Tuesday, May 30, 2006

What's wrong with this Canadian submarine story?

According to The Halifax Herald Limited's story, "Rush escape’ could be deadly problem, rush escape involves flooding an escape compartment so a sub’s entire crew of up to 59 people can exit in rapid succession. Rush escape has never been used in the Canadian navy, and it is "... not currently feasible from Victoria-class submarines," say navy documents.

"The issue is it takes so long to flood the compartment, you run out of air," Cmdr. Bill Irvine said in a recent interview. Engineers are now looking at increasing the emergency air supply for escape compartments, said Cmdr. Irvine, who runs the navy’s Sub Safe Organization.
"It would help the problem, but until we can do some more testing on the system, we don’t know whether it will fix the problem," he said.

Well, Molten Eagle would never doubt Cmdr. Irvine or any officer of the Canadian submarine force. His facts must be correct.

Submarine escapes have been infrequent and hypothetical at best, however. Why does this issue arise now? Should the proposed air supply fix work, it must surely not be economical (otherwise, what has been the delay thus far in potentially saving 59 submariners?). If it is really not an economical upgrade, add crew safety to that growing list of Victoria-class submarine impairments.

Faced with enormous costs to upgrade yesteryears submarines, perhaps a better decision would be to buy state-of-the-art AIP models (built in Canada). Good for Canadian employment and good for Canadian defence. So, is this whole story a political gambit? Can we smell cheese in this mousetrap?

Canada is about to add new equipment that will sustain people in a disabled submarine for seven days, Cmdr. Irvine said.

One of the more urgent justifications for Canadian submarines is assertion of Canada's arctic sovereignty. Generally, non-nuclear submarines cannot operate in the Arctic, however. Not so for purpose-built AIP submarines. Of the four submarines Canada bought from Britain in 1998, only one is still seaworthy and another may never sail again. The Canadian military proposed operating a dozen nuclear submarines in 1998. When that idea was scrapped, the military acquiesced to the now famous second-hand, Victoria-class, diesel subs. Stay tuned.


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