Friday, September 2, 2016

Submarine-Proliferation and Canada's Need for Nuclear Powered Submarines

© 2016 FrontLine Defence (Vol 13, No 4)

For those who thought Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) was dead, its time to wake up to the fact that submarine numbers worldwide have increased by some 100 boats over the past decade, and continues to steadily climb. Meanwhile, new construction and surplus transfers are expected to add an additional 45-55 submarines in the next 5 years – and that’s without counting China or Russia. The fact that six other nations, with France; the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States exclusive nuclear-powered submarine operators, have the ability to send over 150 nuclear-powered submarines (see Table #1) under Canada’s ice-covered Arctic waters, if they so desire, has significant implications for sovereignty concerns. Russia in particular has been engaged in repeated undeclared hostilities (from the 2007 cyber attack on Estonia through to the Ukraine conflict and annexation of Crimea), and China is increasingly assertive in its territorial/resource claims. Moreover, the Indo-Pacific region is in the middle of a major naval arms race, with significant numbers of warships having been added to the fleets of many nations.

Submarine hull classifications
SS means Ship Submersible. Adding the following letters, or combinations of letters, describes the individual capabilities of that class of submarine. If the classification does not include an ‘N’ it is not nuclear-powered. For example, SSBN is a nuclear-powered, ballistic missile-capable submarine.

N: Nuclear powered (fast attack)
A: Auxiliary vessel (supporting or research role)
B: Ballistic missile capable
C: Coastal submarine (small and manœuverable, with shallow draft)
G: Guided missile capable (Cruise Missile capacity)
K: Hunter-Killer (specialized for anti-submarine duties)
R: Rescue (mostly Russian)
P: Air-Independent Propulsion

CM: Cruise Missile
NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Alliance
FPDA: Five Power Defence Alliance
DSRV: Deep Sea Rescue Vehicle
ASR: Auxiliary Submarine Rescue vessel
NSRS: NATO Sub Rescue System

Conventional: diesel-electric powered
Nuclear (N): nuclear-reactor powered
AIP (P): Air Independent Propulsion
(can extend a diesel-electric’s time
submerged without having to snort).

Implications of Resurgent Great Power Competition
Revanchist Russia

Over the past decade, the west has seen a vast increase in both airspace-probing military overflights (including North America, Europe and Japan). There has also been a huge increase in ship and submarine patrols in both the Pacific and Atlantic (including off both the Canadian and U.S. coastlines). As a case in point, last fall saw an aggressive ‘surge’ of five Russian submarines into the Atlantic, perhaps a precursor to renewed Okean worldwide Soviet fleet surges that involved hundreds of vessels during the Cold War.

In April 2016, the commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe acknowledged that Russia is deploying its submarines in numbers not seen in decades. “The submarines that we're seeing are much more stealthy,” Admiral Mark Ferguson told CNN.

“No longer is the maritime space uncontested,” noted U.S. Navy Vice Admiral James Foggo III in June. “For the first time in almost 30 years, Russia is a significant and aggressive maritime power” with technologically advanced submarines, the current 6th Fleet Commander continued, saying that Russian submarine patrols have increased by 50% since 2013.

In May, USN Captain Ollie Lewis, who took command of Submarine Squadron 12 in January 2016, confirmed: “We’re at the point now where we have to consider that there’s an adversary there ready to challenge us in the undersea domain, and that undersea superiority is not guaranteed.

In fact, recent Russian naval developments have so alarmed Norway that in May this year, state secretary Øystein Bø noted in Washington that “the maritime domain, in our opinion, needs particular attention [...] NATO and its allies need to invest in high-end maritime capabilities.” Thus reinforcing a call for advanced nuclear-powered submarines to counter the renewed Russian threat. The nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine (SSGN) USS Missouri’s Commanding officer, Cmdr Fraser Hudson, asserted “the best way right now to find another submarine is with a submarine.

In the 2015 ‘Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation’, Russia asserts that NATO’s actions (moving infrastructure and holding troop exercises near Russia’s eastern borders) are “unacceptable” expansionism and affirms that, to counter this, the Russian navy will expand its forces in both the Atlantic and the Arctic.

