Victoria-class submarines reach operational steady state

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Navy News / February 26, 2015

The Victoria-class submarine fleet is now operational with three out of four submarines available for operations.

HMC Submarines Windsor, Victoria and Chicoutimi were all at sea in December 2014 and spent a cumulative total of approximately 260 days at sea in 2014. 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.

Canadian Submarine Fleet: A Strategic Asset for Canada

The Victoria-class submarine fleet is an important strategic asset for Canada. Submarines are stealthy, lethal and persistent, making them ideal for surveillance and intelligence gathering. They 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.

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 submarines have 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.

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. This makes them a valuable strategic asset that will remain relevant for years to come for Canada and our international partners.

Victoria In-Service Support Contract (VISSC)

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.

Status of individual submarines

HMCS Victoria

HMCS Victoria was declared fully operational in 2012. Since that time, Victoria 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, Victoria was the first of its class to fire the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) Mk48 torpedo, sinking the decommissioned United States Naval Ship 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.

HMCS Windsor

HMCS Windsor docked in 2014 to allow for replacement of one of its generators. The RCN took advantage of that docking period to accelerate the previously planned installation of some exciting 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. Windsor was back at sea in December 2014.

Windsor sailed from June 2005 to December 2006 and spent 146 days at sea in 2006 alone. The submarine participated in a number of large Canada/U.S. exercises, advanced and improved special operations forces capabilities, and trained with Canadian ships in essential warfare skills. Windsor also participated in the first-ever parachute rendezvous at sea practised with Canada's Patrol Pathfinders (soldiers specialized in the insertion and extraction of follow-on forces). The submarine also conducted several sovereignty patrols off Canada's east coast for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance. Since the end of its last deep maintenance period in 2012, Windsor has spent a total of 174 days at sea.

HMCS Chicoutimi

HMCS Chicoutimi completed its EDWP and returned to the RCN fleet in December 2014. This was the first EDWP conducted by industry under the VISSC. This contract highlights a key strategic knowledge sharing initiative and partnership between the RCN and Canadian industry. The successful completion of Chicoutimi’s return to operations was enabled by the skills and talent of Canada’s submarine community and the relationships forged with industry. These partnerships enabled the establishment of new supply chains and the integrated logistics to sustain these complex weapons systems.

HMCS Corner Brook

HMCS Corner Brook is docked at Victoria Shipyards Co. Ltd., in Esquimalt, B.C., to undergo its EDWP under the VISSC with Babcock Canada Inc. It is scheduled to remain in EDWP until 2018.

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 operational excellence.

Corner Brook’s crew received the Operational Service Medal for the submarine’s successful participation in Operation Caribbe in 2008 and 2011. Op Caribbe is a U.S.-led, multinational effort to interdict drug trafficking in the waters of the Caribbean Basin and the Eastern Pacific. These were the first operational medals received for service in Victoria-class submarines.