Submarines good value, navy tells MacKay

It should now be clear to most people that the Canadian media has a "hate" on for submarines. The reason, it has been suggested, is that the media was excluded from the Chicoutimi Board of Inquiry. If this is true then much of the on-going media criticism is vindictive rather than based on fact. Even if not vindictive, the constant use of derogatory terms such as "dud subs" by the media reflects bias and lack of understanding rather than anything else.

Lets review some of the facts.

First, one of the main reasons for buying the ex-Royal Navy Victoria-class submarines was to keep individual and crew training alive so that Canada could remain in the business of operating submarines. They were not the perfect submarines, but they were available when needed and not in ten or so years when newly-built ones would have entered service. The Oberons, just could not be kept going that long. If Canada had not bought the ex-Upholders, we would have given up the ability to operate submarines safely and lost a wonderful opportunity to be on the leading edge of underwater technology.

Second, submarines are one of the platforms of the future. The integration of new and emerging technologies such as UUVs (robotics), even UAVs in some situations, high-definition sonars, and high-speed data processing systems make the submarine a superb surveillance and scientific research vessel. That it can remain on patrol for 30 or so days is an added advantage. That it can conduct surveillance covertly if necessary is another plus. A submarine can also provide distant early warning and protection for surface formations - the lessons of the Falkland's War of 1982 for instance. Today's complex alignment of states and terrorist groups could easily turn to the point where a state decided to use force to oppose a UN or other multinational intervention or humanitarian operation from the sea; a submarine on flank protection would be most useful.

Third, lets get past Chicoutimi; its over, its history and more importantly those types of accidents have happened before. Accidents happen even to the best trained crews. Most of us who have been to sea in submarines have been in similar accidents, and some far worse. It was one of the risks we accepted on joining the submarine service. Since the early 1950s, when the Canadian navy started its most recent involvement in submarines, only two Canadian submariners have been lost of the one thousand (it may be higher) or so who served in those 50 plus years. That is a better safety record than most people realize; certainly a far better ratio than aircrew or even peacekeepers. Chicoutimi now needs to be put in its correct perspective as an unfortunate accident.

The time has come for the media to grow-up and start looking at submarines on the basis of fact and operational and scientific potential. The facts are there in plain view as are the people who can help make them more easily understood.