Canadian Military Procurement, Part 1: SUBMARINES

Posted in Canada on May 7, 2013 by maccaulay

As some of you may or may not know (I didn’t know until a few days after it happened), Canada’s troubled diesel submarine fleet took another hit this week when HMCS Victoria, newly out of refit, was downed with a faulty diesel generator. Also in the news of Canadian defense procurement is their possible finalization of a Search-and-Rescue aircraft to replace their aging fleet of C-130s and DHC-8s. So I’ve decided to do a multi-part series on Canadian defense procurement, it’s history, and it’s problems. We’ll start with the submarines, and by all means I apologize for any spittle that flies out of the screen and onto your keyboard. I’m going to try to put this in chronological order, as well as I can from memory. Because there’s a LOT of stuff to remember with these things.

The Canadians were looking to buy new subs in the mid-90s. We approached them to sell some Los Angeles-class SSNs, but the Canadians declined: they had to deal with USN submarines in the Northwest Passage as well as Soviet ones and didn’t feel like operating stuff that we already knew all the ins and outs of. So the British offered them SSNs (the Conqueror class, I think) in the 1990s, but we shot that down because the reactors were developed with American technology and we wanted to sell them our Los Angeles boats. The French came up and said they’d take their diesel powered Rubis-class and modify it to use a nuclear reactor, turning an SSK into an SSN. The Canadian government (and the Canadian Navy) loved it: SSNs allowed much longer loiter time under the ice, and let the RCN expand it’s patrol zone into the Northwest Passage to patrol against other subs. And it’s here, ladies and gentlemen, that our story takes a drastic turn for the suck. See, some folks (who I’m sure were well-meaning) decided that there was NO WAY IN HELL the Canadian Navy was going to operate nuclear powered submarines. “They’re unsafe,” they said! “We’re anti-nuclear energy! …unless it’s selling a CANDU reactor to China!” And so, instead of buying SSNs that could patrol under the ice but would be powered by nuclear generators, the Canadian Navy went with SSKs that would be powered by clean, safe…gas. They ended up buying 4 used boats of the Upholder class SSKs from the Royal Navy that were being decommissioned as opposed to being upgraded for further service. When they were brought into Canadian service the class named was changed to Victoria. They were immediately found to have substandard welds on the interior piping, requiring extensive work (on the Canadian dime) before they could even be accepted for service.

And now, about 30 years and almost 3 billion dollars later…

HMCS Chicoutimi was handed over to Canadian service in 2004, and promptly caught on fire on it’s way back to Canada. They had to declare an emergency in the vicinity of Iceland, and some of the crew was evacuated out because of smoke inhalation. They’re still paying medical bills to most of the folks who were on board when it happened.

HMCS Corner Brook hit the sea floor and dented it’s pressure hull, which means it might be completely incapable of ever going to see again.

HMCS Windsor, as we can see, has a faulty diesel generator. Which is amazing because it just went through a 200 million dollar refit. And that’s lowballing the numbers: I’ve read as high as 220 million. The refit itself was supposed to be done two years ago, and they just got it into the water last year.

HMCS Victoria…what can we say about the Victoria that hasn’t already been said by hundreds of technicians across the breadth of the Canadian coasts? During it’s refit after being transferred to Canadian service, some engineers were getting ready to do work on it. As it costs a lot to run the diesel generators and the batteries were drained for the trip, they hooked up a regular DC (direct current) generator to some of the panels in order to power them for regular checks. That was apparently the wrong move, because the electronics on the sub were so old they weren’t wired for direct current, and started frying themselves.

And that brings me to a big part of the problem that keeps coming up when the Canadian government waffles on procurement: half of the hurdles they have to jump and half the money they have to spend doesn’t come from development. It’s the inverse: they have to spend money buying antique parts that no one else uses because their equipment is so old.

Before the RCN modernized it’s frigates for Libyan duty, they were still buying tubes from a Russian company for some of the displays because it was the only company left that still made them.

They spend so much time waffling, they end up spending more trying to save money than they would if they actually just made a prompt decision and stuck with it.


Australians make new friends in the Indian Ocean, and the future of fighters in the Hawkeye State…

Posted in Iran on March 30, 2013 by maccaulay

…welcome back to the blog.

