Navy submarine suffered long-term damage to ballast tank due to false testing: Report

Ottawa — A Defense Ministry internal report has pulled back the curtain on damage caused by an erroneous test of one of Canada’s four submarines last year. This suggests that some of the damage is permanent and can pose a risk over the long term.

Obtained through access to information by the Canadian press, the report is another of four Canadian submarines that have spent more time repairing than at sea since purchasing second-hand goods from the United Kingdom in 1998. It represents two retreats.

HMCS Corner Brook has been particularly hit and has been docked for major repairs and maintenance for the past six years after hitting the ocean floor off British Columbia in 2011. A fire also broke out when docked in Victoria in August 2019.

The report confirms that one of Corner Brook’s main ballast tanks ruptured in March last year during testing by Babcock Canada, which has been undertaking maintenance and repair of submarines since 2008. The government recently extended Babcock’s contract until 2023.

“The test consisted of a tank that was mostly filled with water with additional air to apply the required test pressure,” created for the Deputy Minister of Defense, August 2020. Read the 6th report.

“After the tank successfully met this requirement, the final step was to drain the tank. This was intended to be done by gravity, but members of the test team reapplied pressure. By doing so, I tried to accelerate the drainage of the tank. “

“In doing so, they inadvertently overpressed the tank and burst it.”

Defense officials earlier said the incident would delay the Navy’s plan to return Corner Brook to water. The submarine was commissioned last summer but will remain docked until at least June.

However, the report suggests that some of the damage will persist and require Navy surveillance, even after repairs have been made.

“Complete repair of damage is impractical and uneconomical,” the report said. “The post-repair condition can still pose an undesired risk, in which case the remaining risk will be presented to the Navy for acceptance.”

The report emphasizes the importance of maintaining the “structural integrity” of major ballast tanks for the safe operation of submarines. These are used to control whether a vessel rises or falls underwater.

“Otherwise, the submarine may not be able to ascend (including ascending from the depths in an emergency due to a flood), or it may ascend and remain stable, both of which can lead to submarine loss. There is, “the report said.

Despite the damage, the report said the submarine was “well refreshed and modernized, ready to operate for nine years, with repairs and upgrades made since Corner Brook was last underwater. It’s done. “

Canada’s Supreme Military Procurement Official said in an interview last week that the ballast tank had recently been successfully tested and plans remain to return Corner Brook to the sea in the summer.

“When it goes to the sea, it will be safe and purposeful,” added Troy Crosby, Deputy Minister of Defense Supplies.

“Although it is constantly monitored, it is … safe and fits the purpose.”

However, Crosby did not talk about whether submarines would be limited in what they could do. The military had previously imposed restrictions or restrictions on other equipment, such as cyclone helicopters, after safety concerns were identified.

“The restrictions that may be imposed on submarines … will allow submarines to do what the Navy needs to do operationally,” he said.

“It’s just a tricky area because of feature sensitivity. It goes into the area of ​​sensitive information about operational features, but not the details.”

The report planned that Babcock would “accept responsibility for direct repair costs,” but “indirect costs were with Canada. [Babcock].. Crosby said he had no plans to sue the company for mistakes.

“Contractors respect their obligations,” he said. “They were so good about their reaction to it that, as they say, they had the submarine repaired and proceeded from there.”

Since Ottawa bought a used ship from the UK, questions about the benefits and costs of Canadian submarines have been circulating. The fleet has been docked for over a year now, and the Defense Department says it will cost $ 300 million a year to maintain.

However, military officials called them important for monitoring the waters off the Canadian coast for potential enemies. According to the Department of Defense, HMCS Windsor and HMCS Victoria are currently underwater testing after extended upgrades and repairs.

The government has promised to extend the life of the submarine in 2017, and sources have pegged more than $ 2 billion to keep the submarine in operation for the next decade. Work on these upgrades is underway and will take place over the next few years, Crosby said.

By Lee Berthiaume