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Victoria Class Submarine Fleet Creating Canadian Controversies

HMCS Windsor & HMCS Montreal

Windsor & frigate
(click to view full)

May 4/15: Canada is planning a major mid-life extension program for its fleet of Victoria-class subs. Various options are being considered, with a report expected by June. The project is expected to be worth between $1.2 and $2.5 billion, with the aim of extending the boats’ life by six to eighteen years. Lacking an indigenous submarine industry, the Canadians will have to look to foreign suppliers in order to fulfill modernization requirements.

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HMCS Victoria(click to view full) Canada’s aging fleet of Oberon class submarines had become simply too old to put in the water. In July 2000, their de facto retirement became official. The question was: what, if anything, would replace them? With long coastlines, and a significant portion of its iced-in northern seas used as running grounds for foreign submarines, Canada’s military believed that giving up its submarine capability was not a viable option for a country that wished to maintain its sovereignty. Unfortunately, the country’s purchase of 4 second-hand diesel-electric Upholder Class submarines from Britain ran into controversy almost from its inception. In early 2008, controversy flared again as the submarines’ C$ 1.5 billion Victoria Class In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) became an issue. Subsequent revelations concerning spiraling costs, boats in poor condition, and few to no actual submarines in service have kept the fleet controversial to the present day. The Victoria Class Program Victoria Class(click to view full) The Upholder Class began service in 1990, but construction issues and an all-nuclear fleet ensured that all 4 were retired from Royal Navy service in 1994. Canada paid about C$ 750 million for their initial purchase, and the submarines were delivered between […]
SSK-876 HMCS Victoria

HMCS Victoria
(click to view full)

Canada’s aging fleet of Oberon class submarines had become simply too old to put in the water. In July 2000, their de facto retirement became official. The question was: what, if anything, would replace them? With long coastlines, and a significant portion of its iced-in northern seas used as running grounds for foreign submarines, Canada’s military believed that giving up its submarine capability was not a viable option for a country that wished to maintain its sovereignty.

Unfortunately, the country’s purchase of 4 second-hand diesel-electric Upholder Class submarines from Britain ran into controversy almost from its inception. In early 2008, controversy flared again as the submarines’ C$ 1.5 billion Victoria Class In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) became an issue. Subsequent revelations concerning spiraling costs, boats in poor condition, and few to no actual submarines in service have kept the fleet controversial to the present day.

The Victoria Class Program

Victoria Class Cutaway

Victoria Class
(click to view full)

The Upholder Class began service in 1990, but construction issues and an all-nuclear fleet ensured that all 4 were retired from Royal Navy service in 1994. Canada paid about C$ 750 million for their initial purchase, and the submarines were delivered between 2000-2004.

The British had chosen to dock and retire their Upholders rather than upgrade them, so the job of performing the submarine’s first deep refit was left to Canada. Whereupon they discovered that British had stored the subs with water in their fuel tanks, key welds needed to be redone, at least one hull dent had to be fixed, and some diesel exhaust valves needed replacing. The damage was pervasive. HMS Upholder (now HMCS Chicoutimi) spent a total of 9 years in long-term saltwater storage before her transfer, while the other vessels spent between 4 – 6 years.

Self-inflicted wounds added to the misery. Canada also wanted compatibility with its store of Mk48 torpedoes, rather than replacing the weapons with the British Spearfish torpedoes that the subs had been built for. The resulting work included replacing some Upholder systems with fire control devices from the defunct Oberon Class, a decision that was meant to be economical. It didn’t work out that way.

Unsurprisingly, refit and refurbishment costs for the renamed Victoria Class skyrocketed well past the initial GBP C$ 750 million estimate. Beyond the costs involved, the need for refits and their slow pace have left Canada fielding the equivalent of training submarines for about a decade. At more than one point, problems have left the entire fleet of commission. Meanwhile, the cost of the refits, plus the cost of modifying Canada’s Mk.48 torpedoes to a modern standard, cost more than the Spearfish torpedoes would have – while rendering Canada’s submarines unable to fire more effective weapons like Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Just to make things interesting, an intellectual property dispute remains a problem for fleet maintenance. The state-owned shipyard that made the submarines was privatized to VSEL just a month after construction began, and the intellectual property was transferred to the new company. The British government has the right to use the information for its own purposes, but not to sell or give it to Canada. That left Canada in a very difficult position with respect to repairs and overhaul, with some of the technical data package designated as “information only,” and key data missing for equipment and sub-systems.

