Friday, November 13, 2009


By David Pugliese
Ottawa Citizen

The Canadian government won’t say whether the U.S. informed it in advance about a nuclear-powered submarine which recently surfaced near the North Pole.

The U.S. Navy has noted that the submarine, USS Texas, recently completed its Arctic mission. The 7,800-ton submarine, with a crew of 134, completed what some U.S. media outlets are calling a historic month-long exercise near the North Pole since it became the first of the new Virginia-class submarines not only to operate in the region, but also to surface through the ice.
It is unclear exactly what route the submarine took and whether the U.S. requested permission from Canada to operate in any waters claimed by Canada. Before being elected prime minister, Stephen Harper complained about U.S. submarines operating in Canadian waters without permission.

Defence Watch asked Defence Minister Peter MacKay for comment but that request was passed on to Foreign Affairs.

In an email late Friday night Foreign Affairs spokesman Alain Cacchione stated that information about submarine operations is considered secret. He noted that Canada permits shipping through Canadian Arctic waters provided vessels respect Canadian controls “related to safety, security, the environment and Inuit interests.”

There are safety protocols in place under NATO that provide for the exchange of information on allied submarine movements, Cacchione added.

Defence sources, however, note that the Pentagon does not ask Canada for permission if its submarines need to operate in Arctic area that Canada claims sovereignty over but the U.S. considers as international waters. That includes the Northwest Passage.

Both MacKay and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon have taken a hard-line in regard to excursions by the Russians into the Arctic. Earlier this year, MacKay accused the Russians of sending military aircraft too close to Canadian northern airspace. He vowed that Canadian Forces CF-18 fighter aircraft would intercept every Russian aircraft each and every time they come near the country.

Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon told reporters that Canada “will not be bullied” by a Russian plan to create a new security force for the Arctic. Canada has its own plans for a new response force for the Arctic.

In the past, U.S. Arctic submarine exercises have included firing unarmed torpedoes to test their performance in frigid waters. The U.S. Navy did not release details on what, if any, weapons tests were performed by the Texas.

The sub remained on the surface for 24 hours.

"Words cannot describe how impressed I am with my crew's performance and professionalism," Cmdr. Robert Roncska, the Texas' commanding officer, said of the Arctic mission. "The ship performed extremely well in the cold under-ice environment, and I am honored to carry on the tradition of Arctic operations by our awesome submarine force," Roncska added in a recent release by the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine force.