Combat Systems Engineers ensure HMCS Ottawa is ready to fight

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Lifestyle - Life at Sea / December 9, 2019

By Capt Jenn Jackson

When most people think of the engineering department on a ship, they think of the engine room.  However, engineers have other vital functions they must be able to perform like ensuring Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Ottawa is able to ready to fight.

“The Combat Systems Engineering Department or CSE is responsible for the preventative and corrective maintenance of all weapons and sensors onboard,” says Lieutenant(N) Dusan Brestovansky, HMCS Ottawa’s CSE Officer.

“We are also responsible for firing the Close-In Weapons System, one of the last lines of defence for the ship.”

Employing five sub-occupations of Weapon Engineering Technicians (WEng Tech) the CSE department is integrated one way or another with every other department on the ship. Their scope of work includes SONARs and RADARs, Fire Control Systems, armaments and ammunition, internal and external communications systems and navigation systems. They are also responsible for driving the ship.

“During a typical watch, each WEng Tech will monitor systems, drive the ship, and complete rounds in addition to performing routine maintenance or trouble-shooting,” explains Petty Officer First Class (PO1) Stuart MacDonald, Department Maintenance Coordinator.

“We also have special duties we perform when needed, such as operating cranes and deploying underwater sensors.”

WEng Techs eventually specialize their skills, but the first five years of their career is spent learning common skills such as safety, lock-out/tag out procedures, radiation hazard safety and working aloft, while also getting a general familiarization in each specialty.

“The completion of the WEng Tech On-the-Job Performance Record is a tremendous achievement,” said Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2) Leo Cooper, CSE Chief.

“It represents hundreds of hours both at sea and alongside spent studying, learning, and gaining experience with all of our systems.”

While at sea, a member from CSE is always present in the Operations Room monitoring combat systems. When an issue is observed, the on-watch WEng Tech will perform first aid to try to rectify the fault. If it is found to be complex or lengthy, the on-watch WEng Tech will log it, track it, and brief the senior technician who then coordinates the repair and briefs the CSE Officer.

“Logging and tracking issues allows us to analyse trends and from there predict systems that may require more substantial maintenance in the near future,” said Lt(N) Brestovansky.

One of the aspects of CSE work which the department members are most passionate about are the opportunities to think outside the box when troubleshooting an issue.

“In a warfighting scenario where the ship sustains damage, CSE is vital to the effort,” adds Lt(N) Brestovansky.

"We are responsible for bringing back capability when things are damaged aligning with the warfare priority. If RADARS are damaged, the ship loses part of its vision. If weapons or the systems needed to fire them are damaged, the ship loses part of its defences. My department works to keep the ship capable of both fighting and defending.”

While most of the weapons systems on the ship are used by different operators, CSE is responsible for maintaining them and the ammunition they use. As busy as the section is at sea, one of the biggest challenges the small section faces is that they are even busier ashore.

“When we are not at sea, we are preparing to go to sea,” says CPO2 Cooper.

“When we are alongside, we are always in a work period which means we have time to freely maintain all the systems, conduct major repairs which cannot be done at sea, and we are responsible for the handling of all man aloft paperwork.”

“As a section we are always having to prioritize the work that needs to be done and that often means looking six to 12 months ahead,” adds PO1 MacDonald.

“Built into that prioritization is ensuring that the members of the department are able to balance the busy alongside schedule with down time at home with friends and family.”

While a small department, CSE is mighty in holding and maintaining some of the most technical knowledge on the ship.

“When you come right down to it, having a CSE department is what makes HMCS Ottawa a warship,” adds PO1 MacDonald.

“Weapons and sensors form the backbone of our fighting capability and CSE is responsible for ensuring that backbone is ready to stand tall when called upon.”