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On target: a variety of options exist for replacing Canada's joint support ships.

ON MAY 29, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands hosted a reception aboard the Dutch navy ship HNLMS Karel Doorman. This impressive joint support ship (JSS) was docked in Montreal's old port, just a 90-minute drive from Ottawa.

Given that CANSEC had concluded the previous day and the fact that the 27,000-ton Karel Doorman could not sail any closer to Canada's national capital, the timing and location of the on-board reception was no coincidence. It is widely known that Canada has no supply ship or refuelling capability available to the Royal Canadian Navy currently or in the foreseeable future and, because of this, all sorts of proposals are floating around as possible stop-gap measures.

Just over a year ago, the Dutch government considered mothballing the newly built Karl Doorman before it could be made operational, as a cost-cutting measure. However, when the Ebola crisis erupted in North Africa last summer, the Dutch navy dispatched the brand new support ship to assist in the international relief effort. The performance of Karel Doormen during that emergency earned the Royal Dutch Navy a fair measure of kudos. Instead of being beached, the JSS has become the flagship of the Royal Dutch Navy.

Prior to the cocktail party and buffet dinner aboard the flight deck, visitors were invited to tour the Karel Doormen. Although she is nearly seven times the size of a Canadian Halifax-class patrol frigate, Karel Doormen has a total crew of just 175 sailors. If required, the ship can also comfortably house up to 125 combat troops. The massive hangar can contain either two Chinook helicopters, or up to six NH90 choppers.

Another asset is the Karel Doormen's integrated hospital, complete with two operating rooms, a quarantine chamber and a dental facility. The vehicle deck housed some three dozen brand new Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagens, en route for delivery to the Dutch Caribbean islands. However, even with this impressive fleet parked wheel to wheel, at least two thirds of the cargo space was still unused.

The primary purpose of this vessel is to replenish combat ships at sea, so it is purpose-built for refuelling and transferring cargo while underway. At less than one year of age, this impressive ship still had that new car smell and was squeaky clean from stem to stern.

Undeniably, the Karel Doorman fits the bill for Canada's original procurement project for a JSS capability, which was cancelled in 2008. Would it serve the RCN's needs in the short term? Absolutely. Whether or not a lend-lease agreement between the Netherlands and Canada could be arranged for the RCN to temporarily acquire the Karl Doorman remains an outside possibility.

Of course, with the government's announcement on June 23 that it has entered into negotiations with Davie Shipyard of Quebec, a deal with the Dutch seems remote. However, if the Davie proposal to convert a commercial vessel to military specs and lease it to the RCN does not pan out in the long term, it will still be something worth considering.

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Title Annotation:COMMENT
Author:Taylor, Scott
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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