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HMCS Victoria

Canada is a maritime nation, with coastlines bordering on three of the world's oceans. Canada's history has always been linked to the seas and Canada's future depends greatly upon them. Canada has laid claim to vast areas of those oceans in the interest of its economy, its security, and the stewardship of the oceans' resources. By declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone that extends 320 kilometres from our coasts, Canada underlined its intention to protect its fisheries and to ensure that its oceans are used for peaceful and legal activities that support Canada's national interests.

Canada's economic future is inexorably tied to the freedom of maritime commerce and economic activity. Canada's extensive maritime interests require a modern, capable navy to ensure Canadian maritime sovereignty. This reality forms the basis of Canada's present maritime policy. Canada's navy is entrusted with protecting a maritime heritage of significant proportions, value, and importance to the nation's future.

The Canadian navy must be a credible, balanced force able to operate in all the dimensions of modern naval operations. This means having maritime aircraft that are to operate in the airspace above the seas while ships patrol the surface. It also means having the ability to operate under the surface - the domain of the submarine. Canada's Oberon-class submarines served the navy for more than thirty years in this role. They trained Canadian and allied surface fleets in the essentials of anti-submarine operations, patrolled the oceans, and played their part in providing security through NATO. Canadian submarines have been effective in surveillance, sovereignty enforcement, fisheries patrol, and drug-interdiction operations. In these roles, the submarines have been valuable to Canada, both directly in defence of Canadian interests within national maritime boundaries, and indirectly as a Canadian contribution to alliance operations in the international arena. They must be replaced if Canada was to maintain this undersea capability into the next century.

In the 1990s the navy was being restructured to be able to meet the challenges of the 21st century by maintaining the required three-dimensional, combat-capable force within a smaller defence budget. The Upholder submarines are a vital component in answering this challenge. These submarines will give the navy a substantial capability to influence events at sea.

After extensive public consultations in 1994, the Special Joint Committee on Canada's Defence Policy concluded that submarines are uniquely effective and comparatively inexpensive vessels. The subsequent 1994 Defence White Paper directed DND to explore the affordability of four recently constructed Upholder class diesel-electric submarines that had been declared surplus by the Royal Navy.

Submarines are outstanding surveillance and combat vehicles. Over a 40-50 day patrol, a submarine equipped with modern acoustic sensors can monitor shipping in an ocean area of about 125,000 square miles - about one-third the size of Newfoundland. One submarine, without additional stores or fuel, can monitor and control a large area, unseen, for long periods of time in all weather conditions. No other naval vessel can do this. This explains why 47 nations currently operate them, and why that number is expected to grow to 49 by the turn of the century.

Acquiring four submarines will provide a continuous undersea presence on the West Coast for the first time in 25 years, thereby achieving a greater balance in naval capability on Canada's East and West Coasts. This balance reflects our changing maritime security interests as a result of the growth and influence in the Pacific, and the tremendous volume of shipping that passes through our western ports.

The Upholder submarines are the most modern vessels of their type in the world. They are faster and quieter while submerged and can dive deeper than Canada's current submarines. They will be modified to accept the MK-48 torpedo (the most capable in the world) which the Canadian navy currently uses. The submarines' modern design demands less frequent maintenance. In addition, these submarines need fewer crew members because of increased automation, (49 crew members compared to 67 in an Oberon). They have a larger interior which provides a more comfortable environment for Canada's sailors. The smaller crew size will allow the navy to operate four Upholders with the same number of submariners as required for three Oberons.

The Upholder - An innovative acquisition

The acquisition includes:

  • four modern, diesel-electric submarines in an eight-year, interest-free, lease-to-buy arrangement;
  • conversion training of all crew and fleet-support personnel;
  • four state-of-the-art shore-based simulators, and;
  • initial spare parts and a technical data package.

The costs are:

  • $610 million for:
    • submarines;
    • training simulators;
    • initial spare parts, technical data package;
    • crew training.
  • $140 million in project related costs for:
    • Canadian modifications;
    • re-location of trainers to Canada;
    • project management;
    • contingencies.
  • total cost not to exceed $750 million.

The financing arrangements are:

  • an eight-year, interest-free, lease-to-buy arrangement;
  • "Bartering" of Canadian lease payments on the four submarines for the costs charged to the U.K. for continued training of British Forces in Canada at bases in Wainwright, Suffield and Goose Bay.
  • A nominal sum of one pound Sterling to be paid to purchase each submarine at the end of the lease;
  • $160 million in savings from:
    • retirement of five ships from the Canadian navy;
    • cancellation of an Oberon refit;
    • reductions to the navy's operations and maintenance budget.