First on the docket, we’re covering the bit of news that went amazingly under reported (even in Australia) earlier this month: that of an Australian P-3 Orion naval patrol aircraft and an Iranian Navy frigate.

Both sides’ public announcements seem to downplay what happened, but the entire episode goes to show just how randomly different foreign policies can interact: the Royal Australian Air Force P-3 was on patrol as part of Operation Gateway, which is: “part of Australia’s support to cancel people smuggling in the region” according to a Defense spokesman.

The P-3 was on this patrol in the southern part of the Indian Ocean when it came upon the Iranian frigate Sabalan, an almost 40 year-old ship originally designed in Britain, and then built for and ordered by the Shah in the 1970s.

The two apparently traded signals on radar until the Australian plane turned away to head back to it’s base. It’s at this point we’ll go to Iran’s state news agency, FARS, for the rest of the story: “The reconnaissance plane changed its flight route immediately after receiving the warships’ warning but dropped some subsurface detection devices in their path. All the dropped devices were hunted skillfully by the timely action of the Iranian Navy forces.”

At the risk of editorializing, I find this statement correct in the facts, but not in the intentions: the Australian aircraft, operating in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, was probably encountering the Iranian ship on the return leg of it’s journey from Singapore: the ship’s tank was 3/4 full while the plane’s tank was 1/2 dry. It probably would’ve turned away previously if it hadn’t acquired this Iranian ship. And THAT is where the interesting bits and pieces come in.

FARS quotes: “[The plane]…dropped some subsurface detection devices…”. These were more than likely sonobuoys, meant to record and track the sound and strength of the Sabalan’s engines and aid in Australian, American, and other Western navies’ tracking of Iranian warships. I don’t really have much of a doubt that this was a chance encounter. To think that one can find a single ship with a single plane over such a large area, even in this era of satellites…that person is welcome to go to Las Vegas and try their luck. But the information that was gathered on those sonobuoys, and the practice the Australians got by dropping them, is immeasurable.

Now…on to the hometown news.

According to the Des Moines Register’s March 18th story, Chuck Grassley has cosponsored a bill blocking the demobilization of F-16s from the Iowa Air National Guard. The bill to stop these has been cosigned by Democratic and Republican senators Montana, New Jersey, and others. The Iowa ANG’s aircraft were slated to be dispersed to other units or sites throughout the country, but that has been put on hold.
With this newest development and the release of the list of sponsors, an interesting name is missing: fellow Iowan Senator Tom Harkin. I have been told to expect an e-mail from his press office concerning his position on the ANG F-16s on Monday or Tuesday of next week. More when that arrives.

Iran tests new ASM, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Posted in Iran, Middle East on August 8, 2012 by maccaulay

According to United Press International and a slew of other news organizations, the Iranian Revolutionary Gaurd Corps has tested a new Anti-ship Ballistic Missile during the final phase of wargames a week ago. According to FARS (which should be taken with a grain of salt), the missile is capable of propelling a 1400 pound warhead over Mach 3 with active guidance and a range of almost 200 miles. As a comparison, the Exocets used in the Falklands War to sink and/or disable many British ships carried a 360 pound warhead. With a speed of just over 1,000 miles per hour, the Exocet is capable of supersonic speed, but nothing near Mach 3.

The timing of such a test, no matter if it’s true or not, is fairly obvious: Iran threatened a few weeks ago to shut down the Strait of Hormuz to shipping if it was threatened, and the development and deployment of an indigenous anti-ship missile with high effectiveness would greatly increase their bargaining position.

In videos released to the public, the missile is shown being launched from mobile launchers, which would be the most feasible choice in any future conflict: static sites would most probably be the first taken out if the West were to launch an air campaign against the Iranian state. Many countries learned after Desert Storm that the most useful missile system against a Western air campaign is a mobile one.

The obvious Iranian dream weapon would be a missile system that could cover the entire Persian Gulf while also being able to launch at standoff range towards any carrier groups that may be in the Arabian Sea. If it can keep them out of aircraft range, or at least at the extreme range of it, then Western air power to it’s south is negated.