Canada’s 4 Submarines

Bringing HMCS Chicoutimi Home

Taking Chicoutimi home
(click to view full)

HMCS Victoria, SSK 876: Commissioned in 2000. In 2004, her electrical system was destroyed when the submarine was hooked up to an on-shore electric supply. Entered her Extended Docking Work Period (EDWP) at Esquimalt, BC in 2005, and was supposed to become operational again by 2009, but wasn’t even undocked until April 18/11. Camber dive took place on Sept 26/11, and a torpedo firing test took place in July 2012, leading to full readiness. The Navy expects 4 years of service after that, followed by another EDWP from 2016 – 2019. By 2018, the submarine will have had 4 years of full operational capability, 6 years of below-standard readiness, and 8 years of maintenance.

HMCS Windsor, SSK 877: Commissioned in 2003, and has been one of the more active submarines. Sailed from June 2005 – December 2006, and spent 146 days at sea in 2006 alone. The boat participated in a number of large US-Canadian exercises, and trained for special operations capabilities, including the first ever parachute rendezvous at sea practiced with Canada’s Pathfinder paratroopers. On the other hand, extensive corrosion during her storage period with the Royal Navy restricts her diving depth.

Windsor entered EDWP in 2007 at Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Scott in Halifax, NS. She wasn’t expected to leave until 2012, but operational status took until 2013. That was supposed to be followed by 5 years of service, and then a 2-year maintenance period from 2018 – 2020, but 1 of her diesel generators broke down. It will need to be replaced in a refit, which will begin in March 2014 and could last up to a year. Meanwhile, Windsor is a training sub at best.

HMCS Corner Brook, SSK 878: Commissioned in 2003. Spent 463 out of 1769 days at sea (26%) between October 2006 and mid-June 2011, engaging in various NATO, CAN/US exercises as an “opposing” sub, supporting Operation NANOOK near Baffin Island in August 2007 and August 2009, and Operation CARIBBE around the Caribbean Basin and Eastern Pacific in March 2008 and March 2011.

Corner Brook had an accident shortly after Canada took possession, as a malfunction in her SSE underwater decoy deployer let in 1,500 litres/ 400 gallons of saltwater. In 2008 and 2009 she was deployed and then taken in for short maintenance periods, and was expected to become operational again in spring 2010. Unfortunately, she hit the seabed on June 4/11 during a training exercise off the BC coast, damaging her bow. Corner Brook is currently in an “Extended Limited Maintenance Period” dockside at Esquimalt, BC, to be followed by an EDWP from 2014-2016, once Chicoutimi is done. If that repair and refit goes well, Corner Brook would become operational again in 2016. The plan is for the submarine to serve 6 more years after that, before her next 2-year maintenance period begins in 2022.

HMCS Chicoutimi, SSK 879: Commissioned in 2004. On Oct 5/04, HMCS Chicoutimi was sailing from Falsane, Scotland when it was disabled by a fire caused by the entry of seawater. One sailor died, 2 others were injured, and the boat had to be rescued by British frigates before being shipped home on a cargo vessel. In response, Canada conducted a full inquiry, and the entire submarine fleet was docked until May 2005. The inquiry determined that the short was possible because the wiring had just 1 layer of waterproof sealant, instead of the 3 layers specified in the original British construction contract.

Chicoutimi was eventually shipped all the way over to Esquimalt, BC, on the west coast, but she was laid up for over 5 years before the EDWP deep maintenance formally began. It’s supposed to end in 2012, with a return to service due in 2013, but it wasn’t even floated out of drydock until November 2013. Testing at sea will begin in early 2014, but it’s possible that she may never become a fully operational boat. See Sept 23/11 entry, below.

Maintaining the Fleet

Sea days accumulated by fleet

The Canadian Navy aren’t the only ones looking forward to having working submarines in the water. The US Navy needs to train against diesel-electric subs, but doesn’t operate any. Canada’s next-door fleet will be an oft-requested partner for naval exercises. The question is when and if they can show up. According to the Royal Canadian Navy, the entire fleet has accumulated just 1,131 days at sea from 2003 – 2013, compared to 1,077 days at sea in just 4 years of service with Britain’s Royal Navy.

Canada defines Full Operational Capability (FOC) as a weapons-ready sub available “in each of the ocean spaces in which we base,” which means the east and west coasts. By 2013 – 13 years after the first submarine had been delivered – Canada still had not achieved FOC. The Canadian plan to achieve it in 2013, with HMCS Windsor on the east coast and HMCS Victoria on the west coast, went by the wayside with Windsor’s breakdown. Early indications are that FOC won’t happen until 2014 at least.

Once it does happen, the challenge becomes keeping 2 submarines operational. The process of awarding that ongoing support contract began in 2006, but quickly ran into its own set of delays. The Canadian government finally pushed through a decision on the fleet under the Victoria-class In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) in January 2008, but implementation ran into another lawsuit filed by the losing bidder, as well as strong pressure from a member of the Prime Minister’s own party. Who happened to be the Canadian Parliament’s recognized authority on submarines. It all got sorted eventually, and a follow-on support contract was issued in 2013, but MP Bill Casey’s questions remain valid. See Appendix A for more details.

