Victoria-class submarines Canada’s Maritime Predators
© 2016 FrontLine Defence (Vol 13, No 4)

FrontLine’s Atlantic correspondent Tim Dunne was recently invited to join a small group of journalists and opinion leaders for a brief, overnight sail in HMCS Windsor, a Halifax-based Victoria-class submarine. Tim described conditions within the submarine as “tight” with the vertical ladders between the control room and his bedspace giving his 67-year old knees and back “quite a workout.” Visitors’ accommodations were on portable racks perched on the torpedo trays in the submarine’s nose, but the crew comradery was palpable, and the welcome cheerful.

There is a reason the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) submarine HMCS Windsor and her three sisters, Victoria, Corner Brook and Chicoutimi, carry the imposing moniker of hunter-killer submarines (SSK). Under ordinary conditions, they conduct their patrols and interact with other Canadian warships and allied navies with quiet professionalism. But when circumstances require, they can quickly transform into predators, seeking vessels that use Canadian waters for illegal activities or intend to disrupt our values and lifestyles. If deployed against a hostile adversary, these boats can silently unleash the fury of Erinyes, the mythological Greek goddess of vengeance and retribution.

Dec 2015 – HMCS Windsor returns home to CFB Halifax after taking part in Joint Warrior and Trident Juncture, coordinated exercises with NATO allies to enhance combat readiness. (DND/CF Photo: Leading Seaman Dan Bard)

These diesel-electric submarines are specifically designed to use the oceans to stealthily protect allied warships, safeguard civilian shipping conducting innocent passage through Canadian waters, undertake assigned missions and, when necessary, destroy hostile submarines and ships. In general, they carry a variety of munitions (including small arms for force protection, and their principal weapon, the Mark 48 heavy torpedo) and the sailors with the specialized knowledge, training and experience to use them.

Before a welding problem was identified this spring, Canada’s four submarines were being kept busy; HMCS Victoria (SSK 876) had been conducting force generation operations; Windsor (SSK 877) deployed on NATO exercises in 2015; Chicoutimi (SSK 879) was being used to train submariners; and Corner Brook (SSK 878), which sustained damage in 2012, will be undergoing refit by Babcock at the Victoria Shipyards until 2018. Until her three sister boats complete their welding requirements, upgrades and refits, HMCS Windsor is currently the sole workhorse of Canada’s submarine training and operations obligations.

Submarine Warfare Unveiled
As Europe began its free-fall into The Great War, some believed that the submarine would be the panacea for maritime warfare. On 5 June 1914, British Admiral Percy Scott wrote in The Times, “As the motor has driven the horse from the road, so will the submarine drive the battleships from the sea.” His colleagues and the British press dismissed him as suffering from “an attack of midsummer madness”, and branded his delusions “a fantastic dream.” But submarines have become a strategic maritime resource for the 40 nations that operate some 400 nuclear-powered attack (SSN) and hunter-killer (SSK) (a.k.a. conventional) submarines.

Dec 2011 – HMCS Victoria performs hoisting drills with 443 Maritime Helicopter Sqn during sea trials. (DND/CF Photo: Cpl Malcolm Byers)

Modern submarine warfare passed its centennial, which began on 5 Sept 1914, when German u-boat U-21 torpedoed and sank the British cruiser HMS Pathfinder. During the intervening century, the capacities and capabilities of the submersible have grown beyond the most extravagant dreams of its early proponents. The exploitation of the oceanic sub-surface that began 102 years ago forever changed the nature of naval warfare. Its invisibility allows a submarine to operate close to, and even within and beneath an adversary’s naval force, to avoid perimeter defences, deny access to surface fleets, observe without being seen, and attack with near invulnerability.

Canada’s introduction to the submarine community is exactingly described by Julie H. Ferguson in her excellent history of the Canadian Submarine Service, Through a Canadian Periscope. One could say it all began with Chile, who had ordered two submarines, the Iquique and Antofagasta, from the U.S. in 1911. The Chilean government deliberately defaulted on payments, suggesting the boats failed to meet performance requirements.

