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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Parliamentarians spend 24 hours under the waves with HMCS Windsor

Navy News / October 25, 2016

By Ryan Melanson, Trident Military Newspaper

A 24-hour stint under the waves in Her Majesty’s Canadian Submarine (HMCS) Windsor, one of Canada’s four Victoria-class submarines, was the highlight of a visit to the East Coast by four parliamentarians from October 12 to 13, 2016.

Chandra Arya, Marwan Tabbara, Pierre Paul-Hus and Cheryl Gallant
Members of Parliament Chandra Arya, Marwan Tabbara, Pierre Paul-Hus and Cheryl Gallant suit up for their Canadian Leaders at Sea program at Canadian Forces Base Halifax on October 11, 2016.
The politicians made the trip as part of the Royal Canadian Navy’s Canadian Leaders at Sea (CLaS) Program. For nearly a decade, CLaS has been embarking government officials, community and business leaders, and other strategic stakeholders on board HMC ships and submarines to showcase the skill sets and equipment that the navy employs in defence of Canada. The program also provides valuable insight into the day-to-day life of sailors and submariners, and the living and working conditions inside their temporary homes at sea.

The guests included Liberal Members of Parliament Marwan Tabbara and Chandra Arya, as well as opposition Members Pierre Paul-Hus and Cheryl Gallant, both of whom sit on the House Standing Committee on National Defence. They were accompanied by Rear-Admiral John Newton, Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic.

CLaS is meant to be an intensive and immersive experience, and a Victoria-class submarine was the right place to fulfill that goal. The guests were submerged more than 100 metres under water, dined in the boat’s small messes alongside personnel, and slept on metal racks alongside submarine trainees and Mark 48 heavy torpedoes.

The MPs also got a small taste of the slow-moving game of hide and seek that is submarine warfare, with Halifax-class frigate HMCS St. John’s and a CH-124 Sea King helicopter participating in a short exercise about 20 kilometres offshore.

Windsor closed within 2,000 yards of the warship at periscope depth, giving everyone a chance to observe the “adversaries” from the search periscope, before the participants took turns listening to St. John’s acoustic signature through the boat’s newly advanced AN/BQQ10 sonar, the same system employed by the newest submarines in the U.S. fleet.

Sitting at the fire control system, they then learned how visual, acoustic and other points of data are combined to accurately track nearby vessels and plot possible attacks.

As part of the simulation, Windsor fired off a green flare, a signal indicating a torpedo attack against St. John’s. There was no harm done, but in reality, the boat’s torpedoes would have no issue breaking the back of a frigate.

“The torpedo will find and sink whatever is out there, guaranteed. It’s been proven time and time again,” said Lieutenant-Commander Peter Chu, Windsor’s Commanding Officer.

Later, the visitors witnessed the crew run through a comprehensive set of pre-diving checks before plunging below into their natural hidden state below the waves.

“It becomes incredibly calm,” observed Mr. Tabbara while the submarine was submerged, compared to the way Windsor rolls with the waves at periscope depth.

It’s one of the many reasons submariners prefer to stealthily submerge as much as possible, though the boat did surface again in the evening so their guests could experience a “snort”, drawing in air and recharging the battery while running the diesel engines.

Windsor’s crew members each performed their designated tasks with precision, but for Mr. Paul-Hus, a first-time MP elected to Parliament last year, the biggest takeaway was the confidence the submariners have in the Victoria-class boat and the state-of-the-art technology found inside it.

“In the end, to have a successful crew, we also need the crew to have good equipment. I think we see that here with a submarine with its new sonar and other upgrades that are working so well,” Mr. Paul-Hus said.

The crew was upbeat, welcoming to guests and enthusiastic to chat about their jobs, but leadership is well aware of the heavy workload placed upon the submariners, and that it’s important not to burn them out. The boat spent nearly 200 days at sea over the past year, recently tackling an extended three weeks of deployment following Exercise DYNAMIC MONGOOSE 2016, cutting short a much-deserved summer break.

The MPs pressed LCdr Chu on his secrets for keeping up morale through long stretches of slow-paced, but demanding work. He said it boils down to communication – speaking with his personnel in small groups to explain the tasks at hand and the importance of the work, and giving extra attention to crew with family concerns at home or other stresses.

It helps that his crew has grown so close and supportive of each other, a necessity with 48 men and women working in such close quarters. The nature of submarine life and duty watch means submariners spend countless hours learning about each other’s lives, families and hometowns.

“It becomes part of our entertainment, but it also builds a cohesiveness within the crew. From a captain’s perspective, it’s extremely important to build that cohesiveness. When the team gets together, starts to trust each other and learn they can rely on each other, that’s when you build that true Windsor spirit,” LCdr Chu said.

There’s also immense pride in the work, and the lack of outside communications or missed family moments can be accepted more easily when working in support of real NATO operations, as Windsor did in summer 2015 and again this year. Having the boat and crew prepared to answer those calls for support is also significant in showcasing RCN capability, RAdm Newton said. “It shows that it doesn’t take a large submarine fleet to have trained submariners and be an undersea nation. In the international community, there’s no doubt Canada is at the table.”

Before leaving the boat to continue their tour of CFB Halifax sites, each visitor was presented with an Honorary Submariner card, an HMCS Windsor coin, and even a dolphin badge like the ones worn proudly by submariners around the world.

“I really encourage them all to carry these with pride and to show them off whenever they can,” LCdr Chu said. “It’s an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives, no doubt.”

The parliamentarians’ time at CFB Halifax also included a number of other stops to help illustrate the full picture of Maritime Forces Atlantic. These included glimpses into the navy’s future, like a static tour of the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter at 12 Wing Shearwater, N.S., as well as a walkthrough of Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax Shipyard where work on the first Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel is well under way.

“They’ve seen some very important work happening,” said RAdm Newton. “So hopefully they’ll go back and tell their fellow parliamentarians about what the navy does and what our submariners do. They can help tell our story through their own lens, whether it’s to the defence committee or within government. We can’t ask for much more than that.”