Monthly Archives: January 2014

Fire damaged submarine returns to Canadian navy after nearly a decade

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HMCS Chicoutimi rests on the syncrolift after being removed from the harbour in Halifax, N.S., Canada on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2006. A newly rebuilt HMCS Chicoutimi is set to rejoin the Canadian navy’s submarine fleet, nearly 10 years after a deadly fire aboard the second-hand warship effectively crippled the program.

A newly rebuilt HMCS Chicoutimi is set to return to Canada’s naval fleet nearly 10 years after a deadly fire aboard the second-hand warship effectively crippled the Canadian navy’s submarine program.

The resurrection of the British-built vessel, which became emblematic of the sorry state of Canadian military equipment in 2004, has the Department of National Defence contemplating for the first time how best to employ its controversial subs.

One internal defence proposal foresees deploying the undersea warships to far-flung oceans, patrolling trouble spots the way the navy’s frigates do today.

Chicoutimi has been fully repaired and upgraded, says the navy’s top commander.

It entered the water in late November after three years of work at Victoria Shipyards Co. Ltd., a return that is about two years behind the navy’s original schedule.

The submarine is in the process of being turned over to the military and the crew is expected to begin sea trial in waters off Esquimalt, B.C. over the next few weeks, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

“We’re on the cusp of achieving what we laid out,” said Norman, who noted the original goal of the program was to have three of the navy’s four submarines operational at all times.

Chicoutimi will, however, be restricted to shallow-water diving for the foreseeable future, according to a series of defence documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

It’s been a long, excruciating journey since Jean Chretien’s Liberal government announced in 1998 it would buy four surplus diesel-electric boats from the Royal Navy in what was heralded at the time as a great bargain for Canadian taxpayers.

The poor condition of the mothballed submarines — they were rusty, prone to flooding and one had a dented hull — tarnished the reputation of the boats. But it was the fire aboard Chicoutimi in October 2004, which killed Lt. Chris Saunders and sent two other sailors to hospital, that nearly scuttled the program entirely.

A subsequent military board of inquiry found that an open hatch allowed sea water from a rogue wave to wash down the conning tower and inundate poorly insulated high-voltage wires, triggering the fire. Still, the 700-page report blamed no one for the tragedy, which occurred off Ireland during the ship’s voyage to Halifax.

The initial estimate to repair the boat was pegged at $15 million in 2005. It quickly increased to $20 million in 2006, but internal documents suggest the price tag could run to more than $125 million, including removal of all fire-damaged components.

Originally commissioned as HMS Upholder, the ship has spent the bulk of its nearly 28-year existence either in dry-dock or tied up to a wharf.

HMCS Victoria is the Canadian navy’s only fully operational submarine, having completed the test firing of a live torpedo. A third submarine, HMCS Windsor, is operational but has not gone through process of certification to fire its weapons and remains under dive restrictions.

HMCS Corner Brook is currently in dry-dock for life extension and repairs after slamming into the ocean floor off Vancouver Island.

Despite the trials, senior brass have been thinking ahead and want to see the subs play a meaningful role, possibly in extended deployments in waters off the world’s trouble spots in much the same way the Dutch have utilized their fleet.

Former chief of defence staff, general Walt Natynczyk, directed before he retired that the navy develop a deployment plan that would “accelerate the strategic reach of the submarines.”

Since the boats are slow and have limited range, Natynczyk envisioned the navy using a piggyback ship to whisk the submarines to support ongoing international operations, such as anti-piracy patrols off the Horn of Africa.

“The immense effort this has required, and the massive investment it represents, must now begin to yield a visible and defensible return on your investment,” the former top commander wrote in a directive dated March 5, 2012.

Norman says the navy isn’t quite ready for such an operation, but concedes it is a goal.

“We see this as a viable deployment possibility, looking into the near future,” he said.

A number of factors would have to be considered, including the cost of transport, sustaining the submarine once it’s on station, and the climate, since the boats were designed during the Cold War for operations in the frigid North Atlantic.

