Volume 13, Number 1, Spring 2017

Canadian Submarines

It seems that new submarines won’t be part of the future mix for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), at least in the foreseeable future. The government has quickly rejected a critical key Senate committee recommendation to at least take the first steps in replacing our aging Victoria-class submarines with a fleet of new, modern and improved  Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) boats. In late 2017, the Senate Defence Committee recommended the Victoria-class submarines be replaced with submarines capable of under-ice capabilities (Reinvesting In The Canadian Armed Forces: A Plan For The Future-April 2017-Pg. 24 Recommendation-1). The committee recommended that the federal government respond to NATO  calls to improve the quality of the naval fleets and underwater surveillance capabilities by starting the process of replacing the Victoria-class submarines with new boats that have a more enhanced under-ice capability. It also recommended increasing the size of that fleet to 12 submarines in order to reinforce Canada’s Arctic, North Atlantic and Pacific Ocean defence preparedness.

However the government has roundly rejected that recommendation. In doing so it has ostensibly said that we have no desire to acquire new replacement AIP subs with under-ice capabilities now or in the future. It was the only one of the 27 recommendations made by the Defence Committee that was rejected outright in a response delivered to the committee  in October 2018. The government pointed out in its response, that it is in the midst of the most intensive and comprehensive fleet modernization and renewal in the peacetime history of the RCN, and is recapitalizing and increasing the size of its surface fleet through investments in 15 Canadian Surface Combatants, two Joint Support Ships (JSS), and six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS). The government is also committed to modernizing the four submarines to include weapons and sensor upgrades that will enhance their ability to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), and deliver necessary improvements of platform and combat systems to extend operational capability to the mid-2030s.

Canada is also engaged in the rebuilding of the anti-submarine warfare capabilities of the fleet through the introduction of technologies, sensors and weapons while preparing to transition to the fleet of the future. In addition to increasing existing platform capabilities, the RCN is also in the process of revitalizing individual and collective ASW training and advancing distributed mission training and synthetic training environments. Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan praised the capability that submarines provide Canada. “No other platform in the Canadian Armed Forces can do what a submarine can do. No other platform has the stealth, the intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance capability and the deterrence to potential adversaries that a sub does. Upgrading the Victoria-class subs is more “prudent” than buying new subs,” Sajjan said at the time. However, without upgrades, the first of the submarines will reach the end of its life in 2022, according to documents obtained last year through Access to Information by the Canadian Press. The last of the boats would have been retired in 2027.

This decision, is of monumental incompetence. Do the government MPs not know that Canada has three oceans, one of which is covered in ice? Are these MPs willing to blissfully ignore Canada’s Arctic? This government would much rather see our submarine service die a thousand deaths, rather than have a National Ship Strategy which incorporates a more robust navy with the purchase of 12 new enhanced ice capable modern AIP submarines. This strategy of doing nothing to prepare our Navy for the future will lead it to not have a critical and unique maritime surveillance capability for the future.

The government, despite what it has glowingly stated, is not really increasing the size of the RCN’s surface fleet. As you may recall, Canada at one time had 4 AAW Iroquois-class destroyers along with 12 Halifax-class frigates, so replacing them with 15 ASW/AAW capable frigates, is actually less of a capability than what we had. And we are just replacing the replenishment ships with 2 Protecteur-class Joint Support Ships, which should have happened years ago. The Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) capability is nothing more than a stop-gap measure to show the flag with a limited presence in our northern Arctic Ocean.   So there we have it …. Canada, a country with the longest coastline in the world; Canada, which claims a large share of the Arctic Ocean, including what lies on its seabed as its own; Canada, which longs to be a great trading state and which, simultaneously needs a credible Navy to secure the sea lines of communication;  … is saddled with a government that does not seem to grasp the seriousness of what  it has done to our future security and sovereignty. This submarine decision is an act of sheer madness which may come back to bite the government hard during the next federal election this coming October.

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