Contracts & Key Events


Sept 24/14: MK48 Canada. The US DSCA announces Canada’s formal export request for up to 12 MK-48 Mod 7 Advanced Technology Torpedo Conversion Kits, which would upgrade 12 of Canada’s existing inventory of MK-48 torpedoes from Mod 4 to Mod 7. The torpedoes would be used in Canada’s Victoria Class submarines, and the proposed purchase includes containers, spare and repair parts, weapon system support and integration, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and US Government and contractor support.

The principal contractor will be Lockheed Martin Sippican, Inc. in Marion, MA; and the estimated cost is up to $41 million, or about $3.42 millon per conversion kit. Canada has significant relevant infrastructure, including MK-48 Mod 4/4M and MK-46 Mod 5A (SW) torpedoes, so they won’t need any additional US government or contractor representatives. Sources: US DSCA #14-49, “Canada – MK-48 Mod 7 Advanced Technology Torpedo Kits”.

DSCA request: MK48-7AT upgrade kits (12)

May 4/15: Canada is planning a major mid-life extension program for its fleet of Victoria-class subs. Various options are being considered, with a report expected by June. The project is expected to be worth between $1.2 and $2.5 billion, with the aim of extending the boats’ life by six to eighteen years. Lacking an indigenous submarine industry, the Canadians will have to look to foreign suppliers in order to fulfill modernization requirements.

Feb 5/14: Windsor. It has been known for several months that HMCS Windsor, which completed a $209-million refit just 18 months ago, has a broken Paxman Valenta 16-cylinder diesel generator. Now, Canada’s Navy is beginning to detail what’s involved in the fix.

The submarine will be drydocked in March 2014, for repairs that will take at least 7 months, and could last up to a year. They’ll replace the generator, but if the Dutch breach hatch is too small, they’ll need to cut the submarine in half and repairs will take much longer. There’s a replacement generator in the spare parts inventory, and the total cost for the generator and labour is about C$ 1.5 million. Other maintenance and engineering changes will also be carried out at the same time, at additional cost, and of course the generator cost itself could rise quite a bit if they need to cut Windsor in 2.

Once all that is done, the Navy will have to re-test Windsor, and perhaps finally fire a torpedo from a sub they’ve owned for over a decade. Sources: CBC News, “Submarine HMCS Windsor shore bound after engine failure.”

2012 – 2013

Torpedo firing. Windsor breakdown. VISSC.

HMCS Windsor & HMCS Montreal

Windsor & frigate
(click to view full)

Nov 26/13: Chicoutimi. HMCS Chicoutimi is released from dry dock after a long refit, to begin basic camber dive, tracking, and shallow diving tests. If that goes well, full trials will take place in early 2014 – almost a decade after the boat was last at sea. The Halifax Chronicle Herald adds that:

“National Defence could not provide upgrade costs for Chicoutimi on Wednesday. Repairs to two other submarines, HMCS Victoria and HMCS Windsor, came in at about $200 million each, but their docking period was not as long as Chicoutimi’s.”

Sources: DND, “Fact Sheet – Royal Canadian Navy Submarines: Fleet Status” | Halifax Chronicle Herald, “Sub involved in fatal fire back in water”.

Sept 8/13: Spy story. In 2008, Canada signed a C$ 1.3 million deal with the German firm Applied Radar and Sonar Technologies GmbH to install acoustic monitoring devices, as part of an underwater training range. Delivery was supposed to take place in 2009. Fast forward to a a December 2012 briefing note prepared for senior DND staff, which says the company has disappeared, the contract is terminated, and they’re going to try and use international collection agencies to collect about C$ 1 million.

Just one problem. The Ottawa Citizen tracked the firm to Izmir, Turkey. Its CEO says that not only has the equipment been ready for a while, but DND officials have visited him in Turkey at least 4 times over the years. The hangup is transportation costs, and the core of the 2012 allegations involve sloppy research by the Ministry of Public Works and Government Services, which is disconnected from DND’s efforts.

As to why they’re in Turkey, and why the shipping charges are a problem, the “Kremer Affair” is an interesting story. In 2005, Germany’s BND intelligence service asked the firm to pass along information acquired from arms deals with foreign customers. Applied Radar and Sonar Technologies declined, and shortly thereafter, German police seized their computers and company equipment. German courts cleared the firm of wrongdoing under the charges, and said that compensation was in order for the grave damage to the firm’s finances and operations, but the government hasn’t paid. The firm relocated to Turkey to avoid further harassment, but the entire affair left them without the funds to ship Canada’s equipment per the contract. DND was contacted about this in 2009, and refused to pay anything more.

