Friday, November 09, 2007

More on the submarine debate

The following response to Mark's post on the future of Canada's submarine capability just landed in my inbox, with a request to post it. I do so with pleasure, and thanks to Cmdre (ret'd) Eric Lehre for writing it:

While the Brewster article [Mark] posted was not able to quote me more fully, I did outline that the current questioning of the submarine capability involved two sides. One side likely questioned the expense of submarines given the rising costs of other more immediate government and DND concerns - whatever they may be. On the other side are those who point out it may not be a particularly astute time to eliminate submarines given that nuclear submarines have always been and will continue to be the vehicle of choice for those seeking to move relatively quickly though the Arctic seas. Given the rush to lay claim to arctic offshore areas in pursuit of oil, the odds are this will be even more important. In addition, AIP submarines will surely join nuclear submarines in this and no one predicts the complete elimination of the arctic ice cover anytime soon.

Moreover, the Fall 2007 Issue of the Canadian Naval Review contains an interesting article by Captain Webster on Arctic waterspace management. Therein he makes the case that with submarines of any kind you participate in the western world's effort to manage submarine movements in a process akin to air control. Canada can thus exert considerable pressure on others to cooperate with us in the management of submarine movements in the waters off our Arctic simply by operating our current submarines on the borders of the ice edge.

Those who might not initially cooperate are soon driven to do so because of fears of underwater collision and because cooperation just makes sense. Nations who do not have submarines are not invited to participate in this sensitive work. They are asked nothing and told nothing. This is no exception to this rule.

For further information on the broader issues surrounding the worth of submarines within a Canadian navy, I'd suggest this thread at Broadsides - a forum of Dalhousie's Canadian Naval Review.

My two cents? Well, I'm not nearly as erudite as the good folks at CNR, but I'd say conceding an entire portion of your territory - our subsurface maritime territory - to others is generally a Bad Thing. The fact that even an engaged and intelligent observer of defence issues such as Mark doesn't see our submarine capabilities as important tells me the Navy needs to get off its martyred, long-suffering ass, and start educating Canadians about what the hell it does, and why that's worth paying for. This bunk about influencing the decision-makers ignores a stark reality: politicians more often follow public opinion than lead it.

Update: CDN Aviator lays down yet another reason at for operating submarines:

Submarines are a force multiplier in the sense that they cause an enemy fleet to expend a disproportionate amount of resources to counter. A single submarine known, or suspected, to be operating in an area is enough to cause a fleet to stay home (Falklands ring any bells). If the relatively small Canadian Navy is to "punch above its weight" it can ill afford to find itself without submarines. This is true both at home and abroad.

ASW is one of those difficult skills to get and even more difficult to maintain. Those skills perish very quickly. Depending on the USN to give us some time with their subs to carry out our training means we have to play by their rules, on their terms, when they feel like letting us do it. Mk39 EMATT and Mk30 sleds can only provide so much in terms of training. This may seem a minor use for having our own submarines but with the worldwide proliferation of subs, we cannot discount the need for proper training of our ASW forces. Having our own subs makes sense.

He also takes on Mark's arguments point by point later in the same thread. It's worth scrolling through the whole thing, if only to get a sense of how vast the gulf is between those who know submarine warfare and those who know other forms of warfare, but not subsurface.

It should be assigned reading for those within the sub community who actually want to have a job in ten years, and who are currently sitting back on their duffs and assuming that their political masters will do the right thing. Newsflash: not even other martially-minded people agree on the need for a subsurface force, so how can you expect the politicians or public to?

Oh, and the same holds true for others within the navy who value their brethren beneath the waves, and for those in maritime patrol who feel the same way. Make an argument, folks. Those who oppose expending scarce defence resources on submarines are already making theirs.


Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Thanks Cmdre Lehre for the thoughtful response. I suppose my basic point is that given scarce (they still are, see the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence) defence resources it's a question of where the limited money can most usefully be spent. Sadly, "All is not for the best in the best of all possible worlds."

