Nuclear submarines for Canada?

Nuclear submarines for Canada?

Canada’s defense minister is “hinting” that Ottawa might be interested in adding nuclear fast-attack submarines to its navy for tomorrow’s critical under-ice patrols.

It could use them: The Royal Canadian Navy has not had good luck with submarines of late, as the CBC, via Galrahn, describes — all four of Canada’s former British boats are laid up today, and one of them has only had two days of service in the 13 years it’s been a Canadian warship.

All other things equal, it could be a great idea for both Canada and the United States. Either the Canadians could buy new versions of the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class fast attack sub — and you’d better believe General Dynamics’ Electric Boat yard would make them a heckuva deal — or, as Galrahn suggests, they could even lease U.S. Los Angeles-class boats. The U.S. and its contractors could get a nice payday from the deal, plus the strategic comfort in knowing a close ally had some sophisticated gear to help keep an eye under the all-important Arctic.

Will it happen? Seems like a long shot. File this one away with the onetime suggestions that Australia could buy some American nuclear submarines, which was just as pleasant a daydream. In fact, it was better, because an Aussie nuclear submarine force would not only guarantee sales and work for American engineers, it would’ve created a friendly new nuclear-capable port conveniently situated in the Western Pacific. Although speakers at the Naval Submarine League conference this month praised the value of the Navy’s two current submarine tenders, those ships aren’t getting any younger, and the service won’t replace them any time soon.

The thing is, defense issues are national issues for Canadians (and Australians) in ways they aren’t for Americans. President Obama was photographed at Langley AFB, Va. not too long ago with two Air Force F-22s, and he even made a joke about how he wanted to take one for a spin. Has any national reporter or commentator connected Obama’s visit with the Air Force’s apparent inability to make the jets safe for their pilots? In another time and place, Obama’s joking about the F-22 could have been the equivalent of President George W. Bush’s praise about “a heckuva job.” But the F-22’s grounding and troubles are so below the radar of both the White House and the national press corps, Obama’s advance team may not even have known the Raptors’ backstory, or cared enough about it to change the president’s photo op. Multiply that times Future Combat Systems; the San Antonio-class amphibious transports; the Joint Tactical Radio System and so on — for the most part, voters just don’t care.

Canada is different, though. Every couple of weeks, for example, the mainstream national newspapers have an item about Canada’s membership in Club F-35 — either political controversy or some new question about the jets’ capability. As you read on Defense Tech, the Winnepeg Free Press reported that Canada’s CF-35s may not be able to fully communicate when they’re patrolling their portions of the Arctic. The National Post had a column about the program “unraveling” on Friday. All this means that Ottawa can’t make big defense decisions such as buying or leasing nuclear submarines out of sight, the way our Pentagon mostly operates on its own. So given how much juice it’s already costing Canada’s Conservative government to buy 65 CF-35s, any discussion about nuclear submarines might prove to be a boat too far.

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Oh I don’t know. Pretty much all the examples cited and the F35 in Canada relates to cost overruns and capability questions. Other than VA class boats aren’t necessarily cheap and they are nuclear, I’m not sure there is any other complaints to raise in Canada. They are on time and under budget. They would be fantastic for Canada to assert itself in the Arctic.

The Arctic is going to be a growing area of economic (and likely military) concern, and the Canadians do have a pretty significant investment in Arctic coastline! While a couple of VA class boats might be a big boon to Electric Boat and co, I think that we might be prematurely forgetting about the French Barracuda’s and particularly their Rubis class boats. IIRC, the Rubis class was at least once upon a time considered by the Canadians. If the Rubis boats are to be retired from the French Navy as the Barracudas come on board, they are quite small and handy nuke subs. With some significant “refitting” and a refuel with some of that good Canadian uranium, those Rubis boats might be a bargain on the used submarine market.

Got to wonder if the Canadians have considered some sort of “barter” ! :-) “S’il vous plaît, Eh? ”

Dont know what history the French and their submarines have “under the ice” but I have heard that the US and the Russians pretty much have cornered that market.

The last time Canada seriously debated the Nuclear SSN option, in the 80’s, the choices were either the French Rubis Class or British Trafalgar class. One major issue was that the US refused to allow the transfer of proprietary nuclear technology from the British boats to Canada.