James Patterson, president of the Seattle Dry Dock and Construction Company, which assembled the two boats, attended a luncheon at the Union Club in Victoria, B.C. on 29 July 1914, where attendees discussed how unprepared the Canadian Pacific Coast was for the impending war. Patterson announced that the two submarines were available for immediate delivery for $575,000 each ($12.4 million in 2016 dollars), an increase of $332,000 over the contracted price with the Chilean navy. Two German light cruisers patrolling in the Pacific coastal area added urgency to the discussions and gave Patterson a bargaining advantage. Captain William H. Logan, a master mariner and local representative of Lloyd’s of London, heard Patterson’s pitch and conveyed it to British Columbia Premier Sir Richard McBride on 3 August.

The offer was relayed to Vice-Admiral Charles Kingsmill, director of the Canadian Naval Service, but in the absence of a quick response from Ottawa, the government of British Columbia acted unilaterally. The next day, Premier McBride was given a provincial cheque for $1.2 million.
The two boats arrived unannounced in Canadian waters in the Strait of Juan de Fuca at 4:45 am on 5 August 1914.

July 2012 – HMCS Victoria (SSK 876) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Photo:MCpl Marc-Andre Gaudreault)

Designed for coastal operations, these small diesel-electric submarines were about 45 metres (150 ft) in length, and 408.2 tonnes (421 tons) submerged. One had 18 ­inch torpedo tubes, and the other, 5 inch tubes, but they lacked deck guns and could run only at 13 knots surfaced and 10 submerged.

The BC government presented the two submarines to the government of the Dominion of Canada, which in turn provided them to the RCN on 7 August, where they were renamed HMC Submarine CC-1 and Submarine CC-2. The two boats left Esquimalt for Halifax via the Panama Canal on 21 June 1917. By the time they arrived their engines were worn out and needed replacement, and their deployment to the Mediterranean was cancelled. Both boats were paid off and sold for scrap in 1920.

Next, Canada had intermittent use of submarines with the gift of two U.S.-built “H”-class submarines by the Admiralty to Canada, which arrived from Bermuda. They were commissioned as CH14 and CH15 in June 1919, and entered Canadian service in 1921 following their refits. They were retired the following year and were laid up to rust in Halifax’s Northwest Arm until 1927, when they were sold for scrap. With the demise of these submarines, the pool of experienced submariners quickly diminished.

Feb 2016 – HMCS Victoria returns home through the Straits of Juan De Fuca, after operations with the United States Navy. (DND/CF Photo: LS Zachariah Stopa)

Subsequently, the Canadian government adopted a decidedly parsimonious approach to including these vessels in the Canadian fleet mix. The RCN only commissioned four submarines during the next 50 years, two British H-class and two surrendered ex-German U-boats.

Against the odds, RCN submarine expertise survived as Canadian submariners maintained and honed their skills by serving in Royal Navy (RN) submarines around the world. During both world wars, a total of 34 Canadians served in RN submarines, 15 of whom would command British submarines.

At the end of the Second World War, the Liberal government of Louis St. Laurent (1948-1957), out of a dislike for the concept of a Canadian submarine service, ignored British Admiralty offers to sell two of their U-class submarines and directed the RCN to instead lease submarines. The arrangement with Britain’s Royal Navy (RN) gave Canada three RN boats with British crews assigned to Halifax for four years, at a cost of $645,000 ($15.5 million in 2016 dollars), and had 200 RCN members trained and serving in the British submarine service.

View of the arrival of Canada's newest submarine, HMCS Cornerbrook into Halifax harbour, from a Sea King helicopter. (Photo: Pte Matthew McGregor)

This penny-pinching compromise between Canadian anti-submarine training requirements and a sovereign submarine service continued until 4 April 1955, when the RN stood up its Sixth Submarine Squadron (SM6) in Halifax when the three Astute-class boats arrived, giving the RCN much needed anti-submarine training. The U.S. Navy also provided opportunities to train with American submarines to assist in meeting the Soviet submarine threat.

The January 1954 launch of the world’s first nuclear powered submarine (SSN), the USS Nautilus, gave rise to dreams of a nuclear-powered submarine force for Canada. Then Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice-Admiral Harry DeWolf, predicted that there would be no place in Canada’s navy for diesel-electrics, and established the Nuclear Submarines Survey Team (NSST) to identify the need, missions, personnel requirements, infrastructure, and cost of a sovereign nuclear submarine construction program. Concurrently, four naval officers were enrolled in the British Reactor School and others in the new Atomic Energy Canada school in Chalk River, Ontario.

