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. 


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.


Nicky and Pete have had ongoing discussions of what type of replacement submarine Canada might opt for or be suitable. On a growing scale TKMS 214s, DCNS Scorpenes, Saab A26s, 218s,  


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 infrastructure.

-  committed to current defence spending levels plus planned increases,

-  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.

Another problem is many other military acquisitions will come due in the 2025 time frame, such as the big ticket F/A-18 Super Hornets, new Fixed-Wing Search and Rescue (FWSAR) aircraft and frigate/destroyer replacements.

Canada's and Australia's submarine requirements are very similar (other than Arctic ice AIP) hopefully a success for Australia on that front will make it easy for Canada to make a follow on order.

Fingers crossed Trudeau isn't a repeat of Chretien/Martin Liberal government [1993-2006] for the military. There are good reasons to be optimistic but only time will tell. Trudeau only mentioned pulling out the F-18s from over Iraq and Syria. The Polaris refueling tanker, two Aurora surveillance/ MPAs and embedded "trainers" as far as I know are staying in Iraq.

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 ( ?) 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)

[on 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 Destroyers, HMCS Athabaskan has been having severe engine troubles], or a single functional supply ship.

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 big 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 Manitoba.

They even found a way to block the sale of the French SSNs [smallish 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 important anyway.

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." 

[See this 2007 article on the US opposing Canada's SSN search. It could be the US does not want Canada's Arctic oil interests too well protected by any future Canadian SSNs. Also SSNs might contribute to excessive Canadian independence... :)  ]


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.

As ice melts the economic and strategic value of the Arctic increases. Submarines and surface warships can stay in wider areas of the Arctic even over Winter. Note shaded "Potential oil and gas fields" - Much Russia is claiming. (Map and commentary courtesy Business Insider Australia ). - see map much enlarged at



Brad said...

Thanks for the promoting my comment Pete. Had I known the the prominence you would give I would have tried to edit it better.

Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
That's why for Canada, they need an SSK Submarine with AIP and capable of punching through an ICE PACK. I think Canada and Australia should join forces on an SSK program.

SPI said...

Problem with article is, it assumes Canada has submarines for potential combat. Unfortunately the RCN has only ever used submarines for ASW target duty. 2/3 of weapon capability was removed on transfer and Victoria is only one able to fire torpedoes.

Dave Shirlaw
RCN News Magazine

Brad Johnson said...

An interesting video regarding LEADIR-100PS, small scale nuclear power aimed at oil sands development, also receiving funding from the Royal Canadian Navy to be used at its planned Arctic naval base. So the RCN is interested in a small nuclear reactor of the size configuration and power ideally suited to application in a small nuclear submarine, I am sure no one at the RCN thought of that ;) 16:30.

Brad said...

I am not sure why missile launch capability was removed, but the mark 48 torpedoes are pretty deadly.
Victoria is the only one fully qualified to fire torpedoes. Consider this though, each torpedo costs approximately 5 million dollars not to mention the cost of the operation to live fire sink whatever they are shooting at. I would guess an exercise like this costs tens of millions of dollars It is prudent to Canadian tax payers that the RCN does not repeat this on every submarine.
I feel pretty confident that if there was an actually need to fire torpedoes the other submarines would be able to do so (that would be a major war). It just that a live fire exercise for a mk48 isn't quite the same as firing the Bofors gun at a target drone.

imacca said...

So would Canada still be interested in whatever the Australian build turns out to be IF Australia forgoes AIP, and opts for bulk Lithium batteries instead? I'd see a Canadian connection if Australia opts for the German or French build, but maybe not so much if we go with the Japanese.

The Canadians and us could get a very good deal if say, the Germans were building in Australia and there were a couple of Canadian boats built here, and a couple built in Germany for a Canadian order.

Would it actually be any problem design wise for the "same" boat to be configured in two different ways? One with no AIP and lots of LIBS for Australia, and another with less battery but AIP for Canada??

Peter Coates said...

Hi Brad

Your feel for the subject deserves giving your comments prominence :)



Peter Coates said...

Hi Brad

For some reason your long comment [now at November 20, 2015 at 5:17 PM] didn't get through.

