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Submarines rising: Canada's submarine program almost fully operational.


Plagued by incidents and setbacks after their initial delivery, Canada's Victoria-class subs have broken free of their past and are now getting on with their job.

In December 2011, HMCS Victoria's Executive Officer, Lieutenant--Commander Christopher Holland (right), signalled to a waiting Sea King helicopter. The boat and helicopter from 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron were performing hoisting drills during sea trials off of Constance Bank, near Victoria, BC. (Corporal Malcolm Byers, MARPAC Imaging Services)

IT'S BEEN A long road for the Royal Canadian Navy's submarine fleet, but the service believes the boats have turned the corner in their journey to full operational status.

Canada purchased the four submarines second-hand from Britain and took delivery of the boats between 2000 and 2004. It renamed the former Royal Navy's Upholder class as Canada's Victoria class.

The submarine program, which has already cost around $900 million, has had a rocky start, dealing with maintenance issues that, over the years, have limited the availability of the boats for operations.

High-pressure welds had to be replaced and cracks were found in some of the valves on the four subs. Steel piping also needed to be replaced because the boats were put into storage in the United Kingdom with water in their fuel tanks. A fire damaged HMCS Chicoutimi in 2004, and killed one officer. HMCS Corner Brook struck bottom off the west coast of Vancouver Island in 2011.



In addition, there have been delays in installing Canadian equipment, such as the weapons fire control and communications gear. "The introduction of the Victoria Class has been fraught with many issues and faced a number of setbacks," a May 2009 briefing note produced by the Navy acknowledged.

But that is changing, according to the RCN.

"We have three submarines operational in the water," explained RCN spokesman Lt.-Commander Alain Blondin. "Our priority is to show value for money." He noted that HMCS Victoria took part in RIMPAC exercises in summer 2014 off Hawaii.

Victoria was used as an adversary in a wide variety of exercises at RIMPAC, including sub-versus-sub as well as various antisubmarine warfare scenarios, Blondin said.

HMCS Windsor was back at sea in December 2014. HMCS Chicoutimi was also at sea in December 2014, undergoing equipment trials and crew training to prepare for operational employment.

HMCS Corner Brook will enter its 'Extended Docking Work Period' in the coming months. By the end of 2014, the RCN achieved its desired operational steady-state of having three submarines at sea, with the fourth in deep maintenance, Blondin noted.

Overall, HMCS Windsor, Victoria, and Chicoutimi spent approximately a total of 260 days at sea in 2014.


In September 2014, the crew of HMCS Victoria received the Operational Service Medal atCFB Esquimalt for their successful participation in Operation CARIBBE in 2013.

HMCS Windsor was docked to allow for replacement of one of its generators. While the submarine was docked, the RON took advantage of the opportunity to accelerate the previously planned installation of some upgrades, including a state-of-the-art bow sonar system that wasn't originally scheduled to go in for another two years, Blondin explained.

"The new sonar system will bring the entire sonar suite of the Victoria class forward--from 1980s technology into the 21st century--in order to continue to act on behalf of Canada in the face of emerging maritime threats," he said.

Martin Shadwick, a strategic studies professor at York University in Toronto, said if the RCN's predictions that the submarine fleet has turned the corner are right, then the timing couldn't be any better.

"It's vital now more than ever since with the downsizing of the surface fleet, the Navy needs all vessels it can put to sea," Shadwick said.

He was referring to the number of Halifax-class frigates that are expected to be docked as they undergo modernization, as well as the RCN's decision in 2014 to retire two of its destroyers and its two re-supply ships.

The Victoria class, with their ability to remain undetected, provide a force multiplier that the RCN needs now, he added. The RCN views submarines as the ultimate stealth platform, able to operate in areas where sea and air control is not assured, and to gain access to areas denied to other forces.

Blondin credited companies involved in the submarine program for playing a role in returning the vessels to operational status, in particular HMCS Chicoutimi.

"The successful completion of Chicoutimi's return to operations has not only been enabled by the skills and talent of Canada's submarine community, but also by the relationships forged with industry," he noted. "These partnerships enabled the establishment of new supply chains for these subs, and the integrated logistics to sustain these complex weapons systems."

Industry has already received recent work on the submarines and some firms are continuing to win contracts.