This naturally follows on from Putin’s 2003 assertion that “if we want Russia to flourish and be [a] powerful, self-sufficient and influential country in the world we must play proper attention to the Navy.” It has already started to see fruition as, over the last decade, the downsizing has stopped and many warships and submarines have been or are being modernized, and many new submarines are entering service. Construction is well underway on new classes of nuclear-powered submarines and Air Independent Propulsion (AIP)-equipped Lada-class patrol submarines (SSKs that also feature Optronic Periscopes – see Table #2 – and possibly also a PumpJet Propulsor, as already trialed on the Kilo-class submarine Alrosa), as well as new classes of both large nuclear-powered and military icebreakers (further to my previous article in FrontLine) in regards to Arctic aspirations. Thus, in conjunction with reopening Cold War bases and constructing new Arctic naval facilities, a prominent part of Russia’s security policy for the foreseeable future is militarization of the Arctic.

Today, six countries deploy some form of nuclear-powered strategic submarines: China, France, India, Russia, the UK, and the United States. Several other countries, including Argentina and Brazil, have ongoing projects in different phases to build nuclear-powered submarines. Above: Commissioned in 2013, K-560 Severodvinsk is the Russian Navy’s newest Yasen-class nuclear attack submarine.

This focus on revamping its naval forces, in particular the submarine fleet (such as upgraded Oscar II-class ‘carrier killers’), plus renewed operations in the Norwegian Sea from Murmansk-based forces, poses a renewed potential to block North American reinforcement access to Europe – especially as the U.S. completed by 2010 the redeployment of 60% of its submarines to the Pacific as part of an Indo-Pacific refocus. A February 2016 UK MoD Military assessment (‘Is it time for the West to wake up and smell the vodka?’ pg 11) clearly agrees that recent Russian action constitutes a significant strategic threat. “We have lost our intellectual ‘critical mass’ to understand deterrence, as well as too much of our military conventional deterrence capacity, the conventional ‘deterrent ramp’ we had during the Cold War, and much of the conventional forces that used to support the nuclear submarines. During the Cold War we understood that we were in strategic competition. Putin’s actions make it clear that we are, once again, in a deadly serious strategic competition, even if the global environment and weapons employed are in many cases different. But neither our populations nor, it seems, our politicians, understand this.”

Most Russian SSAN are reportedly equipped with pincers/cutters and are suspected of being able to interfere/tamper with undersea cables and NATO undersea hydrophones that are used to detect submarine and ship movements.

China / Indo Pacific
While less rhetorical and bellicose than Russia, subtle policy shifts and actions by China slowly reveal it too is unhappy with the existing international order, and seemingly won’t hesitate to ignore legal trivialities if they get in the way of its aspirations – such as declaring the vast South China Sea to be a ‘core national interest’. China’s Military Strategy 2015 moves beyond “offshore waters defence” and adds “open seas protection” which reiterates its claim to most of the South China Sea (which was proven unfounded by the recent International Tribunal ruling). Despite denials to the contrary, China’s actions fall outside international norms – such as the building of artificial islands and the internationally unrecognized subsequent usage of their existence as the basis for overlapping territorial claims, and their subsequent militarization (through building runways and port facilities and deployment of military assets) – to secure offshore resources. That, along with maritime coercion of smaller nations, have so alarmed most other Indo-Pacific nations and hence precipitated a regional arms race.

As with Russia, China is also placing a high priority on upgrading and expanding its submarine fleet, which could rise to between 85 and 100 submarines by 2030. It is successfully introducing new classes of nuclear-powered submarines – seven new ones over the past decade, and two more by 2017 – and hopes to introduce the Type 095 with cruise missile capabilities by the early-2020s, plus will reportedly begin regular Pacific patrols with ballistic missile-capable submarines. The Chinese navy (PLAN) has moved away from noisy, low-tech attack capability, and is now fielding designs that incorporate the latest technology, at approximately two or three per year, such as advanced Russian Kilo and indigenous Type 039G Song-class, plus the AIP-equipped Type 041 Yuan-class that is replacing ageing Ming-class boats.

By perfecting its ballistic and cruise missiles, buying and designing new submarines, ships, and aircraft, cracking down on ­corruption, and improving internal organization and logistics, the PLAN is undergoing a transformation that will have ramifications for years to come. (Photo:

Concurrent with the precipitated regional arms race, and a severely deteriorated South China Sea situation of late, the Indo-Pacific region has seen submarine fleets increasing or being established by many nations, mostly driven by PLAN’s submarine expansion.