The limitations that the US Government has placed on tech transfer to what is supposedly their closest ally, (literally and figuratively) has cost the US economy some much needed revenue. Case in point, The midlife refit of the Halifax Class Frigates, which resulted in the purchase of many new technologies from other countries primarily due to the costly and onerous rules surrounding the acquisition of American gear. We must bear in mind that Canada’s Navy is one of very few that can operate seamlessly with the USN which is as it should be.

Having said that, I cant see Canada buying ANY used boats from anyone after the current debacle with the Victoria Class. Virginia Class boats are exactly whats required, the best product for Canada (and Australia) and would greatly benefit the US, our staunchest ally, and closest friend, both economically and strategically.

Australian navy sub force is a joke, they are lucky if they can take two subs out at one time.Out of six subs only one can go to sea. The 12 Rudd boats they want get will cost Australia about 34 to 40 billion. Buy USA subs Australia can not build subs.From the GREAT COMMUNIST STATE OF AUSTRALIA.

buy french subs,no problem for the transfer of nuclear technology

Canada has a navy?

This is why Canada and even Australia should have gone with either a TYPE 212, 214, Scorpène class submarine or even the S-80 class submarine instead of the Upholder class. As for the Los Angeles class submarine, maybe the Canadians and even Australia can look at getting some of the used Flight I or Flight II’s, if they are willing to come up with the money to pay for retro fitting them and paying for the refueling cost. Maybe they can even pay part of the cost for the Virginia class submarine as well. It would be in the US Navy’s best interest to see if our close allies are very interested in buying a used Los Angeles class submarine or a Virginia class submarine.

Is a single “Virginia”-class SSN really more in Canada’s strategic interest than ~ 5 German Type 214 or Swedish “Gotland”-class SSKs FOR THE SAME UNIT PRICE ??
Is Canada better served with 4 U.S. American SSNs (2 of them constantly in the harbour) than with 20 European SSKs for the same price = 10 SSKs in front of each coast?

Does anyone really need a 100m+ long monster of a SSN to defend a few (maximally 18 meters wide) passages in the wake of an icebreaker? (How about snowmobiles?)

SSKs don’t have the submerged range or speed of a SSN, both pretty important operating under the ice pack. SSKs certainly could be used in certain places, but if Canada is looking to seriously patrol the pole the only choice is a SSN.


Actually, in the Rubis class (and based solely on “open literature”) they have some very interesting technology. The biggest aspect being the very compact nature of the small 50 MW power plant.

But.… . . as you suggest, the French have been a little bit less than completely discrete in the transfer of nuclear and military technology over the years.… . .

In a perfect world, we (I’m Canadian) would buy 6 astute class subs from the Brits..but I expect its not going to happen.

Give them everything they needed. They are our (US) good ally.

No foreign sale of a US nuke sub has occurred and won’t.

Too paranoid of security leakages once the technology is transfered even with their allies, at best an agreement for Canadian Naval personnel to accompany US submariner forces. France on the other hand loves to sell arms to anyone.

My question is that do the French subs have the under ice capability and have the ability to punch through the Ice pack.

Good point, Russian frequent incursions/dick measuring contests into Canadian waters and airspace are a good impetus for an arms race sometimes. Let’s see how great Russia’s “resource cursed” economy will be able to fund these things once North American NatGas shangri-la/renaissance is realized to its potential.

Couldn’t agree more mate, this Labor government is making an absolute joke of our forces, just like the last one did under Hawke and Keating. Labor keeps making the terrible mistake of insisting that great Aussie ingenuity can do or build anything (cheap vote grabbing via union job creation), and as a result we have 6 Collins class boats that have never worked from the get go, and now they reckon they can do a better job on twelve more subs? They are an absolute joke of a government and the sooner they’re gone the better off the country and the Asia Pacific region will be.

Has anyone even considered the new German fuel-cell powered subs that several other navies have bought? They can stay submerged for long periods (as in “under the ice”), make less noise than cukes (no constant pumps for cooling), and don’t produce any possibility of radioactive pollution in case of an accident like the Yanks & Russkies!

They can’t stay submerged for long periods, 2 weeks for the German subs, I’ve also read 4 weeks, either or, not long enough. Their submerged sprint speed is only about 2/3 of what a VA class’ speed is and they can only maintain it for a few hundred miles. A VA class or an Astute or Barracuda can submerge and stay that way their entire mission. They are limited by food stores only.

