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Upholder/Victoria-class submarine

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Title: Upholder/Victoria-class submarine  
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Subject: HMCS Victoria (SSK 876), Fleet of the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Armed Forces, Victoria Class, HMCS Corner Brook (SSK 878)
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Upholder/Victoria-class submarine

HMCS Victoria (SSK 876)
HMCS Victoria
Class overview
  • Upholder class (UK)
  • Victoria class (Canada)
Builders: VSEL & Cammell Laird
Preceded by: Oberon class
In commission:
  • RN - 2 June 1990 - October 1994
  • CFMC/RCN - December 2000 to present
Planned: 12
Completed: 4
Active: 4
General characteristics
Type: Submarine
Displacement: 2,455 tonnes (2,416 long tons)
Length: 70.26 metres (230.5 ft)
Beam: 7.2 metres (24 ft)
Draught: 7.6 metres (25 ft)
  • 12 knots (22 km/h; 14 mph) (surface)
  • 20 knots (37 km/h; 23 mph)+ (submerged)
Range: 8,000 nmi (15,000 km; 9,200 mi)
Complement: 48
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • Sonar: Type 2040 active/passive bow, Type 2041 micropuffs, Type 2007 flank, Type 2046/CANTASS MOD towed array, Type 2019 active intercept
  • Fire Control: Lockheed-Martin Librascope SFCS Mk 1 Mod C
  • Radar: Kelvin Hughes Type 1007
Armament: 6 x 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (18 Mark 48 torpedoes)

The Upholder/Victoria-class submarines, also known as the Type 2400 (due to their displacement of 2,400 tonnes), are diesel-electric fleet submarines designed in the UK in the late 1970s to supplement the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine force. They were decommissioned with the end of the Cold War after a short length of service in the Royal Navy. In 1998, Canada purchased the submarines and a suite of trainers from the Royal Navy to replace the decommissioned Oberon class of submarines.


  • Design and development 1
  • British service 2
  • Canadian service 3
    • Fire 3.1
  • Design 4
    • Weapons systems 4.1
    • Sensors 4.2
    • Countermeasures 4.3
    • Propulsion 4.4
  • Characteristics 5
  • Ships in class 6
  • Trainers 7
  • Fleet status 8
  • See also 9
  • References 10
  • External links 11

Design and development

The Royal Navy was going to follow the Oberons with nuclear-powered boats but there was still a role for diesel powered boats, as demonstrated by activities during the Falklands War, and they could be built faster than nuclear submarines. The only yard building nuclear submarines was Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness and it was occupied with the Vanguard-class ballistic missile submarines. Accordingly, to provide the Royal Navy with a diesel boat for the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap, Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd developed the Upholder class from the 1970s onwards.

The design was based on their private scheme for a 2400 tonne submarine for export sales. This was combined with lessons learnt from the Oberons and the design of the Trafalgar-class fleet submarines. They were built with teardrop hulls and the fin was built from glass fibre to keep weight down. The submarines have technology generally found only on nuclear-powered submarines and at the time (1992) were widely regarded as being among the best diesel-electric submarines in the world.[1]

The price of each submarine was published at US$215 million, but actual cost after correcting the design flaws was higher. As in most new submarine classes, the emphasis was placed on standardisation and automation to reduce manning requirements. The first of the class (Upholder) was ordered in November 1983 and completed in 1990, and there followed three more boats (Unseen, Ursula and Unicorn) ordered in 1986 and completed in 1991-1993. The Royal Navy had planned to order 12 of the class, but this was trimmed first to 10 and then to nine before being curtailed at four as part of the "peace dividend" at the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

British service

The submarines entered service from 1990 to 1993. Initially they were unable to fire torpedoes and the first three were refitted in 1992 and 1993 to have this fixed at a cost of £9 million. They were operating from HMS Dolphin (at Gosport) but with only four submarines the base was deemed uneconomic and they transferred to Devonport Naval Base.

