Maritime Nation Shahryar Pasandideh Strategic Reserve

An Improper Use of Reserve Forces: The Case of the Kingston-class Vessels

As discussed previously, there is a temptation to reorganize reserve forces along the total force concept. The total force concept has usually been applied to ground forces. However, in the United States the concepts has been extended to the United States Air Force, the United States Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard. For various reasons, the United States has not applied the total force concept to its navy. In a rare case of organizational innovation Canada has partially adopted the total force concept for manning its Kingston-class coastal defence vessels.

In commission since 1996, the twelve Kingston-class coastal defence vessels are equally distributed on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Their main missions are coastal surveillance, sovereignty patrol, route survey, training, supporting international anti-trafficking missions and, until technology diminished the utility of this mission, minesweeping. The Kingston-class has been controversial for a variety of reasons, but the salient issue is that the ships are unique in that they are manned almost exclusively by members of the Canadian Naval Reserve. As such, the class provides an excellent case study on the limitations of reserve forces, particularly reserve forces adhering to some aspect of the total force concept.

The use of reservists for coastal surveillance, sovereignty patrol, route survey, and training is entirely sensible. Given the distance hostile vessels will have to cover to get anywhere near Canada’s coastline, and the robust air, sea, and land-based maritime surveillance system provided by the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Navy, and Canadian Coast Guard there is little justification in spending large sums in keeping coastal patrol vessels in high readiness. The problem, however, is that a key determinant of the design of the vessel – a determinant that has rendered it a poor investment – was the minesweeping mission. Naval mine warfare increasingly requires mine hunting capabilities that the Kingston-class vessels currently lack.