“Virginias” are only ~ 5 knots faster than Type 214s, and who needs range when you can have sufficient numbers of SSKs

1) to be everywhere (think Battle of the Atlantic)


2) to keep fighting, even after your only SSN (or half of your two only SSNs, etc.) went down) ?

You have a good point about the numbers issues, if you have ALL of your cookies in one jar… er. .. boat, that limits your course of action in a lot of ways (i.e. losses in combat, overhauls, routine maintenance, etc). However… I think that you will find very few cases of non-nuke subs operating under the ice for any significant period of time. Even with the inherent dangers of submarine operations in general, running around under the Ice Cap without a reactor to make new air, to keep the boat warm and toasty and most important, to get out from under the ice when necessary, might just be too much risk for most folk.

We could argue the merits of the Astute’s vs the Virginias vs the Barracudas vs …. even vs used LAs or Rubis or Akula subs, but…. Eventually I think that the Canadians are going to be driven to a submarine naval force, if for nothing else to be able to “show the flag” under the arctic ice. Just plain too many political issues not to do so, particularly with Russian and US interests in the resources that may be lurking up there. Sometimes it is not so much as having a naval force that could actually take on the USN or the Russian navy (or even the Chinese navy!) under the ice, as it is a case of just having a navy that can at least show up for the party!

Not going to be easy I suspect, but good luck, eh? :-)

Given all of the coastal shallow water and shallow/narrow strategic seaways in the SE Asian area, I think you could make a really good arguement for the smaller, conventional subs for Australia. You could even make a very credible, but perhaps less compelling, arguement for the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Canada, but… under the Canadian Arctic’s icepack in wintertime… . . it had better be a nuke!

I can even think of several more good reasons for the Canadians to carefully consider a couple (or perhaps as many as four) of the Virginias and very few (if any!) reasons why the US should not consider such a sale. Canada and the US have a history, not always without a few bumps, of being very close and very true allies in practically any issue that matters, and we do seem to occupy, together, a major portion of the same continent! If it ever came to a conflict where SSNs played a major role, there are very few Navies that I think I would rather have well-equipped, fully-trained and ready to go than the Canadians!

I would say the German Type 212 and 214 would be perfect for Australia because of their position in the world and that they would not need the nukes to cross the pacific. But if the Australian’s need to cross the pacific, then a Barracuda class SSN would be perfect for them. Where as for Canada, the Barracuda Class SSN is perfect for Canada, provided that it is Strengthen for under Ice operations in case they have to break the ice pack to surface. I believe that both the German type 212, 214 and the Barracuda class SSN is perfect for both Australia and Canada.

As for both getting SSN’s, I think if both countries are willing to come up with the cost of retrofit, refueling, maintenance and training cost associated with the SSN, then why not. It’s a win-win for the US and it’s close allies. At least for the US, they can send some second hand 688I’s to our closest neighbors & allies.

Very well written piece Philip. You’re bang on. Most Americans see us as a bunch of beer-swilling hockey fans (which is pretty much true I admit), but Canadians have become very close to their servicemen and women since we started in Afghanistan, so the public is pretty tuned in to these things.

But after the recent debacle with the Brit boats, Canada won’t be buying used submarines again. And “nuke” is still a four letter word in Canada, so this just will never happen…

There is a problem with beer and hockey?????

As for “nuke” being a four letter word, it was once not so much an issue with the warheads on the missiles for the CF-101s or Nikes that held the northern line for NORAD. Here it should be even less of an issue.… but what do I know! After all, I’m a Bruins, Blackhawks and Redwings fan! LOL!

At least we can agree about the Rangers! ROTFLMAO!

The VAs are only faster for the first 480 nmis of the race, then they are 20 knots faster once the 212s batteries are depleted. Having lots of subs that can reach the middle of the ice pack only to have to turn around and go back to surface doesn’t do you as much good as one you can sail out and park for 60 days without having to.

Diesel electrics are short range shallow water boats. They are not made for deep water open ocean conflicts and their limited range and submersion times make then not suited for ice pack operations. If Canada makes some kind of economic exclusion zone claim to underwater geographical features in the arctic under the ice pack the only subs that can maintain a credible presence are nukes.

