Canada’s Future Submarines

Canadian submarine interests are extremely relevant, and can be divided into three categories: the defence of Canada and North America; supporting Canadian expeditionary deployments; and supporting Canada’s interest in global maritime stability. If the Canadian government does not invest in a modern submarine capability, its navy will not be able to patrol its three ocean shores. In order to meet Canada’s defensive needs, the RCN must have an effective submarine capacity. Submarines are among the world’s most highly complex machines. They are the ultimate stealth platforms, able to operate in areas where sea and air control is not assured, and to gain access to areas denied to other forces. Without submarines, Canada cannot have the vital maritime situational awareness as to who is operating in our waters.

In terms of surveillance of Canada’s ocean approaches and the protection of its own sovereignty, a submarine capability is critical. Canada can ill-afford to ignore what goes on either above, or below, the surface of the oceans so vital to our national interests any longer. It is a foregone conclusion that there are submarines beneath Canada’s polar ice cap and …. they are not ours. Only a system that can reach under the ice can tell us what else might be operating there. This requires a blunt discussion about propulsion systems for a class of submarine that must operate in the world’s most hostile and unforgiving maritime environment.

The conversation with the Canadian public about this looming capability loss needs to start now. The country will likely need bigger, quieter boats that can perform stealth missions, launch undersea robots and be able to fire guided missiles at shore targets. The market for submarines, especially with emerging powers such as India and China, has grown by leaps and bounds, but there are still only a handful of countries in the world capable of building them. At the top of this list are companies like ThyssenKrupp Marine of Germany, DNCS from France, BAE Systems Maritime–Submarines of Britain and General Dynamics Electric Boat from the U.S.A. Canada then needs to expeditiously select a submarine to replace the Victoria-class as they are rapidly reaching end of life, and decide on numbers to acquire.

The German Type 216 SSK is a 4,300 ton (submerged) submarine with a length of 90m (295ft), a beam of 8.1m (26.5ft) and a draft of 6.6m (21.6ft). It has a double hull giving it similar capabilities to nuclear submarines and is able to remain under water for weeks in order to reach crisis areas. At the heart of this boat is a propulsion system that employs a methanol reformer Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system to achieve stealth capability and a submerged range without snorkeling of approximately 2,600 nautical miles (4,815 km) at four knots, assisted by lithium ion batteries as a supplementary energy source. The Type 216 is equipped with three multi-purpose modules. These allow the Type 216 unparalleled flexibility to meet rapidly evolving requirements, without the need for an expensive and time-consuming refit. It has the ability, to launch cruise missiles, to deploy Special Forces with manned and un-manned under-water delivery vehicles. The advantage of the Type 216 design is that it has the ability to be reconfigured rapidly, in order to meet changing operational requirements. The biggest disadvantage of the Type 216 SSK design is that at some point it must at least partially surface in order to snorkel to refresh its air which would be impossible to do under thick ice conditions.

The Type 216 has an extraordinarily large payload of 39 weapons including 18 torpedoes or anti-ship missiles and 21 land attack missiles. If all three vertical multi-purpose modules are utilized with each housing seven missiles, then total weapons payload increases to 45, if the Type 216 can deploy with all six torpedo tubes occupied. The Type 216 is already compatible with the American AN/BYG-1 submarine combat system. Snorkeling under diesel electric power at 10 knots adds a further 10,400 nautical miles (19,260 km). Overall endurance is about 80 days during which, a submerged AIP period could, if required, exceed more than 18 days. The Class is designed to be extremely quiet due to its propulsion system and, uses a sound absorbing coating on the hull. While a 33-strong crew would be sufficient to man and operate the Type 216, 60 bunks are provided to meet the navy’s requirements (Special Forces etc.). Crew well-being and comfort standard are accomplished through enlarged accommodations, recreation areas and utility rooms. It has sewage and waste treatment facilities to fulfill future environmental regulations. More submariners would need to be recruited though. A $20 billion contract to ThyssenKrupp would deliver 12 Type 216-based submarines to be built in Canada, Germany or a mix of both. The life cycle costs would be upwards of 50B. The Type 216 SSK would be a good choice to replace the Victoria-class submarine.

The new French DNCS SMX Ocean-class SSK, is basically the same design as the French Barracuda-class SSN, with no nuclear reactor but with the latest AIP technologies. It displaces 4,765 tons (5,300 tons submerged), a length of 100m (333.3ft), a beam of 8.8m (29ft) and a height of 15.5m (50.8ft). Maximum diving depth is 350m (1,150ft) with a maximum submerged speed of 20kts. It has a very long patrol range of 18,000 nautical miles (33,336km) at 10 knots with a patrol cruise of 90 days. SMX Ocean is equipped with an eight-diver lockout chamber, plus a dry deck shelter for Special Forces and a dedicated UUV bay. The SMX Ocean-class not only incorporates the latest cutting-edge technology advances available, but can also stock five different types of weapons: torpedoes, anti-surface missiles, anti-air missiles, cruise missiles and mines for a total payload of 34 weapons.

The concept behind the class can deliver a very diverse patrol program. The Australian Navy has recently chosen the SMX Ocean-class (Shortfin Barracuda Block 1A) as replacement for their Collins-class submarine and intends to acquire 12 of these boats (some follow-on boats may be nuclear-powered), at an initial cost of 20B with life cycle costs of 50B AUD. If Canada were to acquire 12 of these larger SMX Ocean-class SSK, operational effectiveness would be improved over the German Type 216 SSK. This SSK, would be a game-changer for Canada’s future national defence.


