FUTURE CANADIAN SUBMARINE OPTIONS-AFTER THE VICTORIA CLASS.......WHAT NEXT?

Here is an article for forum members consumption.

FUTURE CANADIAN SUBMARINE OPTIONS

AFTER the “VICTORIA CLASS”….WHAT NEXT?

David Dunlop: This article is strickly the opinion of the writer and not intended for media publication.

Canadian submarine interests are divided into three categories: the defence of Canada and North America, supporting Canadian expeditionary deployments to joint action ashore and Canada’s interest in global maritime stability. Recent Russian Submarine Fleet global excursions and increased Russian activities in the air and at sea, has given NATO great concern about the security of the North Atlantic. The NATO alliance aspires to have more control of the North Atlantic by establishing a new NATO Advisory Council (NAC) Joint Force Command in July 2019 with Canada as a major player[1].

Modern characteristics of 21ST Century submarines are: endurance, stealth, freedom of movement and versatility. The best sensor weapon that gives others pause is without question, another submarine. Today, each submarine nation understands that modern submarines, with their superior combat power and freedom of action, are fundamental components of the sea-power paradigm, and that possession of a meaningful submarine capability confers an influence out of proportion to initial investment. It is abundantly clear that if Canada decides to retire its submarine force, it would be losing, not just one quarter of its combat capability, but its credibility as a modern naval force. Submarines are the ultimate stealth platforms, able to operate in areas where sea and air control are not assured, and gain access to areas denied by other forces.

Canada can ill-afford to ignore what happens below the surface of our three oceans any longer. It is a foregone conclusion that there are submarines beneath Canada’s polar ice cap and…..they are not ours. Losing the capability of underwater surveillance and attack, would be a dire day for Canada. In terms of surveillance of our ocean approaches and the protection of our own sovereignty, a submarine capability is crutial. To lose that, for a G7 nation, a NATO member like Canada, a country that continues to lead internationally, and aspires to lead more, the loss of this submarine capability would be considered a critical loss.

Only systems that can reach under our oceans can tell us who else might be operating there. This requires blunt discussions with all Canadian’s about propulsion systems for a modern submarine that must operate in the world’s most hostile and unforgiving maritime environments. The Victoria Class does not possess an extensive under-ice capability, making them ineffective at best in Canada’s high arctic. Canada’s Defence Policy-Strong, Secure, Engaged[2], reiterated the need for Canada to be comprised of a balanced fleet of platforms including submarines. Clearly, in this policy, the Government has acknowledged the unique qualities and options a submarine capability brings to our National defence, and the pressing need to maintain this capability. A modern submarine force designed to meet Canadian requirements must have the ability to operate globally and in all three of our oceans without restriction with a vigorous under-ice capability and long endurance, including crew habitability considerations.

The market for submarines, has grown exponentially, but there are only a handful of countries capable of building them. At the top of this list are companies like ThyssenKrupp Marine of Germany, BAE Systems Maritime–Submarines of Britain, DNCS from France, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) from Japan and General Dynamics Electric Boat from the U.S.A. Replacement submarines must be Canadian built, with Canadian Steel and Canadian Jobs, with foreign expertise. It is critical that Canadian support, infrastructure and crew training are included; a vital and expensive component in itself. A much larger fleet of twelve modern submarines is required. This would permit the stationing of six vessels per coast and provide the option to deploy into the arctic. Three boats would be high readiness/deployed; one to two would be in deep maintenance (every 5 years) and one to two in build up/build down/training mode. Canada then needs to judiciously select a modern submarine design.

The Canadian SSN Option:

There is only one type of air-independent propulsion (AIP) that can regenerate the atmosphere necessary for prolonged submerged operations–that is nuclear propulsion.

Can a conventionally powered SSK submarine with AIP technologies, substitute for an SSN powered submarine to defend Canada’s future maritime security? The answer is no, at least not for the foreseeable future. The logic that a Canadian SSN fleet would be a force-multiplier, meet Canadian maritime military requirements and be an ideal solution to assert our sovereignty, has definite merit and should be seriously considered. Canadian submarines will need to operate for prolonged periods, at great distances, with unlimited endurance in some of the most unforgiving waters on the planet. The arctic’s under-ice environment has limited opportunities for any conventional AIP-powered submarine. They lack endurance, speed, versatility and the ability to safely surface in extreme conditions. Only SSN’s have the power to repeatedly surface, even through several feet of ice. Conventional submarines are restricted to near ice-edge operations. To replenish air, SSK’s must surface, or almost surface, raising their snorkel mast at regular intervals. Impossible to do under all but the thinnest layers of ice. A look at the non-nuclear AIP systems currently in service, or under development, have shown these clear limitations. An AIP propulsion system that can provide power endurance comparable to a nuclear power plant, has yet to develop. This is not to say it cannot be done, just that it has not yet materialized. It would take years more research and developmental technology by Canada, with commensurate investments in infrastructure and training, before these AIP SSK’s can favorably compare to the prolonged under-ice operations of any SSN.

