Halifax Class Modernization
Mar 15, 2008

The Halifax class frigates, one of the workhorses of the Canadian Navy, are a testament to Canada’s engineering and shipbuilding prowess. These ships are now entering their middle age and a lot has changed in the world in the 15 years since HMCS Halifax was commissioned into service. The end of the Cold War, 9/11, the rise of ideological extremism and terrorism, Canadians in Afghanistan, melting polar ice, and unprecedented levels of maritime trade are but a few examples of how the world’s social, political, and geographic landscapes have changed.

Military concepts have adapted to meet these changing conditions as Command and Control (C2) evolved into Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnais­sance (C4ISR), along with the evolution to net-centric warfare and operations, an increased focus on joint operations, and the geographic front lines blurred into the asymmetric threat space. At the same time, new ­technologies emerged, capabilities were refined, and our once ‘state-of-the-art’ frigates were themselves in need of a major overhaul to keep pace with the emerging threats.

Fortunately, the Canadian government has approved an ambitious set of projects, under the umbrella of the Halifax Class Modernization (HCM) and Frigate Life Extension (FELEX) projects – allocating $3.1 billion to ensure our 12 frigates can continue to protect Canadians at home and serve our interests abroad.

While much of Canada’s defence reporting is understandably focused on Afghanistan, it’s also important for Canadians to understand the strategic signi­ficance of this ­project – it is not just important to the Navy, but to the entire country. We cannot lose sight of the fact that Canada has the longest coastline of any country. The offshore Exclusive Economic Zone, through which our (and a considerable percentage of U.S.) seaborne trade passes, is equivalent in size to the combined area of Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic Provinces. Forty percent of our exports move by sea and 25 percent of our known oil reserves are offshore. Canada is surrounded by oceans on, over and under which an adequate navy and air force can operate to keep us secure from threats that can approach through these routes. Control of Canada’s ocean areas and our ability to deny ­unfettered use to our enemies is of vital national interest. As a consequence, HCM/FELEX is one of the most critical strategic projects currently undertaken by this government.
Dec 2007 – Leading Seaman McMahon, a stoker on HMCS Charlottetown, performs the semi-annual inspection of the fuel/oil centrifuge.

The first element, HCM, is the umbrella project which defines the required capability enhancements through a Statement of Opera­tional Require­ments (SOR). The second element, FELEX, is essentially a management structure that will coordinate all aspects of HCM, to ensure the upgraded ships are delivered on time and in accordance with the SOR.

First and foremost, the planned upgrades will enable our sailors go to sea as safely as possible. Given everything that we ask the Navy to do on our behalf, it is our national responsibility to provide equipment adequate to the task. In addition to addressing the normal wear and tear of more than 15 years at sea, the HCM/FELEX project will provide the following upgrades to our Frigates:

Command and Control
Essentially the “central nervous system” of any frigate, the command and control system will be updated to take advantage of current technological advances to improve efficiency onboard the ship and to ensure we can continue to operate with multi-national forces. This is especially important for our unique working ­relationship with the United States Navy and with other NATO allies.

In the official announcement of the project, the Prime Minister noted that “One of the most important upgrades to our frigates will be enhanced command and control centres, giving Canadian ­vessels the ability to lead operations, not just participate in them.” This is an important capability that will greatly enhance our status as a responsible global leader with maritime power.
Tugboats assist HMCS Vancouver in departing from Pearl Harbor to participate in exercise Rim of the Pacific 2006, the world’s largest biennial maritime exercise. Conducted in the waters off Hawaii, RIMPAC brings together military forces from Australia, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the UK and the United States.

In the last 20 years, Canada has commanded numerous coalition naval operations. Our operational experience, the professionalism of our sailors and the Canadian values they take with them to sea have combined to make us a most effective leader of multinational task forces. Unfortunately, our commanders have often had to make do with a frigate when a destroyer was not available. That our commanders have been able to do this is more a testament to their ingenuity and perseverance than to having the right tools for the job.

While the new Command and Control capability of the Halifax class will not be as robust as the capabilities of our Iroquois class destroyers, this upgrade, while not ideal in many respects, will help bridge the gap until the destroyers can be replaced. This is essential to maintaining our leadership capability, and thus our influence among navies of the world.

