Questionable “Game Changing” Mast Installation Underway for Submarines

January 14, 2019 – HMCS Corner Brook will become the first of the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) four elderly Victoria-class submarines to be equipped with a new modern mast system.

The submarine is currently stationed in the purpose-built repair facility dock at Victoria Shipyards as workers from Babcock Canada install the L3 Calzoni Universal Modular Mast (UMM). The system, similar to the one fitted in the United States Navy Virginia-class submarines, was acquired under the United States Foreign Military Sales program.

Masts are vital to the functioning of any submarine. In Canada’s diesel-powered submarines they provide air supply, communications, radar and periscope capability.

The now 33 year old HMCS Victoria at RIMPAC 2014, the only time a Victoria Class submarine has fired a torpedo. Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Photo by photographer PO1 Makoto Maeda

The latest price figures available for UMM was 2014 over $1,000,000 US before installation. With the four Canadian installations, two of which were launched in 1986 and 1989, must be in the neighborhood of $8-10 million. This money would have been much better spent on planning for replacements.

Lieutenant-Commander Darryl Gervis, RCN Deputy Director Submarine Combat Systems, says the new technology puts Canada’s submarine program on a new course.

“This is a game changer,” said LCdr Gervis, referring to the current technological shortfall for Canadian submarines – the lack of a reliable high-speed satellite data link.

“What the UMM (when coupled with the Protected Military Satellite Communication (PMSC) antenna) will do is provide near real-time high-speed communications with shore. This will allow for improved picture and video transmission, and quicker transmission of messages, therefore reducing counter-detection opportunities as the submarine will spend less time with its mast out of the water.”

The new equipment will also include the ability to “plug-and-play” a Communications Intercept Suite antenna that will provide the class that capability. This is because the UMM has two multi-purpose ports, like data ports on a computer. This will enable other antennas and intelligence gathering equipment to be swapped in and out to better suit the needs of a specific deployment or changing technology.
Commander Mike Mangin, Deputy Commander, Operations, of the Canadian Submarine Force, is encouraged by the upgrade and says the UMM with PMSC will truly bring Canadian submarine communications capabilities into the modern era.

“It improves the Victoria class as an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform,” said Cdr Mangin. “It increases our utility so much – the upgrades to the comms fit that UMM enables can be compared to using an old dial-up modem to one of today’s high-speed modems.”

Corner Brook traveled from her homeport of Halifax for the contractor conducted extended docking work period and work is expected to be completed in 2020. Work is expected to begin on the UMM installation in HMCS Chicoutimi in 2019, with subsequent work to be performed on HMCS Victoria and HMCS Windsor.

The plan is to have all four submarines retrofitted with the new equipment by 2026, 40 years after Chicoutimi (ex-HMS Upholder) was launched.

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