April 12, 2011: Thirteen years after purchasing four slightly-used British diesel-electric submarines, Canada still has not gotten any of them in shape to go to war. Currently, only one of the four Victoria class subs can even go to sea, and none will be able to fight until their torpedo tubes are converted to fire the U.S. made Mk 48 torpedoes (rather than the British Tigerfish and Spearfish models the subs were originally designed for.) But the conversion kits have been ordered, and are to be installed within two years. What Canada has learned from all this is that submarines are expensive boats to build and maintain, even if they are second hand.
It all began in the 1990s, when Canada wanted to replace its 1960s era diesel-electric subs. This did not seem possible, because the cost of new boats would have been about half a billion dollars each. Britain, however, had four slightly used Upholder class diesel-electric subs that it was willing to part with for $188 million each. Britain had built these boats in the late 1980s, put them in service between 1990 and 1993, but then mothballed them shortly thereafter when it decided to go with an all-nuclear submarine fleet.
So the deal was made in 1998, with delivery of the Upholders to begin in 2000. Canada decommissioned its Oberons in 2000, then discovered that the British boats needed more work (fixing flaws, installing Canadian equipment) than anticipated. It wasn't until 2004 that the subs were ready, and that year one of them was damaged by fire, while at sea. This boat is to be back in service next year. By the end of this year, three boats should be back in service. Maybe.
The Upholders are now called the Victoria class, and are much more modern and capable than the older Oberons. The Victorias are 2,160 tons (displacement on the surface), have a crew of 46, and six torpedo tubes (and 18 Mk 48 torpedoes.) The electronics on the Victorias are state of the art and a primary reason for buying these boats second-hand. The subs will be used to patrol Canada's extensive coastline. The passive sonars on these subs make it possible to detect surface ships over a great distance. But not having any subs on active duty, ready for combat, for over a decade has become a major issue in Canada.
The problem is that the subs were bought without a thorough enough examination. It was later found that most major systems had problems and defects that had to be fixed (at considerable expense). Thus these boats have spent most of their time, during the last decade, undergoing repairs or upgrades. The final fix will be to get the torpedo tubes working. In any event, a Canadian warship has never fired a torpedo in combat, mainly because the Canadian Navy did not get subs until the 1960s. Lots of Canadian surface ships have fired torpedoes in combat, but the last time that happened was in 1945. The sole operational Victoria class boat is on patrol in the Pacific, listening for trouble which, if found, will be reported to the proper authorities.