Canada’s most modern submarine returns to the water

Navy News / June 16, 2021

When Her Majesty’s Canadian Submarine (HMCS) Corner Brook began its undocking on June 13, 2021, it became the most modern submarine in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

This undocking marks the return of Corner Brook to Vancouver Island waters for the first time in almost a decade. It is also the first in a series of milestones required for returning the submarine to operational service alongside HMC Submarines Victoria and Windsor.

Corner Brook has been in an Extended Docking Work Period (EDWP) since 2014 in Esquimalt, B.C. Repairs included fixing damage caused by a grounding in 2011 along with other more intrusive maintenance routines which could only be conducted in a long maintenance period in dry dock. The EDWP also included several notable upgrades, such as a new communication mast, called the Universal Modular Mast, which will allow high-speed, highly secure, jam-resistant satellite communications with shore.

It also received the BQQ-10 sonar suite. The differences between the BQQ-10 and the previous 2040 sonar suite range from a significant increase in the amount of processing that occurs after data is received from a Victoria-class submarine sonar systems to how that information is displayed to the operators.

Corner Brook is now be able to fire the Mk48 7AT torpedo, a significant upgrade to the current weapon, the Mk 48 4M.

In addition to these upgrades, and separate from the work conducted on Corner Brook during this period, is the Victoria-class Modernization (VCM) effort, which aims to ensure the submarines remain operationally relevant until the mid-to-late 2030s. The series of projects, as part of VCM, will provide improved habitability and deployment conditions for submariners and enhanced capabilities to support continued contributions to Canadian Armed Forces joint operations, as well as improving survivability against current and evolving threats in an increasingly complex and changing battle space.

The RCN’s four Victoria-class submarines – Victoria, Corner Brook, Chicoutimi and Windsor – are some of the most strategic assets within the Canadian Armed Forces. The wide-reaching capabilities provided by the submarines are critical for supporting sovereignty and continental defence operations, and ensuring the RCN has the necessary fleet mix and capacity to support operations at home and abroad.

Despite their age, the strategic impact of those modernized submarines is impressive.

“The Victoria-class submarine is still a very combat-capable platform” says Captain (Navy) (Capt(N)) Jean Stéphane Ouellet, Commander Canadian Submarine Force.

“With the current and planned upgrades to the boats and a highly trained crew, I would take that platform into battle any time.”

Canada’s submarines are highly effective weapons of strategic deterrence. These modernized vessels are a critical platform in the RCN fleet which allow Canada to project power and influence abroad, alone or in cooperation with allies.

In addition, Capt(N) Ouellet says that the modernized submarines, which possess formidable surveillance and intelligence gathering capabilities, allow Canada the capacity to defend North American waters and maritime approaches, and control or deny access to a substantial ocean or littoral area.

“Submarines enjoy an unparalleled freedom of action and independence,” he says. “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 the theater of operations. If required, that lethality can contribute decisively to combat operations.”

Submarines are some of the most complex pieces of machinery in the world and operate in environments where they experience tremendous pressure from operations at depth, extreme weather conditions and the corrosive effects of seawater. These environments require a strict in-service maintenance schedule to ensure the safety of the crew and mission success.

Under the current maintenance model, one of Canada’s four submarine is always in a deep maintenance period known as an Extended Docking Work Period (EDWP). These long, multi-year work periods ensure the submarines remain safe, functional and operationally capable.

Following HMCS Corner Brook’s undocking, the alongside, in-water testing portion of the current EDWP will commence and will culminate in a camber dive, a static dive alongside to prove systems in a dived configuration. It is anticipated that the camber dive and sea acceptance trials will begin in the latter part of 2021, with a return to full service in 2022. Eventually, Corner Brook will be transferred to the RCN’s East Coast fleet, based in Halifax.

Current status of Canada’s other three submarines

HMCS Victoria

  • Home port: Esquimalt
  • Completed a repair work period and returned to sea in September 2020.
  • Recently completed required training for independent submarine operations at sea.
  • Regular patrol schedule, interceded with maintenance periods, continues including trials and training.
  • Victoria provides a submarine presence in our western coastal waters and maritime approaches to Canada.
  • First round of habitability upgrades on HMCS Victoria are expected to begin in July 2022, during the platform-scheduled EDWP.

HMCS Windsor

  • Home port: Halifax
  • Completed a transitional docking work period and returned to sea in March 2021.
  • Equipment was installed to allow the sub to fire Mk48 7AT torpedoes.
  • Scheduled to conduct first-of-class firings for the introduction into the RCN of these modern, highly sophisticated torpedoes in 2022.
  • Recently completed required training for independent submarine operations at sea.
  • Upcoming: Windsor will continue a regular patrol schedule, including trials and training.
  • Windsor will provide a consistent submarine presence in our eastern coastal waters and maritime approaches to Canada.

HMCS Chicoutimi

  • Home port: Esquimalt
  • Currently docked at Esquimalt Graving Dock, Chicoutimi has started a similar transitional docking work period to that which Windsor just completed.
  • On completion of that work period in late 2022, Chicoutimi will also be fitted with the new sonar and be capable of firing the Mk48 7AT torpedo.
  • Chicoutimi will provide a consistent submarine presence in our western coastal waters and maritime approaches to Canada.