February 21, 2020

Canada's short ranged (4,000nm!) Victoria class submarines

On February 13, 2020 I reported that the UK Royal Navy's four former Upholder class submarines gathered long term rust/corrossion problems due to being "mothballed" while sitting in seawater for several years in the 1990s. 

Canada inherited the rust/corrosion problems when they bought the submarines in a "deteriorated" condition and renamed them the Victoria class.

But, I was unaware of a whole host of additional problems (some fixed, some not) until Locum provided a long comment (below) on February 14, 2020:

"In December 1986, HMS Upholder [now HMCS Chicoutimiwas the first to be launched. The last one, HMS Unicorn, entered the water in April 1992. This entire class officially entered service between June 1990 and June '93. Because on the internet there are quite a few different data to be found.

In the [UK] Defense Review of 1992 it was proposed to lay off all Royal Navy diesel-electric submarines. This decision was ratified in June 1993.

At that time only HMS Upholder was operational, but the remaining 3 boats were allowed to be completed.

These 4 boats were mothballed in April - October 1994. In 1998 Canada decided to buy these 'second-hand', because new boats were deemed too expensive. In October 2000, the first boat was accepted and sailed by Canadians in the UK. To then undergo a 6-month Canadian Work Period modification program. However, back then there was already criticism of the state in which the Upholders came out of the mothballs.

Commissioned as of: December 2000; June '03; October '03 and the last one originally in October 2004, but due to fire it became September 2015.

From the start this class has been plagued by major rust and corrosion problems. Yes and ...

The Upholders were in many respects a leap forward compared to the old Oberon class: they had good sailing characteristics under water, were very quiet and had good fire control and sonar, but there were also a lot of things wrong.

Former commander of both British conventional and nuclear submarines, Dan Conley, was involved as a naval officer in the trial run and transfer of the yard to the British navy. Conley writes in his book "Cold War Command" about the "serious technical shortcomings" that he and his colleagues from Commodore Naval Ship Acceptance (CNSA) found:

1. the Upholders had problems with the automation on board;

2. During the test run, HMS Upholder was confronted with a power outage and loss of propulsion due
    to a design error. This was restored after months.

3. The boats were found to have a range of 4,000 nautical miles, instead of 8,000 nm!

4. The most serious safety problem was the complex torpedo launch system. The outer torpedo
    hatches could unexpectedly open while the inner door of the torpedo tube was open too. As a 
    result, a huge amount of water would come in in a short time.

5. The snorkel mast distorted because of the exhaust heat during snorting. The effect was noticed in 
    practice: tons of seawater came through the snorkel in the engine room.

6. Diesel exhaust gasses constantly crossed the bridge. This was not only bad for the health of the
    people on the bridge, the view was also limited.

7. A lot of equipment was difficult to access for repair and replacement.

8. Limited space for the crew. According to Conley, it was a generation back.

9. The 2 Paxman Valenta diesels, originally intended for trains, did not meet the heavy requirements
    on a submarine. Damn, in our LCF De Zeven Provincien AAW lass frigates there were / are also 
    Paxman diesel generator sets, which are actually intended for trains and also did not satisfy, 
    because of prematurely wear and teat and are / were replaced by Deutz 'diesel carts'.

There are problems with a new class more often, but although some were solved, other problems proved persistent. Conley described the design of the Upholder as a whole as "very disappointing".

Stephen Saunders of Jane's Fighting Ships, even said that there is something "fundamentally wrong" with these submarines.

The shortcomings were remedied as much as possible and a committee of inquiry also had confidence in the quality of the boats.


Pete Comment

1.  Neither the UK nor Canada can fix the glaring range deficiency problem, ie. "3. The boats were found to have a range of 4,000 nautical miles". 

4,000nm may be barely sufficient for transits to/from the Victoria's bases both in southern Canada  (at Esquimalt (Pacific) and Halifax (Atlantic)

to the northern ice shelves (eg. anti-Russian submarine and ship chokepoints).

This range shortfall must be diabolical for the peace of mind of any Victoria Commanders considering putting their boats under the ice, even for 24 hours.

2.  I'd also add the Victoria's are not equipped with anti-ship missiles, like UGM-84 Harpoons - quite a deficiency compared to other navies owning modern conventional submarines.

Victoria class - inside and out.

Locum and Pete


Arpit Kanodia said...

Hi Pete


That might interest you.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Approaching replacement of Victoria-class is interesting topic. In this replacement, competition among AIP submarines, i.e., TKMS 212CD, SAAB, NAVAL Shortfine derivative, and maybe- SK 3000-class will be repeated. TKMS 212CD will make a major candidate, thanks to Siemens Fuel Cells which do not generate carbon dioxide as byproduct, if TKMS exists at time of the replacement.

Considering underwater size of iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Arctic Ocean, AIP should be operated in deeper sea level than the other warmer sea area. Carbon dioxide emissions must be considered in the Stirling generator for SAAB, and its actual operational depth is considerably smaller than 200m which is operational depth limit of the Stirling generator.
There is no information on NAVAL Shortfine derivative.


steve said...

It should be noted that the RN only wanted a coastal / short range training boat; something to paddle about in the EEZ more or less. HMG pushed for a bigger boat because they though that it would generate exports. The result was a fudge even though it was a COTS design.

The MoD(N) must have known they were selling the Canuks a pup.

And inability to size and procure decent donks continues to this day. See T45.

Perman said...

I've read that the Upholder / Victoria class have the fastest snorkelling speed at 19 knots of any conventional submarine. Don't know if it's true though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Export of Japan-made 29SS for Australia (AUS 29SS with four diesels and 12000nm of range) is discussed as a fiction which is never accepted by Australia.