Since 2000, Singapore has added five ex-Swedish boats, including two fitted with AIP before delivery. Malaysia has added two Scorpene-class SSK to its fleet. Due to past maritime incidents, Vietnam is almost finished acquiring six advanced Kilo-class. Bangladesh is acquiring two of China’s Ming-class. In a new trend for China, Thailand will be receiving three export variants (slightly downgraded technologies) of the Yuan-class over the next 10 years. Possibly due to longstanding differences with India, Pakistan is acquiring eight of the AIP-equipped export variant Yuan-class to add to its two AIP-equipped Agosta-class SSKs.

Of the prior submarine operators, Indonesia is replacing and expanding its fleet to three Type 209 SSKs by 2020. Iran is acquiring up to 10 coastal submarines, and disturbingly, North Korea has been actively working to develop an active ballistic missile submarine (SSB) capability through repeated test launches. Japan will end up with 22 SSKs, an increase from its prior self-limit of 16, including 11 AIP-equipped Souryu-class. South Korea is close behind and will soon have 18 SSKs, half of them AIP-equipped Type 214s.

Recognizing the impact of submarine proliferation (which Canada should also heed), Australia is acquiring 12 conventional variants of France’s Barracuda-class SSNs to replace its six troubled Collins-class and meet the growing threat to its north and west.

As Commander Michael Craven, a Canadian submariner since 1985, asserted in the Canadian Military Journal (vol 7, no 4), that each nation “understands that possession of a submarine capability confers an influence out of proportion to initial investment and ‘year-over-year’ operating and maintenance expenses.”

Since the threat of submarines can deter the presence of other naval vessels, irregardless whether they are actually present, Indo-Pacific regional leaders are preparing for the South and East China Seas to become increasingly unstable.

Meanwhile, India is acquiring six Scorpene-class (with nine additional options) for an eventual fleet size of 15 SSKs, and plans to expand its indigenous nuclear-powered submarine fleet by an additional four SSBN boats to meet a perceived threat from both Pakistan and the PLAN. It was recently confirmed that India plans to lease a second Akula I-class SSN from Russia.

Through a long-term leasing agreement, the Indian Navy was able to commission the INS Chakra, a Russian Akula II class nuclear submarine, into its submarine fleet.

In the widely submarine-populated environs of South America, in addition to its nuclear-powered aspirations, Brazil is also expanding its SSK fleet with the acquisition of four Scorpene-class boats in the potential presage of another regional submarine race.

Interestingly, in the new-build global submarine export market, Germany is still in the lead with 83 Type 209-212-214 submarines in service or being acquired; followed by France with 26 Scorpene- and Barracuda-classes, plus some 13 varied Agosta-class SSKs; Russia has 35 Kilo-class; and newcomer China is last with 11 Yuan-class SSKs. Thus confirming that ASW has returned as a critical tasking for Western navies vs the myth it was shrinking. Indeed, more maritime air assets, and especially more submarines (both SSNs and SSKs) are needed to counter the threat.

Arctic Aspirations
Despite the Arctic Ocean lying over 2,000 miles from its nearest port (Shanghai), China tends to refer to itself as both an ‘Arctic stakeholder’ and a ‘near-Arctic state’. Chinese Rear Adm Yin Zhuo said in 2010 that “the Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it ... China must plan an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population.” All the while fully cognizant of the vast unexplored petroleum (estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey at 25% of the globe’s undiscovered hydrocarbon resources), mineral and seafood riches that the increasingly accessible Arctic Ocean holds.

The shallower Northern Sea Route remains Russia’s most secure trading route to Europe, with a similar portent for our deeper Northwest Passage, due to continual thinning of the Polar Ice Pack.

In 2010, as part of the wary China-Russia dynamic, a Russian Admiral was quoted as affirming that “Russia will increase naval patrols in the Arctic Ocean to defend its interests against nations such asChina seeking a share of the area’s mineral wealth.” Meanwhile, Canada remains wary that non-Arctic members in NATO, as well as China, will receive an unfair voice in the region at the expense of Arctic council founding members.

More subtle in undisclosed policy – as China does not refer to the Arctic in either its 2013 Defence White Paper or its 2015 Military Strategy, and has not released an official Arctic policy – is China’s growing interest in the Arctic.

In an attempt to increase its ‘status and influence’ in this area, China’s ambiguous and discreet semi-official Polar policy is aimed at protecting its ‘polar rights’ while helping gain official observer membership on the Arctic Council in 2013 (alongside India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore) so as to be involved in Arctic developments.

