Thursday, October 11, 2007
The defence minister's office recently requested a briefing on how long it would take to introduce new submarines – a move that could set the stage for the replacement of the troubled Victoria-class boats, defence sources have told The Canadian Press.At the same time, a key refit contract involving the compressed-air system aboard HMCS Victoria has been put on hold, an upgrade which left incomplete would mean the warship would not be able to fire torpedoes. Both actions raise questions about the future of the four glitch-plagued submarines that were purchased from Britain in 1998 under the former Liberal government and have yet to reach full operational status. In the briefing, which was reportedly delivered by senior officials last week to Peter MacKay's new deputy minister, the government was told it would take six years to bring new submarines completely up to snuff, starting from the moment of contract signing.A second defence source said a more conservative estimate of the timeline would be up to eight years. A spokesperson for MacKay declined to give details of the briefing. "The minister has no comment on the substance of briefings, which are often sensitive in nature," said Jay Paxton, the minister's press secretary. "The minister does view these subs as an important strategic asset for Canada." The conjecture comes at a time when the Harper government is casting around for ways to bolster the country's sovereignty over the Arctic. The issue of the Far North is expected to figure prominently in next week's throne speech.