October 12, 2018 – The Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) Submarine Force has had a momentous year, marked by two highly successful simultaneous out-of-area deployments.
The lengthy deployments of HMCS Chicoutimi and Windsor – for 197 and 133 days respectively – highlight the RCN’s ability to concurrently deploy its submarines and provide invaluable support to Canada’s allies. They also underpin the wide-reaching capability of Canada’s submarine fleet, and the professionalism and dedication of Canadian sailors. It must be remembered, however, that neither is considered armed as neither has fired a torpedo in Canadian service. The other two weapon capabilities, minelaying and surface to surface missile firing were removed by Canada.
“These deployments really support Canada’s Strong, Secure, Engaged defense policy,” says Commander Mike Mangin RCN, Deputy Commander of Operations for the Canadian Submarine Force. “The work that both submarines did with our closest allies ensures that our submarines are ready to provide defense in depth to Canada. By conducting both offensive and defensive anti-surface warfare scenarios, the crews of both boats are better prepared to fulfill this task should it ever be called upon.”
Canadian submariners are exceptionally well-trained and when combined with the stealth of a Victoria-class submarine, they form a formidable capability. Throughout their months-long deployments, both Windsor and Chicoutimi proved their value as instruments of power projection on the international stage, and demonstrated to both allies and adversaries that Canada is a credible, reliable and effective player in the under-sea domain.
“These two deployments certainly signal our ability to be engaged abroad,” notes Mangin. “Key relationships with our allies were strengthened through the exercises, operations and port visits.”
Western Pacific region
In September 2017, HMCS Chicoutimi commenced its deployment to the western Pacific, visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Yokosuka and Sasebo in Japan, and Guam along the way.
The deployment was a clear indication of Canada’s commitment to peace and security in the region. The proliferation of diesel electric submarines in the Indo-Asia Pacific region is testimony to the significant capability that these platforms represent. Simply put, the presence of one of these submarines will alter the dynamic in an area of operations as a result of their lethality and ability to remain undetected.
During its deployment, Chicoutimi took part in ANNUALEX – a bilateral training engagement between the United States Navy (USN) and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force – marking the first time another nation has been invited to participate. This trip also marked the first visit by a Canadian submarine to Japan since HMCS Grilse in the late 1960s.
Chicoutimi worked closely with the USN, building combined experience in countering the submarine threat. USN maritime patrol aircraft flew numerous missions against Chicoutimi during the transit to and from Japan, as well as in the northwestern Pacific Ocean. These missions allowed U.S. aircrew to hone skills that would be essential if an unknown submarine was approaching the North American continent.
Chicoutimi was also able to train with other Pacific partners, notably a brief event with French Navy ships and anti-submarine warfare engagements with Australian aircraft. As well, the integration of a liaison officer from the RCN into the USN Seventh Fleet Headquarters was critical to the success of the deployment and further served to strengthen ties with regional allies.
The Submarine Force marked an additional milestone, which saw the first deployed extended rest and maintenance period (RAMP) conducted by staff from Fleet Maintenance Facility (FMF) Cape Breton in Esquimalt, B.C.
While all of this was happening in the Asia-Pacific region, HMCS Windsor was preparing to deploy to the Mediterranean Sea to support NATO. Windsor’s deployment was a clear signal of the importance of the transatlantic link that reinforces Canada’s commitment to the maintenance of international peace and security.
While there, Windsor conducted certification training as part of a major NATO engagement called DYNAMIC MANTA before deploying into NATO’s SEA GUARDIAN, a maritime security operation aimed at working with Mediterranean stakeholders to maintain maritime situational awareness, deter and counter terrorism, and enhance capacity building.
While Windsor was in the Mediterranean, staff from FMF Cape Scott in Halifax supported a deployed RAMP for the submarine in Souda Bay, Greece.
Windsor’s work with NATO continues to show Canada’s commitment to the alliance and directly contributed to NATO’s core tasks of collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security.
Cdr Mangin says that from the crews’ perspective the deployments have been “tremendously successful.”
“We train so much for these types of missions that to actually get out there and ‘do the business’ and perform intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance to support maritime situational awareness was really fun. The opportunity to put so much of our training and drills into practice in a real operation just seems to heighten the enthusiasm.”
During long deployments there is also an opportunity to train and generate newly qualified submariners. During Chicoutimi’s deployment for example, the crew qualified almost 25 new submariners – just about half of an entire Victoria-class submarine crew.
Additionally, there is ample time to provide crew members with time and experience to advance their qualifications to allow them to take on more senior roles within the crew.
Care of family
Like all naval vessels on long deployments, care of the families back home is top-of-mind. Crew members need to know their families are being looked after in their absence. The Military Family Resource Centers (MFRC) on both coasts provide myriad programs for families with deployed members, including coffee and pizza nights, emergency child care, counselling, and re-integration workshops in advance of the crews’ return home.
Together with representatives from the Submarine Force Headquarters staff, the MFRC also held periodic update meetings. These sessions provided families an opportunity to directly ask senior leadership questions regarding the deployment, as well as learning more about the services offered by the MFRC.
Finally, just as submarine crews tend to be very tight-knit, so too are many of the families. Through the power of social media, many families provide support to one another while their loved ones are away from home.
The way ahead
Mangin says the next few months will be a bit calmer for the Submarine Force. It is focussed on returning HMCS Victoria to sea in late 2018 after it has completed its planned maintenance work in the Esquimalt dockyard. Victoria is expected to carry out the yeoman’s work of generating new submariners through 2019.
Windsor is just about to enter a transitional docking work period which will include maintenance and introduce some capability upgrades to the platform.
Chicoutimi is in an intermediate post-deployment docking period and on completion will transit to the East Coast for a transitional docking work period.
Corner Brook is in the home stretch of its extended docking work period with industry in Esquimalt, and should be ready for operations in late 2019/early 2020.
“These transitional work periods will extend the operating cycle of the Victoria-class and should allow for some of the work to modernize the class to commence at the same time,” explains Mangin.
Hard work and sacrifice
Mangin says he “could not be more proud of the accomplishments of the officers and crew of Chicoutimi and Windsor” over this remarkable period of sustained operations.
“The previous 18 months have involved countless hours of hard work and sacrifice to make sure that these deployments came off,” he says.
He also recognizes the tremendous effort of the submarine support teams on both coasts that were instrumental in making sure these deployments were successful.
“These small detachments of technical and logistic specialists were my ‘go to’ folks on the ground while the boats were deployed. Of course both FMFs, supported by the team at Director General Maritime Equipment Program Management in Gatineau, Que., were also key partners in the success of the submarines. The hard engineering work, often behind the scenes, supported both deployed RAMPS, as well as the troubleshooting and routine repairs that happened over the deployments. The responsiveness of the engineering staffs ensured that both submarines were able to meet all of their commitments throughout the deployments.”
As the Canadian Submarine Force looks ahead to its continued operational success both at home and abroad, Cdr Mangin is confident that submariners are well-trained and well-equipped to continue the long tradition of Canadian sailors representing the best of Canadian values around the world.