JS Hakuryu, Soryu-class SSK (S 503), a diesel-electric AIP attack submarine.
China’s actions also betray its Arctic interests as it continues to negotiate extensive commercial relations with Arctic nations in return for Chinese investment and technology, as part of a cautious long-term strategy to vest its Arctic access. Since the mid-90s, China has owned the world’s largest icebreaker, the 21,000 ton Xue Long (Snow Dragon) – a B1-class Ukrainian-built former Polar ice-breaking cargo and supply ship – and has utilized it for repeated Arctic voyages, including an un-tracked 1999 visit to Tuktoyaktak in northern Canada. The lack of fallout from this may have prompted former commander of Canadian Forces Northern Area, Colonel Pierre Leblanc, to assert (nine years later): “Are we doing enough to protect the Arctic? In my opinion we are not.”

In January 2016, the nearly 5,000-ton medium military icebreaker Haibing, first of a new Type-272-class, was commissioned into the PLAN, ostensibly for ice research and search and rescue in the Bo Hai Sea. Additionally, with the 2015 presence of a flotilla of five PLAN warships in the Bering Strait, an increasing PLAN presence in the Arctic can no longer be discounted.

Foreign incursions through the Canadian Arctic
As widely reported by Bob Weber of the Canadian Press in 2011, sections of Cold War-era nautical charts may offer the first documented proof of the widely held belief that Soviet nuclear-powered submarines routinely navigated or patrolled through Canadian Arctic waters.

Aaron Lawton, who operates a tourism company, chartering Academik Ioffe (a Russian-owned ship) for Arctic cruises, was quoted confirming: “In some cases the Russian charts are more detailed than the Canadian ones.” In some places, notes Weber, the Russian charts are “preferred to current Canadian charts.”

The charts seen by the Canadian Press were clearly marked with Soviet insignia, including the hammer and sickle and red star. “Both sections are of highly strategic Arctic waterways. One map is a section of the North-West Passage in Barrow Strait, southwest of Resolute [a choke-point for deep-water vessels ...]. The other section details a choke point on the Nares Strait [...] between Ellesmere Island and Greenland. Both sections of the charts contained many more depth soundings than corresponding modern Canadian charts,” noted the article.

Alex MacIntyre, a highly experienced Canadian ice pilot who was interviewed by Weber, saw the charts on the Ioffe’s bridge, and wondered how the Soviets got all those soundings. Also on that voyage was a Canadian academic, Michael Byers, who had been solicited as a guest lecturer for the trip, was also “struck by” the detail of the Soviet charts. “The density of soundings on the Soviet chart was much greater than on the Canadian one.” According to the article, both Byers and MacIntyre believe “the only way the Soviet government could have acquired data for the charts is from nuclear submarines secretly patrolling the Arctic.” Byers said seeing the charts “confirms what many of us assumed.”
June 2015 – USS Maine (SSBN 741) sails back to its home port of Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor. Maine is one of eight ballistic ­missile submarines stationed at the base. (U.S. Navy photo: MCS 1st Class Kenneth G. Takada)
Incursions in Canadian waters have not been limited to war time, to one country, to adversaries, nor to the past. In fact, U.S. Navy historical data clearly shows American nuclear-powered subs (SSNs) have routinely operated in the Arctic since 1957 – and transited repeatedly through Canadian Arctic waters since 1960, while Russian submarines have operated in the Arctic since 1960. Chinese and French nuclear-powered operations in Canadian Arctic waters are unknown.

UK Royal Navy SSNs have operated in the Arctic since 1975. These include known transits of Canada’s Northwest Passage since 1988-2008 and again in 2015 to reach the joint Ice Exercise (ICEX) test area on floating ice sheets off the north coast of Alaska (jointly run, with Canadian and UK participation, by the U.S. Navy Arctic Submarine Laboratory).

