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Sub in refit to get wet for first time in 5 years
« on: April 10, 2012, 01:54:23 PM »
Sub in refit to get wet for first time in 5 years

April 10, 2012 - 4:21am By BEVERLEY WARE

HMCS Windsor is seen in dry dock behind a recently constructed maintenance building at HMC Dockyard in Halifax last Wednesday. (TIM KROCHAK / Staff)

HMCS Windsor faces sea trials till at least September

HMCS WINDSOR, the submarine undergoing a multimillion-dollar refit in Halifax, will touch water Wednesday morning for the first time in five years, The Chronicle Herald has learned.

"This is a huge milestone," military affairs writer Tim Dunne said in an interview

Monday about the Windsor’s undocking.

The process is to begin at 6 a.m., with the boat being lowered extremely slowly into Halifax Harbour over a six-hour period that’s set to coincide with the tide going out. It will be 20 years almost to the day since the Royal Navy launched the submarine as HMS Unicorn on April 16, 1992.

Once the vessel is fully in the water, two tugboats will tow it over to an outdoor jetty in preparation for sea trials, which are expected to last until at least September.

The navy says the sub is scheduled to be operational by early next year.

Rear Admiral David Gardam is expected to attend Wednesday’s event, and about one-third of the 53-member crew will be on board as the vessel is undocked.

The Windsor entered dry dock in 2007 after spending 146 days at sea the year before, taking part in training exercises with the U.S. navy and conducting sovereignty patrols off the East Coast, gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance and reconnaissance.

The navy was unable to do an interview Monday. While it has not said what the refit has cost, there are reports the $17-million budget for 2010 topped out at $47 million.

With dryland tests now complete aboard the Windsor, all systems have been certified as working properly, clearing the way for Wednesday’s undocking.

The sub now sits on chocks on a Syncrolift, a dock that raises and lowers. At 6 a.m., the lift, powered by 34 motors, will begin lowering the 2,400-tonne submarine into the water.

The vessel is expected to be floating by noon, when the tide will be fully out and the water will likely be calm.

Divers will pull the chocks away and two tugs will haul the Windsor to a jetty near the battery shop, where it will be tied up so that more equipment can be tested while wet. Two periscopes will be installed and fuel added, allowing the engines to run for the first time since the sub entered dry dock.

HMCS Windsor is one of four submarines Canada bought from Britain for an initial purchase price of $750 million in 1998. Collectively, the four have spent 900 days at sea since coming into service in Canada in 2003, though their tenure has been marred by accidents and bad press.

HMCS Corner Brook struck bottom in 45 metres of water near Nootka Sound off western Vancouver Island last June, cutting a hole in the sub’s outer fibreglass casing. Before that, it had taken part in NATO and Canada-U.S. training exercises, two deployments to the Arctic and two deployments with a U.S.-led multinational anti-drug operation, one in the Caribbean and the other in the Eastern Pacific.

HMCS Victoria is ahead of the Windsor in its refit and has just completed its second set of torpedo firings during sea trials off Canada’s West Coast.

The fourth sub, HMCS Chicoutimi, caught fire during its maiden voyage in 2004, killing Lt. Chris Saunders, 32. It is undergoing a refit in Victoria and is expected to be operational next year.

While a number of critics don’t agree, Dunne said Canada, with its almost 250,000 kilometres of coastline, needs a submarine fleet to protect its sovereignty, fight the drug trade and provide a valuable training platform for both the Canadian navy and its allies.

"The things a submarine has going for it is its stealth, its endurance and its deployability," said Dunne, who is writing an article for Vanguard, a trade magazine for Canada’s defence and security industries, on why Canada needs submarines.

"They can choose when to disclose their presence, they don’t have to disclose their presence, and they’re virtually undetectable in the water," he said.

In fact, 40 countries worldwide have 450 submarines. North Korea and India have aggressive submarine construction programs and China added 13 subs to its fleet from 2002 to 2004, for a total of 31 new subs in a 10-year period ending in 2005.

Canada has diesel-electric subs. When they switch to battery power, "they are absolutely silent," Dunne said, while the nuclear-powered subs the Americans and British are using generate noise. Dunne said that makes Canada extremely attractive to those countries when they want to conduct anti-submarine warfare training.

"There’s such a lack of knowledge about what the submarines are and what they’re doing and why they’re needed," he said.

"Not only are they worth the expense, if we have to buy four new submarines, we could expect to spend $5 billion to $6 billion. We bought four slightly used Upholder-class submarines for $750 million. With the refit work, there are estimates they cost upwards of $2 billion. That’s still a far cry from $5 billion to $6 billion."

And submarines are, by nature, more expensive than ships because they have to safely operate underwater. In this case, expenses were compounded because they sat dockside in England for four years before Canada bought them.

"Submarines are second only to the space shuttle in complexity," Dunne said, and safety requirements demand more stringent testing and trials. "They are not taking any chances when it comes to safety."