A more rational decision model might have looked at the small shipping sum involved, the firm’s proven ethics, and the cost of not having the range at full readiness, and paid it. Instead, here we are. Sources: Ottawa Citizen, “Missing $1M DND equipment order not missing all along, contractor says” | Note to Public Works – there’s this thing called Bing…

July 23/13: Corner Brook. DND spokeswoman Tracy Poirier responds to the Ottawa Citizen:

“At this point, the full extent of the damage to HMCS Corner Brook is being assessed during her ongoing Extended Limited Maintenance Period, and a full repair cost is not yet known…. These cost estimates will be known prior to the commencement of HMCS Corner Brook’s Extended Docking Work Period in 2014.”

Over 2 years after the damage occurred (June 4/11). No estimate on the full repair cost. That’s a remarkable statement, and not in a good way.

July 4/13: VISSC. The Government of Canada issues a 5-year, C$ 531 million extension to Babcock Canada Inc. exercising the Victoria In-Service Support Contract’s 1st option period. All heavy maintenance work covered by the in-service support contract will take place at Victoria Shipyards Co. Ltd., in Esquimalt, BC.

VISSC: 1st option period

July 4/13: The Halifax Chronicle-Herald confirms that HMCS Windsor will complete tests that include torpedo firing this fall, but generator replacement will push its in-service date into 2014.

June 11/13: Report. The left-wing CCPA and Rideau Institute jointly publish “That Sinking Feeling: Canada’s Submarine Program Springs a Leak” [PDF]. Despite the report’s origins and title, the sections dealing with the Victoria Class submarines are well researched and fact-based, and the report’s tone is more sober and analytical than its title might suggest. Recommended reading, as long as its biases are kept in mind and its conclusions treated as an opinion. The one major caveat we’ll add is that submarines are expensive to maintain and operate, period, so their contention that Canada could have bought new submarines for the price of the VISSC deal rings hollow.

Beyond its useful chronicling of the fleet’s history, the report also raises concerns about the submarines’ out of service date. The Canadian Navy plans the keep the submarines in service to 2030, but difficulties in sourcing spare parts and other problems could force early retirement. Submarines aren’t mentioned anywhere in Canada’s official National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, and the 10-15 year lead time required to buy major items means that Canada’s time to start replacing their fleet is almost up.

Canada’s Conservative Party government has sent mixed signals about this issue, and may not wish to buy new submarines. Saying so publicly, on the other hand, would raise questions about the wisdom of sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into continued submarine support contracts. The report’s authors also put forth the possibility that there is no plan, which has to be considered as a serious possibility. On the other hand, the Canadian Naval Review says that submarines don’t fit the NSPS local build model, and doesn’t expect discussions of a separate follow-on program to begin for a few more years. Report | CBC | Globe and Mail | National Post | Canadian Naval Review.

April 30/13: Windsor. 3 serviceable boats? Not so fast. CBC News:

“The Royal Canadian Navy has confirmed that HMCS Windsor – fresh from a $209 million refit – is unable to perform as expected because of a broken mission-critical diesel generator…. Windsor will only be able to operate in Canadian coastal waters [on 1 generator] until the diesel generator – a huge 16 cylinder engine – is removed from the submarine and replaced… the navy has been forced to withdraw the sub from planned exercises off the southern U.S. coast.”

That leaves just 1 operational submarine, HMCS Victoria. HMCS Chicoutimi “may become operational” by the end of 2013, but if the warnings in the Sept 23/11 entry are true, it will never be truly operational. HMCS Corner Brook won’t be ready in 2013, and still needs repairs from her 2011 collision with the sea bottom.

HMCS Windsor: generator breakdown

April 14/13: Readiness. A Toronto Sun article reports that within a month, HMCS Victoria will be joined in service by 2 more boats. Wasn’t one of those boats supposed to be ready in 2012? After that, the next submarine released from dry dock will be 2015.

The article also points to the rise of submarine fleets all around the Pacific Rim. The question is whether Canada’s submarines have the range and support structure to offer much presence in that theater. Toronto Sun.

Feb 25/13: Personnel. From the Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence. Vice-Admiral Maddison:

“You will recall that last year I spoke to a concern over the number of qualified submariners… I am pleased to report to the committee that we have closed that gap significantly.

Right now I think I am about 45 dolphins short in an establishment of about 372. This includes the submarines themselves, the crews, the training infrastructure ashore and key staff positions. As Victoria has run… that captain is qualifying submariners in a very deliberate training cycle, and of course, success begets success. As we see the submarines running and support growing… it is attracting those in the recruiting centres to say, “Not only would I like to join the navy, I would like to be a submariner.” This is the state we have been driving toward, and we are enthused by that.”

July 19/12: Torpedo firing. HMCS Victoria has fired its first actual MK-48 torpedo, sinking a decommissioned ship USNS Concord off of Hawaii during the RIMPAC 2012 exercises. Sources: RCN | Ottawa Citizen.