In their short period in service, the class operated mostly in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and UK waters. The exception was Unicorn, which completed a 6-month deployment east of Suez completing operations and exercises in the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean and in the Persian Gulf. Her return in October 1994 to decommission marked the end of service of this class, following a defence review by the UK government that decided to maintain an all-nuclear-powered submarine fleet rather than a mix of diesel with fewer nuclear submarines.

Canadian service

In 1998, Canada accepted the four Upholders as replacements for their old Oberons; initially with one to operate in the Pacific fleet and three in the Atlantic, but later two boats were assigned to the Pacific. After all four subs were obtained by the Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces renamed them as the Victoria class. The first of class, Victoria, was commissioned in Halifax in December 2000, Windsor in June 2003, Corner Brook in March 2003, and Chicoutimi in September 2004.

HMCS Chicoutimi

The boats are named after Canadian port cities. Victoria and Chicoutimi operate out of CFB Esquimalt, British Columbia as part of the Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) fleet in the Pacific Ocean, while the remaining boats are based at CFB Halifax, Nova Scotia and operate in the Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) Fleet within the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Although the Canadian government touted the $750 million CAD[2] procurement as a bargain, there have been arguments over the quality of the submarines with some suggestions that the purchase price will be at least spent again putting things right. Canadian opposition parties are demanding that the British government fund any further costs, since it is widely believed that the submarines deteriorated while in storage and the Royal Navy was not completely forthcoming on their condition during the sale. Stephen Saunders, editor of Jane's Fighting Ships, argued that "there is not something inherently wrong with the class of submarines."[3]


On October 5, 2004 HMCS Chicoutimi, sailing from Faslane Naval Base, Scotland to Nova Scotia, declared an emergency north-west of Ireland following a fire on board.[4] The fire was caused by seawater entering through open hatches in rough seas. It soaked electrical insulation which had not been sufficiently waterproofed (since it conformed to an older specification than the three other submarines), starting a fire. Chicoutimi lost power and was rescued by Royal Navy frigates Montrose and Marlborough on October 6. Lt(N) Chris Saunders died subsequently from the effects of smoke inhalation; due to the rough weather it had not been possible to airlift him and the other casualties to a hospital until two days later. Chicoutimi was later transported to Halifax for repair. A board of inquiry cleared the captain of any fault but the regulations permitting the submarine to run on the surface with open hatches are being revised. Nomination for the L-3 MAPPS Saunders Memorial Award, which was named in Lt(N) Chris Saunders` memory, is determined through peer selection and instructor evaluation and the overall winner best epitomizes the qualities evoked by the award motto: Professional Excellence in Marine Systems Engineering and Training.

Following claims made in the Canadian media about the cause of the fire, blaming the UK for supplying an unsafe vessel, the situation was exacerbated by comments made by Secretary of State for Defence Geoff Hoon. He accompanied his condolences for Saunders with a proposal that the Royal Navy would charge Canada for the cost of the rescue while also stating that Canada as the buyer had to beware. In Canada, many World War II veterans were outraged by his comments.[5] Despite all the media speculation, the accident was later decided to be due to an error in operational procedure.[6]

In 2015, the Royal Canadian Navy commenced the life cycle extension program expected to extend the lives of the submarines by 6–18 years. Among the systems refitted will be the electronic intelligence gathering systems.[7] The program is expected to cost between $1.5 to $3 billion. The actual work on the submarines would begin in 2020.[8]


The boats were designed and built by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd for the Royal Navy and are essentially identical to modern nuclear submarines (with the distinctive Albacore-derived teardrop hull and sonar-absorbing tiles) but run on diesel engines instead of nuclear reactors. These were Britain's first conventional submarines to feature the tear-drop shape, which greatly reduced the acoustic signature produced by the boat while cruising.

