The advancements and upgrades being realized in the Halifax Class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension (HCM/FELEX) programme are so extensive it’s almost as if the navy is creating a new class of warship.
The first west coast ship to receive the planned mid-life upgrade is HMCS Calgary, which completed its extended docking work period at Victoria Shipyards Ltd June 1 after substantial state-of the-art enhancements.
“Beyond just the combat and machinery control functions, these changes will touch the entire ship’s company by virtue of the duties sailors have to carry out, whether it is safety and security of the ship, general seamanship duties, or shipboard communication,” says Capt(N) Brian Costello, assistant chief of staff for HCM/FELEX. “It’s taken an entire generational leap.”
Part of the programme updates capabilities to current technology standards, while others address the sustainability of existing systems. This ensures the warships can continue adapting to current and future threat environments, keeping them operationally relevant.
Since the Halifax Class Frigates were commissioned between 1992 and 1996, the mission spectrum has continued to evolve. The contemporary threat environment demands that warships be ready for complex joint and combined operations, and counter littoral threats from coastal artillery, low-flying aircraft and small surface vessels.
“The ships were originally designed for the Cold War blue water anti-submarine era, but now our missions include maritime interdiction, security and counter-drug operations with international agencies, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, in addition to our core combat capabilities,” says Capt(N) Costello.
Once all 12 warships complete their upgrades, a reinvigorated fleet of frigates will stand ready to serve the Royal Canadian Navy to the end of their service life.
Significant upgrades to HMCS Calgary include:
- Operations Room (Ops Room)
In Calgary, and the three warships to follow, the operations room has been gutted, bulkheads have been pushed out, and the SPS 49 cooling room has been removed to allow more space.
Three new command chairs allow a place for the Commanding Officer and Task Group Commander to oversee the battle from within the Ops Room. They control communications from their seat and also control the large screen display in front of them.
Multi-function work stations with tri-screens have been installed throughout the room to allow operators multitasking on different monitors.
- Machinery Control Room
Damage Control has taken a giant leap into the future. The Plexiglas board and coloured grease pencils used for Damage Control plotting have been replaced with LCD touch screens, installed throughout the ship to allow sailors to update their section information in real time.
The new Integrated Platform Management System (IPMS) combines three separate systems into one management system with touch screen capability. Managing on board power generators and stopping and starting auxiliary system is now more centralized with the new IPMS.
New consoles for navigational radars have been added, and the bridge has been reorganized to house a multi-function workstation similar to those installed in the Operations Room.
A new feature allows the Commanding Officer to look at command and control information from his chair on the bridge and in his cabin via a Station Commanding Officer Remote (SCOR).
- Morale and Welfare improvements
To make more bunk space for task group staff, part of the deck in 2 Mess was raised 16 inches near the ship’s side to create room to fit three bunks. The Main Cave, or junior ranks mess, received a facelift with a larger bar that allows more bar surface and eating space.
A conference room has been added in the Aft SIS for command task force staff with a 10-person table, computer access and a large screen display for briefing. This space could potentially be used as an Internet café where sailors can access email.
The gym, which is in the reserve space in the after section of the ship, now has a TV and permanent exercise equipment. Heads and wash places were also reorganized to add more showers.
- Combat improvements
The 57mm gun has been upgraded to the Mark 3, as well as the gun’s electronics. These changes include a new shape to the cupola, or housing.
Smart 3P ammunition will be used in the gun against small fast-manoeuvring surface targets and concealed shore targets.
All radars on board have been changed. The two dimensional surface radar has been upgraded and the long range air search radar has been replaced with three-dimensional radar, which provides altitude, bearing and range.
A military satellite connects to the Internet and other networks, enhancing communication systems and ensuring information security.
The new Boeing Harpoon Block II anti-ship missile provides an improved near-shore capability and land-attack options.
The Raytheon Phalanx close-in weapon system (CIWS) has advanced from the 1A to 1B configuration to provide the capability to engage anti-ship missiles, low flying aircraft, helicopters, and small fast-attack surface vessels.
A Sirius long-range infrared search-and-track system provides continuous passive horizon searches for sea skimming anti-ship missiles, surface target tracking, observation of coastlines and floating mine detection.
What’s next for Calgary and HCM/FELEX?
Now that Calgary is back in navy hands, the upgrade project continues for the next six months as systems are tested. Then an extended trials period will follow, integrated with the legacy tiered readiness program that will result in the ship returning to operational status in 2014.
HMCS Winnipeg will follow in Calgary’s wake; it is currently in Victoria Shipyards Ltd. approaching the half way mark of its 12-month work period.
“I think people are very enthused and excited to be provided with top-of-the-line equipment to support their work,” says Capt(N) Costello. “People can’t wait to get out at sea and start trialling and employing the ship to its full potential. We have sailors who love their jobs and are dedicated, but it adds another dimension when we have the best equipment possible.”
As new sailors join the Royal Canadian Navy, a good number of them will first serve aboard a modernized Halifax Class frigate.
“The new sailors will never know the old frigates,” says Capt(N) Costello. “I’m jealous. I want to go back to sea.”
Shelley Lipke, Staff Writer
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