“Those boats are more comfortable in cold war than warm water,” Norman said.

But it would be in Canada’s national interest to conduct such far-flung patrols in addition to keeping tabs on the country’s coastline, he added.

“If you can pre-position them in whatever area of strategic interest you may have, they become all that more useful.”

Source – The Province

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At sea with Britain’s first woman sub hunter: Warship commander

‘We all make sacrifices’: Britain’s first woman sub hunter says her years at  sea ‘probably explains why I’m still single’

Britain’s first female warship commander is  preparing to lead the HMS Portland on a six-month patrol in the Atlantic on the  hunt for enemy submarines.

In 2012, Sarah West became  the first woman to be put in charge of a British warship in the navy’s 500 year  history, and says she is proud to be at the front of defending our waters from  the threat of submarines.

However, the 41-year-old says that the  high-octane job comes at a personal cost, revealing that the years spent away at  sea mean she is still single.

Sarah West stands proudly on HMS Portland as the Royal Navy's first female commander of a warship.Sarah West stands proudly on HMS Portland as the Royal  Navy’s first female commander of a warship.

She joined the navy after getting bored with  her nine to five job as a trainee manager.

The ban on women working on  submarines was  only lifted in 2011 and Cdr West described her  appointment to take command of  HMS Portland as the highlight of her 16  years in the navy.

However, she plays down her role in being on  the frontline of helping to maintain a ring of steel around the British  coastline.

‘I’m  not reinventing the wheel,’ she told the Mirror. ‘Lots of women in the services  have challenging roles. It’s just that I happen to be newsworthy at the  moment.’

As much as she enjoys the thrilling nature of  her job, she admits that it has not made it easy to meet a partner.

‘There are drawbacks. Years at sea probably  explains why I’m single. But every person in the military makes  sacrifices.’

She says plenty of men and women on board are  missing seeing their children grow up, which makes it crucial to keep morale  high.

Cdr Sarah West looks through binoculars as the HMS Portland hunts a submarine in the Cumbrae Gap, Scotland.Cdr Sarah West looks through binoculars as the HMS  Portland hunts a submarine in the Cumbrae Gap, Scotland.

Now she is in charge of an 185-strong crew  whom she leads in trying to out outmaneouvre their underwater  enemies.

‘Anti-submarine warfare is the military  version of chess. You must work out what the enemy is going to do before they  even think of it,’ says Cdr West who is captain of HMS Portland, a Type 23  frigate with submarine-hunting kit, Sea Wolf and Harpoon  missiles, Stingray  torpedoes and a Lynx attack helicopter.

They have recently been running a training  exercise to catch the submarine HMS  Triumph, which bombed Libya in 2011 and now  trains future Royal Navy  captain.’

There is no sign of the submarine despite  sending a helicopter to dip a sonar wire into the sea where it is suspected to  be.

But suddenly a periscope is spotted several  miles away, sparking Cdr West  into action, who shouts orders for HMS Portland  to move in on the sub  and prepares for the similated launch of three Stingray  torpedoes.

‘Today has been a good day for submarine  hunting,’ says Cdr West.

‘Many more countries have submarines now so  there’s always a threat out there. What we’re doing is really  important.’

Commander West oversees the hunt for the submarine in the ship's operations room.Commander West oversees the hunt for the submarine in  the ship’s operations room.

‘You can have state-of-the-art kit but,  without well-trained people wanting to use it, you’re useless.’

The ship is set to leave HM Naval Base  Devonport in Plymouth for six months on patrol in the Atlantic.

The crew will face threats from storms, with  gale-force winds whipping up waves as high as 40ft. Warships sit high in the  water for speed and cannot turn away from a storm for comfort when they have to  sail somewhere urgently. Many of those suffering from seasickness will be forced  to vomit into buckets while on watch.

They are facing testing times as Russia is  understood to be on the verge of completing a £1.25 billion K-329 Severodvinsk  nuclear-powered submarine which could give it a crucial underwater  advantage.

Source – Daily Mail