Navy In Dire Need Of A Clear Canadian SSN Submarine Replacement Policy

DAVEBLOGGINS

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“This is an opinion piece by the author only for promotion of general discussions by forum members and not to be published in whole or in part by any other media”

IN DIRE NEED OF A CLEAR CANADIAN SSS SUBMARINE REPLACEMENT POLICY

Recent events in the Asia-Pacific region have important implications for Canada’s foreign, defence and security policies. For a country that constantly likes to tell itself (and everyone else who will listen) that “the world needs more Canada”, the news that three of the Five Eyes AUSCANZUKUS partners had created a new alliance in the Pacific without Canada or New Zealand, at first brush, certainly seemed to come as a surprise. This nuclear technology agreement has taken the wind out of Canada’s sails. It immediately raised questions about Canada’s position in the world. There was also a political storm created when President Biden declared that “the United States had no greater ally than Australia”. AUKUS is a continuation of a trend that has been in place for some time now, that is, an intense level of cooperation between countries that have more robust intelligence, defence and foreign policy programs than does Canada. Canada has not participated in a military alliance in the Asia-Pacific since the Korean War. It does not have a strong diplomatic presence in the region and continuously looks “West” to Europe, not “East” to Asia, when it comes to security matters. Any decision to reverse long-standing Canadian policies and acquire nuclear-powered submarines would raise immediate issues and would, become a political football in domestic Canadian politics. Canada must better understand the implications of these and other recent developments in the Asia-Pacific for our foreign, defence and security policies, and they are considerable.

Other implications are not in the Pacific, but in Canada’s north, particularly North American Aerospace Defence (NORAD) modernization. As concerns about both Russian and Chinese actions and capabilities in the Arctic grow, the United States wants to see Canada make key investments in its surveillance, deterrence, and command and control systems, especially as many current NORAD systems are expected to come to their end of life by 2024. NORAD modernization will also require the Canadian government to reluctantly revisit the old debate over Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD); a politically toxic issue that successive Liberal governments have tried to shelve.

A much tougher sticking point will be the cost of such modernization; something Canadians coming out of a world pandemic may not want the government to spend their tax dollars on. Nevertheless, with AUKUS, there will be renewed pressure from the Biden administration for Canada to demonstrate its commitment to defence in its own backyard in the same way that the Australians are seen as having stepped up in their sphere of military preparedness. Another implication of AUKUS for Canada is that it exposes the giant hole where a foreign policy or strategic concept for the Asia-Pacific region should be. With AUKUS, both the United States and the United Kingdom are signaling that this “pivot” to Asia-Pacific policies is happening now. The European Union has recently released an Indo-Pacific cooperation strategy that signals its priorities for the region. Canada, on the other hand, has been silent as to what it would like to achieve with an Asia-Pacific policy, and how it intends to achieve it. A clear foreign policy and a strategy to achieve it would help coordinate government policies. But crucially, the creation of a strategy and specifically a modern submarine replacement strategy would signal to our allies what Canada’s priorities are. This would help them identify issues of mutual interests and opportunities for collaboration. In the absence of such a strategy, cooperation takes on a more myopic rather than a strategic manner.

A final implication for Canada of AUKUS is that it is a part of a larger trend whereby Washington is increasingly looking to its more active strategic partners when it comes to formulating its plans and partnerships. To be clear, Canada has not been forgotten by the United States, nor is it likely to be; sharing the world’s longest undefended border with a robust trading relationship ensures this. Canada remains an important part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing relationship and is a member of key Western security alliances, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At the same time, other American allies, namely the United Kingdom and Australia, are seen as more actively contributing intelligence and military capabilities and ideas to meet key security challenges of Washington. Canada may have a seat at the table, but contributes little and often remains silent during these discussions. To be clear, Canada needs to acquire SSN submarines to be relevant in the Asia-Pacific as well as our Arctic sovereignty. Ottawa needs to contribute ideas and embark on a sustained effort to engage our allies, on a defined set of national priorities that reflect Canadian interests. The last major foreign policy statement came from then-foreign minister Chrystia Freeland in June of 2017. Much has occurred since then. Indeed, here is what truly defines Canada apart from AUKUS: While the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom may have imperfect foreign and defence policies, they clearly understand the importance of setting goals and developing strategies, something that requires hard choices in an era of uncertainties. Canadians need to start asking these hard questions as to why we are not doing the same.