The boats were designed with advanced noise-attenuation features to reduce the radiated noise levels below those of the already very quiet Oberon class. There was also a reduction in the snort (snorkel) time required to recharge the batteries to ensure a minimum exposure time of any part of the masts above the water. The design included an updated version of the fire-control system being installed on the nuclear-powered submarines under construction at the time, designed to reduce stability problems at torpedo launch, a state-of-the-art French passive sonar system, the then-current towed array, and a passive ranging set.

A large double-armature motor is powered by a 9000-ampere-hour battery or a pair of Paxman Valenta diesel engines. Slow patrolling would require only 30 to 60 minutes of snorkeling per day; an 8 knots (15 km/h; 9.2 mph) transit would require snorkeling 30% of the time. Top speed matches any comparable diesel-electric submarine class - such as the Scorpène-class submarine - and can be sustained for 90 minutes.

During construction of the first boats it was recognized that the weapon-discharge system design had flaws. The torpedo tube slide valve controlling operation of the torpedo tube doors could have, under certain system failure conditions, allowed the opening of the inner door while the outer door was open. The flaw was fixed in the first three boats and the modifications included in the fourth boat while still under construction.

Miscalculations were made in the design of the main-motor control circuitry. During the sea trials of Upholder, when performing the specified trial for an emergency reversal ("crash back"), a flash-over incident occurred, which resulted in the complete loss of all power and propulsion. On investigation, this was traced to a fault in the design of the control circuitry insulation, resulting in a battery short circuit current of more than 60,000 amperes.

The diesels were originally designed for use in railway locomotives, and were not intended to be rapidly stopped and started. Shutting them down after snorkelling led to many failures. Similarly, the motor-generators were operated at full power for longer than expected, and consumed brushes and filters rapidly (the brush problems were not specific to the Upholders, and were a widespread issue on all RN vessels at that time).

Acceptance of the class into service was delayed for three years, partly due to the programme being scaled back by the Ministry of Defence, while such problems were corrected. The result of those corrections, however, is an extremely capable design. When operating on battery power, Upholders are almost undetectable on passive sonar, and when snorkelling, their acoustic signature is comparable to their nuclear-powered contemporaries in normal operation. They are physically small, and thus difficult to detect by magnetic anomaly or other non-acoustic means.

A local area network was built into the Upholders, supporting most of the sensors and fire-control systems, including remote viewing through the periscopes using both low-light television and infrared, an unmanned helm, and direct control of the main motor from the conn. The boat can fight with a team of four in the sonar room and a conn team of eight. Fire-suppression in unmanned compartments can be initiated remotely, and watch-keeping logs are automatically recorded. In port, the boats can be electronically linked such that one duty watchstander can monitor several submarines.

The submarine has a single skin hull constructed of NQ1 high tensile steel. The outer side of the submarine's hull, casing and fin is fitted with about 22,000 elastomeric acoustic tiles to reduce the submarine's acoustic signature. The hull is 70.3 metres (230 ft 8 in) in length by 7.6 metres (24 ft 11 in) in width and with a depth of hull of 5.5 metres (18 ft 1 in). The fin or main sail houses a five-man lockout chamber. The submarine's escape and rescue system has been extensively upgraded with additional stowage space for escape stores and an underwater telephone to meet the Canadian Maritime Force requirements. The hull displacement is 2,168 t surfaced and 2,455 t dived. The submarine accommodates a crew of 48 including seven officers. There is room for an additional five mission crew, observers or training crew.

Weapons systems

The submarine has six 533 mm (21 in) Mk 48 Mod 4 torpedoes. The torpedoes, operating at 40 knots (74 km/h) speed, are deployed against targets over a range of 50 kilometres (31 mi). The torpedo range is 38 kilometres (24 mi) at speeds up to 55 knots (102 km/h). The torpedoes use active and passive homing to approach the designated target. In 2014, the Government of Canada purchased 12 upgrade kits that will allow the submarines to fire the Mk 48 Mod 7AT torpedoes.[9]

Lockheed Martin Canada, Lockheed Martin Undersea Systems and Northstar Technical upgraded and installed the submarine's Lockheed Martin Librascope Submarine Fire-control system (SFCS) to meet the operational requirements of the Canadian Navy. Components from the fire control system of the Oberon-class submarines were installed. A UHF DAMA satellite communications system has also been fitted.


