Prime minister, top officials debating whether to scrap, upgrade or buy new

A wide-ranging discussion about the future of Canada's troubled submarine fleet is taking place at the highest levels of the Conservative government, say political and defence sources.

The Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister's Office are examining whether to "scrap them altogether, upgrade the existing boats or buy new," said a political source.

The debate has been taking place largely above the heads of senior naval commanders and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, all of whom support the Victoria-class submarines.

"Everything is on the table as far as the PCO and PMO are concerned," said the source, who asked not to be identified.

Broadsides' own Eric Lerhe, interviewed by Brewster, argues that the Tories' Arctic focus is driving the discussion:

It's not clear what's driving the high-level political debate, but a retired senior officer said he believes the Conservative focus on Arctic sovereignty is likely at the heart of it.

The four diesel-electric Victoria-class boats are capable of only limited operations in the ice-choked northern waters and the government may be considering more extensive upgrades or the purchase of new subs that can operate under the ice for prolonged periods.

"There is something being discussed," said Eric Lerhe, a former commodore and Pacific fleet commander.

"I'm also getting it from sources second-hand and third-hand. Nobody knows precisely where it's going, but it looks to be focused on the Arctic."

The recent planting of a Russian flag on the seabed at the North Pole and the scramble by several nations, including Canada, to map the Arctic ocean floor has galvanized the federal government, said Lerhe.

Full text is available from the Chronicle Herald website here.