Royal Canadian Navy Submarines: Fleet Status
Victoria-class submarines represent the Royal Canadian Navy’s key contribution to Canada’s deployable strategic military assets. The fleet of the Canadian Submarine Force has been operating in its normal cycle of readiness since early 2015.
HMCS Windsor, Victoria, and Chicoutimi are currently in their operational cycle in various states of preparedness. HMCS Corner Brook is currently docked at Victoria Shipyards to undergo its Extended Docking Work Period (EDWP) under the Victoria In-service Support Contract with Babcock Canada Inc. It is scheduled to remain in EDWP until 2018.
Canadian submarines generally operate in an operational cycle in which each vessel is available to the fleet for six years – referred to as the “operational period” – followed by two years in deep maintenance during an EDWP.
Submarines are among the world’s most highly complex machines and they operate in an unforgiving environment. This necessitates a highly rigorous material certification process to assure the safety of the crew and the submarine. This material certification is achieved through a time-based maintenance cycle which forms an essential element of the operational cycle of any class of submarine. In 2008, Canada’s Treasury Board approved the expenditure of up to a maximum of $1.5 billion over a period of up to 15 years for the in-service support for the Victoria-class submarines. The Victoria In-Service Support Contract (VISSC) was awarded competitively to the Canadian Submarine Management Group, now renamed Babcock Canada Inc.
All Victoria-class Extended Docking Work Periods performed during the term of this contract, commencing with HMCS Chicoutimi, are funded and managed through the VISSC. In June 2013, the Government of Canada exercised the first five-year extension option of this maintenance support contract, worth $531 million. This contract highlights a key strategic knowledge sharing initiative and partnership between the RCN and Canadian industry.
Canadian submarines are used to conduct various missions, including counter-terrorism, support to Special Operation Forces and perform constabulary roles in support of RCMP anti-narcotic operations, Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ patrols, and illegal immigration interdiction operations.
Status of Individual Submarines
HMCS Victoria was busy in 2014 and early 2015 conducting force generation operations. It has been the busiest submarine of the fleet after it was declared fully operational in 2012. Since that time, the submarine has participated in various advanced international exercises such as the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), revealing the modern and unique capabilities of the Victoria-class submarine while providing anti-submarine training for Canadian and international maritime vessels. As part of RIMPAC 2012, HMCS Victoria was the first of its class to fire the RCN Mk48 torpedo, sinking the decommissioned United States Naval Ship ex-USNS Concord. This clearly demonstrated the lethality of Victoria-class submarines. Victoria worked with Special Forces during JOINT Exercise 2013 and other binational continental defence exercises and also participated in operations on behalf of Canada. In September 2014, Victoria’s crew received the Operational Service Medal for their successful participation in Operation CARIBBE, a US-led, multinational effort to interdict drug trafficking in the waters of the Caribbean Basin and the Eastern Pacific.
HMCS Windsor deployed for Exercises JOINT WARRIOR and TRIDENT JUNCTURE where it operated alongside NATO partners during the fall of 2015. The submarine also participated in joint training with Canadian Special Operations Forces personnel. These exercises enhanced the combat readiness of all units involved, improved interoperability and confirmed operational mission preparedness. The participation of Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) assets in exercises such as these enhances the Navy’s ability to operate with our NATO Allies and contributes to solutions in an evolving, and challenging, global security environment.
Windsor now holds a record 101 days for the longest deployment for the Victoria Class since the submarine returned from JOINT WARRIOR and TRIDENT JUNCTURE in December 2015. Windsor was last docked in 2014 and received a number of upgrades, including a state-of-the-art bow sonar system that wasn’t originally scheduled to go in until 2016. 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.
HMCS Chicoutimi has been busy training submariners. Like HMCS Windsor, the submarine was at sea participating in an international exercise during the fall of 2015. Chicoutimi, accompanied HMCS Calgary and HMCS Vancouver during a United States Navy task group exercise of the California coast. The series of events was led by the Expeditionary Strike Group 3 Commander and included an amphibious squadron, an amphibious assault ship, an amphibious transport dock ship and a dock landing ship.
