Tuesday, October 05, 2004

When life hands you a lemon, give it to the Navy

Babble on.

I was as excited as any other military-watcher when the Canadian government finally announced a plan to replace the ancient Oberon-class submarines with barely-used Upholder-class boats mothballed by the Brits.

But since then, there have been valve problems, hull dents, and 2000-litre leaks. I've known some submariners over the years - God bless them all, but especially Allan - and only the smallest fraction of any problems escapes the confines of that sealed community. In other words, whatever problems we know about, the submariners are undoubtedly dealing quietly with a host of others.

Of course, a distress call is kind of tough to keep out of the press:

A rescue effort is underway off the west coast of Ireland after a Canadian military submarine with 57 people on board issued a distress call Tuesday.

Military officials in Halifax said a fire broke out on HMCS Chicoutimi about 425 kilometres west of Ireland, but has since been extinguished.
A spokesman described the Chicoutimi as "dead in the water," or unable to move under its own power.

Now I don't want to be too harsh here - after all, we're not the only country with a submarine procurement problem.

But to all you folks who do the buying at NDHQ: do all of us a favour, and read this before you make your next purchase.

Babble off.


At 5:20 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't necessarily blame this fire on a faulty procurement process. I've experienced fires on a Canadian warship -- neither of which ever made it into the papers and agree with the official line on this one, "Like any ship or submarine, these are complex entities, warships in general, and although fires and floods and incidents of that nature are a rare occurrence they do happen and they will continue to happen."

At 6:27 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you in the forces yourself, Damian?

At 8:45 p.m., Blogger Dex said...

Its no big deal this stuff happens but if you have a culture that thinks defense will stop healthcare nothing can be done right in the public eye. I watched the CBC coverage of the story and all I heard which was true about the problems about the purchase. Note one of the flooding reported earlier was from the signal ejector ie possible human error but any report was bad. Like anything else find out what happen and train others to prevent it.

At 10:35 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rant on.

I got to see most of the news conference on CBC and after that display of moronic ignorance, I've lost any amusement I had at the stupidity of the Canadian media and I've gone to absolute contempt.

Someone should explain to the CBC that showing a clip of an Oberon diving and describing it as the Chicoutimi does not do much for their credibility.

Is there a single reporter in Canada that has any experience at anything other than journalism courses?
How many times do you have to explain to reporters that if a vessel loses main propulsion, that means the propellor won't turn, the vessel can't move on its own?
For the tenth time, it's diesel-electric. Diesel runs generators, which charge batteries, which supply a electric motor that turns the propellor. No, you can't hook the diesels up to the propellor and no, that does not mean there is something wrong with the diesels. And the design hasn't changed since the last 5 reporters asked that question.

Why is it reporters can't spend 5 minutes on the net looking up the basics on submarines before making fools of themselves on national TV?

Electrical panel fire. British built. Electrical problems. BRITISH built. Electrical problems. Why is this a surprise to anyone????

Submarines go under the water. That means sealed environment. So yes, submariners are very worried about smoke and yes, submariners do emergency drills to train for fires. Lots of emergency drills. Sub captains get cranky if they don't manage to get a least one emergency exercise in every day. It's the Navy, not a @#$%@$%#$%@ cruise ship.

I spent over 6 years trying to keep an Oberon at sea. I wasn't very happy when they went for the Upholders cause British boats are a PITA to maintain. I and every other Canadian sailor knew there were going to be problems and the bureaucrats in Ottawa were blowing smoke with the schedules and costing.

A submarine is a big, very complex machine. The smart way to build a new submarine class is to prototype one and run it through a debugging commission before building the rest of the class.
Building 4 at once, not giving them a proper debugging period before mothballing them , trying to recommission them on the cheap and blandly claiming there won't be problems? B*******t.

It's also B******t about the numbers the press are throwing around about the BILLION dollar cost. We traded access to training bases for the damn things. Claiming that is a direct cost to the Canadian taxpayer is an outright lie.

There's a joke somewhere in there about British equipment, limeys and lemons, but I'm too pissed to make it. Nothing I've seen yet is that unexpected or that big a deal to a Canadian submariner. Like the rest of the military we are very good at getting the best out of the lowest bidder, cheap junk the government buys.

As lousy as British boats are, they are a damn good buy for the actual cost.

Rant off cause right now I'm too pissed at the willfully ignorant morons of the media to make sense

At 10:59 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Anonymous 5:20, I'm not blaming DND procurement for the fire. I've never been through a fire at sea, but I have friends who have, and they tell me it's not a pleasant experience - or an uncommon one. But I am blaming DND procurement for buying subs that have a whole host of problems, electrical included.

Anonymous 6:27, no, I'm not in the military. I spent some time at the Royal Military College, but didn't graduate. I do keep in touch with some of my former classmates, and other military folk - regular force and reserves.

