Government spending $3.5 million on spare parts for aging submarines that rarely patrol

Only two of Canada’s Victoria Class submarines have been at sea over the past four years, for a total of 214 days

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OTTAWA — Canada will spend $3.5 million to get spare parts for the Navy’s aging fleet of submarines, which spends more time under repair than in the water, according to documents obtained by the National Post.

Canada’s Victoria Class submarines went into service in the early 2000s after the Chrétien government bought the four used submarines from the United Kingdom, but they have been plagued by technical and maintenance issues since they were first purchased. Only two of them have been at sea over the past four years — for a total of 214 days.

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In a 2021 briefing note sent to then Procurement Minister Anita Anand, bureaucrats sought permission to go ahead with a sole-sourced contract to purchase 35 actuators, a critical part that helps to keep a sub stable and manoeuvrable. The briefing note mentions the current actuators contain cadmium, a toxic metal, and could face restrictions entering European waters as a result.

The note also details how only one company in the world is available to make the actuators: Aircraft Appliances and Equipment Ltd., based in Brampton, Ont., which holds the rights to make the actuators designed by Triumph Ltd.

“These units are very specialized hardware based on outdated 30-year-old technology. There is limited worldwide demand for these actuators,” it reads.

The note mentions that only Canada, the U.K. and Australia have similar submarines, limiting the company’s potential customers, but it does hold patents on the spare parts.

“Given the intellectual property rights, a competitive process is not an option.”

The department did note the company agreed to provisions saying Canada was receiving the best deal it had offered anyone else.

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Anand approved the sole-sourced purchase, with her department cautioning that if she didn’t the submarines could become inoperable.

Using an Order Paper Question, Conservative MP James Bezan asked the department how often the four subs had been in the water over the last 48 months. The response revealed that just two of the subs had spent anytime at sea at all, the HMCS Victoria and HMCS Windsor, which spent just 214 days at sea.

The Victoria made up 99 of those days and the Windsor 115. The HMCS Chicoutimi and the HMCS Corner Brook both spent the entirety of the past 48 months being repaired and upgraded.

Major Soomin Kim, a spokesman for the Department of National Defence, confirmed the submarines have not been available as often as the department wants, which has had an impact on recruitment.

“Canadian Submarine Force aims to schedule 270 sea days per year for the submarine force. In the past several years, this has not always been achievable due to maintenance periods or unforeseen mechanical defects, which has caused an impact to the trained effective strength of our submarine force,” he said in an email.

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Bezan argued this is one of many signs the Liberal government is failing to spend enough on defence.

“We have submarines we can’t keep under water, our aging surface fleet still hasn’t been replaced, and we are shutting down fighter squadrons because we can’t keep planes in the air. Justin Trudeau is ignoring the threats Canada is facing and refusing to invest in military equipment and personnel to keep Canada safe,” he said in an email. “Conservatives will invest in our military and always stand up for our troops.”

Kim said the goal is for the fleet to have a cumulative 270 days at sea every year. He said the department’s aim is to get all of the subs in working order and back on patrol so they can attract sailors to the job.

He said the actuators bought through the sole-source contract have not been installed yet, and they are working with the contractor to determine when they will be delivered.

The department is in the middle of trying to modernize the submarines with further work expected to keep them operational into the next decade. Kim said the Navy is starting to work on a project looking at what could be available to replace the Victoria class in the 2030s.

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“The Canadian Patrol Submarine Project examines all conventional options available to Canada, gathers information, and conducts analysis of potential submarines capable of meeting the RCN’s requirements,” he said.

The Ottawa Citizen reported earlier this year that the Navy is pushing to buy up to a dozen new submarines, which could cost between $60 billion and $100 billion.

A Senate committee studying threats to Canada earlier this year strongly recommended Canada move quickly to replace the fleet with one that can operate under Arctic ice.

“In the committee’s opinion, Canada urgently needs to enhance its ability to detect underwater threats. In that context, the committee encourages the Government of Canada to explore options to procure relevant equipment, such as submarines and underwater sensing capabilities,” the Senators wrote.

Twitter: RyanTumilty
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