So I sent it as Anonymous. I rebuilt 2 links, but not LEADIR-PS100 - though this may do?:

On Canada buying in or outside NATO I'm aware that if a weapon can be bought considerably cheaper outside NATO then such a buy might be OK. South Korea is well known to be cheapest major shipbuilder. Japan may be comparable or more expensive than some NATO countries.

Australia's politico-military establishment have already had major domestic grief in the future submarine buy. This makes a coordinated buy (and build?) with Canada as about as likely as Australia choosing an SSN.



Anonymous said...

Brad commented

I agree with Pete, a cooperation of the RCN/RAN on submarines would probably be an informal liaising, rather than a Anglo-French Concorde like liaison.

Currently the Department of Defence has a public document outlining the long term plans for pretty much every weapon system Canadian forces might use in the next thirty years, with the exception of submarines. Submarines notably are not part of Canada's National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, though this is not as big a deal as it seems as the ship building strategy is meant to maintain an indigenous shipbuilding industry by scheduling RCN surface ship builds in a way that avoids boom-bust cycles. The unique construction methods for submarines do not fit into this strategy so I understand Canada has no intention of building its next generation of submarines in Canada.

Historically both RCN and RAN prefer larger, long range, blue water SSKs, equipped with US Navy compatible weapons and fire control systems. The lengths that RCN went to convert the Upholders to this weapon system (hundreds of millions of dollars, loss of harpoon and mine weapon capabilities), shows how important this is to RCN. I understand RAN has a the same strong preference for the US Navy systems.

So there we are, two countries with strong historical, cultural and military ties, with similar GDPs and broadly similar military needs. Both need new SSKs of similar capabilities, with the same weapon/fire control systems on a similar time frame. Sounds like a no brainer that we work together, but no one said the people in charge do things that make sense.

I don't know if there is some NATO agreement that would preclude a Japanese buy over a German/French one but it would probably be preferable to Canada to use a NATO country.

Britain's new Tide Class are being built in South Korea so maybe a Japan build isn't a problem for Canada at all.
I will say Australia will need to take the lead, even though objectively Australia's Collins Class subs are an order of magnitude more problematic than the Victorias, public perception is so negative that even a pro-military, right leaning, editor of a Canadian Navy webzine like Dave in the comments above has a strong anti-sub bias. You can't even imagine where the military skeptic left leaning Canadians are regarding subs.


Anonymous said...

Brad further commented

No requirements regarding AIP has been documented by the Canadian Navy, it is just self evident given the importance of unimpeded operation under thick Arctic sea ice that this will be a high on the wish list of any new Canadian submarine program.

A scenario I would hope for is Australia will select a manufacturer and general requirements, once things appear to be running smoothly Canada could join up and assist with the redesign of the weapon systems (as I assume they will be the same). Hopefully a AIP modification should Australia not want that will not be too difficult of a modification for Canada in the imagined new submarine.

What about SSNs? I think the prudent plan is to ensure there is a submarine program at all. I will say even though there are powerful anti-SSN interests in Canada, SSNs are still high in the minds of RCN brass. Royal Military College in Kingston Ontario has had its own nuclear reactor for decades, and like I mentioned above RCN is investing in LEADIR-PS .

A wonderful development would be if Canada could adapt this imagined RAN/RCN submarine for operation with Canadian nuclear technology, either something like LEADIR-PS or a nuclear/diesel hybrid with a SLOWPOKE Reactor then share the technology with RAN. The NPT is a problem here, but there are ways around that. I think that is enough wishful thinking for tonight.


Peter Coates said...

It could be the length of the comments defeated's usual Comment Publishing efficiency.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Dave Shirlaw
(of RCN News Magazine aka "SPI")

The operational limitations of "2/3 of weapon capability was removed on transfer and Victoria is only one able to fire torpedoes." are quite amazing.

Well I suppose possible targets in range are Russians in the north and neither USA nor Mexico in the south, so weapons may not be much help.

Australia will almost definitly "choose" the highly expensive and US weapons specific AN/BYG-1 Combat System. This reality means that different combat system choices present yet another major difference between Australian and Canadian future sub requirements.



Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky and imacca

The prospect of Australia and Canada actually purchasing Australian built French, German or Japanese subs Together seems so problematic that debate could be perpetual.

Perhaps Britain building highly updated Oberons by way of Astute SSNs as another Commonwealth Country Submarine will settle it :)



Brad said...