Anonymous 10:35 makes some excellent points, and from the far-more-credible-than-me perspective of a (former?) submariner. (I've actually given up on the press when it comes to military matters. The Post is the only media outlet that makes any attempt to get it right.) A-10:35 makes one point I'd disagree with, however: that these subs didn't really cost us anything because we swapped the Brits for training space. Let's say we didn't buy the Upholders. The Brits would still need to train, and they'd pay us for that. That payment could be used to buy subs that actually worked.

The LA-class boats are a proven commodity. I know the transition from diesel-electric to nuclear is a difficult one to make, and I know it would be a tough sell politically (the word 'nuclear' alone loses you votes), but given the amount of under-ice patrolling we should be doing, nucs are the best fit.

A-10:35, what do you think?

At 1:26 a.m., Blogger Dex said...

A LA class? are you serious? No way they would totally freak out and you know it. I can see the Libby Davis and the rest of the NDP laying across the bow trying to prevent the sub from getting underway. Hell the CBC would do some sob story on how some homeless person lost their illegal drugs because of the cost of the sub, Dude I could go on and on. Please don't wish that on the people in Canada and the U.S. But look on the bright side if Quebec designed and built it that in itself would be another story.

At 1:28 a.m., Blogger Jack said...

A 10:35

sorry for the rant. I lost it after watching the press conference. Been a long time since I let anyone crack me like that.

My comment on the cost was based on a couple of points. First the UK Labour government had announced overseas training programs were to be cut. Granted, that might have been a bargaining position but with the way the "peace dividend" military budget cuts were going on in the late 90's I doubt it. If they stopped the training we wouldn't be getting any rent checks anyway.

Secondly, I don't claim to have any inside information about this but I don't think Canada ever got checks from the British Treasury for the base rent. I do know there was a lot of trade off dealmaking going on and I suspect the rent for Goose Bay and Sheffield got traded off for cross training and Nato dues etc. etc. One of the little items that kept us at the "diplomatic table" when our military and financial clout couldn't justify it.

I do know the Upholders were an acute embarassment to the British government and there is no way we paid more than a fraction of the real price.

As for the LA class. I was still in when the defence paper came out with the nuclear subs in it. The USN had a coronary. A USN admiral stated that the RN would not be allowed to sell licenced nuclear tech to any third country. (RN uses US designed reactors under licence)
Reagan himself publically told the USN to back off and stop interfering. The USN does not want Canada to know what they were up to under the ice cap.

The collapse of the Cold War does not really change the situation. The Americans don't see that helping Canada exert sovereignty in the Artic is in their long term interest. They don't trust us and frankly, after what happened to the white paper and the history of the last few years, they are right not to.
So I don't think we have a chance at any surplus LA class.
You already know my opinion of British boats and if there is anything worse than a second hand British boat, it would have to be a French nuke. ( Before anyone dimisses me as just another anti french bigot, why don't you ask the Argies how many Mirages and Exocets they traded for 2 hits. Or Saddam about how his very expensive French antiaircraft system worked. Or research the brand new French aircraft carrier. You know, the one they can't get out of harbour, much less launch aircraft from.)
I think Ottawa's ignoring the Artic is long term suicide but paying the price to exert soveriegnty and find out whats going on up there,,,,well thats realpolitik and Canada,,,,, well we're a soft power kind of place, dontcha know.

(for clarification, very much exNavy, no pretensions that I have inside information or a conduit to the present military, just a visceral hatred of the Canadian media and the sure and certain knowledge that Ottawa's version of the world is a bad opium dream)

At 9:28 a.m., Blogger Prolix said...

I agree with the comments regarding the dailies. Perhaps its time to check out some of the academic journals, or international newspapers. All I'm saying is if you feel like you're continually beating your head against the wall, perhaps its time to look elsewhere for your information.

At 4:07 p.m., Blogger Chris Taylor said...

Oh boy, time for some snarky Red Ensign inside baseball. =)

Damian, I seem to recall making a similar point about the viability and proven capabilities of retired Los Angeles-class boats in the comments to this Flea-post, but somebody pooh-poohed it saying it would cost too much to develop the expertise in such a dissimilar boat.

Those old 688s are starting to look pretty by comparison, though.

At 4:50 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Boy, it's getting to the point where a guy can't promote discussion in his own comments section!

Touche, Chris. You're right, I did make the counter-argument over at Flea's site. But I think I can make a subtle distinction without being overly Kerryesque here: the nuc's are the best fit for our needs and the diesel-electric are the best fit for our budget, culture and experience.

At 8:33 a.m., Blogger Prolix said...

Unfortunately, the need to even have submarines is now being questioned by the media. Unfortunate because as an offensive weapon in war -- it's hard to beat having a sub, even if it is a diesel-electric (they can be quieter btw than the LA-class).

At 8:52 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

LIFE-EXTENSION PROGRAM, May 2003, http://www.dnd.ca/crs/pdfs/subaq_e.pdf

At 2:15 a.m., Blogger Doug said...

Is there a single reporter in Canada that has any experience at anything other than journalism courses?

No, they go straight from Sheridan to writing copy.

I can see the Libby Davis and the rest of the NDP laying across the bow trying to prevent the sub from getting underway.

Do you also see it diving?


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