The main contract for the submarines is, of course, the one held by Babcock Canada. Estimated to be worth $1.5 billion over 15 years, the Victoria-class submarine In-Service Support Contract involves the company providing a wide range of services to the RCN. Those include program and project management, material and logistic support, systems engineering, configuration management and records support, maintenance and extended docking work period support, and information and knowledge management. Babcock Canada Inc. operates in three locations in Canada: Ottawa, Victoria, and Halifax.


The RCN noted that in June 2013, the Canadian government exercised the first five-year extension option of the maintenance support contract with Babcock, worth $531 million. In addition, in November 2012, Northrop Grumman Corporation was selected by Canada to provide in-service support for the MK-49 inertial navigation systems and navigation data distribution systems fielded aboard both the RCN's surface ships and Victoria-class submarines. The $12.1 million contract includes material spares and software maintenance for the next five years.

The MK-49 inertial navigation system, based on Northrop Grumman's unique ring-laser gyro technology, provides highly-accurate position, attitude, velocity, and heading inputs to the ships' navigation and fire-control systems to help ensure stabilized weapons initialization under all sea conditions, the company noted. The navigation data distribution system integrates data inputs and outputs provided by the MK-49 inertial navigation system and other navigation sensors.

In February 2013, the Canadian government also awarded a contract to Ultra Electronics Maritime Systems Inc., of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, for work on the submarines. That $6.9 million contract covers maintenance work on the towed-array sonars on the Victoria class. The work will continue until 2016.

In June of that same year, Ultra Electronics Maritime Systems (UEMS) announced it had received a contract from Canada to manufacture four Submarine Towed Array Sonar System (SubTASS) arrays for the Victoria-class boats.

The SubTASS arrays were developed by UEMS and are manufactured in its facilities in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. UEMS' SubTASS arrays are an essential component of the Victoria-class sensor suite and allow the submarines to covertly detect and track surface and sub-surface contacts, the firm noted.

In March of 2014, MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. of Richmond, BC announced that it had signed a contract valued at over $16 million to provide in-service support for training and maintenance of the Victoria-class trainers. Those trainers, located at CFB Halifax, are used to instruct personnel on operating and maintaining Victoria-class submarines. The contract is for a four-year duration, with options for an additional two years.

MDA has been providing in-service training and maintenance support on the Victoria-class trainers since 2009, the company noted.

Still, it is not simply smooth sailing for the submarine fleet. In his 2014-2017 business plan, RCN Commander Vice Admiral Mark Norman warned that the costs to operate and maintain the submarine fleet are increasing, forcing the Navy to request more funding to keep the vessels at sea.

The RCN needs an additional $19 million for the sub fleet's operating and maintenance costs for the period up to spring of 2016, the service's new business plan noted.

Ongoing government-ordered cuts have "severely reduced the RCN's ability to mitigate the steadily increasing costs of the Submarine operating and maintenance," the plan pointed out. But the Navy is committed to the submarines and has no intention to sideline the boats, a RCN officer noted. In fact, the service has, over the years, redirected funding from other areas to pay for the upkeep of the boats.

The business plan indicated that continued funding for the submarines would become difficult as Halifax-class frigates, which were being modernized, return to sea. "As the surface ships are returned to operations the ability of the RCN to mitigate the increasing operations and maintenance costs of the Victoria-class subs, as they progress to a steady state operating tempo of an average of 140 Sea Days per submarine is greatly diminished," the document noted.

The Navy also hopes to increase numbers of qualified submariners by boosting the availability of training on-board the boats, the plan outlined. In addition, the RCN is also planning additional upgrades for the submarine fleet that will be of interest to industry.

Options analysis for upgrading the existing Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system in Victoria-class submarines will begin in 2017.

The project will optimize Victoria-class submarines' existing systems and sub-systems until end-of-life for the boats, according to the 2014 Defence Acquisition Guide. This will include removal of the Seasearch II and replace it with a modern system. "The project will provide time-critical, tactically-relevant warning of threat emissions by early detection and classification that will contribute to early Indications and Warning of surface vessels," the DAG noted.

The project will also provide interception, identification, platform correlation, analysis, and direction finding of electronic emissions so as to provide the maximum effectiveness in ELINT/ ESM surveillance, the document added. The project solution will be integrated into a single operator workstation.

