Bill Robinson on Canada’s $10B Nuclear Submarine Options

Rideau Institute senior advisor Bill Robinson responds to Defence Minister Peter MacKay and subsequent media reports suggesting Canada is considering purchasing nuclear submarines:

“Assume a 4 sub purchase to replace the Victorias one for one (Perrin Beatty wanted 10-12 SSNs, but that’s way out of the question). U.S. subs would be the best, but they’re very big and way too expensive, and the U.S. would probably be no more enthusiastic to sell them now than they were then. Chinese and Russian are not on the table, and most other SSN programs are way too experimental. That leaves French and British SSNs as the only potential purchases. Forget used. You have all the problems of used conventional subs plus radiation concerns and the problem of what to do when the much-reduced reactor life runs out. The French Barracuda class is currently in production, with unit cost currently estimated to be about $2 billion in Canadian dollars. So that would be $8 billion just for subs, on top of which would be training, shore infrastructure, initial spares, conversion to Canadian standards and equipment — maybe 25% or more additional cost, for a total of around $10 billion. (And this is not a lifetime operations cost estimate — just the cost of the initial operational capability.)  The British Astute class SSN appears to be roughly the same cost, with the first three Astutes costing about $6.5 billion Canadian. Further production would probably drop that figure somewhat, but overall the cost of buying British SSNs would probably be around the same as that of buying French.

“All in all, a huge amount of money for a marginal capability at a time of supposed austerity even though the money the government has promised for the Canada First Defence Strategy is almost certainly insufficient to pay for its currently planned equipment purchases and DND is supposed to be under pressure to reduce its spending.”

– Bill Robinson
newman-robinson@rogers.com

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