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Canadian Navy Makes Plans to Replace Aging Victoria-Class Subs

Submarine HMCS Corner Brook
HMCS Corner Brook at St. Johns, 2012 (File image)`

Published Apr 10, 2023 1:01 AM by Brian Gicheru Kinyua

As the United States, the UK and Australia join forces on the construction of nuclear submarines, Canada is reportedly weighing whether to purchase up to 12 conventionally-powered attack subs. According to local media, the submarine project is expected to cost in the range of $44 billion to $73 billion if pursued.

The proposed new submarines will replace the Victoria-class vessels, which are scheduled to be retired in mid-2030s. There is already a sentiment within the Canadian defense circles that the replacement process is running behind schedule, considering that it would take at least 15 years to design and build new vessels.

While the Canadian federal government is yet to commit funding for the submarines, the Royal Canadian Navy has revealed that the priority is to have the submarines’ acquisition included in the upcoming Defense Policy Update (DPU). The government is currently reviewing the existing defense policy (released in 2017), with the goal being to update the long-term needs of Canada’s military.

In July 2021, the Royal Canadian Navy created the Canadian Patrol Submarine Project (CPSP), a special team tasked with guiding timely replacement of the Victoria-class submarines. The conclusions of CPSP will be included in the new policy update.

“The CPSP is examining all conventional options available, gathering information, and conducting an analysis of potential submarines capable of meeting Royal Canadian Navy’s requirements. However, the CPSP does not commit the government to any specific course of action, but it is intended to facilitate an informed decision when required,” defense spokesperson Dan Le Bouthillier told the Canadian Defense reporter David Pugliese.

Bouthillier has come out as a strong supporter for replacing the submarines, arguing last month that they are one of Canada’s most strategic assets, especially for expeditionary missions in the Arctic where Russia is expanding its military influence.

Canada is currently served by four Victoria-class diesel-electric submarines, which it acquired in 1998 from the Royal Navy.

However, with Canada’s defense interests expanding to work more in the Arctic waters and supporting operations ashore, the submarines in use must meet certain requirements such as long endurance in the ocean without needing support facilities. By virtue of their design, the Victoria-Class submarines are limited in this sense.

Another hurdle in operating the aging Victoria-class fleet has been the high cost of maintenance. Since 2017, the Canadian forces have spent over $1.4 billion on submarine maintenance. Further, in 2019 and 2020, no submarine operations were conducted, with one submarine (HMCS Corner Brook) not being at sea in the last five years, according to the Ottawa Citizen.