Preliminary cost estimates are listed in the DAG as between $20 million to $49 million. Movement on this project is projected to start in 2021 when a request for proposals is expected. Final delivery of the systems will be completed by 2025.

On an even longer time frame is the project to upgrade the tactical command and control system for both surface ships and the subs. The changes brought in by the new Maritime Tactical Command and Control (MTC2) will provide software to perform maritime tactical command and control amongst Canadian naval platforms and between platforms and their superior and subordinate Commanders and interchange C2 information seamlessly with allied navies of the United States, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand, according to the DAG. MTC2 will provide necessary hardware upgrades to the Naval Information Systems (NAVIS) to support the new software demands.

Preliminary cost estimates for the project are between $20 million to $49 million. Options analysis will be underway in 2015, but it will be a lengthy process. The request for proposals isn't expected until after 2021, with a contract award by 2025. Deliveries will take place between 2026 and 2035.


The main question for the future, however, centres on when the RCN will replace the Victoria-class submarines.

Shadwick noted that a submarine replacement was never included in the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a document that covers the next 20 to 30 years.

"That doesn't bode well," he points out.

In 2011 and 2012 there was much speculation in Ottawa that the Navy was laying the groundwork for the purchase of new subs. There were reports in October 2011 that the Harper government was considering the purchase of nuclear-powered submarines because of concerns the Victoria-class were costing too much and lacked capabilities needed for the future RCN. Those claims were quickly shot down by then Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan, who noted "there is no plan to replace the diesel-electric fleet."

In February 2012, then-Navy Commander Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison told the Senate defence committee that he envisioned initiating discussions about a next-generation submarine by 2015 or 2016. He noted that maintaining a submarine capability was critical for the future. Replacement of the Victoria class, if approved, would take place in the late 2020s, he suggested.

That was enough to spark interest among some firms. In 2012, a German trade delegation to Canada, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, had senior executives from ThyssenKrupp Marine. Media reports at the time noted the connection between the interest in buying new submarines and ThyssenKrupp's Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft (or HDW), which has built a number of classes of subs.

But RCN Commander Vice Admiral Mark Norman has told Esprit de Corps that he has no plans for a submarine replacement at this point. The focus of the Navy has been, and will continue to be, on improving submarine operations, he noted. That doesn't mean, however, that the RCN is not planning a life-extension program for the Victoria class.

In 2015 it will begin its options analysis for what has to be done to extend the predicted end-of-service life of the submarines, which is set at around the mid-2020s.

"The Submarine Equipment Life Extension (SELEX) Project will maintain the safety and serviceability of the "Float" components of the Victoria class," the RCN has noted in the DAG. "It will maintain and, where appropriate, improve operational capabilities in both the 'Move' and 'Fight' components of the Victoria class."

A detailed scoping study has already been completed and the recommendations of that will be used to define what is needed for the SELEX Project. Preliminary estimates put the cost of this project at more than $1.5 billion. Request for proposals and contract award would take place between 2021 and 2025. Work would begin in 2026 with deliveries of the upgraded submarines completed by 2035, according to the DAG.

Caption: ABOVE: Crewmembers of HMCS Victoria stand on parade before being presented with Operational Service Medals for their contribution in Operation CARIBBE during a ceremony at CFB Esquimalt on September 23, 2014. Operation CARIBBE is Canada's contribution in the fight against illicit trafficking off the Caribbean and Pacific coasts of Central America. (CPL MALCOLM BYERS, MARPAC IMAGING SERVICES, DND)

RIGHT: HMCS Chicoutimi arrives back to her home port of Halifax in February 2005. An electrical fire broke out in the engine room on October 5, 2004, during the boat's maiden voyage from Faslane, Scotland, which claimed the life of Lt(N) Chris Saunders. The sub was transported back to Canada on January 13, 2005, strapped to the deck of the Norwegian sealift vessel MV Eide Transporter. HMCS Chicoutimi was the last of four diesel-electric submarines purchased for Canada's Navy and was accepted formally by the Canadian Armed Forces from the British Ministry of Defence at an official ceremony held in Faslane on October 2, 2004. (CPL HOLLY CANNING, CFB HALIFAX, FORMATION IMAGAING SERVICES)

