Old subs

A Reply to Dave Perry

I read Mr. Perry’s Broadside commentary "A Sub Too Far" with attention and interest. In terms of your reflections on public perception vis-à-vis submarines ("there will be little public appetite for retaining submarines")  I would begin by responding that it is a government responsibility -- regardless of public opinion -- to set and execute national defence policy; this based on knowledgeable assessment of threats (perceived and real), honest determination of Canada's role and required degree of involvement in world affairs, and the consequence(s) (if any) of not being internationally engaged and failing to commit to a robust national defence.  I am certain that at some level you agree with this.

With respect to submarines, if the government determines it is in Canada's best interest to have such a capability, then Canada will have submarines.  If not, they (the submarines!) will be disposed of.  Of course, the public has the opportunity to regularly pass judgment on such decisions through the mechanism of national elections.  But this same public is both a fractious and fractured polity -- I suggest that only infrequently can it be said that in Canada national unanimity is achieved on any question.  I am no political scientist, but suspect that governments that are courageous, and are seen to be courageous, when matters of national defence are held in higher regard than those governments that do not.

Notwithstanding the various positions taken by particular interest groups to disparage submarine capability, on every occasion to date that government has examined the requirement the decision has been made to retain the capability.  To those (and there are far too many) who insist that the navy's first priority should be to get the public onside with submarines, I can only respond that it is an activity that consumes a lot of effort and demonstrates mixed results.  This doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to make the effort, but it does seem to be the case that casual observers who don't understand the requirement for submarines are often ill-disposed to listen to reasonable arguments and unwilling to adjust their views.  Those who do understand the requirement (surprisingly, there are quite a few) find the arguments intuitive and aren't interested in being hectored.

What is left is a middle cadre susceptible to public education and strategic communications campaigns.  For my money the real value of these programs is in educating Canadians about the need for a navy, not for particular classes of vessels, types of aircraft, etc.  Decisions relative to the particular composition of the navy should be debated and decided by experts, experts who clearly understand what is within the art of the possible given the well-known year-over-year resource limitations inevitably imposed by government.   Relative to your query as to which is more important, a destroyer or submarine, I suggest the question misses the point.  I hope most naval officers would agree that, for the Canadian navy, both are important.  This is something government needs to understand.   Recognizing that we get to inform and government gets to decide, if we in the navy fail to advise this point we have not done our jobs.  Canada will end up with a somewhat useful little navy, along the lines of the maritime forces of other nations that do not have submarines -- Mexico, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria, etc.  Our navy won't have submarines and, not long after that, it probably won't have destroyers either. Is this what Canadians really want?  I doubt it.

As a uniformed player in the national defence enterprise, I consider it my duty to provide impartial professional advice relative to Canada's maritime security needs.  As a submariner I allow myself the small conceit of thinking I am sometimes placed to comment on this unique capability.  I accept that alone I am unlikely to sway public opinion, but each of us has a part to play in providing advice through the chain of command.  Along this line, over a year ago I submitted an article to Canadian Military Journal, subsequently published in Vol 7. No 4, Winter 2006-2007 as “A Rational Choice Revisited - Submarine Capability in a Transformational Era.”  I commend this to you and hope that in some small way it assists you in better understanding why I firmly believe that submarines are of considerable utility and desirability in the current and future Canadian navy.

Thank-you for your time and for stimulating an important discussion.