Another Submarine Conspiracy
Strategy Page is a wonderful website, but occasionally I find myself disagreeing with aspects of their articles on submarines. Such is the case today as I read "Mystery Subs in the Great White North". Starting with an assertion that "Canada has detected an average of two incursions, by unknown submarines, a month in its Arctic waters" since 1999 (with no reference to the source of this claim), the story really doesn't make much sense. The article wonder who could be sending their submarines to violate Canadian waters, and then discusses the prime suspects:
"Which country they belong to will not be easily ascertained. The United States would move to the head of the list due to proximity (being next door to Canada) and the largest number of nuclear submarine force in the world (55 attack submarines and 14 ballistic missile submarines). American submarines would find the Canadian Arctic to be a good shortcut (a few thousand kilometers) from the bases at Groton and Norfolk in the Atlantic to Pacific bases like Pearl Harbor, Guam, and San Diego. Russia, though, has a considerable force of nuclear submarines (15 nuclear attack submarines, 6 cruise missile submarines, and twelve SSBNs), and the track record of incursions into other countries’ waters, as Sweden can readily attest. The Royal Navy has twelve SSNs (five Swiftsure-class and seven Trafalgar-class) and four SSBNs (four Vanguard-class vessels), and a Royal Navy sub would be going out of its way to reach the Canadian arctic. Barring an accident, the identity (or identities) of Canada’s underwater prowlers will remain a mystery for years – as is typical for the silent service. "
I'm not sure where they got the claim that Canada had detected so many incursions. I found a discussion on the Strategy Page Submarine Discussion Board from June that used the same wording, but couldn't find a news article that said the same thing. Even so, I'm unsure how the Canadians would actually detect a nuclear submarine in the Arctic north that didn't want to be found. From this article on the dispute between Canada and Denmark over sovereignty of Hans Island, just off Greenland:
"Retired Colonel Pierre Leblanc, a former commander of the Northern Area, says Canada may have already lost its claim to the Arctic waters, due reports over the past 30 years of unidentified submarines being spotted in the area.
"There are quite a number of submarine sightings, some by very credible sources such as RCMP officers," Leblanc said.
"The fact that Canada hasn't had the resources to conduct surveillance in the area, and track down these submarines, diminishes the Ottawa's claim to sovereignty."
Um, nuclear submarines don't surface to be seen unless they want to be seen, guys.
The United States frequently conducts "Freedom of Navigation" exercises, in order to demonstrate our commitment to preventing countries from attempting to enforce unreasonable territorial waters claim by saying that no one else sails through those waters. Here is a list of such publicly announced exercises in FY 2004. Notice that we perform these operations off the coasts of both allies and potential enemies. (I had some experience with these exercises when I was on USS Topeka in 1992. When we went into the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, they routed us through the "Western Traffic Separation Scheme" off the Iranian coast as a Freedom of Navigation exercise.) While I have no idea if the U.S. is conducting such exercises in Canadian waters with our submarines, I'd be surprised that, if we did, the Canadians would be able to even notice us; and, if they did, it'd be because we wanted them to, and we'd probably announce it. For those interested, here's a lengthy background piece on Canadian Arctic claims; it includes a short discussion on submarine issues:
"The principal issue that remains, therefore, is that of subsurface transit of the Northwest Passage. That such transits occur appears to be widely accepted, although their extent is a matter of speculation. The position taken by the Government of Canada has been that any submarine transit of Arctic water is undertaken pursuant to bilateral and multilateral defence arrangements and hence is, at least implicitly, with Canadian consent. However, this not only leaves unanswered the question of transit by states with whom no such defence arrangements exist, but also assumes that the United States would not in the future invoke these transits to the detriment of the Canadian claim. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Canada' s argument that these voyages have been consented to assumes that Canada knows of each transit.
"What would the consequences be for Canada of submarine transit of the Northwest Passage without Canada's knowledge or consent? Real doubt would be cast on the credibility of Canada's claim that it is exercising sovereign functions over Arctic waters. Incursions into the land territory of a state without that state's consent are regarded as serious encroachments on sovereignty, and the Arctic sovereignty claim treats the waters of the Northwest Passage as if they were land territory. At the very least, therefore, subsurface transits undertaken without Canada's consent are a serious encroachment on Canada's sovereignty over Arctic waters."
In short, although the Strategy Page article brings up some interesting points, it failed to convince me that there were actual incursions by submarines into Canadian-claimed international waterways that the Canadian government hadn't approved ahead of time.