Tag Archives: Upholder class

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

Submarines ready to enter Royal Canadian Navy fleet

RIMPAC 2012 off Hawaii marks the first overseas deployment of the submarine HMCS Victoria

RIMPAC 2012 off Hawaii marks the first overseas deployment of the submarine HMCS Victoria

TORONTO – Run silent, run deep.

In a matter of weeks the Royal Canadian Navy will have three submarines ready to do just that.

The fourth will be in dry dock and not released until 2015.

These conventional diesel-electric boats were all purchased second  hand from Britain in 1998 and transferred to the RCN at an initial cost  of  $750 million.

Years of controversy and refit followed before last year’s historic  visit by HMCS Victoria to the RIMPAC exercises off Hawaii. That passage  culminated in its firing an MK 48 heavyweight torpedo and sinking the  decommissioned transport USNS Concord.

News that HMCS Victoria is to be joined by its sisters is welcome for  the defence establishment. For critics — of which there are many — it  is just another chapter in a convoluted tale of mismatched procurement  meeting ill-defined strategic needs.

The Canadian taxpayer has been left to pick up the now estimated $3  billion (and rising) tab prompting the question: does the RCN even need  to stay in the submarine business?

It’s in good company if it does.

Across the Pacific Rim, alone, countries as far apart as South Korea  and Australia, Indonesia and Japan, China, Vietnam, Malaysia and  Singapore operate conventional submarines.

Further afield Bangladesh is acquiring its first submarines to boost  its naval power in the Bay of Bengal while India operates 14 boats,  including a nuclear-powered attack submarine leased from Russia.

All are used for sea-lane security in a variety of scenarios  including clandestine work delivering special forces operators in  shallow coastal waters.

Still, those tasks should be viewed through an entirely different  geo/strategic setting to that of Canada’s, cautions Steven Staples,  president of the Rideau Institute, a defence and foreign policy  think-tank in Ottawa.

He acknowledges the growing submarine capabilities in other parts of  the globe but maintains Canada is historically not in the trade of  long-range power projection.

“We live in a self-evidently different neighbourhood to Asia,”  Staples said, “and our submarines are more coastal. They were designed  to sit on the sea floor during the Cold War to watch and listen for  Soviet fleet activity.

“There is a strong argument against whether we need them at all. The  three Oberon class boats that preceded the current subs were mostly used  to provide opposition training for the U.S. Navy.

“We may well find the new boats doing that as well. That’s a pretty expensive way to stay friends with an ally.”

Sitting, watching and listening. Three things non-nuclear submarines excel at.

Surely with increased shipping activity in the Arctic thanks to  receding pack ice and more and bigger ships transiting the route for a  short-cut to Europe, doesn’t it make sense for Canada to have eyes and  ears monitoring a potentially ice free Northwest Passage?

“Well, it would help if they were ever fully operational, put it that  way” Staples said. “If they could dive without hitting the ocean floor  or even remember to close hatches before submerging.

“Look, I just don’t think this project has been worth the money and  the time spent to deliver a marginal capability. I wouldn’t call it a  textbook case of how Canada should NOT go about procuring extremely  complicated defence equipment because, sadly, there are other contenders  for that title.”

If Canada eventually embraces the “use ‘em if you’ve got ‘em”  doctrine, they might want to look at what Australia did with its six  Oberon-class diesel-electric boats during the last decades of the Cold  War.

The Royal Australian Navy conducted perilous intelligence-gathering  operations off the coasts of Vietnam, Indonesia, China and India as part  of an American-led effort to check the Soviet Navy’s formidable fleet.

Between 1978 and 1992 Australian submarines would secretly track Soviet ships as they transited the South China Sea.

There were 16 patrols in all.

In one case an Australian boat famously trailed a new Soviet frigate  all the way to the entrance of Vietnam’s Cam Ranh Bay naval base and  photographed its hull shape, propellers, weapons systems and sonar. All  undetected despite being just being 1.8-metres from the frigate’s hull  at one stage.

Difficult but not impossible to replicate in Arctic waters if RCN  submariners ever get the call to covertly see just who is using the  trans-polar shipping route. And why.

Source – Sun News Network


Canada – Submarine air quality under the microscope

The Canadian Maritime Force has four Victoria class diesel-electric submarines, formerly Upholder Class submarines of the UK Royal Navy.

The Canadian Maritime Force has four Victoria class diesel-electric submarines, formerly Upholder Class submarines of the UK Royal Navy.

OTTAWA – Navy engineers have decided not to install a central monitoring system to track air quality on board Canada’s oft-maligned submarine fleet, internal National Defence documents say.

It’s a move that’s being questioned by some former submariners.

The system was part of the military’s 13-year struggle to bring the four British-built second-hand boats in line with North American standards and convert certain fixtures for Canadian use.

Keeping the right balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide is crucial on board the submarines, which are required to remain submerged for extended periods of time, making air quality a particular concern for technicians.

In 2002, engineers initially proposed installing a ship-wide atmospheric monitoring system, but a series of internal documents show that more than 10 years later, the plan has been abandoned.

“Such a system is unlikely to be practical, requiring installation during the (extended deep work period),” said a briefing note to the navy’s director of maritime force development on Oct. 19, 2011.

Including the system raised the potential of derailing the navy’s plan to bring the submarines into full operational service.

The briefing, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws, estimated installing the system would have pushed the initial roll-out of the boats to 2018 with the last touches — known as final operating capability — not achievable until 2025.

By that time, the submarines would be near the end of their lifespan.

“The current intent is to consider portable devices, which are expected to address the requirement in a reasonable amount of time and cost less than $5 million,” said the note, which evaluated the entire submarine life support project.

A navy spokesman confirmed the “fixes” to the air monitoring system are being implemented through a minor capital project and that there is no health and safety concern.

“The air standard on board meets established standards,” Navy Lt. Mark Fifield said in a recent email.

Former submarine captain Ray Hunt said he’s startled by the decision, because portable monitors were something the navy relied upon in its now-retired Oberon class submarines.

“I’m surprised at this day in age that we don’t have a more modern system,” said Hunt, who commanded three submarines during his 27-year naval career, including HMCS Okanagan. He also commanded the country’s entire submarine squadron in the 1980s.

He said carbon dioxide poisoning is an ever-present threat that can leave sailors dizzy and sick.

A modern air filtration system was supposed to be one of the major advantages of upgrading to the Victoria class, Hunt added.

But a defence analyst said the navy would not be taking short cuts on safety, especially in the wake of a fatal fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi in 2004.

Eric Lerhe, a former commodore, said it was curious that engineers took more than a decade to figure out the proposal was impractical, but he hailed as laudable the goal of seeking the very best air quality standard.

It’s been 14 years since the purchase of the submarines was first announced, and the pressure to get them fully operational has been enormous, said Lerhe, who served on the defence planning team that convinced the Liberal government of Jean Chretien to buy the boats.

“The navy very clearly wants to demonstrate these boats are operationally capable,” Lerhe said.

HMCS Victoria was declared fully operational when it fired its first torpedoes and sank a decommissioned US Navy cargo ship in an exercise last summer.

Last fall, HMCS Windsor passed a critical dive test on the road to being declared completely ready. Both the Chicoutimi and HMCS Corner Brook remain in extended maintenance.

Almost a year ago, the head of the navy estimated that once fully underway, Canada could the sail the existing submarine fleet until 2030. But internal briefing documents show navy planners started laying the groundwork for their replacement last year with a study on what kind of boats and technology would be needed after 2020.

Source – Metro News