Submarine closes in on operational status

HMCS Victoria conducting surface training, testing at sea

The crew emerges from the conning tower of HMCS Victoria as it cuts through the Strait of Juan de Fuca on its way to CFB Esquimalt in 2003. The submarine was the first sub permanently based on the West Coast since 1974.

Canada’s lone working submarine is now at sea.

By the time it returns to its dockyard jetty at CFB Esquimalt later this week, it will have spent two weeks cutting through Canadian and American waters to test its equipment and train its crew.

“This is an important milestone, particularly for all the people that have been working on her since summer 2005 to get her ready to this level, and everyone should be very proud of that,” said navy Capt. Luc Cassivi, deputy commander of the ships and submarines that make up Canada’s Pacific naval fleet.

“But we’re just starting to kick the tires, so as important as this milestone is I think really the crucial one is once we’ve completed all the trials and certification of the crew,” said Cassivi, who has commanded three out of four of Canada’s submarines, including Victoria in 2004. “That’s going to be mission accomplished for the entire team.”

Canada’s flagship submarine is scheduled to become fully weaponized and operational in 2012, bringing an end to a seven-year overhaul. The boat is expected to return to the shop for a two-year routine maintenance period in 2016.

On Dec. 5, Victoria, captained by Cmdr. Christopher Ellis, left for nearby Constance Bank with two civilian maintenance experts onboard as well as an eight-member naval submarine sea training team from Halifax, which spent last week training the 49-member crew in surface navigation.

“In the early stages we try not to go too far because as you start running the equipment you may have a few more problems than you expected, so it’s good to stay close by,” said Cassivi, a Vic West resident.

With assistance from a Sea King helicopter, the crew also practised evacuation procedures.

The diesel-electric vessel is spending this week sailing to different locations, including Bangor, Wash., where Victoria will have its magnetic field reduced so that it can’t be detected underwater and to protect it from mines.

Training and testing are expected to ramp up in the new year, with dives in January followed by weapons testing at the military’s experimental test range in Nanoose Bay.

That will be one of the last steps before it is declared fully operational, capping off more than a year of significant milestones. In April, it left drydock after five years, and despite suffering a fire in September, Victoria successfully conducted test dives in Esquimalt harbour.

“It’s reverse engineering in a way,” Cassivi said of the effort required to overhaul and modernize the vessel, one of four purchased from England. “We had to learn how to maintain it. We’re not the ones who built it so it takes a little bit more time.”

 

 

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