The Upholder - The benefits

This project is a responsible and creative acquisition that provides a vital component of a less expensive, combat-capable navy in an affordable and cost-effective way.

Opportunities for Canadian business worth an estimated $350 million are:

  • $150 million in direct and indirect industrial benefits;
  • $100 million in industrial waivers through the Industrial Participation Program for Canadian companies bidding on defence contracts in the U.K.;
  • $100 million(of the $140 million in project costs) to be spent in Canada on modifications to the submarines, and re-location of the trainers and simulators;

Other benefits

  • 200 civilian jobs sustained over the next three decades—mainly in Atlantic Canada;
  • business opportunities for Canadian companies arising from initial modifications of the submarines to Canadian specification and relocating the training equipment to Canada;
  • the trading of valuable submarine training time with Canada's allies which, over the operational life of the Upholders, will create opportunities for millions of dollars of offset savings and revenue.

The acquisition of these four Upholder submarines represents a total project cost of $750 million. This amount is about one quarter of what it would cost to buy or build a comparable new submarine. To illustrate this point the following examples are given;

  • The original U.K. cost to build the four Upholder submarines was approximately $2.28 billion in 1991 Canadian dollars. The construction cost in today's dollars would be well over $3 billion.
  • The Australian Navy constructed six Collins Class submarines which are comparable to the Upholder. The cost to build these submarines was approximately $730 million per submarine or $2.9 billion for four.

In both cases the cost to buy or build new comparable submarines is approximately four times the cost of Canada's Upholder acquisition.

These submarines were returned to full operational readiness and underwent trials at sea before Canada accepted them. The Canadian navy was fully involved throughout this process. Planned and corrective maintenance was completed on each submarine, and all four were fully certified for submerged operations.

The Upholder-class submarine required some changes to meet Canadian operational requirements. These include modifying the torpedo firing system to use with the Mk-48 torpedo, installing a Canadian communications suite, and adapting systems for a Canadian towed-array sonar system.

The package includes classroom, simulator, and onboard training for four Canadian crews and fleet-support personnel.

Any comparison of the two submarine types must be placed in context of the differing technological ages of the two submarines. The Upholder represents technology of the late seventies and eighties, while the Oberons basic design dates back to the fifties and sixties. As a result the Upholders have better sensors and more automation resulting in a smaller crew and better living conditions than the Oberons. Furthermore, the Oberons have reached the limit of their capacity for future modifications while the Upholders have the potential for further improvements and advances in new technologies. These and other factors make the Upholder-class a much more capable and effective submarine than the Oberon.

More time had elapsed than ideal between the British taking the Upholders out of service and the Canadians taking delivery of them. As a result, re-activation would be costly and complex. The design was good; it incorporated many of the features of a British T Class nuclear submarine and embodied the latest concepts of automated control, and thus required fewer people to operate than the Oberons. The endurance was adequate for North Atlantic and Pacific littoral operations, and the package came with a complete simulation training model for every system in the submarine.

Barrow shipyard were very open in saying that this was the first time they had to lay up and then re-activate a modern submarine, and if they had to do it again, several things would be done differently. The 'culture of safety' that submariners everywhere embrace requires that all systems be checked and re-checked before use, especially after a prolonged period of inactivity. A submarine put into long-term maintenance or de-activated has most of its key systems taken apart, so that component parts can be tested before re-assembly. This takes time, but it is time well spent. Second, despite claims that the four submarines have been plagued with technical defects, the re-activation has gone remarkably smoothly. Defects were found, but that is why an extensive trials program was necessary.

On October 2nd 2004, HMCS CHICOUTIMI commenced its transit to Halifax, Nova Scotia as the fourth and final Victoria Class submarine accepted by the Government of Canada from the United Kingdom. During the late morning of October 5th 2004, CHICOUTIMI had an ingress of water through the conning tower, substantial enough to trigger a series of electrical events that culminated in an electrical arcing of the main power cables and fire that spread rapidly to the deck below, causing significant damage and casualties.

In the 'rush to the headline' in the wake of Chicoutimi's accident, several journalists were quick to dismiss the entire programme as either unnecessary or inappropriate for Canada's post-Cold War military posture, or the result of political mismanagement. The temptation, no doubt spurred on by the politicization of the accident by turning it into an opportunity to damn the government's defence policy.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 15:32:52 ZULU