October 07, 2004

Tragedy beneath the waves

A Canadian naval officer, with two small children at home, perished yesterday. When it comes to military personnel lost, however it happens, I wish journalists were... smarter, frankly. Case in point: the National Post's Don Martin, who decides today would be a good day to denigrate the submarining profession. (subscriber only)

Me, I'm not inclined to take too seriously on naval matters the opinion of someone who doesn't know what a "fire control system" is. Hint, Don... it has nothing to do with fires.

UPDATE: A couple facts you may have missed from the story... the sub "purchase" was actually more of a barter deal, with the British continuing to use CFB Suffield for tank exercises, in return for the subs. Although the value was pegged at $750 million, this was never "real money" for either side... if the Canadians hadn't picked up the subs, the Brits likely would just have stopped using Suffield, in the same way the Germans recently closed down their leased tank ranges at CFB Shilo. Basically the Canadian government put the submarine costs into a shared account, which is then drawn down over the years to pay the base rental fees. Another way to look at it is the Brits gave the Canadians a shopping cart for their military's leftover equipment warehouse and a $750 million coupon, in return for driving rights on a large swathe of prairie we weren't going to use anyway. So we basically got the subs for free (or, with overrun costs, maybe $150 million of actual taxpayer money, tops); it was these four, or nothing. The sub deal itself should not be the issue here.

Nor should the existence of Canadian subs, either. I find it unfathomable that people who believe Canada should concentrate on territorial defence don't see the value of a weapons system that even your allies are never quite sure is there. Indeed, it's fair to say that American sharing of naval operations and intelligence data with Canada is largely just to cover themselves, because THEY'RE never sure... a Canada without subs would rapidly lose any advance notice of American naval activities in our own waters: everything else the USN can pretty much see coming. Subs should be Canadian nationalists' favourite military system.

There are some legit questions about the sub program, and HMCS Chicoutimi in general, that could be asked here, in addition to the necessary investigation into the fire itself. Like why the Canadians chose to delete the British Upholders' significant sub-to-surface missile capability, which could have had peacemaking and land force support value. Or why a frigate wasn't in escort for the Chicoutimi's first Atlantic trip (there's the funding issue that should be hammered on). But the Canadian military experience for the last couple decades has been, if it's embarrassing, the government will shut it down. I fear we're going to see that same kind of knee-jerkism here, again, and most of the generally unlettered ostensibly "save our military" criticism at the moment (hint: any article on the Chicoutimi that uses the words "rust bucket," "Iltis" or "Sea King") is only enabling that response.

UPDATE 2: For thoroughness' sake, I should have mentioned that continued British use of the Goose Bay air training facility was also one of the rents on the sub deal balance sheet, as well as Suffield. But Suffield was the key asset: indeed, the last defence minister, David Pratt, then serving as chair of the Commons defence committee, described it in the Commons as "We essentially traded the costs for the use of Suffield, Alberta, by British forces." I'm still waiting to see that mentioned in an article on the fire on the Chicoutimi, though.

Posted by BruceR at 05:18 PM

Baffled AND rattled

Andrew Sullivan is baffled. And rattled.

At least the logical fallacy here's easy to spot. The revealing sentence is the fourth one of the "simple question" post, beginning "the war was launched because..." where Sullivan conflates his own reasons for supporting the war with the actual reason it occurred. When he figures that one out... hoo boy.

Posted by BruceR at 02:16 PM