Tag Archives: HMCS Chicoutimi

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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Canada’s submarine fleet needs to start from scratch

 

By the time Canada's submarines are ready for duty, they'll be due for retirement.

By the time Canada’s submarines are ready for duty, they’ll be due for retirement.

Defence Minister Peter MacKay blames the Liberals for Canada’s troubled fleet of second-hand Victoria-class submarines. It was the Liberals who purchased the four British-made vessels for the suspiciously low price of $750-million in 1998. Yet it was none other than MacKay himself who, 10 years later, persuaded his Conservative colleagues not to scrap them. It was MacKay who signed taxpayers up for another $1.5-billion worth of refits and repairs, thereby throwing good money after bad.

It was apparent long before 2008 that the submarines were deeply flawed. The diesel engines were designed for railroad locomotives and not the rapid stops and starts required of submarines. There were defects in the torpedo tubes, making it possible for both the inner and outer doors to be open at the same time, even while the subs were submerged. The subs were mothballed in saltwater for four years before Canada bought them, and years more before we took possession. They suffered serious corrosion — the diving depth of HMCS Windsor is now restricted due to rust damage on the hull.

Shortly after Canada took possession, 1,500 litres of saltwater spilled into HMCS Corner Brook because of a malfunctioning Submerged Signal Ejector — a device that is used to deploy decoys while submerged. HMCS Victoria experienced serious problems with its cooling system. And a deadly fire broke out on HMCS Chicoutimi when seawater entering through an open hatch caused an electrical short in wiring that had just one layer of waterproof sealant, instead of the three layers the construction specifications had required. In 2004, the electrical system on Victoria was destroyed when the submarine was hooked up to an on-shore electric supply. The Halifax Chronicle Herald reported that the Navy spent about $200,000 after the accident “to buy old technology that mirrors what the sub’s British builders used” – equipment that one of the Navy’s own “electrical technologists” said “probably goes back to the ‘60s.”

In 2007, Windsor entered a refit that was supposed to take three years but ended up taking six. Documents obtained by the CBC later explained that every system had major problems. Spare parts are also difficult to obtain.

It was in this context that MacKay pushed for the $1.5-billion refit and repair contract, a move rendered all the more perplexing by the fact that, by 2008, the submarines were already between 15-19 years old. This meant that the most one could hope for from the vessels, after their refits, was a single decade of service.

Chicoutimi has been out of the water since the fire in 2004, and will remain in dry dock until at least the end of this year

Which is not very long when you consider that, for the same amount of money, Canada could have procured between 3-4 brand new diesel-electric submarines based on proven designs from France or Germany.

Today, five years after the $1.5-billion contract, MacKay insists the situation is improving. Which is true, if going from horrendous to bad counts as an improvement. Corner Brook was damaged in an accident in 2011 and put out of action until 2012. It is scheduled to return to dry dock for three years in 2014. In December 2012, a defect was discovered in one of Windsor’s two diesel engines, which resulted in the submarine having to operate on just one engine. This put the sub on limited duty. She will be taken out of service later this year so that the engine can be replaced. Chicoutimi has been out of the water since the fire in 2004, and will remain in dry dock until at least the end of this year. Victoria, which emerged from six years in dry dock in 2011, is scheduled to return there for three years in 2016.

According to the Department of National Defence, Canada’s four Victoria-class submarines have accumulated a total of just 1,131 days at sea in the decade since 2003 — about 30 days per submarine per year. It’s time to stop throwing good money after bad. If Canada wants to maintain this capability, we need to start from scratch.

Source – National Post

Canadian submarine fleet’s future could be at risk

No mention of sub replacements in $33B National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, report says

The HMCS Chicoutimi sits aboard the heavy lift ship Tern in Halifax harbour on April 6, 2009. The vessel was transported to Victoria for a refit.The HMCS Chicoutimi sits aboard the heavy lift ship Tern in Halifax harbour on April 6, 2009. The vessel was transported to Victoria for a refit. (CBC)

Stealth and silence are hallmarks of the Royal Canadian Navy’s submarine fleet but those qualities may also apply to the federal government’s vision for the beleaguered force, says a new report released Tuesday on the future of the navy’s sub squadron.