The projected costs for this program was estimated to be in the vicinity of $50 million, the equivalent of just under $420 million in today’s funds.

April 2016 – VAdm Mark Norman (left) and RAdm John Newton (right) embarking media onbboard HMCS Windsor. (Photo: Tim Dunne)

The post Second World War strategic environment forced the Conservative government of John Diefenbaker (1957-1963) to revisit its predecessor’s position on Canadian submarines. The Brits were no longer able to provide three boats and personnel for continuous service. By 1958, Defence Minister MGen George Pearkes was openly day-dreaming that Canada may build its own submarine fleet, prompting the U.S. to offer a former USN Balao-class submarine on a five-year lease agreement. Canada commissioned HMCS Grilse in 1961. After seven years, Grilse was replaced by USS Argonaut, which served on Canada’s west coast as HMCS Rainbow until 1974.

The U.S. Navy assisted Canada with the research and preparation to establish a nuclear submarine program and, as Julie Ferguson underscores in her book, Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the father of the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine service, supported a direct transfer of U.S. naval nuclear technology to Canada. However, after a year of vacillation, equivocation and procrastination by the Canadian government, Rickover withdrew from discussions.

In the interim, the NSST delivered its 200-page report in June 1959, recommend­ing that Canada purchase five American Skipjack-class submarines for $52.5 million each, or establish a sovereign construction program to build them in Canada for $65 million. Within several months, the RCN commitment to nuclear submarines faltered and they began to look at a force of 12 diesel-electric boats as an operationally acceptable option in case nuclear boats were too expensive. DeWolf retired the following year, leaving the SSN proponents leaderless, rudderless and emasculated.

Petty Officer (First Class) Nick Dubasouf operates the Machinery Control Consul that controls the fuel, battery and engines of HMCS Windsor. (Photo: Tim Dunne)

The RCN recommended the Canadian construction of six American Barbel submarines at a total cost of $170 million ($1.3 billion in 2016 dollars) as the most suitable for Canadian requirements, but also hedged their bets by offering a cheaper alternative, the inferior British Oberons (at about half the cost), if cost was the major consideration. Although the RCN recommended six, in March 1962 Canada purchased three. The RCN was also promised eight general purpose frigates to be added to the Canadian fleet as a consolation prize, of which only four were actually constructed. This halving was a harbinger of governmental dithering by successive Conservative and Liberal governments.

Launched in February 1964, HMCS Ojibwa was the first Canadian Oberon to be commissioned (Sept. 1965). Subsequently, the First Canadian Submarine Squadron was stood up on 22 April 1966. Sister-submarine Onondaga joined the Canadian fleet in (launched Sept 1965 and commissioned in June 1967, and the final boat, Okanagan, was launched in Sept 1966 and commissioned in June 1968. 

HMCS Ojibwa HMCS Onondaga HMCS Okanagan

BUILDER: Her Majesty’s Dockyard, Chatham, UK

27 September 1962

29 February 1964

23 Sept 1965 

PAID OFF: 21 May 1998

BUILDER: Her Majesty’s Dockyard, Chatham, UK

18 June 1964

25 September 1965

22 June 1967

PAID OFF: 28 July 2000

BUILDER: Her Majesty’s Dockyard, Chatham, UK

LAID DOWN: 25 march 1965

LAUNCHED: 17 September 1966

COMMISSIONED: 22 June 1968

PAID OFF: 14 Sept 1998

Source: DND, Navy Public Affairs

The Oberon diesel-electric boats were quiet – the minimum attribute for a submarine to be operationally effective and survivable. In the early 1980s, they were upgraded with sonar suites, fire-control systems and Mark 48 torpedoes, and continued in service until 2000, when HMCS Onondaga was paid off, the final Oberon to be retired.

Navigator Lt(N) Marshall Luton communicates with the Queen’s Harbour Master, Halifax. (Photo: Tim Dunne)

Replacing the Oberons
Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government briefly flirted with replacing the O-boats with SSNs. Defence Minister Perrin Beatty’s 1987 White Paper, Challenge and Commitment: A Defence Policy for Canada  stated that “A program of 10 to 12 [nuclear submarines] will permit submarines to be on station on a continuing basis in the Canadian areas of responsibility in the northeast Pacific, the North Atlantic and the Canadian Arctic.” This sparked a competition between the British and French to sell their nuclear submarine technology to Canada.