Canada’s Northern Strategy, published in 2009, does not address our under-ice surveillance deficit – which can only safely and effectively be resolved by nuclear-powered submarines. And since both Russia and the U.S. are our closest Arctic neighbours (an indisputable fact of geography), we cannot let ourselves fall into a delusional Arctic complacency, as neither will guarantee the sovereignty of our Arctic waters. In fact, before looking at Canadian submarine requirements, we must be mindful of the following precis:
Once a crisis erupts, the idealistic notions of peacekeeping and aid provision go out the window as they require the cooperation of all conflict participants;
As a G7 economic world leader with an obligation to help maintain world order, Canada must be prepared to use force when and wherever necessary;
The global uncertainty that is prevalent for the foreseeable future requires that Canada maintain combat-capable, versatile, and rapidly deployable forces;
As they are inherently flexible, mobile, and don’t require land bases, naval forces are nearly always the first responders to a global crisis;
The fastest and most unobtrusive naval asset that can respond world-wide – including in areas where a hostile air environment demands heavy air defence, or where a single surface asset could inflame maritime tension – is a nuclear-powered submarine, as they are almost undetectable until so desired;
The hundreds of western submarine nuclear reactors, used/in-use since the 1950s, have a 100% safety record due to stringent naval standards;
1980s Canadian Navy studies (with allied consultation) determined that economies of scale, with regards to submarine fleet size, started with a submarine force of at least six submarines at the same base (Halifax) – thus, a force of eight allows two to be detached to Esquimalt on the West Coast, or vice versa;
As for recruiting issues, future Canadian submariners will demand modern habitability and safety standards (eliminate hot-bunking, make off-duty exercise spaces available, for example), and these can only be incorporated into the larger SSN designs.

Canadian Arctic under-ice submarine requirements
Keeping in mind the above-noted precis and various submarine arms races / proliferation for the foreseeable future, Canadian submarines will need to be able to operate for prolonged periods – at great distances, and with unlimited endurance – in some of the most unforgiving waters on the planet.
Sailors and members of the Applied Physics Laboratory Ice Station clear ice from the hatch of the Seawolf-class submarine USSConnecticut (SSN 22) as it surfaces above the ice in the Arctic Ocean during ICEX 2011.
The Arctic’s under-ice environment has limited opportunities for conventional diesel/AIP-powered submarines, which lack endurance, speed and versatility, the ability to safely surface in extreme conditions (only SSNs have the power for repeated surfacing attempts through ice of any significant thickness, even several feet), and requires constant heat generation to prevent freezing. Conventional submarines are thus restricted to near ice-edge operations.

As Cdr Michael Craven describes them, conventional submarines are “generally characterized as‘vehicles of position’ (as opposed to nuclear submarines, which are ‘vehicles of manœuvre’).

To fully understand why SSNs are the only choice for year-round under-ice operations – as compared to Canada’s current ‘ice-edge limited’ capability – requires only a brief examination of the non-nuclear power limitations.

Both the submarine and the submariners require air to operate/survive and to recharge batteries. To replenish air, SSKs must surface, or almost surface, to raise its snorkel or ‘snort’ mast at regular intervals – which is impossible for SSKs under all but the thinnest layers of ice. Surfacing is a dangerous undertaking when seas are rough, as submariners can fully attest to. Snorting is also inherently dangerous in rough seas as water washing over the top of a snort mast will cause the valve head to constantly shut. A shut valve creates a vacuum in the boat, that if maintained for too long causes dangerously low levels of oxygen – and long exposure to reduced oxygen causes a potentially fatal cycle of dangerously impaired actions.

There are three means of keeping enough oxygen in a submarine: Electrolysis; Carbon dioxide scrubbers; and, as a last resort, a limited supply of oxygen generating candles. Electrolysis requires the constant power generation that only a nuclear-powered reactor can provide, while the other two are never as safe or effective as having all three available. Additionally, heat generation requires extensive power usage, the more heat generated, the faster the batteries drain, thus yet another under-ice requirement that drains the limited batteries on an SSK. In fact, batteries can be their own hazard; if contaminated with seawater they usually give off a deadly chlorine gas, which requires immediate surfacing to clear the air.

A look at the four non-nuclear Air Independent Propulsion systems currently in service or development shows clear limitations. First of all, the current AIP record for a slow submerged transit is a mere 18 days (without snorting). It is important to remember that none of the conventional-power options allow for prolonged under-ice operations.

June 2001 – Los Angeles-class fast attack ­submarine USS Scranton (SSN 756) breaks through almost four feet of Arctic ice. One of two U.S. submarines to surface at the North Pole, Scranton was participating in Atlantic Submarine Ice Exercise (LANTSUBICEX) 1-01, a three-ship exercise that demonstrated the U.S. Navy’s commitment to assure access to all international waters. (U.S. Navy photo)
The Closed Cycle Diesel Engine, usually using a LOX oxidant, is the cheapest and noisiest (high detection risk); and often the only option for poor nations.

