This report was written by Dr Timothy Choi and Chris Spedding.
This project examines the impact of climate change on Arctic underwater warfare requirements with the goal of informing the recapitalization process for the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN’s) submarine fleet. Canada’s previous attempts to include an under-ice capability for its submarines had failed due to high cost, public concerns over militarized nuclear power, and lack of credible threats in Arctic waters. However, climate change is reducing the extent and severity of Arctic sea ice in the Russian half of the Arctic, potentially affecting Russian nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) posture.
Given Russia’s continued use of Arctic sea ice as a shield for its SSBNs, its reduction may see them being forced to patrol closer to the North American side of the Arctic. With Canadian waters forming the majority of North America’s Arctic waters, this has tremendous implications for the Canadian submarine force in terms of future roles and corresponding force structure. The “AUKUS” security partnership between three of Canada’s closest international partners also provides an opportunity for the RCN to re-examine nuclear power to meet its under-ice needs.