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Canadian submarine woes far from over

May 6, 2013 at 6:09 PM   |   Comments

OTTAWA, May 6 (UPI) -- Canada's plans to counter arctic incursions by ambitious neighbors are being held back by snags in the refurbishing and upgrading of the country's submarine fleet.

Canada's current defense focus is shifting steadily to the arctic region amid concerns that a stronger Russian and northern European presence is undermining the country's sovereignty in the area.

Canada has announced elaborate plans to assert its claim on contiguous parts of the arctic region amid scientific predictions melting ice will open the area to navigation and mineral exploration.

But the submarines meant to perform patrol duties are nowhere to be seen.

"There is more trouble for Canada's fleet of used British submarines," CBC reported after news that one of the Canadian navy submarines, HMCS Windsor, would still not perform after a $209 million refit.

"We have restricted her in range of operations and her endurance," Capt. Luc Cassivi, director of Canada's submarine force told CBC.

The vessel awaits further work on one of its 16-cylinder diesel generators used to charge the batteries on board. Deeper dives and planned exercises off the U.S. coast are off the naval agenda.

The Windsor resumed sailing in April last year after a 5-year refit. It is one of four Victoria class submarines Canada bought from Britain for $750 million, hailed as a bargain at the time.

Other submarines face more complex problems before they can be seaworthy. Further plans to refit Corner Brook, another of the four secondhand submersibles, triggered controversy after estimates the refurbishment would cost more than $200 million.

"The unexpected repairs to the Windsor and the resulting restrictions means that the navy has only one fully operational submarine in service, the west coast-based HMCS Victoria," CBC said.

That vessel too was discovered to have a large dent in its hull after Canada received it from Britain, CBC said.

The Toronto Sun likened Canada's submarine troubles to "a convoluted tale of mismatched procurement meeting ill-defined strategic needs."

"The Canadian taxpayer has been left to pick up the now estimated $3 billion (and rising) tab prompting the question: does the RCN even need to stay in the submarine business?"

With increased shipping activity in the arctic thanks to receding pack ice and more and bigger ships transiting the route for a short-cut to Europe, the paper asked if Canada needs to have a working fleet "to have eyes and ears monitoring a potentially ice free Northwest Passage."

"Well, it would help if they were ever fully operational," Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute defense and foreign policy think tank in Ottawa replied.

"If they could dive without hitting the ocean floor or even remember to close hatches before submerging."

Defense Industry Daily said the problems faced by the secondhand submarines are so well known that some of the vessels could never be truly operational. One of the four submarines, Corner Brook, still needs repairs from a 2011 collision with the sea bottom.

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