ABOVE: Petty Officer 2nd Class David Johnston, a senior weapons technician and torpedo instructor, prepares the exercise version of the MK48 Heavyweight Torpedo to be fired on-board submarine HMCS Victoria on March 13, 2012. Victoria conducted a series of weapon system trials at sea including multiple firings of the exercise version of the MK48 Heavyweight Torpedo at Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Ranges (CFMETR) in Nanoose Bay, B.C. These trials were an important milestone for the Victoria-class submarine program as Victoria was the first submarine in the fleet to fire the reusable exercise version of the MK48 Heavyweight Torpedo. Victoria was declared fully operational in the summer of 2012. (DAVID MALYSHEFF, DND)

Caption: The long-range patrol submarine HMCS Victoria (top right) arrived at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor for a port call and routine maintenance in December 2011. Commissioned into the RCN in December 2000, the Victoria underwent an extended docking work period from 2005 to 2011, and was declared fully operational in 2012. Its weapons systems were tested at Nanoose Bay in March-April 2012. This was followed by a test in July 2012, where it torpedoed and sank the USNS Concord (pictured above), a decommissioned U.S. Navy ship in a weapons testing range off the island of Kauai in Hawaii, (LT ED EARLY, U.S. NAVY; 407 LONG RANGE PATROL SQUADRON, COMOX, BC, DND)

Caption: ABOVE: A view of the stern of a Victoria-class submarine in its shed at Victoria Shipyards. This boat is undergoing an extended docking work period as part of the Victoria-class In-Service Support Contract (VISSC). This refit and refurbishment project is being applied to all of the Royal Canadian Navy's subs and is expected to be completed in approximately 2023. (HM PHOTO)

RELATED ARTICLE: A significant Canadian accomplishment.

Canada's subs may have been built overseas, but efforts are underway to ensure their supply chain is right here at home.

by David Pugliese

HMCS CHICOUTIMI COMMENCED sea acceptance trials on September 28 near Esquimau, B.C. The trials tested the Victoria-class submarine's engineering systems and capabilities, as well as its crew, to ensure that all were performing within required parameters. The tests were also seen as an important step for the submarine to complete its maintenance and refit period, a phase called the Extended Docking Work Period, or EDWP.

But what was different this time, according to the Royal Canadian Navy, was that Chicoutimi's EDWP, which began in 2010, was the first ever to be conducted by the RCN's industry partners.

"I know the Navy is very happy with how that went," said Brett Johnson, Babcock Canada's Vice President for Business Development for Marine and Technology. "So we're going to start another refit, the HMCS Corner Brook in the spring." Babcock Canada was awarded the Victoria-class submarine in-service support (ISS) contract, which involves the company providing a wide range of services to the RCN. These include program and project management, materiel and logistic support, systems engineering, configuration management and records support, maintenance and EDWP support.

The work on Chicoutimi was not without its challenges. "It's much more challenging engineering keeping a submarine at 600 feet beneath the ocean than it is a surface ship on top of the ocean," Johnson explained. "The biggest challenge was making sure and maximizing the Canadian supply chain. Keep in mind, these vessels were built, supplied and sourced

from UK suppliers. Bringing them over here and setting up an infrastructure according to the Industrial Regional Benefits Plan for Canada--setting up an in-Canada in-service support supply chain, engineering expertise and design--was challenging. We've proven we've done that."


He noted that a large percentage of the submarine supply chain is sourced from Canadian companies, which can include the creation of parts, involving specialized tests and tools. Other elements require making parts in Canada under license to the original UK firms.

"We've looked at every piece of kit that goes on-board the submarine that needed to be refitted and we looked at whether we had to source it back to the UK because there is no one in Canada that can create something comparable," Johnson noted. "Or, can we create in Canada the same capability and produce that part, either under license or create the part if it's a new piece of kit?"

The result, he said, was the slow transformation of the supply chain to Canadian sources. However, this chain of supply has been designed to keep Canada's submarines operating for years to come. That, in the end, is a significant accomplishment, say company officials.

Caption: ABOVE: Babcock Canada received a contract estimated to be worth $1.5 billion over 15 years for In Service Support of the Victoria-class submarines. This involves a wide range of services including, among other items, maintenance and extended docking work period support.
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Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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