Although the submarine returned to sea in late 2014 and was busy throughout 2015, HMCS Chicoutimi was officially commissioned into the RCN fleet during a formal ceremony in Esquimalt on September 3, 2015. Commissioning is the formal and ceremonial act of placing a ship or submarine in active service.
HMCS Chicoutimi completed its EDWP and returned to the RCN fleet in December 2014. The submarine was taken out of service following a tragic fire onboard in October 2004. This was the first EDWP conducted by industry under the Victoria In-service Support Contract.
HMCS Corner Brook
HMCS Corner Brook is docked at Victoria Shipyards Co. Ltd., in Esquimalt, B.C. to undergo its EDWP under the Victoria In-service Support Contract with Babcock Canada Inc. It is scheduled to remain in EDWP until 2018.
HMCS Corner Brook has participated in various NATO and Canada/U.S. exercises, where it received high praise for its contribution as a simulated enemy in order to assist in the training of NATO and U.S. surface and air forces. Corner Brook deployed to the Arctic in support of Operation NANOOK in August 2007 and again in August 2009, where it participated in a counter-narcotics exercise and conducted covert surveillance patrols in the vicinity of Baffin Island. In March 2008 and again in 2011, the submarine also deployed as part of Operation CARIBBE. Corner Brook received a CDS commendation in 2008 for her operational excellence.
Corner Brook’s crew received the Operational Service Medal for the submarine’s successful participation in Operation CARIBBE in 2008 and 2011. These were the first operational medals received for service in Victoria-class submarines.
The Canadian Submarine Force: A Strategic Maritime Security Asset for Canada
Submarines are part of the unseen force of the nation; they are stealthy, lethal and persistent, making them ideal for surveillance and intelligence gathering. Submarines enjoy unparalleled freedom of action and independence to act at a time and place of the Government’s choosing. In an emerging crisis, their presence can profoundly shape regional decision-making and, should deterrence fail, their lethality can contribute decisively to combat operations, both in defending surface forces and placing opposing forces at peril.
Conventional diesel-electric submarines, like the Victoria Class, because of the stealth capabilities and increased manoeuverability inherent in their smaller size as well as their extremely quiet electric propulsion system, have advantages in certain scenarios over their nuclear counterparts, especially in littoral environments and strategic choke points, making them a valuable strategic asset that will remain relevant for years to come for Canada and our international partners.
Victoria-class submarines are extremely versatile, allowing them to operate in any weather condition for periods of up to 45 days, and perform in a variety of roles to fulfill Canada’s requirements for a balanced, multi-purpose and combat-effective naval fleet. In addition to their inherent lethality and strategic importance as a war-fighting vessel, they fill a wide array of peacetime naval roles:
- Fisheries patrols
- Surveillance of all three Canadian coastlines
- Support to maritime law enforcement and other governmental departments
- Maintenance of fleet skills
- Bilateral engagement with continental defence partners
- Participation in multinational exercises
- Deterrence of would-be terrorists, smugglers and polluters
Success in maritime operations requires an ability to have control above, on and below the surface of the sea. This success requires balanced maritime forces; and without submarines, the effectiveness of Canada’s other maritime assets would be diminished. No other asset in the Canadian Armed Forces can rival the sheer deterrent impact of submarines. As a result of their unrivalled stealth, persistence, and lethality, the mere possibility that a submarine is operating undetected can alter the entire nature of a theatre of operations.
Canadian submarines are an important element of Canada’s strategic relationship with the United States. Canada participates in a global “water space management” regime which key allied submarine operators use for the prevention of mutual interference. As a member of the “sub club,” Canada gains privileged access to intelligence that would otherwise be beyond its means to attain. Canada’s Victoria-class submarine fleet has been active at sea since 2003. They have participated in exercises at home and overseas, patrolled Canada’s coastal areas – including the Arctic – and participated in international operations such as Op CARIBBE.