March 19/12: Torpedo firing. HMCS Victoria, Canada’s only active submarine, becomes the 1st ship of class to prove that it can use a weapon. The boat fired a MK48 exercise torpedo in waters off Nanoose Bay, BC.

When Canada elected not to buy the British Spearfish torpedoes along with the submarines, all of the submarines’ torpedo tubes had to be modified, and the fire control systems had to be removed and replaced. HMCS Victoria is said to be the only submarine that has completed those efforts so far. Sources: CBC.

Mk.48 torpedo firings

2008 – 2011

Timid Chicoutimi. No operational subs.

SSK-877 HMCS Windsor, by Alan Rowlands

HMCS Windsor
(click to view full)

Oct 28/11: Faced with rumors that the government intends to follow Denmark’s lead and scrap their submarine force, the Canadian DND releases a full briefing on the Victoria Class boats, their accomplishments, and their maintenance schedules. This information is incorporated above.

The intended message is that the Navy is close to success, with submarines coming up to par in 2012 and 2013. Canada DND.

Oct 27-28/11: Scrap the subs? Defence Minister Peter MacKay is asked whether Canada should scrap its current submarine fleet due to rising costs and non-performance. His answer includes this aside:

“There was a decision taken some time ago to go with diesel electric… But you know, in an ideal world, I know nuclear subs are what’s needed under deep water, deep ice.”

This aside is simple truth for arctic under-ice patrols, and was recognized at the time. Canada’s Liberal Party government decided, for political reasons, that Canada would not operate any nuclear powered vessels. Modern Air-Independent Propulsion systems offer the possibility of limited under-ice patrols by diesel-electric subs, but that wasn’t an option in the 1990s. Hence the Upholder Class buy. Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan moves quickly to quash speculation of an SSN buy with the words: “There is no plan to replace the diesel-electric fleet purchased by the Liberals.” Note, however, that these words could be consistent with scrapping the fleet – and not replacing it at all. CBC | Ottawa Citizen | Vancouver Sun.

Sept 23/11: Chicoutimi. Nova Scotia’s Chronicle Herald reports that government promises of a 2013 return to service by HMCs Chicoutimi in 2013 are untrue/misleading, based on the word of a former submariner aboard that boat:

“When HMCS Victoria was taken to the West Coast, local dockyard workers were told to take out the pieces that needed fixing, he explained in a phone interview. However, the parts were thrown in the garbage. As a result, when Victoria was eventually reactivated, the parts needed to get it operational were taken from Chicoutimi, he said. “Chicoutimi will be nothing more than a harbour training sub,”… The navy may be able to get Chicoutimi running again, the former crew member said. But that would involve stripping parts from HMCS Corner Brook, [which means]… at least 2016 before Chicoutimi would be ready… because there are differences between systems on the two subs, he said.”

He adds that 2/3 of the submarine’s crew have had to be discharged for medical reasons following the fire, and other Canadian submariners have left for civilian jobs – including refit-related jobs at CSMG. He estimates only 80 medically fit submariners remaining, which would only crew 2 slightly under-strength subs, or 1 submarine, with a crew swap ready. If there were any subs to sail, of course.

Chicoutimi never ready?

Sept 4/11: No subs. Canadian media confirm that with HMCS Corner Brook dockside, Canada has no operational submarines. HMCS Corner Brook will be repaired and overhauled during a planned maintenance period, but that will keep it out of service until 2016. Canadian Navy Lt.-Cmdr. Brian Owens said that:

“The navy is focused on HMCS Victoria and HMCS Windsor and returning both to sea in early 2012… Trials are already underway with Victoria in anticipation to her returning to sea.”

Canada has a majority government, so there’s no immediate pressure on the Prime Minister, but it does leave the submarine program exposed if the government decides to step up its deficit-fighting efforts. Denmark faced a similar decision some years ago, and abandoned submarines in favor of a bigger surface navy. Investment in ice-capable ships like their Thetis Class has since strengthened their position in the Arctic, rather than weakening it as some had feared.

No operational subs

June 4/11: Crash. HMCS Corner Brook hits bottom while on a 12-day advanced submarine officer training exercise, under Lt.-Cmdr. Paul Sutherland. There were no major injuries, but it was reportedly Canada’s only operational submarine at the time.

A Board of Inquiry is looking into the incident. Meanwhile, a team of submariners and civilian defence workers at CFB Esquimalt have now begun preparing the vessel for extended maintenance in 2012 – an operation whose costs and duration are not known. Goldstream News Gazette, July 26/11.

