OTTAWA—Naval planners have started to lay the groundwork for the possible replacement of the country’s second-hand, glitch-prone Victoria-class submarines.
The timing of the pitch is conspicuous, as executives from the world’s top submarine manufacturer owned by Thyssenkrupp Marine accompanied German Chancellor Angela Merkel to high-level trade meetings in Ottawa last week.
Planners say the country will likely need bigger, quieter boats that can perform stealth missions, launch undersea robots and fire guided missiles at shore targets.
A May 9, 2011, briefing for Chief of Defence Staff Walt Natynczyk noted investing in submarines is prudent because “in the event of global tensions these relatively cheap assets will counter projection of power and hinder freedom of movement and action.”
According to defence experts, that was a veiled reference to Arctic sovereignty, which the Harper government has made key policy platform.
“In terms of surveillance of our ocean approaches and the protection of our own sovereignty, I would consider a submarine capability critical,” said Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison during an appearance before a Senate committee earlier this year.
“And so to lose that for a G8 nation, a NATO country like Canada, a country that continues to lead internationally, and aspires to lead more, I would consider that a critical loss.”
However, a spokesman for Associate Defence Minister Bernard Valcourt wouldn’t say what the future might hold.
“There is no plan to replace the diesel-electric fleet purchased by the Liberals,” said Chris McCluskey in an email.
The market for submarines, especially emerging powers such as India and China, has grown by leaps and bounds, but there are still only a handful of countries in the world capable of building them.
At the top of the list is Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft, which is a division of Thyssenkrupp Marine.
The company’s senior executives were part of a German trade delegation that accompanied Chancellor Angela Merkel to Ottawa and Halifax last week.
Dan Middlemiss, who taught at Dalhousie University Centre for Foreign Policy Studies in Halifax, said giving up the capability would potentially leave Canada blind in the Arctic because nations are required to notify each other when their submarines are operating around the territorial waters of others.
Indeed, the traditional Second World War perception and use of submarines has been refined.
Subs are now more useful in coastline surveillance and intelligence-gathering, as well as being able to launch guided missiles at shore targets, the way U.S. and British boats did during the Libya campaign.