Declaring the operation of Canadian SSN’s within Canadian waters along Northwest Passage choke points, indicates that Canada has the capability to control and provide a respectable presence in all three of our oceans. Our Water Space Management (WSM) system, would clearly demonstrate to others, that Canada has the will and the capacity to assert its own sovereignty. This sovereignty will become more important as global warming allows increased exploration of the Arctic seabed, and its rich resources. Existing AIP technologies do not meet Canadian geographical demands now or in the foreseeable future for extended safe under-ice operations.

Without SSN’s, Canada cannot exercise authority in its waters within the confines of our own sovereign territories. This is a central requirement to any definition of National Sovereignty. The issue is not simply a matter of security, but whether Canada has the tools to provide that security. To allow the USN to continue providing arctic SSN security on our behalf, invariably will weaken Canada’s claims to its northern waters and would be incompatible with Canada as an independent nation. We can be judged sovereign, to the degree to which, in the context of alliance and collective defence, we can contribute to our own National security. A Nation that contracts out the defence of its own territory is not sovereign, but a protectorate. Annual Defence budget increases of 2% of GDP, would allow Canada to easily fund an SSN acquisition program and contribute meaningfully to world peace. A Canadian SSN would do more than just support Canada’s claims to its arctic regions. It would provide Canada with a degree of credibility that years of neglect has eroded. Canadian SSN’s, would give Canada a truly balanced fleet we have been sorely missing, and pull the RCN back from the abyss within NATO.

The Modern Conventional Submarine Option:

Canada requires a large ocean-going non-nuclear powered submarine that can patrol off the coasts of Canada, with prolonged forays into the arctic, and able to deploy worldwide either independently, or as part of a coalition task force. Flexibility for fitting future equipment changes and habitability requirements must be considered in any new design. This drives a modern ocean-going conventionally powered AIP submarine to a displacement of about 5-6000 tons. The issue with growth is tied directly to power generation and submerged endurance. The bigger and more capable the submarine, the more power is needed to be generated in order to operate efficiently. Different forms of non-nuclear AIP, all of which require additional types of fuel, are exclusively developed by, and for, European nations with very different submarine operating areas than Canada. Notably, they are all much closer to sources of resupply than Canadian submarines conducting domestic operations would be. Moreover, these systems are not powerful enough to generate and clear the atmosphere of the submarine should there be on-board incidents and therefore, at their current technological level, are unsuitable for prolonged under-ice operations.

A modern Canadian conventional submarine design, must see a continued refinement of diesel generation technology, greater power and fuel efficiency, accompanied by better battery technology. This would allow increased energy storage capacity, as well as a potential for augmentation of an AIP source for unlimited submerged power generation. In short, Canada needs to develop technology that mirrors nuclear propulsion, but not be nuclear. We need to look to Canadian industry for the solution, and push for acceptable alternatives to fossil fuels that will cause a technological revolution in power, particularly in battery technology. Is this technology there today? No, not yet, but if Canada is to obtain the submarine it requires, without embarking on huge technological investment, it needs time for Canadian industry to develop the solution.

The requirement to freely operate in the arctic is well documented, with significant challenges to achieve more than seasonal ice edge forays when operating non-nuclear powered submarines. Canadian technology will be a necessary catalyst to push the type of submarine requirements that will be needed in the future. To answer the question: Does this conventional submarine exist? The answer is not just yet, but it could, in the near future. The question then becomes: Can Canada build a non-nuclear modern AIP submarine? Yes, but….the last time Canada built submarines was during the First World War for Britain. There is a compelling argument that with the assistance of an experienced submarine shipbuilder, Canada can produce a fleet of 12 modern AIP equipped submarines, with extensive under-ice capabilities.