Internal Control Systems
Replacement of the Integrated Machinery Control System is also a key element of maintaining our frigates’ capabilities. A modern warship is one of the most complex pieces of technology that any nation can develop, and within each ship there are hundreds of thousands of components that must work together seamlessly.

The Integrated Machinery Control System was a revolutionary design that contributed greatly to the ‘state-of-the-art’ designation that was attributed to the Halifax class ships. By taking lessons learned from the present system, and integrating all the advances that have taken place since, the new system will be sure to improve all aspects of ship operation.

The shear mass of information required to effectively command a warship or task group has increased exponentially since HMCS Halifax first tasted salt water. Just as Admiral Lord Nelson famously lamented “Was I to die at this moment, ‘want of frigates’ would be found stamped on my heart,” modern commanders often lament a lack of bandwidth.

To explain this analogy, the speedy frigates of Nelson’s day were both the ‘eyes and ears’ and the ‘voice’ of the fleet. A lack of sufficient frigates could have ­disastrous consequences, as you couldn’t spot the enemy or communicate over distances. Without sufficient bandwidth to send and receive vast amounts of data, our current commanders face a similar plight.

To address this, HCM/FELEX will upgrade the Internal Communications System of the frigates and add the new Military Satellite Communication System. This will ensure that information gets where it needs to, when it is needed.

Originally intended for ‘blue-water’ or open ocean use, our frigates often find themselves put in harm’s way in the ­littoral regions. To perform these missions safely and effectively, the eyes and ears of the ship need to be able to cope with all the extra clutter so common in the coastal environments. This necessitates upgrades to the Navigation Radar and the Tactical Radar Suite, as well as the addition of the long-range infrared search and track system (SIRIUS). The newer systems must be able to track more threats, more quickly. They must also provide more information about what they are tracking.
The upgrade of the Identification Friend or Foe Mode S/5 (IFF Mode S/5) is essential in this regard, improving the capability to separate friendly air and sea units from potential threats.

An upgrade of the Harpoon Missile System will improve the capability to attack other surface targets and add the capability to attack targets onshore. The 16-cell surface-to-air missile system will be upgraded to launch the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). The ESSM provides faster speed, longer range and improved accuracy to shoot down incoming aircraft and missiles. The main gun, a BOFORS 57mm Naval Gun, will also be updated to improve its performance across a full spectrum of threats.

These upgrades follow a recent upgrade to the Close-In Weapons System (CIWS), the Raytheon Mk 15 Phalanx. The ship’s last line of defence against incoming missiles, the CIWS has been upgraded to Block 1B configuration. This adds a thermal imaging system from Thales Defence Systems, which allows it to be used against surface threats and low-observable missiles, a longer barrel for improved accuracy and a variable firing rate of 3,000 or 4,500 rounds per minute.

Other Upgrades
Components of the Electronic Warfare System will be upgraded, specifically the Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system. This system, called the Canadian Naval Electronic Warfare System or CANEWS identifies external radar emissions to identify potential threats to the ship is classified.
Nov 2007 A view of HMCS Ottawa from the cockpit of a CH124 Sea King helicopter above the Southern California Offshore Range. Ottawa and HMCS Vancouver ­practiced firing their main guns at precise ­targets ashore. The practice provided the Canadian Navy with knowledge on the defensive capabilities of Canadian warships against military and non-military shore-based threats.

The Shield II Missile Decoy Counter­measures System will be replaced with a newer system, which will improve the ship’s defences against the latest generation of anti-ship missiles.

The aircraft hangers will be modified to accommodate the new CH148 Cyclone helicopter (like many Canadians, I have given up speculating on when the Sea Kings will actually be replaced).

The Big Picture
Thus far, we have outlined here the basic nature of the planned frigate upgrades, highlighting the importance to our naval operations. However, in the HCM/FELEX project, there is much more at stake than maintaining our frigates’ capabilities.

When you consider that these frigates form the bulk of our surface combat capability (and up to half of them will be in refit at any one time) – and acknowledge that the remaining lifespan of our destroyers is questionable, the delayed upgrades to our submarines are proceeding, as is the Maritime Helicopter replacement (albeit slowly) and the Aurora moder­nization project – the Navy will be hard pressed to provide enough platforms for domestic maritime security. NATO and other international commitments will further stretch naval resources.