Exploring the Nuclear SSN Option


Canadian submarines will need to be able to operate for prolonged periods, at great distances, and with unlimited endurance in some of the most unforgiving waters on the planet. The Arctic’s under-ice environment has limited opportunities for conventional diesel/AIP-powered submarines, which lack endurance, speed and versatility, the ability to safely surface in extreme conditions. Only SSNs have the power for repeated surfacing through ice of any significant thickness, even several feet. Conventional submarines are restricted to near ice-edge operations. To replenish air, SSKs must surface, or almost surface, to raise its snorkel mast at regular intervals, which is impossible for SSKs under all but the thinnest layers of ice.

A look at the four non-nuclear Air Independent Propulsion systems currently in service or development shows these clear limitations. First of all, the current AIP record for a slow submerged transit is a mere 18 days (without snorting) at the most. It is important to remember that none of the conventional power options allow for prolonged under-ice operations

Declaring the operation of a Canadian nuclear-powered submarine in Canadian Arctic waters and Northwest Passage choke points, indicates to other states that Canada has the capability to control the water space management (WSM) in ocean areas claimed by Canada. Demonstrating to Canadians and non-Canadians alike that Canada has the will and the capability to assert sovereignty in the seas of the Arctic, will become more important as global warming allows increased exploration of the Arctic seabed, and its rich resources. The WSM system is an important tool in this endeavour, but only if Canada maintains a viable and capable submarine force which, by necessity, demands the timely replacement of the ‘ice-edge limited’ conventional SSK by a fleet of 12 under-ice capable SSN’s. Existing AIP technology does not meet Canadian geographical demands for extended safe under-ice operations.

The SSN is the only tool/platform capable of extending the RCN’s reach below Canada’s ice-covered Arctic waters by demonstrating a measure of actual control, providing the RCN with a respectable presence in the three oceans, and a true force-multiplier able to meet all Canadian maritime sovereignty and defence requirements. An SSN can travel the Northwest Passage, under the ice cap, from Atlantic to Pacific, in just 14 days vice a month via the Panama Canal. Without SSN’s, Canada cannot exercise authority in the Arctic waters within the confines of its sovereign territory. This is a central requirement to any definition of sovereignty. If we are to be truly sovereign, we cannot contract out the defence of Canada. An annual defence budget increase of $5B or 2% of GDP, would allow Canada to fund the SSN acquisition program and allow us to finally contribute our ‘fair share’ within the NATO alliance.

The British Astute-class SSN will replace the Trafalgar-class SSN. It has a displacement of 8,600 short tons, a length of 97m (318ft), a beam of 11.3m (37 ft 1 in) and a draft of 10m (33ft). It has a Rolls-Royce Pwr 2 Reactor (25 year lifespan) able to generate a top speed of over 30 kts (submerged) with unlimited range. A tested depth of over 300m (984 ft). Armaments include storage for 38 weapons including Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles and heavy-weight torpedoes. The bridge fin of the Astute-class boats is specially reinforced to allow surfacing through heavy ice caps. These submarines have a crew of 98 sailors and can also be fitted with a dry deck shelter, which allows special forces to deploy whilst the submarine is submerged. More than 39,000 acoustic tiles mask the vessel’s sonar signature, giving the Astute-class improved acoustic qualities over any other submarine previously operated by the Royal Navy. Twelve of these boats would be a real game changer for Canada.

The Virginia-class, also known as the SSN-774 class is a 7,900 ton boat, with a length of 115m (377 ft), a beam of 10m (34 ft) and a depth of 490m (1600 ft). It has a S9G nuclear reactor delivering 40,000 shaft horse power with a speed of 25+ kts. Nuclear core life is estimated at 33 years with a compliment of 135 sailors. Armaments include : 12 VLS & four torpedo tubes, capable of launching Mark 48 torpedoes, UGM-109 Tactical Tomahawks, Harpoon missiles and the new advanced mobile mine when it becomes available. Block V boats will have the additional VPM module which contains four large diameter tubes which can accommodate 7 Tomahawk cruise missiles each. This would increase the total number of torpedo-sized weapons (such as Tomahawks) carried by the Virginia-class design from about 37 to about 65, an increase of about 76%. Optical fiber fly-by-wire Ship Control Systems replaces electro-hydraulic systems for control surface actuation. Command and control system module (CCSM) is built by Lockheed Martin. Twelve of these boats would also be a game changer for Canada.

The French Barracuda-class SSN has a displacement of 5300 tons (submerged). It has a displacement of 8,600 short tons, a length of 99.4m (326 ft), a beam of 8.8m (29 ft) and a draft of 7.3m (24ft). It has a pump-jet propulsion 50 MW nuclear reactor with a 10 year lifespan before refueling. It is able to generate a top speed of over 25 kts (submerged) with unlimited range. It has an endurance of between 70-90 days with a crew of 60 officers and men. Armaments include 4 × 533 mm (21.0 in) tubes; 20 storage racks, including MDCN SCALP Naval missiles, Exocet SM39 Block2 missiles, F21 Artemis heavy torpedoes and FG29 mines. This submarine can also be fitted with a dry deck shelter, which allows special forces to deploy whilst the submarine is submerged. Twelve of these boats would also be a game changer for Canada.


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