Rare Royal Canadian Navy Sub Sighted

(Caption for photo a top of the post: “HMCS Corner Brook is maneuvered onto the lift barge for the journey to Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard.”)

The start and finish of an article at the excellent site, The Drive’s “War Zone”; one does really wonder if the effort and considerable expense to maintain Canada’s very small submarine fleet has been worth the effort given the consistently low availability, and hence defence contribution, of the boats:

Canadian Submarine Bedeviled By Accidents For A Decade Is Finally Back In The Water​

Canada’s tiny submarine fleet has been in sad shape for years. Now with the return of HMCS Corner Brook that could start to change.​

By Thomas Newdick

The Royal Canadian Navy’s Victoria class diesel-electric submarine [official webpage for the four-boat class is here] HMCS Corner Brook has returned to the water, following a troubled overhaul that began back in 2014 and was interrupted by an onboard fire. The boat has not been to sea for even longer, however, since it was effectively put out of commission after hitting the seabed off Vancouver Island in the Pacific Ocean back in 2011.

The Royal Canadian Navy, or RCN, announced yesterday that Corner Brook had begun the undocking process at Esquimalt Graving Dock (EGD), when it was loaded onto the lift barge Seaspan Careen over several hours. The barge then moved the sub to Ogden Point. Here, the submarine was gradually lowered into the water. It will then be moved to Her Majesty’s Canadian Dockyard at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and fueled in advance of in-harbor acceptance trials, after which it should finally go back to sea…

The COVID-19 pandemic further complicated things and, although Victoria returned to the fleet last September, Corner Brook faced more delays. As of April this year, both Windsor and Victoria were in the water undergoing post-work testing, suggesting the program may, finally, have turned a corner. There seems to be some uncertainty when work on Chicoutimi might be completed, however, evidenced by the RCN’s stated aim of “having three of four submarines” back in service in the near-term.

That aspiration might also be challenged by the age of the submarines, with the oldest, Victoria, due to reach the end of its planned service life next year. A life-extension program costing roughly $1.5 billion would be required to keep the class active into the late 2030s or early 2040s. While that may not sound such a lot, it’s a significant figure in a country where annual defense spending for 2019-20 was estimated at around $26.5 billion, total. The life-extension program would equate to more than 5 percent of the entire defense budget.

It wouldn’t be altogether surprising if the Canadian government decides the funds for submarine life-extension could be better spent elsewhere. Regardless, Canada has already invested more than a billion dollars in the submarines in the past 20 years, with very little return so far. Submarines are also not the only area where Canada is struggling to modernize, with the saga of acquiring new fighter jets another prominent big-ticket example.

The RCN’s requirement for a submarine of any kind is meanwhile clear, with the strategic importance of the nearby Arctic region steadily growing and with highly advanced Russian submarines increasingly active in the North Atlantic. The result has been a revival of submarine and anti-submarine warfare across NATO, something that Canada is keenly aware of. That said, just four submarines for a country like Canada with maritime interests in the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Arctic, as well as responsibilities as part of NATO, is an extremely small force — even if they do all work.

That Ottawa is willing to invest in high-end naval capabilities is clear by looking at its ambitious next-generation frigates, based on the British Type 26 design, which will be among the most heavily armed warships of their size.

It remains to be seen whether Canada will opt to persist with its trouble-prone Victoria class or if it will decide to invest in a new design offering better reliability and capabilities, although, so far, there doesn’t appear to be any active movements toward acquiring new submarines. Once the RCN finally has three subs back in regular service, the defense ministry might be better able to make a decision on that front.

Video of HMCS Corner Brook at this tweet:

Note that extending the subs’ service lives was under discussion in 2016–see post below–and nothing definitive has been done since. Typical in Canada:

Should RCN Subs Lives be Extended to 2030s?

…the following might suggest a serious reason to keep our subs going–if it can be demonstrated they would have any serious role vs the submarine threat from the Bear; remember only two of ours are stationed on the east coast and having both at sea at any one time would be pretty unlikely:

USN “Admiral Warns: Russian Subs Waging Cold War-Style ‘Battle of the Atlantic’”–and RCN?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

2 thoughts on “Rare Royal Canadian Navy Sub Sighted”

  1. Odds new subs will ever be procured, what with huge costs on new Navy CSC frigates, plus new RCAF fighters still to come?

    ‘Canada launches program to replace its ageing submarine fleet

    The Royal Canadian Navy is launching its long-anticipated push to replace Canada’s beleaguered submarine fleet, setting the stage for what will almost certainly be an extremely controversial debate around the need for such vessels.

    Defence officials revealed to The Canadian Press this month that a dedicated team is being created to start figuring out what Canada needs in new submarines as the sunset on the military’s existing fleet draws steadily closer.

    The move responds to a growing sense of urgency within defence and industry circles about the need to start work on such a project given the age of Canada’s existing submarines and the amount of time needed to design and build such vessels.

    “The CAF is establishing a Canadian patrol submarine project to inform timely governmental decision-making about a potential replacement class of submarines, and avoid any gap in submarine capability,” navy spokesman Lt.-Cmdr. Jordan Holder said.

    “In order to enable timely decision-making at some future point regarding a replacement class of submarines and the avoidance of a gap in submarine capability, the CAF required a replacement project to be initiated this year.”

    Yet the decision to move ahead also kick-starts what is expected to be a tough conversation for the navy around the need for new submarines given the high cost of building and operating such vessels, and the many problems that have afflicted its current fleet…

    The Liberal government’s defence policy committed in 2017 to extending the lives of Canada’s four Victoria-class submarines, with sources pegging the cost at more than $2 billion to keep them operating until the mid-2030s.

    Yet the defence policy did not set any money aside for replacements…

    Defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute… suggests there is nervousness in the navy as new subs will cost a great deal at a time when the government will be looking to set aside billions to upgrade North America’s defensive network and other procurement projects are running over budget.

    “I’d be nervous,” he said. “We’re talking about making a pretty significant financial investment. And across defence, there’s a whole bunch of budget pressures that have emerged on all kinds of projects.”’

    Mark Collins


  2. From Naval Association of Canada: “A CANADIAN PATROL SUBMARINE
    WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?” by Captain Norman Jolin OMM, MSM, CD, RCN–reading between the lines of the excellent analysis I find it hard to believe replacement subs will ever be procured in light of Canadian political realities, costs of CSsC and new fighters, and increasing domestic focus for CAF. And, as the article notes, there is that visibility problem. Plus no way they can be built in Canada, no great jobs! jobs! jobs!

    Click to access Jolin-Submarines.pdf

    Mark Collins


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s