Essentially, Canada does not have a fleet with sufficient capacity to carry out the range of government-assigned missions – and the need to modernize our frigates will exacerbate this situation.

Thus, at minimum, the timely delivery of the upgraded frigates is essential for maintaining a minimal effective maritime security at home and credible contributions to the global maritime community.

While the squeeze on naval resources is one critical factor, increased demand on our shipyards also raises the stakes for HCM/FELEX. In addition to frigate and submarine upgrades, the government is also in the process of building new Joint Support Ships and Arctic/Offshore Patrol Vessels. Coupled with strong performance in the ship repair sector, Industry order books are filling up fast.

Any delay on the HCM/FELEX contract could strain the facilities and human resources of our relatively small industry, resulting in further delays or markedly increased costs – neither would be acceptable. Given that the Request for Proposals was issued significantly later than originally planed, there is already increased pressure to ensure the first vessel will enter refit by April 2010.
Oct 2007 – HMCS Calgary (left) receives fuel from HMCS Protecteur which also refuelled the three other ships in the naval task group (HMCS Algonquin, Ottawa and Vancouver) while at sea off the coast of California. The Naval Task Group left Victoria on a 5-week warfare exercise called TGEX 3-07. During TGEX 3-07, the ships practiced defence operations ­independently and with the multi-ship USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group.

Having examined HCM/FELEX in terms of defence capabilities and industrial capacity, the final (and most compelling) argument to be made in support of this project is one of economics. Direct and indirect benefits of domestic shipbuilding are well documented – the industry provides a 1:5 ratio of economic generation. This means that for every dollar spent on shipbuilding, five dollars are generated elsewhere in the economy. This compares favourably with Canada’s automotive industry which has a 1:7 ratio, or the aerospace industry with a ratio of 1:4.

The shipbuilding sector also provides the second highest paying manufacturing jobs of any sector of the economy, next only to the automotive industry. At a time when Canadian manufacturing is in decline, investment in shipbuilding projects, especially the building of warships, will, as a strategic investment, preserve the skilled trades that are essential to both main­taining our national strategic industrial capacity and to providing the high-paying jobs that enable our high standard of living.

As an example of direct benefits of domestic shipbuilding, we need look no further than the original build program for the Halifax class (then called the Canadian Patrol Frigate or CPF). When the CPF contract was first issued, it required industrial benefits totaling $7.2 billion. As shown in the chart, the project exceeded this target by 130%, providing an additional $2.1 billion in investment into Canadian manufacturing, small business and research and development.

It is reasonable to expect similar performance from the HCM/FELEX project. At a bare minimum, the $3.1 billion investment will provide us with the navy fleet we need, preserve a strategic workforce, and stimulate innovation through Research and Development.

Innovation has long been a hallmark of Canada’s Navy and its shipbuilding sector. We were the first to mate large helicopters to smaller warships. We were also the first to mate refuelling and ­re-supply functions to create an all purpose supply ship. Both of these have since become global standards.

The introduction of the Joint Support Ship is a more recent example of Cana­dian innovation – taking the functions of a supply vessel and adding a modest ­maritime lift capability. Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and Canada’s defence industries have made advances in sensors; weapons; systems integration; electronic warfare; Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) protection; and the full spectrum of components that make up a modern warship.

After an extensive period of drought, the Shipbuilding sector will begin to receive the investment necessary to maintain its capabilities and will deliver a good return on that investment. HCM/FELEX will keep both the Navy and Canadian industry alive so that both can continue to develop Canadian solutions to meet Canadian requirements.

This is especially important when you consider the requirement to replace our aging destroyers. With one already consigned to history (HMCS Huron) and persistent rumors about the pending disposal of another, there is an urgent need to replace these ships. We also have to plan for the eventual replacement of the frigates. A wise decision would be to invest, as do other nations that rely on maritime security for their security and prosperity, not in a particular class of ship but in a long term investment to design and build ships for our Navy.

Thus the HCM/FELEX project is much greater than the sum of its parts. This project will do more than meet the Navy’s requirement for a safe and effective platform to carry out its missions. It will help to maintain a strategically important industrial capability, stimulate economic development and innovation and ultimately set the stage for the future of our Navy and our economy.
Jerrod Riley is the National Deputy Director of The Navy League of Canada
© Frontline Defence 2008