Daily Archives: June 12, 2013

Canadian submarine fleet’s future could be at risk

No mention of sub replacements in $33B National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, report says

The HMCS Chicoutimi sits aboard the heavy lift ship Tern in Halifax harbour on April 6, 2009. The vessel was transported to Victoria for a refit.The HMCS Chicoutimi sits aboard the heavy lift ship Tern in Halifax harbour on April 6, 2009. The vessel was transported to Victoria for a refit. (CBC)

Stealth and silence are hallmarks of the Royal Canadian Navy’s submarine fleet but those qualities may also apply to the federal government’s vision for the beleaguered force, says a new report released Tuesday on the future of the navy’s sub squadron.

The report, titled “That Sinking Feeling” said there are indications that the future of submarines in the navy may be as shaky as the spotty service record of the second-hand Royal Canadian Navy subs.

A hint of looming doom for the submarine fleet could be that there is no mention of replacements in the much-touted National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), said the report, which is produced by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“Nowhere in the plan is there any mention of one particular, significant, readily identifiable and probably imminent procurement — namely, the replacement of Canada’s troubled Victoria-class submarines,” the report said.

The report is co-authored by Stewart Webb, a researcher with the Rideau Institute, and Professor Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia defence expert.

Byers has been critical of both the Harper government and Canada’s military procurement strategy in the past. In 2008, Byers sought the New Democratic Party nomination for the federal riding of Vancouver Centre but lost to Liberal incumbent Hedy Fry.

The government plans on spending $33 billion over the next three decades replacing the ships of Canada’s navy.

New supply and logistics ships, a fleet of Arctic patrol vessels and up to 15 replacements for the navy’s front-line frigates and destroyers are planned. But submarines, which the navy claims are vital to Canada’s defence, do not surface in the ambitious warship construction program.

“Canada’s Victoria-class submarines may have as little as one decade of remaining service-life, and too many mistakes have been made with submarine procurement in the past,” the report said.

Victoria-class fiasco

The report chronicles the history of Canada’s dabbling with submarines — from the failed attempt to build up to a dozen powerful nuclear submarines in the late 1980s to the decision to buy four mothballed British submarines that had to be retro-fitted around an American-supplied torpedo.

By the time Canada decided to buy the four bargain-priced submarines, the oldest had spent a total of nine years languishing in salt water without a crew.

“Unfortunately, the apparent bargain quickly became a costly fiasco,” states the report.

The report provides a scathing account of the “inferior vessels” since the first sub, HMCS Victoria, entered service in the Canadian navy in 2000.

The time all the submarines have spent at sea is a telling number.

While in service with the British navy for four years, the subs spent 1,077 days at sea. But after 13 years in service with the Canadian navy, the boats have spent only 783 days patrolling, the report said.

One sailor was killed and several others injured because of a fire aboard the submarine HMCS Chicoutimi and there have been constant, and later confirmed, reports of cracked valves, a dented hull, shoddy electrical systems, rusted parts and cost overruns.

CBC reported last month that HMCS Windsor’s planned two-year refit actually lasted five years and cost $209 million.

After the submarine was relaunched in Halifax in the fall of 2012 it was discovered that one of the vessel’s two generators didn’t work, resulting in the submarine being restricted to near-home waters until the multi-million generator can be replaced. That replacement might not happen for years, confirmed the navy.

The federal government signed a controversial $1.5 billion contract in 2008 with the Canadian subsidiary of a British-based company to provide “in-service support” for the submarines.

But Tuesday’s report said that money could have funded a new fleet of state-of-the art submarines.

“The Harper government could have procured three to four brand new diesel-electric submarines, based on proven designs from France, Germany, or Sweden,” states the report.

Future plans sketchy

The report challenges Canadians to decide whether the navy needs submarines or not but it also ponders whether the Harper government is quietly planning to procure new submarines.

Military brass have made it clear that submarines are front and centre in its plans for Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic defence. But the government has not been so forthright.

