Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Funny You Should Ask

The National Interest's James Goldrick asks, "Would you feel safe in a 40-year old submarine?"

No, the question Goldrick posits has nothing to do with Canada's hapless fleet of drydock queens, our Upholder subs that we bought, second hand, from Britain without properly kicking the tires. Yet it has a great deal to do with Canada's subs.

One of the most critical parts of a submarine is its hull, the steel envelope that keeps the water out and allows the crew to not drown. It has to work while the boat is bobbing at the surface and when the boat is operating perhaps hundreds of feet down where the pressure becomes really intense.

Because of the nature of submarines they come "off the ways" with a best-before date on the hull. Which is why Mr. Goldrick asks if you would feel safe in a 40-year old submarine. Good thing he's not asking me. I had one brief ride in a US attack sub. If you ever want to find out if an hour can feel like a week, try that.

Goldrick's article looks at subs that are being retired at 30 years while others, usually due to budget pressures, are being extended in some cases up to 40 years. Everyone seems to have the same problem - the Americans, the Brits, the French, the Aussies. The Russians, who in hell knows?

Which brings us back to Canada's fleet of subs, the Errant Four. They date back to about 1990 and, given how dreadfully they've performed in service, there seems no reason to believe they've got magical hulls that defy the ravages of time. You could say that they're certainly in their golden years and, before long, will enter their twilight years.

The Canadian navy is in terrible shape. Harper talked a good game about the military but when it came to put up or shut up (money) he was all talk.  We haven't got air defence destroyers, they're rusting into scale. We don't have provisioning ships, ditto. Our subs are unduly fond of dry dock. On future projects we're already reeling from cost overruns and the steel hasn't even been cut yet.

Now you might think Canada doesn't need a navy, that we have plenty of other and more important purposes for those billions of dollars. You would be wrong.

We are a nation of coastlines from sea to sea to shiny sea. We've got more coastline than anyone else - anyone.  There are some powerful people plying the waters nearby and a few new players that want in such as China which, although not an Arctic nation, has announced it intends to establish a permanent and powerful military presence in the Arctic Ocean. It has also rejected the idea that the law of the sea conventions that apply everywhere else (the South China Sea excepted) govern the Arctic when it comes to accessing seabed resources.

We do need a sizeable and effective navy. What good is it to tweak Putin's nose with frigates patrolling the Black Sea when he can respond in kind, virtually unchallenged, across an ice free Arctic?


the salamander said...

.. Yet another excellent article that really should be front page mainstream journalism.. Why? Because of its accuracy & timeliness ! On what basis should Canadian politicians or partisan political parties be allowed to dictate foreign or military policy.. declare war, or spend billions foolishly.. when there is only failure, incompetance, waffling or outright secrecy and/or deceit.. in regard to looking after Canada's shorelines and borders? And.. when Canadians' privacy, personal security, policing, courts of law, pensions, earning power.. and votes became targets for the governments they elected as Public Servants?

Our 'Royal' submarine force is a lost cause.. period.

Even more concerning though, is every aspect of how current governments provincial and federal perceive out coastlines when ruled by foreign supertankers & domestic tugboats answering primarily to coastal terminals and ports exporting our raw resources under secretive treaty terms

Anonymous said...

Not too impressed with the article.
The sub marines were exchanged for the use , by the UK , for parts of
the maritimes for target practice by aircraft.
Quality aside ! the submarines were brought to Canada by crews that..
Opened a hatch marked " do not open" in high seas causing a electrical fire; it was blamed upon the British.
Another submarine suffered when a French Canadian crew opened a sea valve that flooded the battery compartment ; and saltwater and batteries don't mix.
Another arrived with a 'ding' in the hull that was not evident when it left the UK.
Frankly we do not have competent submariners .
The subs in service are doing the job they were purchased to do so.
That is replacing surface vessels with nearly three times the crew with more speed and endurance.
The cost of the submarines was offset by the USA who needed diesel powered submarines to ply wargames with as they have none of their own and diesel powered subs are more difficult to trace compared with nuclear powered.
I have little doubt that the UK unloaded this equipment upon an unsuspecting Canadian Government .
AS with other governments be they in the East of West the military often use old technology; the replacement of which is often dictated by changing foreign policy or propping up the local economy rather than real need.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ Anon - have you got anything to back up your contentions? I haven't seen a lot of militaries buying second-hand, old technology lately. If you follow the submarine market in Asia and Southeast Asia you'll know what I mean.

As for those Upholders replacing surface vessels "with nearly three times the crew with more speed and endurance" it's hard to imagine how they do that when they're not fit to put to sea. However I did spot HMCS Victoria one day idling in Nanoose Bay.