The new AUKUS defence and security partnership, is intended to present a unified front toward an increasingly aggressive China and Russia, and demonstrate to others that the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia intend to remain engaged in the Asia-Pacific region for decades to come. Not only was Canada not included in the agreement, but the federal government seemed to be completely blind-sided by the announcement; a reflection of our diminished stature on the world stage. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately downplayed the importance of the agreement, saying “it was merely a way for the U.S. to sell nuclear submarine technology to Canberra”. But Trudeau’s comments suggest that he does not have the ability to appreciate the significance, or the long-term implications, of this new alliance. There have been however, “unsubstantiated and unreported” whisperings that Canada early on, during the secret negotiations between Australia, the United States and United Kingdom was indeed offered a seat at the nuclear technology table (to be called AUCANUKUS), but Prime Minister Trudeau had in fact rejected the offer outright. True or not, AUKUS is a major development that has serious ramifications for Canada, even if the Liberal government would prefer not to think about them.

In many ways, this new pact represents an American repudiation of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance. The first issue to consider, then, is what the new alliance says about the relationship between the U.S. and Canada. Unfortunately, the answer is clear: it represents an unmistakable sign that Washington has largely given up on Ottawa as a serious defence partner, having concluded that Canada has absolutely no intention of living up to its NATO commitments to spend a minimum of two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence which Prime Minister Trudeau acknowledged a few years back. The lack of spending severely limits what this country can do militarily, and no amount of defence or political spin will change that. Secondly, it reveals that Canada’s passive approach to China has further led the U.S. to conclude that Ottawa simply cannot be counted on to stand up to Beijing. On issue after issue, Ottawa has demurred to China in recent years, a bewildering development given that the approach has clearly failed to modify Chinese behaviour despite the positive developments regarding the recent “two Michaels” release.

Australia has taken the opposite approach, becoming increasingly vocal regarding the threat that China poses to the region and the need for a concerted effort against it. Canberra continues to modernize and expand its military. The AUKUS technology agreement and cancellation of the French DCNS Barracuda Block 1A diesel-electric submarine program being merely the latest development. In contrast to Canada, Australia has shown no willingness to allow itself to be bullied by Beijing or others. But this pact was not wholly unexpected. For years, successive U.S. administrations have pressed Canada to increase its defence spending and live up to its NATO commitments, all to no avail. Former presidents since Dwight Eisenhower made alliance defence spending one of their central foreign policy goals. Even Trump’s repeated calls were met with a series of shrugs from Prime Minister Trudeau, and defence spending has been largely flat in the six years the Liberals have been in office. This record stands in sharp contrast to many of our allies, several of which have seen their defence expenditures rise substantially in recent years. Similarly, U.S. officials have been pressing allies to get tough with China economically, and have specifically warned about the security risks of allowing the Chinese telecom company Huawei to take part in building 5G networks. While the U.S., U.K. and Australia have all banned the Chinese firm, Ottawa continues to dither in making a decision, and there is still no timetable on when one will be announced.

A Canadian Nuclear-powered (SSN) policy:

Characteristics of modern 21st century submarines are: endurance, stealth, freedom of movement and versatility. The best sensor weapon that gives others pause is, without question, another submarine. If Canada does not invest in a modern submarine capability, its navy will be unable to patrol its three oceans. The larger question to answer is: Why are replacement submarines not included in Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy? Only systems that can reach under the ice can tell us who else might be operating there. This requires blunt discussions with all Canadians 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 in Canada’s Arctic. The conversation about this looming capability loss needs to start now. Canada’s recent defence policy, Strong, Secure, Engaged (SSE) reiterated the need for Canada’s Navy to be comprised of a balanced fleet of platforms which includes 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 "enhance" this capability. A modern submarine designed to meet Canadian requirements must have the ability to operate in all three of our oceans without restriction and have a vigorous under-ice capability, with long endurance (including crew habitability considerations).

Currently there is only one type of air-independent propulsion that can regenerate the atmosphere necessary for prolonged submerged operations – that is nuclear propulsion. The nuclear infrastructure surrounding this option however, is not attainable at this time due to Canadian fiscal constraints. That assessment has most assuredly not changed over the last three decades and will not change unless Canada decides to increase defence spending to at least two percent of GDP in the near future. It boils down to one question: Can a current conventionally powered modern diesel-electric (SSK) submarine with air-independent propulsion (AIP) technologies, substitute for an SSN powered submarine to defend Canada’s future maritime security? The answer is definitely 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 as replacements for our Victoria-class SSKs.

The Canadian public is more intelligent than most ‘nay-sayers’ would give them credit for. They realize that there is nothing to fear from acquiring an SSN capability. The Arctic’s under-ice environment has limited opportunities for any conventional AIP-powered submarine, which lack endurance, speed, versatility and the ability to safely surface in extreme conditions. Only SSNs have the power to repeatedly surface, even through several feet of ice. Conventional submarines are restricted to near ice-edge operations. To replenish air, SSKs 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 four non-nuclear AIP systems currently in service or under development show these clear limitations. The modern AIP record for a submerged transit is 18 days at most. 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 will take decades more research and developmental technology by Canada, with commensurate investments in infrastructure and training, before these AIP SSKs can favorably compare to the prolonged under-ice operations of any SSN. This is time that Canada just does not have.