Whether this is an actual system or something older they have gussied up and decided to say is something new is also something to think about. They’ve proven that they have the ability to conduct indigenous engineering programs of fairly high sophistication; the development of the Saeqeh and Azarakesh fighters show that an incremental program is being taken to slowly build up technical know how.

So…is this a new threat to Western naval sovereignty in the Gulf, or is it a huge sham? Perhaps a bit of both, if the Iranians can be counted on for anything. Generally when they do unveil a new piece of equipment, it can be counted on to at least be new. And if they say it was built in Iran, then it can at least be counted on to be built in Iran. But, like used car salesmen, they will always round up on their goods’ strengths when they’re trying to sell them to the public.

What do you think, readers?

Indian Carriers, and amphibious Australians…

Posted in Libyan Civil War on July 26, 2012 by maccaulay

So…better late than never, right?


The story of the Indian Navy’s aircraft carrier Gorshkov (it has yet to settle on an actual Indian name) would be the stuff of HBO comedies. The aircraft carrier was laid down in 1978 as the as the Baku, and launched in 1982. The ship did not begin regular sea excursions until 1987, however, because of troubles with the software system which were to be worked out for a future regular carrier, the Admiral Kuznetzov. The ship was to be populated with the Yak-38 Forger, a Soviet version of the Harrier that, like all Soviet copies, never seemed to work quite as reliably as it’s Western counterpart. In 1991, following the breakup of the Soviet Union, it was renamed Admiral Gorshkov now that it’s namesake city was in a newly independent country. (bit of a faux pas, that one)

In 1994 while going through trials with the Yak-38M, a supersonic version of the Forger, the ship suffered a boiler explosion and was put into dock for repairs where it stayed due to the increasing financial difficulties of the Russian state. Eventually India approached the Russian government with an offer to purchase the carrier on the agreement that it would be converted into a STOBAR launch configuration, roughly similar to the skijump used on the HMS Hermes during the Falklands War and now operated by the Indians as the HMS Vikrant.

The Russians already had a long history of exploring fixed-wing carrier aviation: the Admiral Kuznetzov was in operation by that point and flying Sukhoi Flanker aircraft modified with arrestor hooks for naval operation. The Indianstook issue with that part of the bargain, though, as they didn’t operate Flankers. They did, however, operate MiG 29 Fulcrums, and the Russians had developed a naval variant of the MiG 29 in the 1980s as a possible choice in case the Flanker didn’t work out. So the Indians, not content to buy a Russian carrier on the condition that the Russians rebuild it, then decided to revive a dead Soviet aircraft program to fly off it.

That was 2004. Now, in 2012, flight tests are beginning to proceed on the carrier itself, hopefully to a satisfactory conclusion.





According to, there’s been some recent movements forward in the Australian military’s wishes to increase it’s expeditionary capability. In mid-2006, after it’s experiences overseeing and calming chaotic situations in East Timor and Indonesia, the Australians expressed alot of interest in a marked increase in their amphibious capacity so as to provide improvements to future peacekeeping missions. One proposal was an LHD, or Landing Helicopter (Dock), which has been used by the United States Marine Corps and the Royal Navy (most famously during the Falklands War) for amphibious operations, and was at that time under construction for the Spanish Navy. Another competing concept, this one put forward by Thales Australia, was for a modification on the French Mistral-class assault ship which was being marketed and sold to the Russian Navy.

The LHD design was the victor, and construction began on the heels of the Spanish ship’s completion. Two ships have been ordered, in their current incarnations will be able to serve as amphibious landing ships, medical facilities, floating HQs, and even carriers for V/STOL aircaft.

More on Hezbollah’s new operational announcements…

Posted in Libyan Civil War on July 26, 2012 by maccaulay

…the Christian Science Monitor’s interview with some Hezbollah members has yielded some information which is worth expanding on since the last blog post. The main one is a possible misinterpretation of the Hezbollah member’s quote used to describe the organization’s new operational bent: “seize and hold.”

There is an urge to perhaps make more out of this statement than there, in fact, is. Hezbollah has had a history of adjusting it’s tactics to suit both the strengths of it’s organization and the weaknesses of it’s enemy. And to believe that such a resilient and long-lived guerilla organization with a long view of the history of warfare in Palestine would suddenly decide to make a switch to out-and-out conventional warefare is dangerously biased at worst.