“There is clearly a desire within [the Department of National Defence] and the Canadian Armed Forces for the procurement of new submarines. But the absence of submarines from the NSPS remains unexplained,” write the authors.

The report suggests there may be three possible scenarios for Canada’s submarine future: a possible secret plan for the Victoria class replacement; a possible secret plan to terminate Canada’s sub capability; or there is no plan to either keep or replace the current fleet.

“Condemning Canada’s submarine program to death through neglect and obsolescence rather than design,” the report said.

Other countries have decided to scrap submarine capabilities altogether.

The Danish navy pulled the plug on its sub fleet, and the possibility of new submarines in 2004 after a national debate.

Instead of subs, the Danes opted to build a small but mighty fleet of surface ships to patrol in both home and international waters.

But many other countries have decided to invest in submarines as the ideal way to deny other nations access to their waters.

China, India, Iran, Chile, Malaysia and Israel are all building or buying new fleets of advanced submarines.

The report said there are several submarine designs Canada might consider to replace the aging but low mileage Victoria class submarines.

The German-built U-214 class has the ability to remain underwater for weeks at time because of new air-independent technology.

Canada’s submarines must surface, or send mast to the surface, several times a day in order to charge batteries.

New submarines like the French Scorpene or Swedish Gotland would allow Canada to patrol under the ice in the Arctic and do so with just 25 sailors — half the crew needed for the Victoria class.

But if history is any guide, it takes Canada 15 to 20 years to design and build a new class of complex warships.

“The best-before date of Canada’s Victoria-class is approaching, perhaps as soon as 2023,” warns the report.

Cmdr. Hubert Genest, with the navy’s public affairs office, told CBC News that the navy plans to operate the Victoria-class submarines until the late 2020s, saying that the navy has “always said that the Victoria-class submarines was the bridge to the next generation of submarines for Canada.”

Source – CBC News

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UK – Forgotten logbook reveals bid to raise WWI submarine

The forgotten logbook of a former Royal Navy diver has revealed a fascinating  insight into attempts to raise a unique First World War submarine that sank more  than 80 years ago as the result of a tragic accident.

The faded and yellowing diary was rediscovered by the family of Plymouth-born  Albert “Bob” Smale who, as a 23-year-old recently-qualified navy diver took part  in a year-long salvage operation to raise the world’s very first underwater  aircraft carrier, HMS M2.

  1. Lee Smale, 62, pictured with his father's logbook

    Lee Smale, 62, pictured with his father’s  logbook

  2. The world's first underwater aircraft carrier HMS M2 in action with her two-man Parnell Peto biplane – the ship sank while on a routine training exercise off West Bay, Dorset, in 1932

    The world’s first underwater aircraft carrier HMS  M2 in action with her two-man Parnell Peto biplane – the ship sank while on a  routine training exercise off West Bay, Dorset, in 1932

  3. Lieutenant Commander Lionel 'Buster' Crabbe disappeared in the murky waters of Portsmouth Harbour

    Lieutenant Commander Lionel ‘Buster’ Crabbe  disappeared in the murky waters of Portsmouth Harbour

  4. Albert 'Bob' Smale during his Royal Navy career, in which he served as a diver

    Albert ‘Bob’ Smale during his Royal Navy career,  in which he served as a diver

Lee Smale, 62, of Plymouth,  the youngest son of four children born to Bob  and Gladys Smale, remembers his father’s logbook from childhood.

He said: “The logbook had always been in the family but we’d never really  given it much thought. He died in 1968 but it was only when we began sorting  through my mother’s things when she moved into sheltered accommodation that it  resurfaced.

“But looking through all his belongings and coming across the logbook again,  the family recognised its significance.”

The M2 was one of four “M” class submarines put into service during the First  World War and following the cessation of hostilities was modified to carry a  small two-seater Parnell Peto biplane.