With the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the end of the Cold War, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the purchase was deemed unnecessary. The Mulroney government failed to look beyond the moment to speculate on a resurgence of Russia and its renewed imperialism and lust for reoccupation of former Soviet possessions, and a voracious appetite for Arctic resources.

Across the pond, the Royal Navy was converting to a nuclear-powered (SSN) force, sidelining its four diesel-electric (conventional) Upholder-class SSKs.

On the heels of these global turnabouts, Canada’s 1994 Defence White Paper indicated an interest in Britain’s four Upholder-class boats.

Victoria-class submarines
With the procrastination that continues to plague major Canadian military acquisition programs, the Canadian government announced the Submarine Capability Life Extension Project on 6 April 1998, in which the four British Upholders, subsequently renamed the Victoria-class, would replace the three Oberons. They received a reactivation refit at Devonshire Dock Hall in Barrow-in-Furness, and a Canadianization refit by British Columbia’s Canadian Submarine Management Group.

The four Upholder/Victoria boats were a profound improvement over the Oberons they replaced, with more advanced hydrodynamic features and marine engineering systems, plus improved habitability and endurance. The purchase included a training package, four state-of-the-art shore-based simulators, initial spare parts, and a comprehensive technical information package – all for less than a quarter of their value.

Engine Room on HMCS Windsor. (Photo: Tim Dunne)

The four Victoria-class SSKs sported technological advancements that included periscopes with integrated range finders that show the exact distances to other vessels; Thales Underwater systems Type 2040 hull mounted sonar, a passive search and intercept medium-frequency sonar installed in the bow; and Submarine Escape and Rescue (Sm E&R) upgrades, including stowage space for escape materials and emergency underwater telephones.

Their small size and battery powered operations make them virtually undetectable by passive sonar, therefore nearly impossible to discover by magnetic anomaly or other non-acoustic methods. The 22,000 specially-designed anecoic, or elastomeric, rubber tiles coating the hulls reduce noise coming from the interior, and absorb sonar transmissions (“pings”) from other vessels.

Additional work was necessary to complete their transformation or “refit” to Canadian submarine standards:

  • Thales Underwater Systems Type 2007 flank array long-range sonar and Type 2046 towed array sonar, with the Canadian Towed Array (CANTASS) integrated into the towed sonar system;
  • Global positioning system, a Kelvin Hughes Type 1007 and a Furuno portable navigation radar;
  • Ultra high frequency (UHF) tactical satellite and Demand Assigned Multiple Access satellite communications;
  • Northrup Grumman Sperry Marine Mark 49 inertial navigation system;
  • Six 533 mm (21-inch) bow torpedo tubes equipped with two air turbine pump discharge systems for Canada’s Mark 48 heavy torpedo, upgraded from Mod 4 to Mod 7; and
  • Lockheed Martin Librascope Torpedo Fire Control System, upgraded to RCN operational specifications, and incorporating selected components from the Oberon’s fire control system.

With the refit, which these boats are currently undergoing, the RCN has taken the four British Upholder-class submarines and transformed them into superior vessels. However, despite the improvements, they still attract undeserved criticism.

New capabilities for the Victorias
HMCS Windsor, commanded by Lieutenant-Commander Peter Chu, employs an onboard fire control and communications system that integrates active and passive sonar system. The Bow Sonar System Upgrade uses the AN/BQQ10 sonar system, the same system that is being installed in the Virginia-class SSNs, the newest and most capable in the U.S. fleet. “This is a high-tech, cutting edge, ultra-modern sonar system that the Canadian submarine service is putting to sea right now in HMCS Windsor,” Navy Captain James Clarke explained.

LCdr Peter Chu speaks to media and special guests aboard HMCS Windsor for a special overnight sail in the submarine. (Photo: Tim Dunne)

This sonar system emits an acoustic “ping” and analyzes the return signal to pinpoint the location and contours of enemy ships, submarines and other threats. This ultra-modern acoustic suite can detect ships, submarines, mines and other threats. But submariners dislike using active sonar. “It broadcasts a boat’s presence to other vessels, defeating its stealth. So we only use it when necessary,” LCdr Chu added.