HMCS Corner Brook crashes

March 23/11: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Canada’s request for 36 MK-48 Mod 7 Advanced Technology (AT) Torpedo Conversion Kits for their existing MK-48 Mod 4 stocks, plus containers, spare and repair parts, weapon system support & integration, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of U.S. Government and contractor support. The estimated cost of the torpedo upgrade is $125 million, but the actual price will be finalized once a contract is signed. That may not happen very soon, as a federal election has just been forced by the minority Conservative Party government’s fall over its proposed budget.

$3.5 million per torpedo does seem rather high for conversion kits, but it is in line with the Netherlands’ July 29/10 DSCA request for the exact same thing. The DSCA states that Canada intends to use the MK 48 7ATs on their Victoria Class diesel submarines, and that no technical issues are expected, as the country already has some torpedoes of this type in stock, has significant experience with the MK 48 Mod 4/4M and MK 46 5A(S)W, and has good infrastructure for maintaining these weapons. All true, but what about the submarines using them? The CASR think tank notes that the original Upholder Class wasn’t designed to work with Mk 48s:

“The Mk 48 Mod 4s are hold-overs from the retired Oberon class SSKs and obsolete by the time Canada bought the Victorias… Royal Navy subs were armed with a completely different torpedo. So the question is why didn’t DND dump the obsolete Mk 48 Mod 4 in favour of the British Spearfish torpedoes that armed the Victorias while they were still Upholder class?… The Submarine Capability Life Extension Project of 1998 was supposed to result in Victoria class subs operational early in 2004. Instead, these SSKs have undergone near-endless refits – HMCS Victoria, for example, has spent nearly 6 years in dry dock with only a little over 100 days on sea trials.”

The question is whether the existing combat systems and other elements of the submarine have been made compatible with the American Mk.48s. Canada has attempted to refit its submarines with some systems taken from the Upholders, to ensure this compatibility. Torpedo firing trials will reveal their success.

DSCA request: MK48-7AT upgrade kits (36)

Feb 23/11: Windsor. A CBC News access to information request reveals that Canada spent C$ 45 million on repairs to HMCS Windsor alone in 2010, almost 3x the C$ 17 million budget. The refit which started in 2007 and was supposed to be done in 2009, bow looks like 2013 at the earliest. The documents also show that HMCS Victoria has only been at sea for 100 days since its 2000 delivery. CBC adds that:

“It appears that every system on the British-built submarine has major problems, according to the documents, including bad welds in the hull, broken torpedo tubes, a faulty rudder and tiles on the side of the sub that continually fall off… Because [HMCS Windsor] has been in drydock in Halifax for so long, it has become a bird sanctuary. The navy spent thousands of dollars just trying to keep the pigeons from roosting in the vessel.”

Dec 23/10: Victoria. Canada’s DND confirms to Post Media that HMCS Victoria’s delivery date following its C$ 195 million refit in Esquimalt, BC has been delayed again, to mid-2011:

“According to the Defence Department, the Victoria is the first of the submarines of its class to undergo such a retrofit and that parts, infrastructure and technical expertise initially were lacking… The valuable lessons learned from HMCS Victoria have proven useful and are being applied to other vessels in the class.”

That would put the submarine in dry dock for about 6 years, and make its re-entry into service about 2 years late. Montreal Gazette.

Nov 5/09: Transparency? No. The CBC reports that despite their freedom of information requests, Canada’s defense department refuses to reveal the cost of carrying HMCS Chicoutimi from Canada’s east coast, through the Panama Canal, and around to Victoria for repairs. Former Nova Scotia MP Bill Casey had estimated that it would cost C$ 16 million, but:

“In a 130-page document released by the Department of National Defence under an access to information request by CBC News, every reference to costs was blacked out. The department said it cannot release the numbers because of third party privacy rules.

…The documents revealed that the Victoria-based company awarded the submarine refit and maintenance contract for the submarines had not finished its preparation to do the work at the time it was given the contract… The documents say the decision to locate the submarine maintenance program on one coast was to enhance efficiencies, streamline maintenance and create a centre of excellence. They state that should offset the cost of the Chicoutimi transfer.”

April 3/09: Chicoutimi. The Victoria Times reports that HMCS Chicoutimi is being carried around to Canada’s west coast, aboard a heavy-lift ship. It will arrive in Victoria during the beginning of May 2009, about 9 months earlier than previously scheduled.

The submarine will be brought directly to shore and placed on a temporary stand, then undergo “essential preservation work” prior to a refit. Meanwhile, HMCS Victoria is currently undergoing work at Esquimalt’s HMC dockyard.

July 3/08: Support. The Government of Canada announces that it has awarded the Victoria Class submarine maintenance contract to the Canadian Submarine Management Group (CSMG) of British Columbia, who were the original winners of the 2006 RFP solicitation.

