Submarines: Second Hand Sometimes Sucks


July 18, 2007: Canada is having no end of trouble with the four used diesel-electric subs it bought from Britain nine years ago. Submarines are expensive boats to build and maintain, even if they are second hand. Canada wanted to replace its 1960s era diesel-electric subs, but the cost of new boats would have been be several hundred million 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 (for about $500 million each), 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 British boats to begin in 2000.

The Upholders are now called the Victoria class, and are much more modern and capable than the older Oberons. The Victorias are 2160 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.

Canada decommissioned its Oberons in 2000, then discovered that the British boats needed more work (fixing flaws, installing Canadian equipment) than anticipated. This delayed use of the new boats. But not having many subs on active duty for the past eight years has become a major issue in Canada. The British insist that the boats left their yards in excellent shape, and the Canadians did sign off on the refurbishment work done before the subs crossed the Atlantic. According to the British, the delays are mainly the fault of the Canadian shipyards that have been adding equipment and making modifications desired by the Canadians. This work has taken longer than anticipated, and then there has been a bit of bad luck (accidents.) As a result, only one of the boats is currently in service. Another is not expected to be available until 2009, and the other two are undergoing scheduled refits.

What particularly hacks off the Canadians is that these boats have a useful life of thirty years, and a third of that is gone, without Canada getting much work out of them. The subs have, however, proved to be a bonanza for Canadian media, politicians and pundits, none of whom miss a chance to denounce all the problems and delays.




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