Bill Blair, Minister of Defense of Canada, speaks to the press after his arrival at NATO headquarters on the first day of the NATO Defense Ministers’ Meeting on June 13, 2024 in Brussels, Belgium. (Photo by Omar Havana/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — The Canadian government announced today it is “taking the first steps” towards buying 12 conventionally-powered, under-ice capable submarines — a massive acquisition with numerous shipbuilders from the around world already eyeing the program reported to be worth at least $60 billion Canadian dollars.

“As the country with the longest coastline in the world, Canada needs a new fleet of submarines — and today, we’ve announced that we will move forward with this acquisition,” Bill Blair, minister of national defence, said in a statement published during the NATO Summit being held this week in Washington, DC. “This new fleet will enable Canada to protect its sovereignty in a changing world, and make valuable, high-end contributions to the security of our partners and NATO allies.”

Canada has been eyeing the acquisition of a new class of submarines to replace its four aging Victoria-class boats since at least April 2023, and Blair himself was the target of criticism earlier this year after he included language about the acquisition in a major defense policy document that critics labeled as “wishy washy.”

In an op-ed for Breaking Defense published ahead of the NATO summit, Blair said that Canada was still pursing the submarine plan, and emphasized that the investment would help his nation cross the 2 percent GDP target.

The government’s press release does not include a price estimate for the program, but the Ottawa Citizen has previously reported that the Royal Canadian Navy tagged the acquisition at $60 billion Canadian dollars ($44 billion USD).

“The Department of National Defence is currently in the process of meeting with manufacturers and potential partners, as part of the Canadian Patrol Submarine Project (CPSP),” according to the press release. “A formal request for information will be posted in fall 2024 to gain further information on the procurement, construction, delivery and operational capabilities of potential bidders who can build submarines for Canada.”

The list of interested shipbuilders is long. Among them are Sweden’s Saab, which plans on proposing its new C71 ‘Expeditionary’ sub, as well as an offer that a top German official made directly to Blair to join the German-Norwegian Thyssenkrupp-made 212 CD class submarine package. The Canadian government has also met with shipbuilders from Spain, France, Japan and South Korea.

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“Canada’s key submarine capability requirements will be stealth, lethality, persistence and Arctic deployability — meaning that the submarine must have extended range and endurance,” according to the government’s press release.

“Canada’s new fleet will need to provide a unique combination of these requirements to ensure that Canada can detect, track, deter and, if necessary, defeat adversaries in all three of Canada’s oceans while contributing meaningfully alongside allies and enabling the Government of Canada to deploy this fleet abroad in support of our partners and allies,” the press release continued.