is for a period of five years, which takes the contract up to 2023, Lamirande said. But there is a provision to extend the period of service by up to five additional one-year periods. Exercising these options will be at the Canadian government's discretion.

Motor Vessel (MV) Asterix has come a long way since it was unveiled on July 20,2017 at the Davie yards in front of RCN and Canadian Armed Forces senior leaders and federal, provincial and municipal politicians.

The $670 million project has provided the RCN for the first time since 2015 with its own capability to refuel and resupply its ships. The vessel is seen as an interim Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment ship until the Joint Support Ship fleet is built and delivered.

The ship is the largest naval platform in service with the RCN for the foreseeable future and provides a wide range of functions from at-sea replenishment of fuels and cargo to aviation support, fleet medical support and humanitarian and disaster relief.

The project involved the conversion of a modern, European-built containership into an Auxiliary Oiler Replenishment ship. The concept of converting a containership into a naval fleet auxiliary ship is not a new one. It has been performed on several occasions over the past decades including by the Royal Navy and the United States Navy.

Under a lease agreement, Federal Fleet Services is providing the ship and a civilian crew to operate the vessel. Royal Canadian Navy personnel are on board to handle communications and the actual transfer of supplies and fuel to warships.

The price tag includes the conversion of Asterix, the lease of its services to the Royal Canadian Navy for five years, maintenance and the salaries of a civilian crew to operate the vessel.

Asterix is able to carry two Royal Canadian Air Force Cyclone maritime helicopters and also has medical facilities on board. If needed, it could carry a Chinook helicopter.

In addition, it has space for light armoured vehicles and other equipment.

The RCN has a commanding officer on board the vessel to oversee military personnel while he does tactical level liaison with Federal Fleet Services, directing how the ship is used for the Navy's operations.

The size of the RCN crew fluctuates. It can range from 45 to 67 sailors, depending on the training or operations underway.

Besides sailors trained in replenishment duties, there are medical, dental, engineering and communications personnel from the Canadian Armed Forces serving on the ship. Asterix is outfitted with six .50 calibre machine guns but Phalanx weapon systems can be added if needed. Lamirande said MV Asterix has supported a variety of operations and exercises. Those include the RIMPAC exercise in the summer of 2018 and Operation PROJECTION 2019 (13 Feb to 26 March; 31 May to 16 June; 24 June to 26 August). It also support Operation ARTEMIS 2019 (26 March to 31 May). That is the Canadian Armed Forces' participation in counterterrorism and maritime security operations across the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. In addition, Asterix supported Operation NEON 2019 (17 June to 24 June) which involves enforcing United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

At one point the RCN had three of its own supply ships supporting its vessels. There has been pressure in government circles to acquire a second such interim supply ship. The Senate's defence committee had earlier recommended the federal government not only buy Asterix but order a second vessel of the same type. "This will provide Canada with four supply ships, two AORs by 2018 (one on each coast) and another two, when the Joint Supply Ships are delivered by Seaspan," the Senate report noted. "These four ships also possess a modest secondary capacity to support forces ashore and can therefore significantly enhance the Navy's ability to respond to humanitarian emergencies. By basing these four ships, two on each coast, the government will be able to significantly bolster the government's desire to contribute to peace support and humanitarian operations."

The issue of a second ship was highlighted during the federal election with the Conservatives arguing that the vessel, the Obelix, would be a welcome addition to the RCN.

Davie Shipyards has offered that second ship at $500 million to entice the Liberals to move ahead with such a purchase. The vessel could be delivered to the RCN within 24 months. But so far the federal government hasn't budged from its decision to pass on acquiring the Obelix.

But the federal government has purchased equipment for the supply vessel, as well as the future Joint Support Ships. Navamar Inc. of Montreal has received a $12 million contract to provide five "ship-to-shore connector systems" to the Royal Canadian Navy.

The pontoon barges would be used to move supplies to shore from either the MV Asterix replenishment ship or the future JSS. The large craft could be used during humanitarian missions or on operations where no dock is available. Construction is scheduled to start August 2020 with final delivery in September 2022, said DND spokeswoman Lamirande.

Caption: ABOVE MV Asterix has a state of the art bridge. (DAVID PUGLIESE)

Caption: LEFT: MV Asterix after its first year of operations docks in Victoria, BC. (DAVID PUGLIESE)

Caption: ABOVE RIGHT: MV Asterix is expected to deploy for at least 135 days in the coming year although negotiations on specifics are still underway. (DAVID PUGLIESE)

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Author:Pugliese, David
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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