The report, titled “That Sinking Feeling” said there are indications that the future of submarines in the navy may be as shaky as the spotty service record of the second-hand Royal Canadian Navy subs.

A hint of looming doom for the submarine fleet could be that there is no mention of replacements in the much-touted National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), said the report, which is produced by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“Nowhere in the plan is there any mention of one particular, significant, readily identifiable and probably imminent procurement — namely, the replacement of Canada’s troubled Victoria-class submarines,” the report said.

The report is co-authored by Stewart Webb, a researcher with the Rideau Institute, and Professor Michael Byers, a University of British Columbia defence expert.

Byers has been critical of both the Harper government and Canada’s military procurement strategy in the past. In 2008, Byers sought the New Democratic Party nomination for the federal riding of Vancouver Centre but lost to Liberal incumbent Hedy Fry.

The government plans on spending $33 billion over the next three decades replacing the ships of Canada’s navy.

New supply and logistics ships, a fleet of Arctic patrol vessels and up to 15 replacements for the navy’s front-line frigates and destroyers are planned. But submarines, which the navy claims are vital to Canada’s defence, do not surface in the ambitious warship construction program.

“Canada’s Victoria-class submarines may have as little as one decade of remaining service-life, and too many mistakes have been made with submarine procurement in the past,” the report said.

Victoria-class fiasco

The report chronicles the history of Canada’s dabbling with submarines — from the failed attempt to build up to a dozen powerful nuclear submarines in the late 1980s to the decision to buy four mothballed British submarines that had to be retro-fitted around an American-supplied torpedo.

By the time Canada decided to buy the four bargain-priced submarines, the oldest had spent a total of nine years languishing in salt water without a crew.

“Unfortunately, the apparent bargain quickly became a costly fiasco,” states the report.

The report provides a scathing account of the “inferior vessels” since the first sub, HMCS Victoria, entered service in the Canadian navy in 2000.

The time all the submarines have spent at sea is a telling number.

While in service with the British navy for four years, the subs spent 1,077 days at sea. But after 13 years in service with the Canadian navy, the boats have spent only 783 days patrolling, the report said.

One sailor was killed and several others injured because of a fire aboard the submarine HMCS Chicoutimi and there have been constant, and later confirmed, reports of cracked valves, a dented hull, shoddy electrical systems, rusted parts and cost overruns.

CBC reported last month that HMCS Windsor’s planned two-year refit actually lasted five years and cost $209 million.

After the submarine was relaunched in Halifax in the fall of 2012 it was discovered that one of the vessel’s two generators didn’t work, resulting in the submarine being restricted to near-home waters until the multi-million generator can be replaced. That replacement might not happen for years, confirmed the navy.

The federal government signed a controversial $1.5 billion contract in 2008 with the Canadian subsidiary of a British-based company to provide “in-service support” for the submarines.

But Tuesday’s report said that money could have funded a new fleet of state-of-the art submarines.

“The Harper government could have procured three to four brand new diesel-electric submarines, based on proven designs from France, Germany, or Sweden,” states the report.

Future plans sketchy

The report challenges Canadians to decide whether the navy needs submarines or not but it also ponders whether the Harper government is quietly planning to procure new submarines.

Military brass have made it clear that submarines are front and centre in its plans for Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic defence. But the government has not been so forthright.

“There is clearly a desire within [the Department of National Defence] and the Canadian Armed Forces for the procurement of new submarines. But the absence of submarines from the NSPS remains unexplained,” write the authors.

The report suggests there may be three possible scenarios for Canada’s submarine future: a possible secret plan for the Victoria class replacement; a possible secret plan to terminate Canada’s sub capability; or there is no plan to either keep or replace the current fleet.

“Condemning Canada’s submarine program to death through neglect and obsolescence rather than design,” the report said.

Other countries have decided to scrap submarine capabilities altogether.

The Danish navy pulled the plug on its sub fleet, and the possibility of new submarines in 2004 after a national debate.

Instead of subs, the Danes opted to build a small but mighty fleet of surface ships to patrol in both home and international waters.