During the 2006 War, Hezbollah demonstrated it’s ability (largely done by the seat of it’s pants) to counteract Israeli pushes with it’s own defensive stands that were significant departures in operational and tactical doctrine from previous battles in the 1980s and 1990s. At the Battle of Bint Jbeil, the IDF was drawn into an urban area only to be assault by interlocking anti-tank guided missiles and machine guns covering a company-sized Hezbollah force. For over a week, the IDF fought to secure the city.

Another telling event happened on a road just north of the Lebanese/Israeli border, when a convoy of Israeli armour encountered a collapsed house blocking the road they were advancing down. A tank from the force attempted to move around the obstruction to find an alternate route, but slid down a hill on one side of the road and threw a track in the process. As another tank attempted to extricate the stricken vehicle, the force came under attack from long range by a Hezbollah force firing anti-tank guided missiles. One Merkava Mk. III tank had it’s barrel blown off, and another suffered multiple hits. Both had to be evacuated from the warzone for the rest of the conflict.

This in itself highlights an important point of Hezbollah’s changing warfighting capability, and what it seems to be aiming for: an ability to recognize possible battlefield opportunities and react to them as they arise. This is something they have the communications technology for already, as Israeli soldiers found burst radios on the bodies of many dead Hezbollah fighters in the 2006 fighting. The fighters training in Iran may also be getting training in military theory, which will allow them to understand the concept of the battlefield as a fluid whole and to move troops around it in a pattern.

During the war, an Israeli tank force attempted to cross the Listani River. The crossing was carried out as per the book, complete with smoke to cover their ascent. But unlike normal, the smoke was provided completely by artillery. None of the armour’s organic grenade launchers were used, because none of the tank crews had trained on their use in years.

It is this blogger’s opinion that a fair amount of luck prevented the Israeli force on the Litani from encountering a hostile crossing just as the force on the road encountered a hostile obstruction: an ambush force, even one brought in by pickup and consisting of only two or three ATGM launchers, would have been able to slow down the Israeli advance by hours. It was an advance that had already been stalled for a quarter of a day in the first place because of the need to coordinate with Northern Front artillery for smoke.

Things like the meat grinder at Bint Jbeil, the attack on the road, and the traffic jam south of the Litani were not just caused by a systemic breakdown in the Israeli Defense Force, no matter how much that may soothe some nerves. The IDF acquitted itself very well. They were caused by an enemy which was able to play it’s own strengths (high morale, knowledge of terrain, defensive strength) against the Israelis’ weaknesses (incomplete local knowledge, low manpower, brittle public opinion, hubris).

These were things that had worked against Israel before, in 1973, in 1982, and now in 2006. And time will tell if they work against it again.

Hezbollah reports a new training program, F-22s to Japan, and F-16s purchased by Iraq…

Posted in Libyan Civil War on July 25, 2012 by maccaulay

Christian Science Monitor has published a very interesting interview with a midlevel member of Hezbollah who reports just returning from a seven-week training camp in Iran. According to the fighter, he received training from the Iranian Revolutionary Gaurds Corps special forces unit Quds Force in “anti-tank missiles,” ambush tactics, and was sent to “universities, factories, and other facilities.” The article then goes on to cite another source inside the organization which reports further training inside the group focusing on “taking and holding” ground as a change from the regular hit-and-run tactics which have been the guerilla organization’s regular tactics since it’s inception.

It is important to study each of these pieces of information individually so that we may add them up together and attempt to come to a more logical picture. Training in “anti-tank missiles” is not surprising: the use of AT-4 Spandrels, an outgrowth of the AT-2 Sagger of Yom Kippur War fame, was widespread in the 2006 War. has come up with two very interesting bits of aircraft news this week: the deployment of F-22s to Kadena Air Force Base in Japan and the final decision to purchase F-16s by Iraq.

The movement of F-22s to Japan is very important: there were issues with the high-altitude oxygen system stemming from a filter needed to measure the quality of the air moving through to the mask to the pilot. Because of this, the F-22s in USAF and ANG service were under orders to only be deployed within 30 minutes of an airbase while operating under strict altitude limits. The deployment to Japan will be undertaken while still under these altitude limits, though with periods out of these airfield distances.