Germany is the largest conventional submarine builder in the world, however designs are typically under 3000 tons and suited only for European littoral waters. France is producing a 4000+ton non-nuclear powered version of their Suffren-class SSN called the Short-Fin Barracuda-Block 1A Diesel submarine for Australia[3]. Japan has designed and produced the Soryu-Class submarine; a very large 4200+ ton AIP conventional submarine. There are a number of shipbuilders that are capable of designing and building Canadian submarines, but almost all are European and most have little expertise with larger ocean-going designs that have become the purview of the nuclear-powered submarine community. It is important for Canada to pay close attention to the Australian experience, as their submarine requirements mirror those of Canada. Australia has committed to build 12 long-range variants of the French Short Fin Barracuda Block 1A Diesel design, fitted with a USN combat system. The Australians are pushing extant technology to produce a modern conventional submarine, supported by a unique Diesel system. This is certainly unconventional in approach, but will this be the right solution for Canada? Only time will tell. It is reasonable to assume that a built-in-Canada solution, supported by a foreign shipbuilder with submarine building expertise, would be most likely. In addition to building these submarines, the necessary infrastructure, particularly the supply chain, more submariners and training infrastructure must be in place to support them throughout their service life from project inception to initial operation. A submarine replacement project would reap rewards in evolving technology as well as leverage domestic capabilities arising from the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

A Canadian Hybrid Submarine Design Option:

Nuclear propulsion is ideal for long distances and extended under-ice missions that are unique to Canada. But is there a better, more affordable and collaborative way? Off-the-shelf AIP submarine designs such as the French Barracuda Block 1A class being designed for Australia and the Japanese Soyru class AIP design with Lithium Ion Batteries (LIBs) technologies, are interesting alternatives that extend the endurance of diesel submarines. But neither of these options will completely satisfactory Canadian requirements. A small nuclear-powered attack submarine that is large enough to support a good sized crew and carry unmanned systems would be ideal for Canada, but presently, none is available. Much of Canadian waters in the arctic are relatively shallow, along the Pacific/Atlantic coasts up to the continental shelf where Canadian submarines would most likely operate.

Nuclear energy generates a large infra-red signature that is a larger liability in littoral vs. blue waters. A Hybrid submarine offers a novel solution. A fleet of hybrid nuclear submarines (5-6,000 ton range) would be ideal for Canadian waters. A nuclear-steam-electric hybrid is an attractive alternative to the dominant nuclear turbo mechanical drive. One or more modular reactors can be used to generate steam to drive a turbine generator. The ability to completely shut down a reactor module, and tightly match energy demand with supply, reduces the amount of excess waste (heat dumped). Machinery noise from nuclear turbo-mechanical generators can be more readily controlled if the system is operated at, and optimized for a relatively narrow power band with no requirements for rapid throttling as with turbo-mechanical drives. Electricity generated can be stored in state-of-the-art LIBs. Reactor shielding can potentially make use of lead acid cells doing double duty. Electric power from batteries driving propulsors offer the prospect of extremely low radiated noise, maintain a high degree of throttle-ability with only limited compromises in sustained high speed cruising that would be a function of the nuclear plant’s power ramp at maximum output. Making propulsor jets steerable and eliminating control fins is an additional benefit in minimizing the active signature. But building such a submarine with a small displacement, 60 days endurance, transit speeds of 20 knots, burst speeds above 30 knots, and state of the art signature management technologies and support for unmanned platforms would be cost prohibitive for all but the largest Navies. Canada, does however, have a potentially excellent technology that can contribute to a joint venture from say France, Japan or Australia for a new hybrid nuclear/AIP submarine design like the Canadian Slowpoke reactor[4]. This reactor has been operating in Canada since 1971 and is licensed for unattended operations. A modern and beefed-up variant of 150MW per module, would be just about ideal for a smaller nuclear-powered/AIP submarine. It is conceivable that the design can be freshened, miniaturized, compacted and fitted into an existing conventional AIP submarine design, though quieting radiated noise at this displacement is challenging and would require considerable ingenuity and technical competence. The more of these units that are deployed, the lower the fixed costs. If Canada contributed a major portion of the development cost of these modular Slowpoke nuclear power plants for hybrid AIP submarines, it could be used to negotiate a better price on the boats. It would also be the only small naval reactor/power plant available in the world, that can potentially, be used on naval surface vessels or civilian platforms. Reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions from shipping, potentially opens up lucrative markets for this Canadian nuclear technology. France, Japan and Australia are all great potential partners with existing or planned submarine designs that are potentially good candidates. Collaboration with Japan in particular, which has begun work on its next generation of electric Soryu class AIP submarines, can contribute certain technologies, like LIBs, where they excel. Any of these nations could deliver a state-of-the-art hybrid/nuclear-powered AIP submarine for a fraction of the cost of going it alone. The key would be that the new co-developed hybrid/nuclear submarine must find additional markets beyond the needs of the partners. The question is, can such a new vessel be built in quantity (more than 20) for less than say CAD $1billion a copy? It will be challenging, but Canadian ingenuity is up to it.