Passive sonar allows the system operator to listen to any sounds coming from other surface ships or submarines without the “target” knowing that a submarine is nearby and listening. One of Windsor’s sonar operators bragged that “with a little experience, we can identify a ship by name simply by the sounds of her engines, propellers and the noise she makes going through the water up to 10 kilometers away,” what the sonar community calls a ship’s acoustic signature.

The fire control system, critical to control and deploy the submarine’s weapons and to compile essential tactical information through the boat’s sensors is touch-screen and software driven. It processes and quickly collects the sensor data and classifies, identifies and neutralizes potential surface and subsurface adversaries.

Lockheed Martin is installing additional system integrations including modernized, layer-based displays, support of advanced sonar processing upgrades, remote control and image display of the search and attack periscopes, precision electronic navigation, a new universal modular communications mast that uses Canadian and allied communications satellites, and enhanced electronic support measurement systems.

Canada’s “new” submarines
Submarines remain a mystery for most, and a source of consternation for many. The basic reality is that, with almost zero buoyancy, a submarine is meant to sink, and they flood internal tanks to dive. Windsor and her sister boats are no different. The Victoria-class normally remain submerged while at sea, running at 60 meters (180 feet), safely below surface vessels, and can remain submerged up to 40 days but normal is 28 to 32 days. However, they must regularly rise to periscope depth to “snort” – to draw air for habitability and to “feed” the Paxman-Valentia Pentaxis 16 cylinder, diesel engines. Ordinarily, Windsor can submerge for up to 36 hours between “snorts”, but the faster the speed, the shorter time between snorts – to as little as 12 to 14 hours.

Windsor has a crew of 48 (plus the occasional addition of trainees), much leaner than the Oberon crew of 68. Creature comforts are at a minimum. Crew members use sleeping bags and berths that are distributed throughout the vessel. When they visit a port, off-duty personnel move into a hotel and, for most, the first priority is to call home. There is no Internet or phone communications while submerged at sea.

During our overnight visit to Windsor, our accommodations drew humourous commentary from journalists and special guests, but it was tempered with an appreciation for the crew who live under these conditions for long periods while at sea. Sleeping arrangements for trainees and visitors are sleeping bags on a foam-rubber “mattress” in a metal tray that sits on empty torpedo racks, with barely enough room to turn over.

Photo: Tim Dunne

Weapons and Tactics
To many, a submarine’s main role is as a torpedo delivery platform – in Canada’s case, the Mark 48 torpedo. At 6.4 metres (21 feet) long, 53 cm (21 inches) across, and weighing 1,633 kg (3600 pounds), it is a “next generation” weapon, equipped with active and passive sonar, homing or wire guided with 30 km of wire to enable the submarine to guide the torpedo and engage any adversary from a safe distance.

The British Upholders had used Spearfish torpedoes, and some of the many criticisms voiced to the media over the years were that Canada should have left these vessels equipped for the British torpedoes, but the RCN had an inventory of Mark 48 Mod 4 torpedoes and initiated modifications to accommodate them. The RCN is now upgrading them to Mod 7AT (Advanced Technology). The “brains” of the torpedo are being upgraded to make it “the most capable and potent anti-surface and anti-submarine weapon” available, according to Lockheed Martin’s factsheet. This weapon represents another commonality with the U.S. Navy’s Virginia-class submarines, and is also used by the navies of Australia and the Netherlands.

The Mark 48 Mod 7 heavy torpedo features active and/or passive homing, and advanced counter-measures, autonomous ‘fire-and-forget’ or ‘wire-guided’ operation. It can operate at depths greater than 365 m (1,200 ft), at speeds of 28 knots, and with an effective range of more than 8 km (5 miles).

The stealth, flexibility, armament and operational capacities of these long range patrol submarines make them the RCN “special forces”. These same attributes make them particularly valuable to some of the mission profiles for Canada’s Special Operations Forces.

While hosting a number of journalists and special guests on board HMCS Windsor in late May, Rear-Admiral John Newton, the RCN east coast commander, pointed to several storage compartments integrated into the submarine’s superstructure (where specialized equipment is stored). He explained the relationship between the submarine and Canada’s high-readiness teams: “Special Operations Forces can fly out to a pre-arranged point in the ocean to meet with any of our vessels. Ships or boats can pick them up and take them within easy reach of a target or destination. The SOF team can deploy anywhere they are requested and provide results. RCN ships and boats can wait offshore or near the target to recover our team members.”

