Submarine Matters provides an expanding database on submarines worldwide. Australia should contract in 2016 to only buy a batch of 6 Shortfins - then, in the 2030s, decide whether to buy: 6 more Shortfins or 6 Barracuda SSNs or 4 Virginia SSNs. With increasing numbers of Chinese, Russian and Indian SSNs in Australia's region Australia's Shortfins cannot attain any 2016 Defence White Paper goal of being "regionally superior". Australia would need to buy SSNs to be "superior".
November 19, 2015
Canadian Defence Concerns with some concentration on Submarines
Click here to vastly expand map (Courtesy Melting The Ice). Map of Canada with its 370 km Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) boundary being a particular interest to guard - even from American fisherman and oil interests. Russia even more interesting. Many chokepoints suited to Canada SSKs - perhaps Labrador Sea through to Ellesmere Island. From west, Beaufort Sea to Ellsmere Island and all the narrows in between. Protecting US coast (south of San Diego and Strait of Florida?) from Central America drug drop-offs by sea.
PETE'S COMMENTS The following is a broad ranging discussion on Canada's defence concerns with some concentration on submarines, related aircraft and surface ships.
Canada's four SSKs protect Canadian interests while complimenting the SSNs of the US Navy: - with Canada frequently operating in the Arctic Ocean, Pacific West coast (North (sea-lanes, oil, strategic) Arctic down to Central America? coast (anti-drugs)) similar goals and distances on the Atlantic east coast (up past Labrador Sea).
As Canada’s SSKs are non-AIP they would need to snort every day or two given the risk of being trapped under thick Arctic ice. This would limit far northern strategy and tactics compared to, up to 3 months submerged (food limited), SSNs of Russia, US and perhaps UK SSNs in those waters.
The increasing rate of northern ice melt is increasing the northern areas that SSKs can operate (not only in warmer months but in mid Winter). Northern waters are increasingly frequented by Russian icebreakers, oil and gas tankers even in Winter. The Russians need increased watching - especially over competing oil claims. The Northern Sea Route and Northwest passage are becoming increasingly valuable ocean highways that shortern naval and commercial "sailing" times. See map at bottom of this article.
Canadian defence specialist, Brad Johnson, added a wealth
of comments towards the end of Comments
section not only on submarines but aircraft and surface ships (including future Frigates that Australia may be interested in). I've added one or two words and links for clarity. Brad commented:
"New Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has made three commitments:
- strong military, financed by a deficit budget, which permits rebuilding defence
- committed to current defence spending levels plus planned
- plans to opt for a cheaper fighter aircraft than
the F-35 so those funds can be diverted to the Navy.
A replacement for the Victoria Class may not occur soon. A US$?1.5 billion planned mid life overhaul will probably occur keeping the subs functioning
until 2025 or so.
By 2025 the hostile public attitude towards the Victoria’s
submarines may still delay replacements.
Yes, I have read about the ordeal the Collins Class has
been, it is amazing how many Canadians are absolutely convinced the Victoria/Upholders
were a rip off. The reality is the Victoria/Upholders cost Canada practically nothing,
the initial cost was a horse trade for leasing the subs in exchange for a base
lease for Britain ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Army_Training_Unit_Suffield
?) zero dollars exchanged. The end of lease price was one dollar (or one pound,
I am not sure). Most of the rest of the cost were funds that would have been
allocated to Canada's then existing Oberon SSKs anyway.
A Canadian Victoria (ex Upholder) class sub in chilly seas (Photo courtesy Royal Canadian Navy website) ---
the Victoria/Upholders] This is not to say there have not been problems,
but I have some sympathy for the position of the British. Yes, their mothball
procedures left something to be desired, yes there were some deficiencies in
their construction (notably the wiring insulation, at least partially to blame
for the tragic fire on the HMCS Chicoutimi), but they offered these subs back when
they were still in operation. When Canada delayed acquiring them for the better
part of a decade, they likely did not allocate funds for a proper decommissioning,
resulting in things like salt water left in internal tanks.