The French Module d’Energie Sous-Marin Autonome (MESMA) or Closed Cycle Steam Turbine system, available on export SSKs, is basically a conventional version of a nuclear-reactor, but mixing ethanol and oxygen generates the heat to provide power and has the highest level of oxygen consumption.

The Ballard Fuel Cell method used in German submarines requires highly-flammable hydrogen – a significant fire risk in an environment where surfacing quickly is usually not an option.

Lastly, the Stirling Cycle Engines – as used on Swedish and Japanese submarines – is quieter and more reliable than conventional diesels, but best used at a constant lower speed with a lower power output (a major limitation in Arctic waters) as it’s not as responsive as internal combustion engines.

With the exception of the last, all are hybrid systems, with the diesel engine as the primary power source, and utilizing the smaller AIP for limited stealth operations.

Thus, existing AIP technology does not meet Canadian geographical demands for extended safe under-ice operations.
March 2009 – USS Annapolis (SSN 760), an “improved” Los Angeles-class submarine rests in the Arctic Ocean after surfacing through three feet of ice during Ice Exercise 2009, a two-week training exercise about 200 miles from the north coast of Alaska, near Prudhoe Bay. (U.S. Navy photo)
Water Space Management (WSM) Explained
The most important part of understanding the necessity for SSNs is to understand submarine movements as regulated under the overarching concept of the NATO WSM system. For this, I draw on condensed excerpts from Canadian submariner, Navy Captain Phil Webster’s article: ‘Arctic Sovereignty, Submarine Operations and Water Space Management’, in the Canadian Naval Review, to explain this concept succinctly:

WSM de-conflicts the movements of submarines throughout the world. NATO and regional submarine operating authorities (SUBOPAUTHs) ensure the safety of submarine operations in the world’s oceans. Submarines are routed to their operating areas using a SUBNOTE, and provide a ‘moving haven’ of defined dimensions (including depth) in which the submarine must remain. This allows submarines to be routed in closer proximity to each other without danger of mutual interference. The actual patrol or operating area is defined by a Notice of Intention (NOI), or a Submarine Patrol Area (SPA), providing the geographic coordinates, depth and time period in which the submarine will be operating. Information on submarines operating in their own territorial waters is not shared with other states. Operating a dived submarine in another state’s territorial seas is considered a serious act of provocation (assuming you have a submarine that can detect it).

In peacetime, the safety of submarine movement is paramount – an underwater collision will be catastrophic. Consequently, all submarine movement (including covert operations) is de-conflicted using the NATO and/or regional SUBOPAUTHS and the WSM system to ensure no other submarines are operating or transiting in the same ‘moving haven’ or MH.

Deployment areas for U.S., Royal, and French Navy SSBNs are closely held by their national authorities, but even these operations are de-conflicted among themselves at a high level.

One aspect of the (WSM) system not well understood is the ability for a submarine-operating state to temporarily declare a NOI for submarine operations on the high seas, thus de facto controlling that area. For example, Canada established a submarine NOI off the Grand Banks during the so-called Turbot War with Spain in 1995 using WSM protocols (as one tool used by) the Canadian government to resolve this unfortunate incident.
HMAS Dechaineux leads HMAS Waller and HMAS Sheean in formation. (Photo: CPOIS David Connolly)
Declaring the operation of a nuclear-powered submarine in Canadian Arctic waters and Northwest Passage choke points, indicates to other states that Canada has the capability to control the water column in ocean areas claimed by Canada. Although the WSM is not meant to prevent other states’ submarines from operating in the Canadian Arctic under the control of Canada (with the exception of internal waters and territorial seas), it will ensure that when a Canadian SSN NOI is established, other allied states that intend to take their submarines through the NOI need to de-conflict their movement with the Canadian SUBOPAUTH to ensure the safety of both states’ submarines. Demonstrating to Canadians and non-Canadians alike that Canada has the will and the capability to assert sovereignty in the seas of the Arctic will become more important as global warming allows increased exploration of the Arctic seabed, and its rich resources. The WSM system is an important tool in this endeavour, but only if Canada maintains a viable and capable submarine force which, by necessity, demands the timely replacement of the ‘ice-edge limited’ Victoria-class SSKs by a capable fleet of eight under-ice capable SSNs, to allow for a seamless transition period.