But many other countries have decided to invest in submarines as the ideal way to deny other nations access to their waters.

China, India, Iran, Chile, Malaysia and Israel are all building or buying new fleets of advanced submarines.

The report said there are several submarine designs Canada might consider to replace the aging but low mileage Victoria class submarines.

The German-built U-214 class has the ability to remain underwater for weeks at time because of new air-independent technology.

Canada’s submarines must surface, or send mast to the surface, several times a day in order to charge batteries.

New submarines like the French Scorpene or Swedish Gotland would allow Canada to patrol under the ice in the Arctic and do so with just 25 sailors — half the crew needed for the Victoria class.

But if history is any guide, it takes Canada 15 to 20 years to design and build a new class of complex warships.

“The best-before date of Canada’s Victoria-class is approaching, perhaps as soon as 2023,” warns the report.

Cmdr. Hubert Genest, with the navy’s public affairs office, told CBC News that the navy plans to operate the Victoria-class submarines until the late 2020s, saying that the navy has “always said that the Victoria-class submarines was the bridge to the next generation of submarines for Canada.”

Source – CBC News

Canada – Subs headed back under water

Ill-fated Chicoutimi to be operational by year-end

The naval submarine HMCS Chicoutimi , shown here in 2009 prior to being hauled to the west coast via the Panama Canal, is undergoing extensive work. Despite a tragic past that saw a Halifax naval officer die in a fire, the Defence Department says a refit in Victoria, B.C., will have the sub ready for operation later this year.(TED PRITCHARD/Staff)

The naval submarine HMCS Chicoutimi , shown here in 2009 prior to being hauled to the west coast via the Panama Canal, is undergoing extensive work. Despite a tragic past that saw a Halifax naval officer die in a fire, the Defence Department says a refit in Victoria, B.C., will have the sub ready for operation later this year.

OTTAWA — Three of Canada’s four Victoria-class, diesel-electric submarines are to be operational by the end of the year.

But there are still questions about whether Canada still has the personnel to handle a submarine fleet, and if the subs are even worth fixing.

HMCS Victoria, which has been docked since 2005, was declared operational last year on the West Coast after sinking a decommissioned United States navy ship in a live torpedo test.

HMCS Windsor, docked since 2007, has already started live tests in Halifax Harbour. Last November, it completed a live diving exercise in the harbour, known as a camber dive. It made its first run out to sea in December.

HMCS Chicoutimi, on which a navy officer died after it caught fire during its 2004 maiden voyage, is also undergoing extensive work. Despite its tragic past, the Defence Department says the refit in Victoria, B.C., will have it ready for operation later this year.

“What that is is really heavy maintenance on more than 200 systems,” said department spokeswoman Jocelyn Sweet. “So absolutely everything gets looked at and either replaced or fixed or repaired or overhauled.”

With three of the four subs operational, the Defence Department will consider it at a “steady state” of operation.

The fourth submarine, HMCS Corner Brook, ran aground in a test last year. It will undergo repairs until 2016.

But some analysts say it’s a waste of money to repair the submarines, which were bought second-hand from the British navy for $750 million in 1998.

Since they started sailing in 2003, the subs have been at sea for a combined 1,083 days. That means the sticker price alone works out to almost $700,000 per day.

“These things aren’t submarines, they’re lemons,” said Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, a defence and foreign policy think-tank in Ottawa.

Staples said the submarines will never live up to their billing, which is why the British government originally intended to mothball them. He said the submarines are not needed for defence and are in fact sucking resources from more valuable projects.

“The first thing you do when you find yourself in a hole is you stop digging,” he said.

The Defence Department says the subs will be used for various activities, including patrols, intelligence gathering and acting as a deterrent.

While the vessels might work soon, some wonder if Canada still has the staffing capacity to run three submarines after years of very limited testing ability.

In November 2011, Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, said the number of submariners who are active and ready had fallen to 80 from 300. An internal report in early 2012 raised concerns about the navy’s ability to train enough officers in time.

In April, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said the navy had 278 submariners who were working within the program, with 60 more on the way.

Source – Herald News