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Defence Procurement  –  Maritime Defence and Naval Training  –  June 2006

The Kingston Class:  'Mid-Life' or Move Over for the MCDV?
Reviewing Navy Plans for the Future of the MCDVs
[Part 2]

Stephen Priestley, Researcher, Canadian American Strategic Review (CASR)

[Ed:  We continue the story of the abandoned Kingston class MCDV mid-life refit.
Valérie Dufour, journalist with Le Journal de Montréal, uncovered (through an Access to Information Request) that the Navy is discarding its $100M mid-life refit plans for the twelve Kingston class MCDVs. Instead, MCDVs will be replaced by new vessels to enter service in 2020. It had been intended to retain the ‘mid-lifed’ Kingstons until 2045-2055 but, after its review, planners concluded that, in light of its low performance, the decade-old MCDVs did not warrant a refit.]

Comparing the Kingston Class with the Competion – the RGF Ospreys and Huons

While the MCDV made nary a dent on the world market for mine-hunters, the Italian Lerice/Gaeta class with its reinforced glass-fibre hull has done extremely well. ADI built six minehunters based on this class for the Royal Australian Navy (the first of class, HMAS Huon entering service in 1999). A closer match with MCDVs ( in both capabilities and  in timeline) are the US Navy’s 12 Gaeta-based  Osprey class ships.

The US Navy began planning new minehunters in the early 1980s. By 1987 orders had been placed. The first of class, USS Osprey was delivered in 1993, making an interesting timeline comparison with the MCDV. DND formed a mine countermeasures study group in ’84.[1] MCDV project definition began in early 1988, with the design contracts awarded in mid ’89 and construction contracts issued in late 1991. The first of class, HMCS Kingston was launched in 1994, sea trials beginning in late 1995. In other words, despite being a much less developed design, the MCDVs were completed in roughly the same time-frame as the Gaeta-derived Osprey class.

Ospreys are among the largest military RGF boats but, there is nothing magical about such designs. South Korea built 6 Kang Keong (Swallow) class coastal  mine-hunters shortly before the MCDVs. Construction was based on the Italian design but the Korean class was an original design. In other words, as clever as the design might be, the construction techniques are not exotic.

Problems with MCDVs as Ad Hoc Sovereignty Patrol Boats
Maritime Staff  list low speed and small size as reasons for the MCDV being inadequate for patrol duties. Both are factors of the original specification. Patrol and training were tacked onto the mine-countermeasures role.  So,  how do MCDVs compare with others in its class?  A USN Osprey Class is 57.3m (188 ft) long, a RAN Huon is 52.5m (172 ft), an MCDV is 55.3m (181 ft). An MCDV’s speed range is 10-to-15 knots depending on role. Top speed for the Osprey is identical, the Huon 1 knot slower. So, the MCDV’s size and performance is what you’d expect  from any  mine-hunter.

Size Can Count  –  MCDV  Armament Issues  for  Patrol Duties
Among MCDV inadequacies, armament is listed as the major limit- ation for sovereignty patrol duties. Kingston Class are armed with twin 12.7mm M2HB machineguns on either side of the bridge but the main armament is a  40mm L/60 Bofors.  This gun is a museum piece dating back  to 1944.  Even as training weapons,  the Bofors is of  dubious value  –  they were just on hand and  lowered costs.

Again, comparisons are useful.  A US Osprey’s armament  is restricted to its two ‘50-cal’ M2HBs. This armament is lighter than an MCDV simply because the US has dedicated patrol boats. So too does Australia but  their’s are rather more spread out. For back-up, the Huon mine-hunter although even slower than the Canadian MCDV, were armed with a fully modern main armaments system.

[ Update:  the Navy is testing a new  Remote Control Heavy Machine Gun on an MCDV. An RCHMG replaced the 40mm aboard HMCS Summerside for tests. This protected system (also intended for Halifax class frigates) may simply replace the 12.7mm Brownings on MCDVs, not the 40mm main gun.]

Newer Australian vessels are fitted with remote-controlled main guns [2] regardless of the boat’s size. The Huon has a British 30mm gun, based on the Oerlikon KCB, firing 650 rpm. For comparison, an MCDV’s ancient L/60 Bofors has a practical rate of  fire of  only 90rpm. The Navy planners are suggesting that 9/11 changed everything. So it did. But the old, crew-manned Bofors was never of use for training let alone active patrolling.

In other words, faced with conflicting interests and  multiple roles, the Navy simply chose the wrong ship design in 1993.  Now, Maritime Staff is asking us to scrap the MCDV, trusting their judgement on the design and outfitting of  a totally new class of vessel. Are their priorities less muddled now than they were 15 years ago? Back then, Maritime Staff ordered a mine-countermeasures vessel, received one, and are now complaining about the attributes of a mine-countermeasures vessel.  Or, have the Admirals simply become bored again with a seemingly mundane “small  fleet”?

[1] The study group led to a Minor War Vessel Acquisition Program which formed two separate requirements for 18 inshore coastal defense ships (or what would now be termed Inshore Patrol Vessels) and for 12 dedicated mine countermeasures ships (the former also handling harbour defence and training). Instead, the planned 18 in- shore vessels were abandoned and coastal defence duties added onto the MCDVs.
[2] Such guns are, in effect, miniature versions of the 57mm main gun of the Halifax class frigate. All tracking and targetting is automated through sensors or controlled from the bridge.  The Huon  mount can also be fitted with a 25mm M242 Chain Gun as fitted to CF LAVs and RAN Armidale patrol boats (on Rafael Typhoon mounts).
Next in this
In Detail Review  –  Replacements: Mine Countermeasures or OPV?