During the tabling of the first White Paper on Canadian defence policy in over 15 years, the current Canadian Minister or National Defence, the Honourable Perrin Beatty, in his speech to the House of Commons on June 5 of this year said, “The real question is whether Canada can afford to have a modern navy or, perhaps more accurately, whether three ocean nation as dependent on trade as Canada is, can afford not to have a navy? The Government’s response is clear.” What surprised many however, was the nature of this response the acquisition or nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines and a new era for Canada’s undersea service.
The nearly two decades of fiscal restraint and reduced resources resulting from the 1971 White Paper could not but have had an eventually detrimental impact on the Canadian Armed Forces. Nowhere has this been more evident, and more dis-concerting, than in the deplorable state or the Canadian NaVY. Canada is a sea-faring nation, with a proud maritime tradition. Nevertheless, current Canadian naval assets are built around a mere 4 destroyer squadrons totalling twenty elder-ly destroyers (the newest of which are now over 15 years old), and one submarine squadron of three submarines. Canada’s tiny submarine force is made up entirely of 1960’s vintage QBEBON-class diesel-electric boats acquired from the United Kingdom.
The previous policy statement of 1971 reflected the political situation of the early 1970’s, understandably an optimistic document. Then the era of detente and a new dawn in East-West relations seemed to be just over the horizon. This optimism, however, did not survive the end of the decade. Soviet adventurism in Africa, Asia, Central America and other areas of the world cast pall over East-West relations and provided a graphic indication that our interpretation of “detente” differed radically from that of the Soviet Union. Even more disturbing, however, to Western military experts was the continuing build-up of Soviet nuclear and conventional forces throughout this period and the new ability of the USSR to project its military strength globally .
The 1987 White Paper acknowledges the changed atmosphere and reaffirms the present Canadian Government’s intention to meet the perceived threat and correct the years of neglect suffered by the Canadian forces, thus enhancing Canadian security and the Western Alliance’s deterrence posture. The authors of the White Paper might well have had u.s. Navy Rear Admiral F.
Pittenger’s thoughts in mind, when he noted recently that “Deterrence is the primary mission of the navy.” As the Canadian Navy had drawn the short straw in recent years, it is understandable therefore that the major focus of the present policy statement should be on the reconstruction of the maritime element.
The announcement of Canada’s intention to acquire a fleet or SSNs has caught some by surprise. The rationale for the decision though can be found in the Government’s new emphasis on its three ocean responsibilities. In particular, nuclear submarines are expected to offer Canada an under ice capability and an opportunity to patrol the waters of its Arctic regions. Canadian defence planners have viewed with some concern the expansion of the USSR’s submarine forces in recent years, especially its growing capacity to launch long-range land-attack cruise missiles against Canadian and American targets in North America from off-shore as far north as the Labrador or Bering Seas, thus augmenting its longstanding SLBM capability. Further, Canadian Arctic waters could well provide the Soviets with an alternate route to the Atlantic and Pacific to take up cruise missile or ballistic missile firing positions or prey on Allied shipping. To again quote Rear Admiral Pittenger: ” . . . the Navy’s ability to handle the hostile submarine problem bears directly on our ability to deter Soviet aggression and to defend ourselves. After all, if we can’t do ASW, we can’t do much of anything at sea.” This statement echoes Canadian sentiments.
Sufficient naval forces, properly deployed, can keep an opponent at arm’s length, thus providing strategic depth. The logic of the u.s. Navy’s own forward maritime strategy cannot be denied in this regard. Alternately, Canadian naval forces must also be able to respond to challenges within Canadian territorial waters. Finally, Canada must also contribute to the collective maritime strength of the North Atlantic Alliance, and notably to honour its NATO commitment to maintaining the sea-lines of communication to Europe. The Canadian Navy is currently hard-pressed to meet its obligations in the Pacific and Atlantic, and, despite growing indications that the Arctic basin is becoming an important opera-ting area for Soviet submarine forces, has no capability to carry out any of these roles in the North.
The focal point of the navy’s revitalization efforts will therefore be the SSN program. Submarines are essential to meeting Canada’s current and future maritime control and surveillance commitments. The Canadian Submarine Acquisition Program was initiated in 198~ to identify a suitable conventional replacement for the QBERON fleet. This program was, however, unable to meet the expanded priorities identified by the White Paper. Nuclear-powered submarines are not only uniquely capable anti-submarine plat-forms, they are also the only elements able to meet Canada’s three-ocean and under-ice requirements. A fleet of 10-12 boats will permit submarines to be on station on a continuous basis in Canadian areas of responsibility in the northeast Pacific, Arctic and north Atlantic Oceans. The ultimate aim is the enhancement of Canadian, North American and Western security through a reduction in the options available to Soviet sub-surface assets in time of conflict.