Conclusion:

There is no doubt that Canada’s beleaguered submarine capability is in peril. There is no denying current Defence Department fiscal constraints, and no denying that permanently moth-balling our submarine capability would be a critical mistake no matter which future government is in power. Canada’s allies all agree that a credible submarine capability brings with it enhanced flexibility to conduct military operations and the ability to collaborate with other allied states. The Canadian government has indicated that being back within the NATO umbrella, means Canada will be participating in peacekeeping and peace support operations in a much more meaningful way. If this is correct, then acquiring a strategic submarine fleet, no matter what propulsion plant is used, will be essential to this policy. The Canadian government must commence the procurement process soonest in order to judiciously acquire modern SSK Diesel/AIP/SSN/Hybrid submarines for the RCN to carry out future government missions that all Canadians expect.

An annual Defence budget increase of at least 2% of GDP, will give the government the resources needed to build these submarines sooner rather than later, and allow Canada to easily fund a modern submarine acquisition program. A modern 12 submarine fleet replacement of the Victoria Class, with commensurate increases in submariner strength, would not only be possible, but any of these built-in-Canada designs either under construction or development, could be easily acquired and would be a transformative change for our country. There would be no negative effects on Canada’s defence needs in the future, or on Canada’s strong social economy. The ability to deploy it’s submarine forces at home or abroad from bases in Halifax or Esquimalt, has considerable appeal to a country that wishes to renew its NATO presence.

So long as the government of the day and military leadership remain willing to accept that our Nation’s future strategic, political and military options will not be unnecessarily reduced by the absence of a credible submarine capability, Canada will never live up to its full potential as an influential global middle power. It is time for our government to clearly state its intentions for the future of Canada’s submarine fleet and begin the process of replacements with a modern, credible, submarine capability.



[1] https://shape.nato.int/news-archive/2019/jfc-norfolk-formally-activated-by-nac
[2] https://www.canada.ca/en/department...policies-standards/canada-defence-policy.html
[3] https://www.naval-technology.com/ne...australia-future-submarine-programme-4624492/
[4] https://www.navalreview.ca/2020/02/...ine-design-a-case-for-the-slowpoke-2-reactor/
 
Last edited:

DAVEBLOGGINS

Active member
Naval Specialist
Professional
Joined
Aug 12, 2021
Messages
52
Reaction score
127
Points
33
Nation of residence
Canada
Nation of origin
Canada
Shortfin barracuda can be good if they dont want ssn.
Agree Brave janissary, however it is not an AIP, but Diesel submarine. A modern AIP submarine was recommended by the Canadian Senate report of 2017.;)
 
Last edited:

Mick

New member
Joined
Aug 22, 2021
Messages
2
Reaction score
3
Points
3
Nation of residence
Australia
Nation of origin
United Kingdom

DAVEBLOGGINS

Active member
Naval Specialist
Professional
Joined
Aug 12, 2021
Messages
52
Reaction score
127
Points
33
Nation of residence
Canada
Nation of origin
Canada
Possibly another option to consider is the use of the future remote underwater vehicles,these take years to develop of course but would be cheaper https://www.forbes.com/sites/hisutt...t-large-autonomous-submarine/?sh=3f99baf81f0b
certainly, a bespoken craft could meet some of the requirements for Canada and perhaps also develop smaller craft to be carried by the future destroyers
Hi Mick! Remote underwater vehicles are certainly being considered for our CSC Type 26 Frigates by the RCN, but going under our High Arctic Ice would be quite another thing. They most likely would not be able to surface for any reason, so why would you do that? The CSC Frigates themselves would also not be able to go that far north. Nice thought but no really feasible. Cheers!:rolleyes:
 
Top Bottom