On Canada buying in or outside NATO I'm aware that if a weapon can be bought considerably cheaper outside NATO then such a buy might be OK
That makes sense.
This makes a coordinated buy (and build?) with Canada as about as likely as Australia choosing an SSN.
Well like you said, it would be more an informal liaison not a rigid jointly drawn up set of specifications.
Australia will almost definitely "choose" the highly expensive and US weapons specific AN/BYG-1 Combat System
I wasn't aware the Collins Class uses a different combat system, I do know the combat system on the Victorias was changed at great expense to one compatible with the Mk 48 torpedo.
Perhaps Britain building highly updated Oberons by way of Astute SSNs as another Commonwealth Country Submarine will settle it :)
This is what likely should have been done, in the first place, prior to the Victoria/Collins. Canada's pursuit of SSNs and end of the Cold War prevented clear thinking on this in Canada.
I guess if Canada is not going to buy a non-NATO Japanese sub, the best case for us would be for Australia to buy a German or French SSK (I am assuming an enlarged Swedish design is out of the question) modified for US combat systems and weapons. Maybe not a joint buy, but Canadianizing a sub designed for Australia is likely to be far more straight forward than starting from scratch with a French or German sub.

Unrelated to my comment but a good articleon the Victorias, if somewhat dated.

Nicky said...

Hi Pete,
I think for Canada, they should simply talk to Germany on buying an SSK such as the Type 214, Type 216 or Type 218SG.

MHalblaub said...

Dear Pete,

I smiled about this comment:

"Perhaps Britain building highly updated Oberons by way of Astute SSNs as another Commonwealth Country Submarine will settle it :)"

UK may need to capture a more modern Type XXI submarine;-)

From the Aleutian Islands it is about 4,000 nm to the Scotland. That could be in the submerged range of a Type 216 submarine.


Peter Coates said...

Looks like Canada should not give into mounting US pressure that Canada stick with the plan to buy F-35s.

After all even the US Air Force wants to buy more F-16s, F-15s, A-10s and maybe Super Hornets. The Super Hornets have served the US so well over Iraq and Syria - while F-35 remain too precious and complex to operate.

See "The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter might not be produced in sufficient numbers to maintain the U.S. Air Force’s current operational capabilities due to budgetary constraints, according to Aerospace Daily & Defense Report. As a result the service is considering filling the capabilities gap with 72 Boeing F-15s, Lockheed-Martin F-16’s, or even Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets."


Peter Coates said...

Hi Brad (your November 20, 2015 at 8:42 PM]

Sweden was eliminated in the Australian sub contest partly because Sweden has not built a whole sub in over a decade, and probably mainly due to Sweden's part in making the Collins the "success story" :( it is today.

Australia very much doesn't want its sub buying choices influenced by other country considerations (except by the US - which supplies Extended nuclear weapons protection and Much conventional military protection to Australia).



Peter Coates said...

Hi MHalblaub [yr Nov 21, 7:14 AM]

Yes if Australia forgot its 4,000 ton dream and thought back to the 2,000 ton efficiencies of the Oberon and (near 2,000 ton) Type XXI submarine Australia may see the light, which is the 2,000 ton Type 218.

Noting highly intelligent Singapore has bought the 218 and Israel the Dolphin 2 (218).



Peter Coates said...

Hi Nicky [at Nov 21, 2:03AM]

For Australia we should consider the 218 ie 218 or maybe a less modified LIB Soryu that has the extra diesel fuel (for 10,000 nm range) in place of the AIP.



Brad Johnson said...

Hi Pete:
US Air Force wants to buy more F-16s, F-15s, A-10s and maybe Super Hornets.
I wonder if they got the Super Hornets part wrong. I am sure the US Navy would like more Super Hornets but the US Airforce has never had Hornets in its inventory, hard to believe it would start now.
Looks like the wheels are coming of the F-35 train with Israel seemingly preferring more F-15s to the F-35, it is looking like the F-35 will end up being more an advanced F-117 replacement than the future of air power.
Australia should probably consider reducing their order of F-35 for more SHs, if not reconsidering F-35s all together.
I am sure the F-35s stealth capabilities fill a niche role, but with the RAAF using Growlers in the SEAD role, what role is left that the F-35 uniquely needs to fill?

Nicky said...

Hi Pete
That's why I think for Canada and Australia, they should look at the Type 218SG with AIP.