“A Bruins, Blackhawks, Redwings fan???” That is quite foreign to us. Not the teams, but the fact that your allegiance lies with more than one of them. In Canada, we choose our hockey team at birth, then we are stuck with them the rest of our lives, no matter where you live. Just ask a Toronto fan…

In the early-1990s, the Liberal government at the time tried to implement a White Paper that included 12 nuclear subs. The whole plan was scrapped as being too expensive (amid many other, mostly political reasons). Genie and Bomarc missiles are easy to conceal from the public at large. Nuke subs? Not so much…

Roger on the range issue. That “hard” water overhead does complicate snorting and surfacing just a bit! LOL!

As for the “short range shallow water” boats… with the D-E’s that are the rage today, certainly, but its NOT exactly a characteristic of the type. Consider in particular the US, Japanese and German “fleet boats” of WWII and the Whiskey’s of more recent times. Long range patrols of the Sea of Japan were conducted from Pearl Harbor and the Atlantic coast of the US was just an unfortunate hop skip and jump from Kiel. Its not a trivial problem (and does become much easier with nukes!) but…. it was solved several times as far back as WW-I by the Germans in particular. I do agree however that all of the long range diesel-electric solutions require clear water overhead.

Detroit is first (of course) but if the Blackhawks or Bruins are playing anyone but the ‘Wings…… Heck, I will even cheer for the Habs if they play the Rangers (or any of the latecomers!)!

And there are no nuclear power plants or research centers in Canada? Hard to hide the steam plume from those big guys on a crisp Canadian morning…. A nuclear submarine is nothing but a very small (in comparison) nuclear power plant, in a steel tube, sitting in the water, without the steam plume. .. . . :-) I know, perception is everything.… ..

G/Day Josh Australia is finished sorry to say, thank god i do not live there any more. I am x/ADF. Australia is run by the FABIANS. LABOR FABIANS WILL DESTROY Australia and the ADF will be first.

First flight 688’s are out of the question for artic patroling due to no under ice surfacing ability, I class boats had sails reinforced along with moving the fwd planes from the sail to the bow, so they would be likely candidates especialy with their VLS capability. In reality it would be much cheaper for us to give them to Canada & Austrailia than to decom and suffle them compared to the cost of doing so which is why we have given so many frigates and other surface ships to japan, thailand and other countries. The 88’s are good boats (but the 637’s were the best boats ever designed and built) and Both Canada and Austrailia have been to sea on them many times during joint and special ops so they are comfortable with them.

BOOMER is right about Australia and its many times use of and practice with US Fleet boats, and who is the best damm ally you have in the Pacific , that lets you Exercise anywhere on Aussie soil. Don’t scrap them sell them. the 2 newest ships the US Navy has were designed in Australia for heavens sake and modified in the US

Yeah! Like he said!

Canadians need to rebel against their government just as much as we do here. Canadians love to talk about how much better their country is with that healthcare stuff and everything, BUT if you look closely, they are still arresting people for using natural medicine, they are still foreclosing on people’s homes, and look, now they actually have a military. Canada more advanced than the US? It can’t be by much if at all.

Now…why would Canada need fast attack nuclear submarines? I thought the Canadians were pacifists.

The most effective pacifists are those that are most heavily armed! LOL! Consider for a moment that the two must successful pacifist nations in Europe over the last century or so are Switzerland and Sweden. Aside from the names begining in an “S”, I’d suggest the two countries also share perhaps the most heavily armed military (on a pre capita basis) on the European continent! Just as an example (not terribly meaningful, but…), the Swiss Army operates 224 M-109 155mm SP Howitzers (or one of these big lumbering beasts for ever 35,000 Swiss citizens), the US Army operates 951, or one for every 323,000 US citizens! AND the Swiss have compulsory military (or equivalent) service for every male citizen over the age of 19. From 19 — 34 (50 for senior officers and NCOs) they even keep their personal gear (weapons included) at home for quick mobilization. Pacifist yes, well armed passifist, Jawohl! Might be an interesting system for the US. (But we have already talked about that one too! :-) )

I second that, nicely phrased Mate.

Canada lost over 180 native sons and daughters in Afghanistan, and continue to lose them in our training role. Canadianshave fought there longer than any other war, or perhaps several wars combined. Pacifist? Methinks not.
Lest we forget.…


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