Also, the final ink is now on the contracts for new-build F-16s to be purchased by the Iraqi Air Force, allowing it to join the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Turkey, and Pakistan as the newest member of the Islamic Falcon Club. The Iraqis will be operating the F-16 Block 52, with dorsal fuel tanks as well as upgraded radar sets. Some of the more historically inclined readers will note with irony that it was F-16s of the Israeli Air Force that hit the Osirak reactor in 1981 and destroyed Saddam Hussein’s best chance at a nuclear weapons program. This purchase, however, is small: only 18. The Iraqis will undoubtedly be purchasing more, but from where is an important question. As I pointed out, many countries in the region operate the aircraft in many different Block numbers and variants. It is possible they could buy used aircraft to build their fleet quickly.

The Israeli War of Independence… (Part 1)

Posted in Middle East on September 18, 2011 by maccaulay

…it’s an odd topic, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. One approaches it at one’s own risk. I myself am only interested in the Middle Eastern wars as much as they apply in a military historical context, and not in a political context, but the wars in the Middle East show how much that can be intertwined.

When looking at the Israeli War of Independence, one must go back to the late 1920s and the Arab Revolt. One can’t look at the 1948 War as the first of a series of conflicts: it was only the latest and happened to be the first between the Arabs and the Jews exclusively.

The Arab Revolt of 1936-39 was sparked mainly because of Arab concerns over Jewish immigration to Palestine. I don’t need to go into detail about the history of the Zionist movement here, I would assume that  most people reading this blog are well aware of it. But the immigrating Jews were by and large of a different stripe than the Arabs whose lands they were beginning to move into.

Jews came from, amongst other places, Western Europe and North America. This meant that many were possessed of an ability to work a trade. Machinists, factory workers, and (by the standards of the time) modern farmers. In many ways what the immigrating Jews represented wasn’t so much Jewish culture, as Western culture. And it was this resultant culture clash which caused so much blood.

The Arabs (read: Palestinians) of the time were largely pastoral, and with good reason: what reason did they have to mechanize? The Ottomans and (after WWI) the British provided the governing mechanisms of daily life, and all that was required of most Middle Easterners was to go about their daily routine without thought to larger questions, would that they even think about them.

Enter the Zionist movement, a movement of a completely different stripe than the Arab culture it was looking to usurp/co-exist with. The Zionist movement, anchored by it’s Western industrial base, was largely progressive where as the Arab culture made it’s living by being mostly conservative and stationary.

The Zionists also seemed to have no illusions about the land they were coming to. When a Zionist advance party reported to the Zionist Congress about the state of lands in the Middle East, the paper read: “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” They knew what they were getting into: the Arabs didn’t know what was coming.

At the outbreak of WWII, however, both sides made decisions that would fundamentally make or break their positions for the rest of their days. The Jews had been fighting the White Paper, a British-supplied document almost explicitly siding with the Palestinians over the Jews in Palestine, while the Palestinians had been fighting against further Jewish immigration to their country.

But WWII saw both sides side differently, and in a way which foreshadowed the futures of their respective societies: the Jews chose pragmatically, siding with the British although they didn’t support their colonial Middle Eastern policy. In doing so, the Jews made the far reaching decision to get as many members of their underground army (the Haganah) into the British Army as possible to fight the Nazis and thus gain valuable military experience later.

The Arabs, on the other hand, chose the more emotionally fulfilling answer; siding with the Nazis and even attempting an uprising in Iraq. This itself required the introduction of Jordan’s armed forces, which showed an amazing degree of pragmatism: Jordan took Israel’s approach, using the war as an opportunity to take advantage of Allied (British) profligacy in aid provisions. This resulted (in the 1920s) in the formation of the Arab Legion, a British-led and Jordanian-manned division sized force which would be outfitted and armed to assist in the subjugation of the Arab Revolt both in the late 30s and in Iraq in 1941.

It was telling that when the time came to fight Israel in 1948, Jordan had the army that was the most ready and also the most loathe to go to war.

In the next post, I’ll cover the war itself, and how the Arab and Israeli armies dealt with the problems that confronted them.