Declaring the operation of Canadian SSNs 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 and security in all of our WSM regions. This sovereignty, will become more important as global warming allows increased exploration of the Arctic seabed, and its rich resources. The WSM system is an important tool in this endeavour, but only if Canada maintains a viable submarine fleet which, by necessity, demands the timely replacement of our ‘ice-edge limited’" Victoria-class, with a fleet of 8 to 10 modern under-ice capable SSNs. Existing AIP technologies from Germany, France or Japan, do not meet Canadian geographical demands now or in the foreseeable future for extended safe under-ice operations. An SSN can travel the Northwest Passage, under ice-caps, from the Atlantic to Pacific in just 14 days vice over a month via the Panama Canal. Without SSNs, Canada cannot exercise authority in its waters within the confines of our own sovereign territory. 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 US Navy to continue providing high Arctic security on our behalf, invariably will weaken Canada’s claims to its northern waters and would be incompatible with the responsibilities that Canada has as an independent state. Past Defence Minister, Warren Beatty said: "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 security and defence of its own territory is not sovereign, but a protectorate." An annual Defence budget increase of two percent of GDP, will allow Canada to easily fund an SSN acquisition program and finally contribute meaningfully to the NATO alliance. A Canadian SSN will do more than just support Canada’s claims to its Arctic territories. It will provide Canada with a degree of credibility that well over three decades of neglect have eroded. Canadian SSNs, will give Canada a truly balanced fleet we have been sorely missing, and pull the RCN back from the abyss within NATO.

Canadian SSN Options:

Nuclear propulsion is ideal for long distances and extended under-ice missions that are unique to Canada. It is a foregone conclusion that there are submarines beneath Canada’s polar ice cap, and….. they are not Canadian. This will become more important as global warming allows increased exploration of the Arctic seabed, and its rich resources. Only systems that can reach under the ice can tell us who else is operating there. Canada’s future submarine force needs to retain significant interoperability with our US Navy counterparts. Yet we should also consider some new capabilities, including under-ice operations, and a land strike capability. There are four distinct options that Canada should consider when choosing an SSN submarine capability:

Option 1 – Domestic Build: The National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) is committed to the continuous, multi-decade domestic construction of federal vessels. For an SSN submarine fleet, one or more NSS yards could build a “made in Canada” SSN or a Canadianized SSN foreign design. This however would be the least cost-effective option.

Option 2 – Canadianized Military-off-the-shelf (MOTS): The United States, United Kingdom and France are established nuclear submarine producers with whom Ottawa could work in acquiring a Canadianized MOTS SSN submarine fleet. This is the most common and cost-conscious approach used by our allies.

Option 3 – Collaborative Build: Canada can work with an establish nuclear submarine builder to split production between two countries or enter a joint financing arrangement. This would entail a complex arrangement involving intellectual property negotiations and costs over a Canadianized design. To avoid a capability gap and possibly lose its submarine force altogether, political and senior bureaucratic decision-makers in Ottawa will have to make a difficult call in the next two years about the kind of SSN submarine capability the RCN needs for the next half-century.

Option 4 – A “lease to own” option for two or three US Virginia class or UK Astute class SSN submarines or perhaps even the Los Angeles class SSN. This may be a viable option given the training and infrastructure that will be required first before owning a future Canadian SSN fleet. The common thread in all of these options is that Canada must first be a full participant in the AUKUS nuclear technology transfer program. A requirement that may not happen anytime soon with the current government.

Conclusion:

The AUKUS alliance sends an unmistakable message to Ottawa regarding our waning importance. For this to change, Washington will need to see a demonstrable commitment to defence by Canada, not at some unspecified date in the future, but now. If not, our bilateral defence relationship with the U.S. will continue to weaken. Canada’s international influence has been declining for years, and the establishment of a new U.S. led security alliance that intentionally excludes us is just the latest consequence of this. Indeed, the AUKUS announcement was made in the midst of an unwanted election campaign, one in which Canada’s defence policies, and larger defence spending record, was most notably absent, as was virtually any discussion of foreign policy. It thus adds to the growing perception that Ottawa has effectively disappeared as an international player, a development that few Canadians seem to be aware of (or care about). Other countries have noticed, though, and are adjusting their policies accordingly. As a result, it is doubtful observers in Washington, London or Canberra will shed a tear for Canada’s ever-diminishing international influence.

