So, media reporting about submarine accidents and damage from an underwater grounding is just so much uninformed, misinformed hype, Tim Dunne? Dunne wrote in The Chronicle Herald op-ed page on the weekend how the grounding of HMCS Corner Brook was really no big deal. The sensational photos shown on the CBC of the sub’s stove-in hull were misinterpreted or over-amped as to their significance.
Because after all, the only part that got smashed up was the sub’s fiberglass casing. The only part that had a four-by-five metre hole in it was the fiberglass casing, not the “special high yield steel” of the sub’s pressurized hull. That hull, according to Dunne, “able to withstand incredible stresses, was untouched.”
So the sub hit bottom in 45 metres of water and tore the nose cone off. No big deal. Get another nose cone, eh? Oh, and just replace a couple million dollars worth of equipment housed up there. Wait, one more thing: fire the captain.
But the terrible media misreporting of this routine incident must have been deeply felt by higher-ups in the navy. That’s why they would no doubt smile and approve of a frequent-flyer flack like Dunne defending their subs in the biggest paper in the navy’s home town.
According to Dunne, “Canada’s submarine community could be forgiven for their disappointment at the level of ignorance demonstrated by some commentators.” It would appear that people involved with the submarine program, that community of military and civilians whose paycheques and professions depend on it, who have been working like demons for more than 10 years to get the subs to sea safely, are disappointed that some media folks are not experts in submarine groundings “during advanced submarine officer training.”
Of course, to sub fleet apologists like Dunne, the purchase of the Victoria-class boats has been a roaring success. All told, he says, the flotilla has “accumulated 900 days at sea since they came into service in 2003” making it “an essential component of the RCN’s fleet.”
Simple arithmetic applied to that number puts each of the four subs at sea an average of 25 days a year over that time. Maybe that is an impressive number, but it doesn’t sound like something that would scare the Russian navy. And by the way, 2003 is the year the subs officially entered service. The first, HMCS Victoria, was commissioned in 2000. Work on the subs getting ready for Canadian service went on years before that at UK facilities in Barrow-in-Furness.
Whatever. Dunne also remarked on how these poorly-informed media hype artists suggested it was time for a public debate about how well or poorly the submarine program has served the national interest. But, he says, it can’t just be a free-for-all that will allow just anyone to comment about this multi-billion dollar program.
Sure, have your little debate, he suggests, but the critics have to change first. You can hold a debate, he argues, “only if those on whom we depend for full and accurate information meet their obligations.”
Now, Tim Dunne if anyone should know about that. He’s not just a communications consultant, he’s also a recently-retired military officer. Not a submariner, mind you, but a public affairs officer. He seems to miss his old days spinning for the military.
His articles in the Herald run like a production straight out of a military cheerleading team: “Military Standing on Guard over Christmas,” “F-35: Case for the Defence,” “HMCS Charlottetown vs. Ghadafi” and “Canada’s Achievements in Afghanistan Worthy of Pride.” All of which is entirely impartial, straightforward military affairs analysis, including the part about Christmas.
But if the well-informed, like Maj. Dunne (ret’d) don’t think the less well informed (like the rest of us) should be talking about the sub program, maybe we should listen to others. Like, for instance, the Defence Industry Daily, which serves “defense procurement managers and contractors.”
Here’s an excerpt from their review of the program published last October.
The “expert” magazine reported, “the country’s purchase of 4 second-hand diesel-electric Upholder Class submarines from Britain ran into controversy almost from its inception. In early 2008, controversy flared again as the submarines’ C$ 1.5 billion Victoria Class In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) became an issue. Subsequent revelations concerning spiralling costs, boats in poor condition, and few to no actual submarines in service have kept the fleet controversial to the present day.”
As a result: “Beyond the costs involved, the need for refits and their slow pace have left Canada fielding the equivalent of training submarines for about a decade. At more than one point, problems have left the entire fleet of commission.”
And by the way, the magazine also cast doubts on the navy’s plan to have HMCS Chicoutimi back in operation by 2013. “Inside sources suggest that serious mistakes at the shipyard may make 2016 a more realistic date. It’s also possible that she may never become a fully operational boat.”
So when reading the well-informed insider views of Maj. Dunne (ret’d), keep in mind that TV skeptics aren’t the only Canadians concerned about the cost, efficiency and military usefulness of the Victoria-class fleet. Attacking the messenger through not-at-arm’s-length spin doctors like Tim Dunne makes the navy look petty and does precious little to inform Canadians paying the bills.