The Canadian Navy desires to replace the four British-made submarines it acquired in 1999. The English had sold the Canadian submarines rusting in dry dock since 1993. Pakistan, Portugal, and Chile didn’t want them. The British charged the Canadians $750 million for them, which must have ultimately cost the Canadians billions, even though they spent more time in dry dock than in the water. Ottawa has been forced to invest billions of dollars in the fleet for over two decades to address several problems and incidents, such as fires and defective welds. Several accidents also occurred during military operations and sea trials.
Ottawa’s 1987 White Paper on Defense recommended that the Royal Canadian Navy acquire 12 nuclear-powered submarines capable of navigating under the ice and defending its sovereignty in the Arctic region. It had abandoned plans to acquire eight new frigates to fund the project, for which France and the United Kingdom submitted proposals based on the Nuclear submarines Rubis and Trafalgar, respectively.
The proposal was abandoned due to significant opposition. The public and media were uneasy with the term “nuclear” and the high acquisition costs. Washington informed the former Canadian Minister of Defense, Perrin Beatty, that a Canadian nuclear submarine programme was unnecessary and intrusive.
The Canadian Navy was later forced to settle for four used diesel-electric Victoria-class submarines (Upholder/Victoria-class submarines/ Type 2400) acquired from the Royal Navy. Due to recurring technical issues, these subs have spent more time at the quay or in dry dock than at sea, despite substantial maintenance expenditures. In 2004, one of these ageing submarines caught fire on its maiden transatlantic voyage, resulting in one fatality and multiple injuries among the crew. It was not reintroduced until 2015. In 2017, these submarines averaged approximately twenty days at sea.
Since then, the situation has improved, with a new funding endeavour of $1.9 billion, and these four submarines spent 529 days at sea. The Canadian Department of Defence reports that no underwater operations were conducted in 2019 or 2020.
Nevertheless, the Royal Canadian Navy’s submarine need has not been satisfied. In 2017, a Canadian parliamentary report revived the notion of acquiring 12 units with conventional propulsion. Protect the approaches and sea lanes and contribute to “high-level NATO operations”, the report argued. Therefore, the report pleaded for implementing a similar acquisition procedure to that of Australia, which had just selected Naval Group to provide the Royal Australian Navy with 12 Shortfin Barracuda, with industrial and technological transfers to the key.
This report alone was subject to “vertical classification” by the government commanded by Justin Trudeau. The Royal Canadian Navy intends to take advantage of the ongoing review of Canada’s defence policy to at least replace its four Victoria-class submarines at a time when China is investing heavily in its submarine capabilities and Russian submarines, which are becoming increasingly effective, are conducting patrols in the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean.
In July 2021, the Canadian government also initiated a “Canadian Patrol Submarine Project” project to analyse the available choices and determine their specific needs thoroughly. And the same principles that were held in 1987 continue to hold in 2017.
The journal “Ottawa Citizen,” which cites sources from the military industry and the sector itself, reports that the Royal Canadian Navy has shown an interest in purchasing 12 brand-new submarines at the cost of at least $60 billion. According to some other sources, the implementation phase might push the total cost up to one hundred billion dollars.
The Navy is urging the government to include the procurement of submarines in its revised defence policy. The newspaper reports that at a defence conference in Ottawa last month, the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Wayne Eyre, stated that he would defend submarines on behalf of the Navy.
The Canadian Ministry of Defense did not take up this proposal when requested. According to him, submarines are one of Canada’s most important strategic assets to provide surveillance in Canadian and international waterways, especially the waters close to the Arctic.
According to department spokesperson Dan Le Bouthillier, the Canadian Patrol Submarine Project does not commit the government to a specific action plan but seeks to facilitate an informed decision when necessary.
However, considering implementing such a strategy could take up to fifteen years, the decision to launch such a programme should be made as quickly as possible. In an economically and socially complicated environment, the goal is to make it acceptable to the people of Canada.
Rob Huebert of the University of Calgary opined in the pages of the National Post that Canada’s current financial situation is becoming increasingly precarious. He also believes the Trudeau administration will ” sweep this issue under the rug.”