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November 19, 2018 | Local, Naval

Liberals reject committee recommendation to replace Victoria-class subs – no desire for subs with under-ice capability


New submarines won't be part of the future mix for the Royal Canadian Navy, at least in the foreseeable future.

Several years ago there were some suggestions that a possible replacement for the Victoria-class submarines might be in the works. In 2017 a Senate defence committee recommended the subs be replaced.

The Commons defence committee also recently recommended that the Victoria-class subs, bought used in 1998 from the United Kingdom, be replaced with submarines capable of under-ice capabilities.

But the Liberal government has rejected that recommendation. The recommendation was the only one of the 27 made by the Commons defence committee that was rejected outright in a response delivered to the committee last month.

The committee had recommended that the federal government respond to NATO calls to improve the quality of their naval fleets and underwater surveillance capabilities by starting the process of replacing Victoria-class submarines with new boats that have under-ice capabilities. It also recommended increasing the size of that fleet to enhance Canada's Arctic and North Atlantic defence preparedness.

But the Liberal government pointed out in its response that it is in the midst of the most intensive and comprehensive fleet modernization and renewal in the peacetime history of the Royal Canadian Navy. Canada is recapitalizing and increasing the size of its surface fleet through investments in 15 Canadian Surface Combatants, two Joint Support Ships, and five to six Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ships, it added. “The government has also committed to modernizing the four Victoria-class submarines to include weapons and sensor upgrades that will enhance the ability of the submarines to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and deliver necessary improvements of platform and combat systems to extend operational capability to the mid-2030's,” the government response noted.

Canada is also engaged in the re-building of the anti-submarine warfare capabilities of the fleet through the introduction of technologies, sensors and weapons while preparing to transition to the fleet of the future, it added. “As part of the NATO S&T Organization, Canada is participating in the Maritime Unmanned Systems S&T Pre-Feasibility Studies that focus on ASW and naval mine warfare capabilities with Allied nations that have the same capability targets,” the government stated. “In addition to increasing existing platform capabilities, the RCN is also in the process of re-vitalising individual and collective ASW training and advancing distributed mission training and synthetic training environments.”

Last year Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan praised the capability submarines provide Canada. “No other platform in the Canadian Armed Forces can do what a submarine can do,” Sajjan said. “No other platform has the stealth, the intelligence-gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance capability and the deterrence to potential adversaries that a sub does.”

Upgrading the Victoria-class subs is more “prudent” than buying new subs, Sajjan said at the time.

Without upgrades, the first of the submarines will reach the end of its life in 2022, according to documents obtained last year through Access to Information by the Canadian Press. The last of the boats would be retired in 2027.

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