No war zones for navy ship

While the Royal Canadian Navy is chomping at the bit to start using the newest addition to its fleet, a senior officer says the MV Asterix has some limitations — notably that it can't sail into harm's way.

The Asterix's conversion from a civilian container ship to an interim naval resupply vessel is almost finished as weapons and other sensitive equipment are now being installed, said Commodore Craig Skjerpen, commander of Canada's Atlantic Fleet.

That work is expected to be finished in Halifax in March, at which point the vessel will undergo some final tests before heading to the Pacific to participate in a major, U.S.-led training exercise and then onward to the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asterix addresses a critical gap that emerged after the navy lost its previous resupply vessels in 2014, Skjerpen told The Canadian Press, and navy commanders plan to make heavy use of new ship in the coming years.

"If I wanted to draw an analogy of driving a car, we were always worried about where the next gas station was," he said of the impact of losing HMCS Protecteur and Preserver.

"So what this does is that where we're able to program Asterix, we can be less concerned about that. So we can go where we need to go."

But the Asterix isn't a true military vessel, Skjerpen said, which is why it won't be allowed to operate in dangerous environments.

That may not be an issue now, as the navy is not operating in any areas that be classified as overtly dangerous, but Skjerpen said: "All of our capabilities and everything we design and everything we need is about operating in that threat environment."

Two true military resupply vessels are scheduled to be built in Vancouver and will include more powerful self-defence systems than the Asterix as well as better communications equipment and overall survivability against attack.

"That's a pretty important part when you start talking about a military vessel and something you're going to operate in a threat environment," Skjerpen said in explaining why those Vancouver-built vessels, known as the Protecteur class, are still needed.

"We want to provide the best capability possible to protect our people throughout. And that's some of the bigger things that we're going to get with the Protecteur class that you're not going to get out of Asterix or vessels like that."

The two new Protecteur-class vessels will also be crewed entirely by navy personnel, unlike the Asterix. It will have about 45 navy sailors responsible for resupply operations, while the captain and 30 crew members charged with actually sailing the vessel are all civilians.

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