The 5-year, C$370 million (currently $363 million) contract covers project management oversight to plan and organize the submarine refits; material acquisition; repair and overhaul; engineering services; and provides for scheduled refit and maintenance activities. Subject to continuing satisfactory performance, a number of extension options can be exercised to expand this work to provide for an additional 10 years of submarine fleet support that could bring the contract to a potential total value of C$1.5 billion (currently $1.47 billion). Canadian government release | Reuters.

VISSC maintenance contract awarded

June 18/08: Medical fallout. Tests performed by the National Research Council concluded that significant amounts of carbon monoxide, perdite, and other chemicals were released by the fire, and that it is reasonable to conclude the crew was exposed to carcinogenic material in the smoke. That is hardly surprising; the question is how much carcinogenic material, what the future risks may be, and whether there may be other health consequences.

The NRC report adds that It also states that any long-term health effects would probably manifest within hours or days after exposure to a 1-time event, which usually has a minimal cancer risk. At the briefing, Cmdr. Jeff Agnew said the report shows the chances of long-term health effects of inhaling smoke from the fire are “slim to none… But you can never say never.” The Canadian Forces recommends periodic monitoring of the submarine’s crew members.

Media reports do not appear to address the issue of subsequent health complaints by submarine crew members, except to note them. Canwest News | CTV | UPI

June 17/08: Medical fallout. After the HMCS Chicoutimi’s fire in October 2004, many of the submarine’s 55-member crew had to breathe in the smoke and live in the ash for days as a mater of course, as they struggled to save and return their stricken submarine. Since that date, some of the crew members have reported breathing troubles and variety of neurological disorders. claims to Veteran’s Affairs have been held up, or even rejected due to lack of information.

A report covering exactly what the sailors were exposed to was expected in the 2005 board of inquiry, but the tests were not completed until just recently. The Canadian Press news service reports that a briefing on the subject is scheduled for June 18/08 in Halifax, involving Canadian vice-admiral Drew Robertson.

June 4/08: Just 1. A Minister’s briefing that admits Canada will have just one operational submarine until 2009, in order to cover 3 oceans and one of the world’s longest coast lines, has put the Victoria Class submarine program back in the spotlight. The briefing reportedly states that:

“If pressed on submarine availability [the Minister should focus on] a maintenance regime that plans for at least one submarine to be available for operations until steady state is achieved in late 2009, after which two or more submarines will usually be operational and available at all times… and to repair Chicoutimi as part of that submarine’s already scheduled maintenance period in 2010-2012.”

A return to service in 2012 would be 2 years later than originally planned, and involve a total sideline period of about 8 years. CanWest News | CTV | Victoria Times | UPI

Appendix A: The Submarine Support Contract Controversy

SSK-876 HMCS Victoria Dry-Dock CFB Esquimalt

HMCS Victoria
(click to view full)

The VISSC contract is seen as an important final stage in getting the Victoria Class into active service at last. It was put out for tender in September 2006, and 3 consortia bid. In January 2007, Canadian Submarine Management Group (CSMG) of British Columbia was deemed “most compliant” due to its points rating, and picked as the preferred bidder. A lawsuit by Irving Shipbuilding caused the government to break off negotiations, however, stalling the C$1+ billion deal.

In November 2007, it was reported the government might cancel the deal, which represents about 150 of jobs in Victoria over 15 years. That drew outrage from local BC politicians. In January 2008, however, a decision was taken to re-start those negotiations with CSMG to get the deal done. DND spokesman David Martin told the Canadian Press news agency that those negotiations are underway, adding that a final contract was expected in a few months.

The decision reportedly went all the way up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s desk. Even so, the signing of that contract faced waters yet again.

Independent-minded Canadian MP Bill Casey of Nova Scotia [Cons – Cumberland Colchester Musquodoboit Valley] is known as the Canadian Parliament’s foremost authority on the Victoria Class submarines, and his investigations began long before the HMCS Chicoutimi incident. He blasted the contract award, noting that HMCS Victoria experienced problems transiting the Panama Canal because the class is not designed to operate in warm waters, and lacks adequate cooling. Barring a sharp speed-up of ice melting that clears the Northwest Passage sooner than expected, or the use of Russia’s Northern Sea Route, a deficiency of that kind would make shuttling the subs between the maintenance yard in British Columbia and their base in Nova Scotia a difficult exercise at best.

On the contractor end, one of the rival groups was led by BAE Systems (Canada) Ltd., and included the politically-connected east coast shipping giant Irving Shipbuilding, whose share of the work has been estimated at 50% if their consortium had won. Irving company Fleetway, Inc. was the 3rd member of this consortium.

Irving Shipbuilding did more than just file a formal protest when the consortium lost – they made a public case about the costs to the taxpayer of shuttling the subs from the Atlantic to the Pacific for maintenance. VP Kevin Hudson called the award a “travesty,” and said that “We are proceeding with our court action and believe our case is very strong.” The firm had already been involved in 2 court actions over this contract.