Had Canada taken
possession immediately (which like I said would have cost nothing as the
operational fund would have come from the Oberon funds), the could have brought
the same British crews that were on them to train Canadian crews. The refit to
Canadian (US) weapon systems could have been a rolling refit, as crews trained
on the submarines with the British weapon systems.
Overall all though I don't think the British are
blameless in the poor condition the submarines were received in, but I think
the bulk of the blame lies squarely with the unnecessarily delays in
acquisition by the Canadian government, and most of the deterioration and
damage happened during this nearly decade long acquisition with the subs
rusting in wet dock. They could have sent a team to inspect the subs and make
recommendations and pay for a proper decommissioning and storage in dry dock.
At the end of it even with the damage, these subs were
still an excellent deal. Chicoutimi was all but destroyed in the fire, the
other subs needed deep refits that the Chretien government was unwilling to pay
for. Had Chretien allocated the proper funds, most of the availability issues
of the subs would have been taken care of.
At this point the Victoria Class seems to be doing quite
well, and is even scheduled for a $1.5 billion dollar upfit.[mid-life overhaul]
Destroyers and Frigates
On paper both Canada and Australia plan on having some
very impressive middle power navies in the future. Currently we are without
a single functional destroyer [the last of the 1970s launched Iroquois
Athabaskan has been having severe engine troubles], or a single functional
The 12 [Halifax
class] frigates were just upfit [overhauled] and pretty much tip top, with
added air defence capabilities to make up for the lack of destroyers. Plans are
Arctic patrol ships, 15 surface combatants (likely a mix of excellent Royal
Danish Navy frigates, 4-5 Iver
Huitfelt-class frigates to replace the destroyers and 8-10 Absalon
multirole frigates to replace the current frigates), 2-3 supply ships and a
heavy ice breaker are planned. As a couple Mistral class assault ships and some
SSNs and you have pretty much as good a Navy you could expect a nation the size
of Canada to have. The problem of course is this is all just on paper and
Canadian defence acquisitions do not have a habit of going smoothly.
As far as SSNs go, the US has worked extremely hard for
reasons I don't understand to make sure Canada never acquired them. During the big
push to acquire SSNs in the late 1980s, not only would they not sell their SSNs
to Canada but they blocked the sale of British SSNs. This is in spite of the
fact the fuel design in US nuclear subs and to some extent the reactor design
is based on work done at the atomic research facility in Chalk River Laboratories
They even found a way to block the sale of the French
Rubis class SSNs used from 1983 to this day]. It was the drama of the SSN acquisition
(and the end of the Cold War) that left Canada with no submarine replacement
plan for the Oberons when the Upholders became available.
I don't know what the reasoning is for the strong US
opposition to Canadian SSNs?, but I
suspect it hasn't changed. Roadblocks from the US combined with the public's
apprehension regarding nuclear power make me think that permit of SSN
acquisition is a bridge too far more likely kill the submarine program entirely
than result in operational SSNs. Advancements in AIP technology make SSNs less
Given that Canada's and Australia's submarine replacement
needs are so similar, it would be a very positive sign to see some teamwork
here. Canada just like Australia has a strong preference for US torpedoes and
fire control systems on their subs, similar operational requirements and a
similar relationship with the US navy, a combined effort on submarine
acquisition would make a lot of sense."
In terms of joint Australian/Canadian future submarine interest (or combined buying) it is probably a case of our nations at many levels informally liaising, rather than any formal [Anglo-French Concorde :( like] liaison. Canada may have some buy-from-NATO realities that Australia doesn't have. Australia has Japanese interests that Canada doesn't have (to my knowledge).
So I think the RAN and RCN, industry organisations, scientific and research bodies can all email each other and meet at High Commissions (Defence and Naval Attaches?) when opportunity arises. Maybe open ended understandings can be reached but not firm agreements that may come back to haunt in the flexible commercial and public realms.
Australia's current submarine buying program (and positive experience with the Super Hornets) can yield much that is useful for Canada. Canada appears to be ahead in the frigate and offshore patrol vessel acquisition process - which would be generating many valuable pointers for Australia.
I'll write future articles on ice melt (and oil) implications, sub surveillance on drugs and Antarctic problems.