The Victoria-class submarines are equipped with the CK035 electro-optical search periscope and the CH085 optronic attack periscope, supplied by Thales Optronics. The CK035 search periscope incorporates a binocular multiple field-of-view (FOV) optical system with an optical target ranging system. The CH085 attack periscope incorporates a binocular optical system, a reduced above-water signature, an infrared thermal system and an image intensifying system. These periscopes are used primarily for submarine safety watch-keeping, surveillance and attacks on surface targets.

The submarine's long range sonars are the Thales Underwater Systems Type 2007 flank array sonar and the Thales Underwater Systems Type 2046 towed array sonar, both operating in passive mode and low frequency for long range detection and location. The Canadian Towed Array Sonar (CANTASS) has been integrated into the towed sonar suite.

The Thales Underwater Systems Type 2040 hull mounted sonar installed in the bow is a passive search and intercept sonar operating at medium frequency for optimum medium range performance.

The navigation suite includes a Global Positioning System, and a Kelvin Hughes Type 1007 and a Furuno portable navigation radar both operating within the I-band frequency range. Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine was awarded a contract in February 2005 to provide the Mk 49 inertial navigation system, based on ring laser gyroscope technology.


The boat is fitted with two submerged signal ejectors (SSE), small vertical discharge tubes which can launch either acoustic or bubble decoys.

The passive antenna of the Condor Systems Sea Search II Electronic Support Measures (ESM) unit is fitted to the top of the CK35 Search Periscope.


The submarines are fitted with a diesel-electric propulsion system driving a single shaft, based on two Paxman Valenta 16SZ diesel engines each rated at 2.7 MW (3,600 hp) sustained power with two 2.8MW Alsthom alternators and an Alsthom motor rated at 4MW. The propulsion and power systems are controlled from the Machinery Control Console (MCC) in the Motor Room.

For operation under ice, the Victoria-class submarines could be fitted with an air-independent propulsion system. The installation of an air-independent propulsion system might be considered in a future refit or upgrade program.

The surface speed is 12 knots (22 km/h) and the submerged speed is in excess of 20 knots (37 km/h). In snorkeling mode, travelling at low speed at periscope depth using an extendable air-breathing system, the submarine can continue at up to 12 knots (22 km/h). The range at an 8 knots (15 km/h) snorkeling speed is 8,000 miles (13,000 km). The submarine has a patrol endurance of 56 days.


  • Displacement: 2,200 tons surfaced, 2,400 tons submerged
  • Length: 70.26 m
  • Beam: 7.2 m
  • Height: 7.6 m
  • Propulsion: Diesel-electric: 2× Paxman Valenta 4070 hp (3,035 kW) 1600 RPA SZ diesels, 1 GEC electric motor (5000 kW), 1 shaft, 20+ knots (37 km/h) submerged, 12 knots (22 km/h) surfaced
  • Range: 10,000 nautical miles (18,500 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h)
  • Crew: 7 officers, 48 crew
  • Sonar: Type 2040 active/passive bow, Type 2041 micropuffs, Type 2007 flank, Type 2046/CANTASS MOD towed array, Type 2019 active intercept
  • Fire Control: Lockheed-Martin Librascope SFCS Mk 1 Mod C
  • Radar: Kelvin Hughes Type 1007
  • EW: Condor Systems Sea Search 2 radar warning receiver
  • Armament: 6 x 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (18 Mark 48 torpedoes)

Ships in class

HMCS Victoria
Victoria near Bangor, Washington
  • Builders: Cammell Laird in Birkenhead
  • