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Canadian Sub Program Belongs in Octopus's Garden

03/12/2012 12:43 EDT | Updated 05/11/2012 05:12 EDT
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Pamela Wallin has come to the aid of the Canadian Navy with a spirited defence of submarines -- especially those four second-hand clunkers the Chretien government purchased from Britain in 1998 for the bargain price of $750 million.

Wallin is chair of the Standing Committee on National Security and Defence, and takes issue with the National Post's John Ivison who suggested in an article that in order to save money, Canada should scrap its submarine program.

Walin disagrees: "To end the program now would be a big mistake."

She quotes Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, head of the Canadian Navy, saying that if scrapped, the program would be "very difficult to regenerate at a future date."

That's probably true, but what do four diesel submarines that have never functioned properly in Canada (and were plagued with problems when they were with the Royal Navy) add to our country's defences, or national security?

I'd say their value verges on zilch, especially when there are other acute needs for our military, and there are only limited funds available.

Wallin notes that Canada has the world's longest coastline.

So what? Will four aging submarines -- even those that can go underwater without leaking -- make out coasts more secure? Of course not. These are subs about which it was discovered some 13 years after purchase, that they fired the wrong torpedoes, i.e. not the brand the Canadian navy has. Whoops.

For what it's worth, from the days of Canada's first (of two) submarines in WWI, no Canadian submarine has ever fired a torpedo in anger. Our navy, superb and the equal of any in WWII, never paid much attention to submarines -- other than enemy subs, (German U-boats) which it periodically sank with depth charges.

Ms. Wallin seems to think that because 40 nations operate more than 450 submarines worldwide, it's important for Canada to keep its four subs. Because Singapore, Peru, the Netherlands, and Iran have subs, Canada should have them too.

That's sort of like wanting a new car because you neighbour has a new car, not because you need one. Are we threatened by a submarine from the Singapore navy?

Because, she says, drug cartels use subs to smuggle cocaine, we also need them.

Our four Victoria class submarines (re-named from the British Upholder class) can't go under polar ice to keep track of Russian nuclear subs, but Ms. Wallin says they can "certainly patrol at the ice margins." Is that reassuring? Not to me it isn't.

In her article, she also says it's important that our four subs "guard our three enormous ocean approaches," which seems to be asking a lot from four diesel subs.

She also notes that "Canada is heavily reliant on maritime trade, especially through sensitive, narrow waterways like the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca," where pirates ("brutal, ruthless criminals") from Africa's east coast prey on shipping.

True, but is she suggesting our four submarines should deploy to protect the Straits of Hormuz shipping? How do Somali pirates threaten our coastal security?

If anything, Submarines have been a bad luck Jonah for the Canadian navy.

Our first sub, the HMCS CC-1, was built in Seattle for the Chilean navy, which defaulted, so Canada purchased them in time for the 1914 war. It was never operational, and was used for training on the west coast. It was considered unsafe for a trans-Atlantic crossing.

We had no submarines in WWII, but still sank 27 U-boats. Post war, we bought Oberon class subs from the British, which again, had difficulty functioning properly. Most were decommissioned soon after purchase. The Onondaga, last of the Oberons, was sold for a pittance to become a museum in Rimouski.

Anyway, Pamela Wallin says we need submarines, and assures that all four submarines will be fully operations by the end of 2013 -- a full 15 years after we bought them. Goody..