The latest bad news for Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, according to a story in the National Post, is that “The navy’s submarine fleet will have to be cut adrift in the next few years unless the federal government opts to spend billions to upgrade the ships, according to internal Defence Department documents … The documents show that the first submarine, HMCS Victoria, is scheduled to reach its end of service life in 2022. The other three vessels will follow until the last, HMCS Windsor, retires in 2027 … [and] … The documents, released to The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, peg the cost of extending the lives of the submarines at between $1.5 billion and $3 billion, depending on how long the vessels would remain in service and what technical upgrades would be made. They don’t specify when a decision needs to be made, but work needs to begin by 2020 to prevent a gap.“
It’s no secret that I favour buying a fleet of six to ten new air independent propulsion (AIP) (under ice/Arctic capable) boats so that we can have one or two available on each coast at almost all times. But AIP boats are expensive and it is not clear, to me, that anyone is building and selling any boats that would meet our needs right now, but I’m happy to be proven wrong.
A couple of days ago I said, speaking about CANZUK multi-national defence procurement, that “defence procurement is not coordinated because too many local, parochial interests make international procurement coordination nearly impossible ~ even when operational requirements and equipment “life cycles”are very similar.“
This could be the exception that proves the rule. Right now we know that Australia is procuring a new submarine. They have chosen the 90 metre French Shortfin Barracuda, designed by French shipbuilder DCNS over (apparently very good) bids from Germany and Japan. The Australians will assemble 12 boats, in Australia, for a $50 billion price tag. Canada could, potentially, “piggyback” on the Australian order and perhaps, say, 20 boats could be built for less than $70 billion (under $3.5 billion per boat instead of $4.1 billion). We should be able to assume that the Australians, who are, professionally and politically, very much like us, have done their “due diligence” and we should also assume that their operational requirements and ours are close enough to make it safe to buy their boat ~ safer, anyway, than it was to buy used British boats. There could be some tradeoffs, too: perhaps involving Australia buying more LAVs or something else from Canada.
If that is too bold a course for this government then, at least, Minister Sajjan should ask the Australians to share their work on the three boats they finally evaluated, to give us a shortcut.
There is one bigger problem. Despite the fact that pretty much every admiral and every defence expert says that Canada needs submarines, this government, advised by some civil servants and its own “experts,” may disagree or, for fiscal reasons, may want to dither and try to just “life extend” the Victoria calls boats, thus punting the problem downfield for a bit or, because it seems to me that this government really doesn’t care about Canada’s defences, just get out of submarines entirely.