Into the deep: HMCS Victoria returns to sea

A CH-148 Cyclone helicopter conducts a training exercise with HMCS Victoria on Sept. 22. The submarine commenced sea trials on Sept. 18, marking its first time at sea since February 2015. Photo by LCdr H.T. Nguyen-Huynh, Executive Officer, HMCS Victoria

A CH-148 Cyclone helicopter conducts a training exercise with HMCS Victoria on Sept. 22. The submarine commenced sea trials on Sept. 18, marking its first time at sea since February 2015. Photo by LCdr H.T. Nguyen-Huynh, Executive Officer, HMCS Victoria

Peter Mallett
Staff Writer
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HMCS Victoria achieved another milestone last week as part of its ongoing sea trials.

With the diesel electric submarine operating on the surface near Esquimalt, a CH-148 Cyclone helicopter hovered above to practice transferring equipment and personnel – a first for a Victoria-class submarine and this new helicopter. 

“This serial allowed both units to update their standard operating procedures for helicopter transfer with this new airframe,” said Capt(N) Jean Stéphane Ouellet, Commander Canadian Submarine Force. “The submarine crew gained valuable experience from this interaction.”

Victoria and its 48-person crew returned to sea Sept.18 after a five-year hiatus in dry dock where it underwent routine maintenance, repairs, and upgrades.

“The return of HMCS Victoria to sea marked a significant achievement for the Canadian Submarine Force and its submarine enterprise partners. It is the result of our collective hard work, resilience, determination, and dedication,” said Capt(N) Ouellet. 

That return also marked the resumption of Canadian submarine operations following a pause that began in 2018 when HMCS Windsor returned from a Mediterranean deployment.

Eleven other personnel are on board Victoria for the trials including submariners in training and Sea Training staff.

In addition, personnel from the Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Breton (FMF CB) were embarked to conduct specific equipment trials. After conducting trials at sea and damage control exercises, Victoria returned alongside to address some issues discovered during the trials before continuing on with the dived portion of the program.

At-sea trials test most major mechanical and combat systems such as propulsion, steering, sonars, and periscopes. It is also an occasion to re-familiarize the crew to working in a submarine environment as not all evolutions can be simulated alongside or in the trainers. 

Victoria will also conduct a deep dive scheduled for October to ensure the submarine is watertight and confirm all of its on-board systems are operational at its maximum allowable depth.

As part of the five-year work period, Victoria received the new BQQ-10 sonar, also used on board United States Navy attack submarines, and a new battery.

“This new state-of-the-art sonar system will radically improve our ability to detect, classify, and track quiet warships and submarines. It is a game changer for the class,” said Capt(N) Ouellet.

The Force Commander also congratulated the crew of Victoria, military and civilian workers from FMF CB, the Formation Technical Authority, Babcock Canada, Seaspan Victoria Shipyards, and the Government of Canada’s Director General Maritime Equipment Program for preparing Victoria for its return to sea.

“It is also important to recognize HMCS Chicoutimi and its crew who played a critical role in supporting Victoria, especially towards the end of the repair work period when the Victoria crew was required to commence its modified quarantine,” added Capt(N) Ouellet.

Those directly involved in the sea trials have been adhering to a COVID-19 quarantine protocol with strict control of who can embark the submarine. It involves in-home quarantine for seven days prior to embarking and COVID-19 testing that has so far yielded no positive tests.

“Returning a submarine to sea is always challenging; however, the COVID-19 pandemic added an additional level of complexity to that process which we had never experienced before,” said Capt(N) Ouellet.

Following completion of the sea trials, the focus for Victoria will be to train new submariners while contributing to continental defence, said Capt(N) Ouellet.

The next major milestone for the Canadian Submarine Force will occur in the coming months with the anticipated return to sea of Windsor on the East coast.

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