Esquimalt-based sub inches closer to operational status with torpedo test firings

HMCS Victoria scheduled to participate in world's largest maritime exercise this summer

Deep in the belly of Canadian submarine HMCS Victoria

Standing at the ready by his submarine’s attack periscope, Cmdr. Christopher Ellis gave the first of six commands that made Canadian history.

“Safe fire key to fire,” the HMCS Victoria submarine commander ordered his attack co-ordinator and weapon handler, waiting nearby inside the boat’s control room.

They turned a key and pressed a button, initiating the firing of the first of six Mark48 torpedos – rigged with data-collecting instruments rather than the usual 650 pounds of explosives – at the Canadian Forces Maritime Experimental Test Range at Nanoose Bay.

“It felt fantastic,” Ellis said of feeling high-pressure air drive water into the submarine and push out the munition during the March 14 test.

“It’s the first Mark48 exercise torpedo that we have fired from the Victoria-class submarine, and the first that we have fired from a Canadian submarine (including the previous Oberon-class submarines) in over 10 years,” said Ellis, who will command the boat until at least the end of 2012.

“The thing about firing the exercise torpedos at this time, it was a very visual indication that becoming fully operational is just around the corner.”

That milestone certification will likely come this summer when the submarine travels to the South Pacific to take part in the biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise, the world’s largest multinational naval operation.

It will allow HMCS Victoria to square off against other submarines for the first time.

Being outfitted with torpedos is a capability Canada’s submarine fleet can’t do without.

“It’s self defence,” Ellis said, adding that the Mark48 is used extensively by the U.S., Australia and the Dutch. “It can do a lot of damage. Normally one torpedo’s good enough to sink one warship.”

Victoria headed back to sea on Monday for additional combat systems testing. In May, the crew is scheduled to go to CFB Halifax for training, before returning to CFB Esquimalt for more sailing.

“It’s been a long beginning but it’s something you can’t rush,” Ellis said of the more than five years it took to overhaul the flagship boat of Canada’s submarine fleet. “It’s a very structured approach to introducing a new class of submarine into service.”

emccracken@vicnews.com

Did you know:

• HMCS Victoria can carry up to 18 Mark48 torpedos. The vessel has six torpedo tubes that can be loaded, ready for firing.

• The Mark48 torpedo is one of the largest munitions the Canadian Forces has in its arsenal. It is designed to detonate close to a vessel. It creates a huge air bubble that lifts a ship and blasts through its keel.

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