None of Canada's "bargain" subs operational

HMCS Chicoutimi languishing in Halifax in 2007

None of Canada’s four Victoria-class submarines, billed as a “bargain” when they were bought used from Britain in 1998, are currently operational (David Pugliese, “All Canadian submarines now out of commission,” Postmedia News, 4 September 2011):

The navy’s last operational submarine is now sidelined until 2016, leaving the service without an underwater capability and potentially throwing into question the future of the submarine fleet.

The submarine program, which has already cost around $900 million, has been plagued with various maintenance issues that have prevented the boats from being available for operations on a regular basis.

A media report in July noted that one of the subs, HMCS Windsor, arrived in Canada in the fall of 2001 but since then it has operated at sea for just 332 days.

HMCS Corner Brook, damaged when it hit the ocean floor during a training accident in June on the West Coast, is now dockside. It will be repaired and overhauled during a planned maintenance period now underway.

But it is not scheduled to return to sea until 2016, the navy confirmed in an email to the Ottawa Citizen.

The third submarine, HMCS Chicoutimi (pictured above), has been out of service since a 2004 accident that killed one officer while the sub was sailing to Canada from Britain.

And the fourth sub, HMCS Victoria, is also currently unavailable for service and not expected to return to sea until early 2012.

Globe and Mail columnist Barrie McKenna has more on the story (“The sad saga of the boats that wouldn’t float,” Globe and Mail, 4 September 2011):

If Ottawa is to learn anything from the subs saga, it’s time to divulge the all-in cost of the four ships, which Britain mothballed as part of its conversion to a nuclear-powered fleet. The $800-million purchase price bought Canada four hulking steel shells. Ottawa has spent another $1.5-billion on maintenance and support.

But that’s only part of the cost of Canadianizing the subs.

Readying the ships for action is costing still more, according to publicly available information. Ottawa has sunk at least $370-million into upgrades and refits. It has also spent millions to transport the subs via the Panama Canal to the West Coast, where the refit work is being done. It will cost another $125-million to give them torpedoes. In Halifax, the navy has spent has spent $47-million to renovate its maintenance dockyard to accommodate the submarines.

Further repairs to deal with persistent rust problems could cost millions more.

A rough and unofficial tally of what’s been spent is now approaching $3-billion. Add in the mind-boggling delays, and the original fire-sale price seems considerably less attractive.

Photo by Andrew Crawford

Tags: Canadian military spending, Defence policy, submarines, Upholder-class subs, Victoria-class subs