The many firsts for HMCS Winnipeg

PO2 Robert Morris and SLt Phil Hopkins play the bagpipes during the ship’s departure sail past on Aug. 6.

PO2 Robert Morris and SLt Phil Hopkins play the bagpipes during the ship’s departure sail past on Aug. 6.

Captain Chelsea Dubeau, HMCS Winnipeg PAO ~

HMCS Winnipeg did something that many ships have done before, and many will do again: depart on deployment. But something was new and different with the Aug. 1 deployment. 

For one, Winnipeg is the first ship on the west coast to deploy on an international operation since the pandemic was declared in March and, due to COVID-19 precautions, its sailors won’t be able to explore the many foreign ports of call that are usually such a big part of the deployment experience.

A few days prior to leaving, all members of the ship’s company were tested for COVID-19 in anticipation of their participation in RIMPAC 2020 off Hawaiian waters, and the follow-on deployment on Operation Projection/Neon. The crew of HMCS Regina was tested as well, as they are also participating in RIMPAC.

Mass tests for COVID-19 are a first for the Royal Canadian Navy, but are now part of a new standard implemented before putting ships to sea.

Winnipeg also has a new weapon in its arsenal: a Biofire. It’s an instrument that can test for and detect bacteria and viruses – including COVID-19 – from samples taken on a ship.

“The ship is a confined space and if there is a positive COVID patient it can rapidly spread,” said Master Corporal Junkyu Lee, a laboratory technician on board. “The sooner we can detect the virus, the sooner we can confine and control the situation more efficiently.”

The Biofire setup in Winnipeg is the first instrument of its kind on a Halifax-class ship.

Another new piece of kit is the Naval Remote Weapons System (NRWS), an upgraded version of the traditional .50 calibre machine guns on the bridge wings.

“Traditionally, the .50 calibre machine guns were crewed by a sailor who was physically standing at the mount and firing rounds at a target,” said Lt(N) Adam Thomson, Deputy Operations Officer. “The accuracy of the weapon was heavily dependent on the proficiency of the operator. The NRWS has taken our traditional machine guns and mounted them on a remote-controlled and stabilized mount that is both highly accurate, even in increased sea states, and also eliminates the need to put a sailor outside at the mounts if the ship comes under attack.”

Winnipeg is the first ship in the Pacific Fleet to be fitted with this system.

New technology aside, there was another unprecedented event. Hundreds of Greater Victoria residents lined viewpoints at Dallas Road and Esquimalt Lagoon to watch both ships and their helicopters sail past, with sailors formed up and waving goodbye as they left for Hawaii.

On the starboard bridge wing of Winnipeg, bagpipers played a tune to mark the moment. It was poignant and emotional for some; Winnipeg sailors won’t see home until December.

Sea Training Pacific staff are embarked in Winnipeg until Sept. 4 to conduct Intermediate Multi-Ship Readiness Training (IMSRT). Warhips typically don’t go immediately from IMSRT into deployment, but with RIMPAC and the enhanced COVID-19 precautions built into the beginning of the program and throughout, adjustments were made to ensure the ship achieves high readiness. Despite the rigorous flex and the much beloved bong bongs, the crew is leaning into the training, helped greatly by the mentorship of Sea Training staff.

Finally, on Aug. 12 Winnipeg got to do something not done before by a Canadian warship: engage a simulated surface threat using three weapons systems simultaneously. Using a hammerhead target – a remote-controlled device used for target practice – the ship simulated a reaction to a surface threat, in this case, a vessel closing rapidly on the ship. This unique training opportunity had operators engaging the Naval Remote Weapons System, Close-in Weapons System, and .57mm Bofors gun.

The hammerhead didn’t stand a chance.

Winnipeg and Regina are now fully engaged in RIMPAC.


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