Other Irving spokespeople called on the government to re-bid the contract.

Irving spokespeople point out that CSMG partner Weir Canada Inc. drew up initial plans for the contract’s statement of work and evaluation criteria, and cite that as “a grave conflict of interest and use of insider knowledge.” The company added that the winning bid failed to meet the necessary requirements, and the total estimated value of the contract’s scope of work was not included in the price evaluation.

For its part, Canada’s Navy was unwilling to re-bid, given delays to date and the needs of its submarine fleet. One “senior defence source” put it bluntly to CP: “Going back out to tender and getting it totally put to bed means three years. We can’t afford that.”

This time, the contract stuck. Irving was out of luck, and the Victoria-class In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) went to Victoria Shipyards in Esquimalt, BC. In addition to fleet maintenance, the contract will also cover Extended Docking Work Period (EDWP) deep refit work to HMCS Chicoutimi and HMCS Corner Brook.

Additional Readings & Sources

The Victoria Class

* Royal Canadian Navy – Submarines

* Naval Technology – SSK Victoria Class Long-Range Patrol Submarines, Canada

* Wikipedia – Victoria Class submarine

* Canadian DND, via Google Cache (July 4/13)- Victoria In-Service Support Contract. The extension.

* Canadian DND, via Wayback Machine (Oct 1/04) – Backgrounder: VICTORIA Class Submarines: An Indispensable Asset

* Canadian DND, via Wayback Machine (April 6/98) – Backgrounder: Submarines for Canada’s Navy


* CCPA & Rideau Institute (June 11/13) – That Sinking Feeling: Canada’s Submarine Program Springs a Leak

* Canadian Military Journal (2007: Vol.7 No.4) – A Rational Choice Revisited – Submarine Capability in a Transformational Era

* Dalhousie University Centre for Foreign Policy Studies (July 2004) – Canada’s Future Submarine Capability [PDF]. Focuses on what should happen to the 4 Victoria-class submarines in the post-2010 period.

Other Background Articles

* Irving Shipbuilding. Protested the VISSC. Lost.

* Elgin Military Museum – A Short history of the Canadian Submarine Service.

* USNI Seapower Magazine (February 2010) – Canadian Subs Emerge.

* Canadian Naval Review (Fall 2007, Vol.3 #3) – Submarines and the Canadian Navy Today: One Man’s View [PDF]. “No Canadian government, and most certainly no Prime Minister, has ever admitted publicly that submarines are a legitimate component of Canada’s maritime forces. Consequently, Canada’s Submarine Service is destined by longstanding political tradition to occupy a somewhat tenuous position in the eyes and minds of its masters.”

* Canadian Naval Review (Fall 2007, Vol.3 #3) – Arctic Sovereignty, Submarine Operations and Water Space Management [PDF].

* DID (Aug 24/05) – $11.8M for HMCS Chicoutimi Submarine Phase II Repairs.

* DID (April 6/05) – Another $465M for Canadian Submarines? If so, the total would top C$ 1.35 billion, almost double the expected C$ 750 million purchase price.

* Canadian DND, via WayBack (October 2004) – HMCS Chicoutimi – News Room. Deals with the October 2004 fire, and aftermath.

* CBC, via WayBack – Fire on HMCS Chicoutimi – Timeline. Runs until May 5/05.

* DID – Australia’s Submarine Program In the Dock. Canada isn’t the only country having problems.

News & Views

* James Hasik (July 2/13) – Australian answers for Canadian submarine questions.

* The Economist, via WayBack (March 7/12) – Canadian Submarines: Rock bottom .

* The Canadian Press (Jan 4/08) – Fight over Victoria-class submarine maintenance contract gets ugly.

* The Globe and Mail (Jan 4/08) – Sub contract won’t be tendered again.

* Truro Daily News (Jan 4/08) – Maintenance contract for submarines “defies common sense”: Casey.

* CBC, via WayBack (Jan 4/08) – Irving proceeding with lawsuit over sub contract.

* Calgary Herald (Dec 30/08) – B.C. expects to land submarine maintenance contract.

* Canadian DND, DAIP office (April 2007) – Reports access to information request #A-2006-01305. “VCISSC procurement information to include: the NSE questionnaire, correspondence etc between & in DND, including: DMEPM SM, DGIIP, ADM (Mat) & PWGSC containing the rationale, & including specific security interests for invoking the NSE for this project.”

* Halifax Daily News, via DBB (March 30/07) – Irving alleges sub conflict. “The company applied for a judicial review in front of the Federal Court in Ottawa. Irving claims the contract was awarded to a West Coast group unfairly, and under a conflict of interest.”

* CBC, via WayBack (Jan 12/07) – Irving loses bid for submarine repair contract.

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