Just to keep stirring, I think the Air Force should give up its fighter-bombing role since we're almost never likely to use it and concentrate on supporting the Army with transport and helicopters--since the Army is the key service Canadian governments have used, and seem likely to keep using, as a foreign policy instrument.

Plus maritime surveillance--air SAR might well be privatized.

Though how one would recruit pilots for the much smaller number of fighters necessary for surveillance and interdiction for Canadian territory would be a major problem--unless the Bears and any successor really do re-emerge as a threat.

In other words, it seems to me the CF should aim at being a mini-Marine Corps in terms of overseas service, with the extra resources needed for surveillance and defence of Canadian territory and waters.


12:47 p.m., November 09, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Just to keep stirring, I think the Air Force should give up its fighter-bombing role since we're almost never likely to use it and concentrate on supporting the Army with transport and helicopters--since the Army is the key service Canadian governments have used, and seem likely to keep using, as a foreign policy instrument.

Although the CF is undoubtedly a "foreign policy instrument" as you state, Mark, it's not only that. I think the defence of our own territorial waters is important, as is the ability to attack, defend, and listen beneath the waves whether at home or abroad.

Besides, there are certain specialized capabilities that, once developed, a nation should give up only for extremely compelling reasons. Submarine warfare is one of those.

For those looking for a rough analogy, look to the Leo purchase: we didn't think we'd need tanks, we planned to take another direction, and then we thought better of it. I'd suggest much the same holds true of a submarine force.

Whether the Victorias are the way to go...that's a tougher question.

12:57 p.m., November 09, 2007  
Blogger fm said...

In Mark's defence, most of my career was in airborne ASW and I agreed with him. I still do. Most of those arguments were not terribly persuasive (bar one -- more on that in a minute).

The idea that 'the best ASW asset is another submarine' has always been heavily contested in the ASW community. Especially if your submarine is a few diesels and you have a lot of ground to cover. With the advent of ship-launched UUVs and portable seabed arrays, this idea becomes even more problematic. One way to tell if ASW is a serious issue with your capability planners will be to observe whether the ASW capability retained in the Aurora is replaced, especially in terms of total numbers. I have my doubts about that one (as do you guys, it seems). And you should press submarine supporters to describe just what under-ice capability there is with a diesel submarine (it's outside my direct observation, but I have heard it is extremely limited).

Moreover, in the era of constrained resources that you find yourselves in at the moment, just how credibly should we rate the Russian threat? Is Canada so bereft of friends who have nuclear submarines? Is the NATO treaty so useless? (The issue of the US submarines in Canadian waters is not something I really think Canada needs to be responding to with submarines of its own. It is a political issue, in my opinion. And there are more reliable ways of ensuring detection -- seabed arrays, for example. 'Showing the flag' -- underwater -- is a concept I am having difficulty with!).

The one argument I do agree with is that of ASW training. It's true, owning your own submarines helps a great deal with maintaining your own ASW skills. Canada would miss that, just as the US misses having diesels of their own. Still, even this capability can be mitigated. There are still plenty of submarines in NATO and it's simply a matter of exercising enough with allies and using other forms of simulation to make up for the loss. Combined with the proper assessment of the submarine threat to Canada, I don't think that this training utility is sufficient justification, but it was the best of a poor bunch for me.

So that's my (abbreviated) thoughts anyway. I hope you don't mind me commenting from afar.

12:36 a.m., November 10, 2007  
Blogger fm said...

PS. On the issue of water space management: if Canada intends to operate UUVs off warships/patrol vessels to investigate subsurface contacts, as technological trends would seem to suggest, in the interests of safety your allies should let you in on the movements of their submarines. It presents the very same concerns as a manned submarine. It's not a guarantee of course, but then is the price of this information worth maintaining a submarine capability?

1:20 a.m., November 10, 2007  
Blogger CDNDG said...

Well, the Chinese again popping up in the news:

Another Chinese sub surfacing right next to a US aircraft carrier. We need to keep our skills sharp in the face of the increasing numbers of submarines around the world.

11:39 p.m., November 10, 2007  

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