Petty Officer Nick Dubasouf operates the Machinery Control Console, which controls the fuel, air conditioning, battery and engines of HMCS Windsor. (Photo: Tim Dunne)

What do submarines do?
The litany of the Victoria-class capabilities is impressive; here is a list of some of the more key options at its disposal.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR): Remaining “on station” for extended periods submarines can covertly surveil other submarines and surface ships. Windsor’s recently upgraded sonar integrates the most modern and capable sonar available with the improved fire control system and the many onboard sensors to monitor surface and sub-surface activity. This eases the challenge of determining if vessels under observation pose a threat or a danger, provide early detection, and giving precise directions for over-the-horizon forces to engage otherwise unseen targets. These vessels can also direct land and constabulary forces to suspicious activities in Canada’s littoral waters and conduct discrete or covert operations impossible for surface vessels or aircraft.

Power projection: Employing defensive or coercive force outside Canadian littoral these boats can meet or deter a threat before it can threaten Canada.

Sea control: By simple presence within a maritime area, submarines can keep an adversary away from Canadian waters or maritime areas where Canadian surface vessels are operating. This allows the RCN to protect Canadian sea lanes of communication, enforce choke points and deny access to the enemy ships, submarines and aircraft, and to prevent mine-laying near our ports and harbours.

Sea denial: Deploying a submarine into an area can dramatically change how opposing naval forces conduct their operations.

Operational stealth: A submarine’s most valuable attribute, stealth provides the capability for non-conventional military operations, such as covert mining, clandestine mine reconnaissance, precise placement of maritime mines, and deployment and recovery of special operations forces.

Operational endurance: An important characteristic is its ability to linger, submerged, silent and invisible, for relatively long periods, periodically raising the periscope and snorkel. During time on-station, they can observe and develop their intentions to address tactical and operational situations.

Freedom of movement: As a derivative of a boat’s stealth and endurance, this is its ability to covertly move to access any chosen area within the area of operations, including those closed to surface vessels or aircraft. It can relocate discretely, quietly and invisibly to meet changing operational and tactical situations, and are generally unaffected by rough seas and poor weather.

Flexibility: The Victoria-class has a wide range of sensor and communications equipment, making it a force multiplier and giving it an ability to operate covertly and independently across the full spectrum of maritime operations. A task force commander can assign a number of different mission types to a single submarine to meet changes to the strategic, operational or tactical situation.

Anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training: They are among the world’s quietest, making them ideal vessels for anti-submarine warfare training of Canadian and allied navies. This allows surface ships to develop and evaluate ASW tactics, train maritime helicopter and patrol aircraft crews, and maintain submarine hunting skills. Quieter than even the Virginia-class submarines, Canada’s SSKs are in constant demand for anti-submarine warfare training and combined operations by our allies, including the British and U.S. navies.

LCdr Peter Chu, commanding officer of HMCS Windsor, uses the submarine's attack periscope as the submarine dives. (Photo: Tim Dunne)

Submarines contribute to all areas of maritime operations. They can be equipped to conduct land strike operations to take out enemy command and control, enemy air control capabilities, conduct mine countermeasures operations and traditional anti-shipping and anti-submarine operations, and to support blue force (friendly forces) operations ashore.

These Canadian boats have seen service from the North Sea to Straits of Gibraltar, and from the Arctic to the Caribbean. Last year, HMCS Windsor was at sea for 200 days, including a 102-day deployment to Exercise Joint Warrior out of Faslane, UK, a 14-nation combined, joint military exercise. This stands as the longest deployment in the history of Victoria submarines.

An essential component in a nation’s naval fleet mix, modern submarines are multi-mission platforms, fitted with specialized suites of equipment and particular operational characteristics that enable them to operate covertly when required. So long as they retain their attribute of stealth, submarines remain both strategic and economical maritime assets that project a level of strategic power beyond their size. They have smaller crews than surface ships. The mere possibility that one might be loitering near a naval base can confine a battle fleet or restrict its movements, interrupting seaborne commerce that sustains nations in peace and in war.

As long as Canada needs a navy, she needs submarines. However, it is this writer’s opinion that Canada does have a serious problem with her submarine fleet – we are six to eight boats short.

Based in Dartmouth, Tim Dunne is FrontLine’s Atlantic correspondent.