There is no doubt that Canada’s beleaguered submarine capability is in great peril, and could soon die a thousand deaths. The current fleet of submarines is near the end of its safe and useful life. There is also no denying current fiscal constraints on defence spending. A credible SSN submarine capability brings with it enhanced flexibility to conduct military operations and the ability to collaborate with other states. The most cursory of glances at a globe illustrates the vastness of Canada’s ocean areas and a future Canadian submarine capability must be able to operate fully in these areas. It must provide future Canadian governments with options from which to respond to international crises. Having a strategic SSN submarine fleet, will be essential to Canada’s future defence requirements. Canada doesn’t need a large navy, but it does need the navy to be adequate to defend Canadian maritime approaches and to deter challenges to security and sovereignty. There is no denying current Defence Department fiscal constraints, but also no denying that permanently mothballing our submarine capability would be a major catastrophe and a critical mistake no matter which future government is in power. Canada’s allies have all agreed 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 may have sorely misled Canadians into believing that ‘being back,’ as our Prime Minister has said, within the NATO umbrella, means Canada will be participating in UN peacekeeping and peace support operations in a much more meaningful way. If this is correct, then acquiring a strategic SSN submarine fleet, will be essential to this policy. The Canadian government must step up to the plate and commence the procurement process soon in order to judiciously acquire a modern SSN submarine fleet for the RCN to carry out future government missions that all Canadians expect of it.

An annual defence budget increase of at least two percent of GDP, as proposed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on National Defence, will give the government the resources needed to acquire these submarines sooner rather than later, and allow Canada to easily fund an SSN acquisition program, finally giving Canada the ability to contribute our ‘fair share’ within NATO. A modern 8 to 10 SSN submarine fleet replacement of the Victoria-class, with a commensurate increase in submariner strength and infrastructure would then not only be possible, but any of these designs either under construction or operational, 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 its submarine forces at home or world-wide from bases in Halifax or Esquimalt, has considerable appeal to a country that wishes to renew its NATO presence. Canada must seriously re-examine the concept of a Canadian SSN submarine program. The time for such a re-examination is now.

So long as the government of the day and military leadership remain willing to accept that Canada’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 Prime Minister to clearly state the government’s intentions with respect to the policies and future of Canada’s submarine fleet and begin the process of replacing the Victoria-class with a modern, credible, SSN capability. To accomplish this under current fiscal constraints, would be difficult at best. The Victoria-class fleet must be utilized for several years longer, well past 2036 and well beyond their shelf-life, before modern SSN submarines can be secured, unless an increase in defence spending is realized soon.
 
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Ted Barnes

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I only assume that only recently you saw a statement by the sitting Prime Minister of Canada doubling down on his commitment that under no circumstances will Canada procure nuclear submarines. Of course nuclear submarines are the way to go for under the ice operations but the reality is it will most likely never happen. There will be no build domestically, offshore, collaborative or lease in any form.

Canada will carry on with the Victoria Class and only recently fitted sonar to ice avoidance to use in the Arctic. A options analysis team has stood up in NCR with a competition announcement when they're good and ready in a few years.

Meanwhile there is discussion in AUS to possibly precure a updated Collins Class to bridge the gap until Nuke Subs are procured, Canada should look into getting into that program if it comes to fruition.

Canada should also spend more money on a acoustic warning net in the NWP, I was there supporting the project back a few years ago. Very promising.

Spend money to have a Canadian company such as Kraken to develop a UUV that can roam the passage and detect and destroy submarines if necessary, the AOPS would be an excellent platform for their deployment and recovery. These UUV's can sit on the bottom for months waiting for some unlucky target to come by.
 

Nilgiri

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Spend money to have a Canadian company such as Kraken to develop a UUV that can roam the passage and detect and destroy submarines if necessary, the AOPS would be an excellent platform for their deployment and recovery. These UUV's can sit on the bottom for months waiting for some unlucky target to come by.

Love this idea!
 

DAVEBLOGGINS

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Love this idea!
This is something that may very well be in the works and "part" of the solution for our north however is not the "final" answer. SSNs are still the only way to find out who else is freely roaming our Canadian Arctic and give others "pause".:rolleyes:
 

Nilgiri

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This is something that may very well be in the works and "part" of the solution for our north however is not the "final" answer. SSNs are still the only way to find out who else is freely roaming our Canadian Arctic and give others "pause".:rolleyes:

Friend, I have resigned myself to working with the world I have....rather than world I want.

Canada military higher ups won't change their approach to several pre-existing and ongoing security challenges (concerning the arctic).

They will kick the can same way with future challenges.

Canada would have already joined an SSN program with the US in the 2000s if it were serious about resolute answer to the Arctic.
 
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