Lessons Learned
The need for SSNs demands a look back at the 1987 White Paper and its ‘Crown Jewel’ plans for 10-12 SSNs, plus the uninformed, media-whipped hysteria against the acquisition. I was unfortunate enough to witness first hand, at a local Department of National Defence forum, bogus arguments against ‘nuclear-armed’ submarines or that sinking a Soviet submarine in our sovereign waters would start nuclear Armageddon.

As senior research fellow with Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, Peter Haydon, notes: “That these issues became publicly volatile can be attributed in part to poor DND Public Relations policy on the submarine acquisition program. Simply, the concept of operations and the acquisition process were not adequately transparent.” A common PR failing has been the lack of emphasis on nuclear-powered vice nuclear-armed.

As it was then, and stands even more so today – the SSN is the only tool / platform capable of extending the RCN's reach below our ice-covered Arctic waters by demonstrating a measure of actual control, providing the RCN with a respectable presence in both the Atlantic and Pacific, and a true force-multiplier able to meet all Canadian maritime sovereignty and defence requirements.
2014 – HMCS Victoria (SSK 876) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the at-sea phase of the biennial Rim of the Pacific Exercise (the world’s largest international maritime exercise). Participating in the Hawaiian Islands exercise were 22 nations, 49 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel. (Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Photo: PO1 Makoto Maeda)
An SSN can travel the Northwest Passage, under the icecap, from Atlantic to Pacific, in just 14 days vice a month via the Panama Canal, or two months going around South America. Soviet submarines are again able to ‘surge’ into the Atlantic; and travel under the Arctic icecap (would) enable them to avoid the monitored Greenland, Iceland, UK (GIUK) gap in the Atlantic. Let us not forget that Russian and American nuclear-powered submarine travel in our Arctic waters has indeed been confirmed.

As in 1987, Canadian sovereignty over our increasingly accessible Arctic waters rests upon little more than uninformed proclamations made by politicians in Ottawa. Without the capabilities of SSNs to operate under the Arctic icecap, Ottawa cannot claim to control our Arctic waters and their increasingly accessible rich resources. Perrin Beatty fully realized this when he asserted in Summer 1987 that: “the new thrust of exploration of the seabed, and competition for resources that may be found in the Arctic, could lead to disputes about sovereignty over maritime supremacy and rights of passage. Canada would be in a much stronger position to press her claims if she possessed adequate capabilities to establish surveillance and presence in the contested waters.”

Without SSNs Canada cannot exercise authority in the Arctic waters within the confines of it’s sovereign territory. This is a central requirement to any definition of sovereignty. As noted in theDefence Update 1988-89: “to be a truly independent nation we must shoulder the responsibilities that come with independence [such as the ability to assert control over our own ice-covered Arctic waterways] by contributing more fully to our own defence. If we are to be truly sovereign, we cannot ‘contract out’ the defence of Canada.”

As the International Court of Justice ruled in 1931, it is the exercise of authority that is the ‘principal’ consideration when dealing with matters of sovereignty, as this control even supersedes prior claims.

France’s ambassador to Canada from 1989-91, Bujon de l’Estang, asserted in 2007 to Keith Spicer that the ‘Crown Jewel’ SSN acquisition was cancelled in 1991 due to U.S. Navy opposition and not ‘budgetary reasons’. “I was always convinced that Washington’s pressures weighed heavily in this, and were likely decisive. The truth is, the U.S. didn’t [and still doesn’t] want Canada to be able to protect its own territory, especially in the Arctic.”

Delegating the defence of our Arctic waters to U.S. Navy SSNs, as is presently the case, leaves Canada in a shameful position of utter dependence – a position unbefitting a sovereign Canada. An increase of just 1/20 of our defence budget, some C$1 Billion a year over 12 years, or approximately .01% of our annual GDP (easily affordable for a G7 nation), would allow Canada to fund the SSN acquisition and allow us to finally contribute our ‘fair share’ within the NATO alliance. Otherwise, we may as well just tuck our heads in the sand like an Ostrich, ignore reality, and continue to profess hot-air sovereignty over our Arctic seas while somebody else stamps their national flag on our behind and usurps our Arctic maritime resources.

Mark Romanow is an Independent Defence Analyst/Writer that has been repeatedly published in Canadian and International Defence Magazines, as well as in on-line articles. He can be reached in Edmonton

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