Return of the submarine debacle

Earlier this year, outlined the “Nine steps of DND boondoggles” and suggested that Canada’s problem-plagued Victoria-class submarines were in stage 7 of the process:

7. It’s (almost) ready to go!
Let’s not dwell on the problems of the past. The program is almost completed! Just another few months/years and another $731 million in upgrades/technical fixes and this project will provide an excellent and vital capability that will make a major contribution to Canadian security and collective operations with our allies.

Two further steps follow in the typical boondoggle:

8. Operational capability achieved
The system has entered into service! (…at a mere 2.3 times the originally estimated cost and half the originally estimated capability.)

And all too soon afterwards…

9. The system is out of date and overdue for retirement
The system has served us well but it is now obsolete. It needs 17.8 hours of maintenance for every hour of field operation, replacement parts are no longer available, and the systems are incompatible with the new generation equipment now being introduced into service by our closest allies…. To prevent a growing commitment-capability gap, we must open the Next-Generation Project Office immediately!

It looks like the subs may be about to skip “stage 8” and proceed straight to “stage 9”. At least, the Navy has already begun to make the case for buying the next generation of submarines (Murray Brewster, “Navy planners trying to sell Ottawa on submarine replacement plan,” Globe and Mail, 20 August 2012):

Naval planners have started to lay the groundwork for the possible replacement of the country’s secondhand, glitch-prone Victoria-class submarines, arguing such warships are a necessary part of Canada’s arsenal.

Planners say the country will likely need bigger, quieter boats that can perform stealth missions, launch undersea robots and fire guided missiles at shore targets.

A nine-page briefing note for the country’s top military commander last year sets out the justification for keeping a submarine capability, and comes at a time when the Harper government wants budget savings in both the near- and long-term.

The report looks at what kinds of boats will be on the market between 2020 and 2050.

Ottawa was awash in rumours last spring that the current submarine program was on the chopping block because of its enormous expense and repeated setbacks, including a fatal fire aboard one boat in 2004.

“Submarines are the ultimate stealth platform, able to operate in areas where sea and air control is not assured, and to gain access to areas denied to other forces,” said a May 9, 2011, briefing for Walt Natynczyk, Chief of the Defence Staff.

“A capable submarine force creates uncertainty; countering them is difficult, expensive and cannot be guaranteed.”

Investing in submarines is prudent because “in the event of global tensions these relatively cheap assets will counter projection of power and hinder freedom of movement and action.”

Photo credit: DND

Tags: Canada's submarines, Defence spending, Royal Canadian Navy, submarines, Victoria-class subs