11/07/2011 09:18 EST | Updated 01/07/2012 05:12 EST

Useless Subs Will Sink Our Navy


The good news is that the Canadian government may scrap its four diesel submarines, the bad news is that they want nuclear subs.

What is it about submarines that dazzles Canadian governments?

It's understandable that the navy falls in love with exotic toys -- and submariners are a breed apart, doing a tough and dangerous job to which not everyone can adapt.

Historically, Canada's navy has an envious record -- without submarines.

So why do we want them?

In 1998 we bought four submarines from Britain at the discount price of $750 million. A real bargain, we thought. Lucky we weren't offered suits of armour.

The damn subs have been mostly in dry dock ever since -- at the cost of a couple of billion since 1998, and the life of one sailor when a sub caught fire.

Whenever outsiders questioned the purchase of aging subs, the explanation was that they enhanced our 'sovereignty.' How sovereignty is established underwater is unclear -- especially when these bloody things barely go underwater, and when they do they bump the bottom of the ocean. Or something else goes wrong.

Submarines are an attack weapon. Dating back to the First World War, no Canadian submarine has ever fired a torpedo in anger. Our destroyers were pretty effective at killing German U-boats, but they aren't essential for our navy, war or no war.

Now Defence Minister Peter MacKay is making noises about acquiring nuclear submarines which he's called "a very important capability for the Canadian Forces... nuclear subs are what's needed under deep water, deep ice."

Oh? Why are they "needed"?

We've had the nuclear sub argument before -- with the government explaining that 'nuclear' sub means nuclear-powered, not armed with nuclear weapons.

What advantage would nuclear subs give Canada?

Well, we could better detect Russian subs under Arctic ice.

What would we do if we detected Russian subs?

Well, we could inform the CBC which would relay the fact to Canadians.

Would we consider torpedoing a Russian sub?

Good gracious no! Not even an American sub.

Canada has plans for a new series of destroyers and frigates, and that's fine. That's what we need. They'd be visible gestures of sovereignty, and be useful for patrolling the world's longest coast line.

Defence dollars are always short. The four subs bought from Britain have been white elephants. Originally Oberon class submarines in the Royal Navy, named Unseen, Unicorn Ursula and Upholder, we re-named them as the more mundane Victoria, Windsor, Corner Brook and Chicoutimi. Kind of bland. Mostly these subs have been in for repair.

Our military can hardly afford the luxury of useless equipment, or whose full capabilities will never be needed. That applies to submarines, and also to the F-35 strike aircraft that the RCAF would like, but will never use aggressively. The argument that we need these aircraft to shadow Russian military planes that venture into our northern air space is a somewhat specious.

We aren't going to shoot at Russian planes -- just watch them, which is what the present CF-18 fighter jets do. We used the CF-18s to shoot at Libyan targets that didn't shoot back, likewise briefly in the Kosovo air war, and in the dying days of the first Iraq war. But they weren't really necessary. Just feel good missions.

As for subs -- scrap them, sell them, but get rid of them. The sooner the better.