Intended for aerial reconnaissance during advance scouting missions, the aircraft had hinged wings to allow it to fit within a specially designed watertight hangar. Launched by hydraulic “catapult”, the Peto was recovered via a deck-mounted crane on its return.

On January 26, 1932, during a routine training exercise off West Bay, Dorset,  after advising her support vessel of her intention to dive, all contact with the  M2 was lost and the submarine disappeared without trace.

A major search ensued but with her position unknown it was eight days before  the M2’s location was eventually discovered.  All of the vessel’s   60-strong  crew lost their lives in the tragedy – believed to be a direct consequence of a  failure to secure the submarine’s hangar doors before diving.

Lying upright on the seabed at a depth in excess of 30 metres, the Royal Navy  salvage team, hindered by the strong tidal currents that swirled around the M2,  worked around the clock for   11 months to seal the hull before filling the  vessel with air to refloat the stricken submarine.

However, as the salvage attempt reached its final stage, and only six metres  from the surface, a heavy gale resulted in the operation being aborted and the  M2 dropped back down to the seabed.

The neat handwritten pages of the logbook initially record Mr Smale’s diver  training, but further examination  revealed a passage dedicated to the M2  salvage work carried out by himself and his colleagues.

Under a heading entitled “M2 Salvage,” Mr Smale describes the “method of  sealing hatches with cement”.

“Hatch is closed down and then a layer of small bags filled with cement is  placed on top, and then a few buckets of loose cement is put on to fill in the  spaces between bags,” he wrote.

The logbook also contains a detailed hand-drawn illustration of the submarine  showing its position, features and amendments before the failed lifting  operation.

The difficulties of working at such a depth, contending with strong tides,  poor visibility and bad weather while dressed in the heavy brass helmets of the  era are also conveyed in detail in a collection of newspaper cuttings pasted  among the book’s pages.

The Dorset Echo newspaper reported: “He has an electric torch swung around  his neck. The feeble illumination of this helps him when the torch is held  close, but his principal asset is a sense of direction acquired by experience  and that astonishing sensitiveness of touch which utter darkness gives to a  diver as to a man who is blind.”

“My dad had quite a varied and distinguished career,” said Lee, who also has  a certificate in recognition of his father’s Mention in Dispatches during the  Wanhsien Incident on the Yangtze River, China in 1926.

Going on to achieve the rank of Petty Officer, Bob Smale was a contemporary  and close friend of Lionel “Buster” Crabb, the Royal Navy frogman who  disappeared in mysterious circumstances at the height of the Cold War.

Lieutenant Commander Crabb, came to prominence for his pioneering work in  underwater bomb disposal during the Second World War and while he had all but  retired by 1955, just a year later he was recruited by MI6 to investigate an  advanced propulsion system used by the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze during the  vessel’s visit to the United Kingdom.

On the evening of  April 19, 1956, Crabb descended into the murky waters of  Portsmouth Harbour on what was to be his final mission and was never seen  again.

Several months later the headless and handless corpse of a diver was  discovered floating in a nearby harbour, but this was not the end of Commander  Crabb’s story.

At the inquest into Crabb’s disappearance, the coroner’s report suggested the  body was in all probability that of the missing 47-year-old OBE and George Medal  holder – despite the lack of firm evidence which could have been provided by  fingerprints or dental records.

Unsurprisingly, various theories abounded as to Crabb’s fate: he was killed  by a Soviet sniper; eliminated by MI5 or even defected to the USSR to head their  military diving team.

However, Lee Smale is adamant that his father’s friend did not die on that  fateful night.

“He and my father were apparently very close and he told members of the  family at the time that he didn’t believe for one minute that Crabb was dead,”  he said.

With her protected status as a War Grave, the wreck of HMS M2 has now become  popular dive site with recreational scuba divers.

Allowed to dive her remains on a “look-but-don’t-touch” basis, the modern-day  diver can observe the M2’s final resting place, just as Bob Smale did more than  80 years ago.

Source – This is Cornwall