Increasing underwater awareness through submarine upgrades

June 9, 2021 – HMCS Victoria is back at sea and its sonar operators (sonar op) are more equipped than ever before.

That is because HMCS Victoria received an upgrade to the sonar suite during the submarine’s last docking work period with the installation of the BQQ-10 sonar suite, which not only aligns capabilities with that of our Allies, but also effectively changes the game for the Royal Canadian Navy’s Victoria-class submarines.

Recently, HMCS Victoria’s crew successfully conducted trials of the new sonar suite aimed at proving the system, fine tuning and verifying its integration with other onboard systems. For Victoria’s Senior Sonar Operator (UC1), Petty Officer 2nd Class (PO2) Naomi Mihalcheon, the difference brings a new level of excitement to her job.

“The BQQ-10 is far more advanced than the former sonar suite when it comes to processing and options for analyzing contacts,” says PO2 Mihalcheon. “With the BQQ-10, we have a much more sophisticated system to work with now.”

The differences between the BQQ-10 and the previous 2040 sonar suite range from a significant increase in the amount of post-processing that occurs when data is received from Victoria’s sonar systems to how that information is displayed in the submarine’s control room for its Sonar Ops.

“The upgraded screens make a significant difference,” adds PO2 Mihalcheon. “In some ways, it is like we advanced from working with Atari-level graphics and information to full-on HDMI.”

Prior to the trials at sea, the change for the Sonar Ops began ashore with conversion training to familiarize the operators with the new equipment and data presentation, which is assisted by the fact that the fundamentals of the Sonar Op’s job remain the same.

“Building a “sonar ear” is equally as important now as it was with the 2040 system. It is still possible to classify a contact simply by what it sounds like before the BQQ-10 processing and evaluations happens,” says PO2 Mihalcheon.

Even with conversion training ashore, the main challenge faced by Sonar Ops at sea is determining how to optimize the system and what works best to provide the most relevant data to the command team. As Victoria continues with its regular patrol schedule, its Sonar Ops will continue to tweak their use of the system, which in turn will benefit the Canadian Submarine Force overall.

“HMCS Victoria is the second of our submarines to trial the BQQ-10 system. So far, the system is exceeding our expectations and there are so many functions that we still have to explore and learn. It is exciting for the Submarine Force but especially for our sonar ops who get to operate a state-of-the-art sonar suite,” says Capt(N) Jean Stéphane Ouellet, Commander, Canadian Submarine Force.

“All operational Victoria-class submarines are upgraded with this system, with Corner Brook being the third submarine to be upgraded upon completion of the Extended Docking Work Period in late-2021. This leads to an overall increased awareness of the underwater environment. Not only does this system significantly improve our surveillance capabilities in the defence of Canada, it also contributes to keeping the Canadian Submarine Force relevant for operations today and in the future,” he adds.

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