Ill-fated Chicoutimi to be operational by year-end
OTTAWA — Three of Canada’s four Victoria-class, diesel-electric submarines are to be operational by the end of the year.
But there are still questions about whether Canada still has the personnel to handle a submarine fleet, and if the subs are even worth fixing.
HMCS Victoria, which has been docked since 2005, was declared operational last year on the West Coast after sinking a decommissioned United States navy ship in a live torpedo test.
HMCS Windsor, docked since 2007, has already started live tests in Halifax Harbour. Last November, it completed a live diving exercise in the harbour, known as a camber dive. It made its first run out to sea in December.
HMCS Chicoutimi, on which a navy officer died after it caught fire during its 2004 maiden voyage, is also undergoing extensive work. Despite its tragic past, the Defence Department says the refit in Victoria, B.C., will have it ready for operation later this year.
“What that is is really heavy maintenance on more than 200 systems,” said department spokeswoman Jocelyn Sweet. “So absolutely everything gets looked at and either replaced or fixed or repaired or overhauled.”
With three of the four subs operational, the Defence Department will consider it at a “steady state” of operation.
The fourth submarine, HMCS Corner Brook, ran aground in a test last year. It will undergo repairs until 2016.
But some analysts say it’s a waste of money to repair the submarines, which were bought second-hand from the British navy for $750 million in 1998.
Since they started sailing in 2003, the subs have been at sea for a combined 1,083 days. That means the sticker price alone works out to almost $700,000 per day.
“These things aren’t submarines, they’re lemons,” said Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, a defence and foreign policy think-tank in Ottawa.
Staples said the submarines will never live up to their billing, which is why the British government originally intended to mothball them. He said the submarines are not needed for defence and are in fact sucking resources from more valuable projects.
“The first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole is you stop digging,” he said.
The Defence Department says the subs will be used for various activities, including patrols, intelligence gathering and acting as a deterrent.
While the vessels might work soon, some wonder if Canada still has the staffing capacity to run three submarines after years of very limited testing ability.
In November 2011, Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, said the number of submariners who are active and ready had fallen to 80 from 300. An internal report in early 2012 raised concerns about the navy’s ability to train enough officers in time.
In April, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the navy had 278 submariners who were working within the program, with 60 more on the way.
Source – Herald News