Concerns have been expressed as to the perceived lack of Canadian experience with submarine technology.
Canada has had, on the contrary, a long experience with submarining dating back as far as 1908. Canada’s first two submarines were pur-chased, oddly enough, by the premier of the province of British Columbia from Chile in 1914. These were replaced in 1919 by ex-Royal Navy boats originally built in the Quincy Shipyards in Massachusetts. Canadian submarine assets during the Second World War were augmented by the capture of two German 0-boats, the 0-190 and 0-988. Post-war purchases included two TENCH-class submarines acquired from the u.s. Navy in 1961, followed in the early 1970’s by the British “O”-class boats currently comprising Canada’s submarine squadron. Thus while having no indigenous submarine con-struction capability, the Canadian Navy has ably demonstrated for decades its ability to adapt and operate submarine technology from a variety of foreign sources.
The transition to nuclear-powered submarines will indeed usher in a new era for the navy. Nevertheless, nuclear power is not a new field for Canada by any means.Today, the Canadian nuclear industry is a robust one. Using the unique CANDO heavy water technology, provincial utilities in Canada now operate 22 domestically-produced commercial reactors. A further 11 research reactors are also functioning throughout the country. Approximately one-third of the electrical needs of Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, is currently met by nuclear power. The acquisition of nuclear submarine technology will be a new challenge, but one well within existing Canadian nuclear expertise.
The acquisition of SSNs will be a costly undertaking. The Defence White Paper did not attempt to paper over this fact. The Department of National Defence has estimated the cost of 10 SSNs at 8 billion (U.S. $6 billion), with $5 billion earmarked for the boats themselves and a further $3 billion for training, infrastructure and weapons. This $8 billion will be part of the overall $200 billion 15-year program to re-equip the forces outlined in the White Paper. The Government is committed to a base 2 per cent real growth increase in defence spending during this period. Should this projection prove to be insufficient to cover all the programs outlined in the White Paper, the Government will also conduct rolling 5-year re-examination of the defence budget each year.
Nevertheless, it is anticipated that the new SSN program will be possible without any new massive adjustment to that portion of the budget earmarked for the navy. Costs will be borne primarily by the cancellation of the third batch of frigates projected for the late 1990’s and the conventional submarines program. Both projects had been identified prior to the preparation of the 1987 White Paper and neither are suited to its new areas of emphasis. In addition, the SSN acquisition program will be stretched out over the period 1996-2010 in order to further reduce pressure on the defence budget. The ultimate composition of the Canadian Navy early into the next century will therefore be fewer vessels, but better balance and enhanced capabilities. The SSNs will provide greater speed, agility, and stealth than their surface counterparts, in addition to providing that crucial three-ocean capability.
Of the five nations currently operating nuclear-powered submarines, obviously only three, the us, UK, and France would be appropriate sources of the technology required. Primary interest is currently focussed on the British TRAFALGAR-class boat built by Vickers Shipbuilding Engineering Ltd. of Barrow-in-Furness, and the French RQBI$-class produced bf the French Governmentshipyards in Cherbourg. Covetous Canadian eyes have closely examined the LOS ANGELES-class of hunter-killers, but the associated billion dollar price tag will likely eliminate it from the competition. The TRAFALGAR appears to be the current favourite, as some concern has been expressed about the relatively noisy signature and small size of the RQBIS. Competitive bids for the programme have been called for and the Defence Department will indicate its preferred option in December, 1987. The winner will then be asked to submit a detailed cost and design proposal for final approval. Current projections call for up to 65 per cent of the construction to take place in Canada..
Canadian SSNs are not intended to compete with nor replace the nuclear-powered assets of other Western allies, nor their current roles. There should be no doubt about Canada’s commitment to the acquisition of nuclear submarines. Similarly, there should be no inhibitions on the part of its nuclear-capable allies in sharing their own knowledge and expertise. The sooner Canada’s SSN fleet becomes a reality, the sooner it can contribute to the defence of common Western interests.
Relative to this year’s Defence White Paper, Defence Minister Beatty’s June 5 remarks to the House or Commons have set the tone and issued the challenge, “We must do our fair share in carrying the burden or collective defence if our views are to be respected and our independence preserved . . . .
we now have a coherent comprehensive defence policy framework, a road map to guide us into the twenty-first century.”
That road map promises to take the Canadian Navy beneath the waves.