Complex structure consisted of single and double hulls (motor/diesel/torpedo sections and other sections, respectively) is adopted for 29SS which is equipped with 2 diesels. Diesel fuel is loaded in space of inner and outer hulls of diesel sections, and then, in AUS 29SS which is equipped with 4 diesels, extra amount of fuel for longer endurance is also loaded in the extended space in the diesel sections. So, increase in cost of AUS 29SS may mainly depend on (a) simple extension of hull for increased fuel amount and additional two diesels, (b) two extra diesels, (c) exchange cost of Japanese weapon system by US weapon system, and (d) profit of MHI. (a) submarine building cost is US0.36B for 84m-length Soryu, and US0.38B (+0.02B) for 94m-length AUS 29SS. (b) US0.027B for two extra diesels, (c) US0.13B for Japanese weapon system resemble to US counterpart (may be +0.13B for exchange by US system), (d) 30% of building cost (+0.11B). Total cost increase is (a)+(b)+(c)+(d)= 0.02+0.027+0.13+0.11=US0.29B. Cost of 29SS is US0.67B, then cost of AUS 29SS is US0.96B (=0.67B+0.29B) meaning that Japan can export AUS 29SS for US1B. In an abovementioned discussion is based on cost calculation by using precise cost data of Japanese submarine formally reported by MoD, and I believe this is most reliable cost calculation by third person/party.

In the case of export of two AUS 29SS (1B/submarine) and six AUS post-29SS (assuming 1.3B/submarine), purchasing and maintenance costs are USD10B and USD10B (total cost of 20B), and Australia can get huge surplus money (USD13B=AUS20B) which can be used for defense industries.


Pete said...

Thanks Arpit Kanodia

The Indian Navy and/or DRDO regularly provides updates of India's nuclear submarine plans to the Indian media, like the Feb 2020 update - in string you flagged at https://www.google.com/amp/s/m.economictimes.com/news/defence/indias-rs-1-2-l-cr-n-submarine-project-closer-to-realisation/amp_articleshow/74234776.cms

For comparison here is a 2015 update on India's 6 future SSNs http://gentleseas.blogspot.com/2015/05/indias-unnamed-project-for-6-ssns-begins.html



Pete said...

Hi Anonymous [at February 22, 2020 at 7:51 AM]

On "Approaching replacement of Victoria-class"

I don't think Canada has indicated whether it will replace the Victoria's or whether it is interested in AIP.

Like the Collins Canada's Victoria's have spent years being non-operational so may only be replaced in the 2030s. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upholder/Victoria-class_submarine#Submarines_in_class

Perhaps Canada is looking at the Walrus replacement program because Canada may also want a Walrus replacement sized sub of around 2,500 tonnes for long distances/endurance and crew comfort.

So a stretched SAAB A-26 or Naval Group Shortfin derivative may indeed be major candidates.



Pete said...

Hi steve

Yes it seems the Upholders were built to a chorus of muddled thinking. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upholder/Victoria-class_submarine#Submarines_in_class

Size apart, launching the Upholders then retiring them 2 to 8 years later wasted a great deal of UK taxpayer money.



Pete said...

Hi Perman

I find a Upholder/Victoria "snorkelling speed at 19 knots" hard to believe. At 19 knots it may bend the snorkel or at least produce a wave/disturbance too easily seen.

In comparison the Collins, designed about 7 years later "has a speed of 10 knots...at snorkel depth" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collins-class_submarine#Propulsion



Pete said...

Hi Anonymous [at February 24, 2020 at 1:13 PM]

Thanks for "Export of Japan-made 29SS for Australia (AUS 29SS with four diesels and 12000nm of range) is discussed as a fiction which is never accepted by Australia..." etc

I aim to publish this, and your other recent comments tomorrow.



steve said...

Hello Pete,

It is one of things HMG excel at is wasting money.

We remain a top 10 economy and manufacturer despite the efforts of the government to help us! Upholder debacle, Gordon Brown interrupting SSN drumbeat, and Cameron dithering over Dreadnought probably cost us more than the carrier program.

Pete said...

Hi Steve

For all that Britain at least built/builds its own carriers, destroyers/frigates and nuclear submarines.

Britain did blow up Australian Montebello islands and Maralinga (inland) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_nuclear_tests_at_Maralinga in order to get cheaper, more efficient, US nuclear weapons.

No hard feelings :)



Anonymous said...

Word on the street is Canada messed around over committing to the purchase for 5 years while they were sat in the water. Then when they finally decided to buy them, they didn’t want all the existing systems; they wanted VSEL to strip them and refit them with the existing systems they had on their Oberon’s.

I can imagine the boats with the biggest problems were the 3 built in Liverpool. Save for sinking the Belgrano, Cammell Laird submarines have been shoddy for years.

Pete said...

Hi Anonymous [May 13, 2020 at 6:15 AM]

With very expensive second hand submarine purchases delays and some mismanagement are inevitable.

Now COVID-19 is blocking 2 Victoria class deployments. See May 12, 2020's https://vancouverisland.ctvnews.ca/deployment-of-canadian-navy-submarines-on-hold-due-to-covid-19-1.4936328

"VICTORIA -- What was meant to be a “milestone” return to sea for Canada’s military submarines in 2020 is now on hold amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Two Royal Canadian Navy submarines were due to embark this spring and summer after a nearly two-year deployment gap for the sub fleet. But now, the submarines HMCS Victoria and HMCS Windsor will remain in port for the foreseeable future as work to return the vessels to sea is put on hold.

“Further maintenance is required before they can be deployed,” said National Defence spokesperson Jessica Lamirande on Monday. “However, in order to ensure the health and safety of our Defence team, work on board submarines was put on pause during this pandemic.”..."

Much more.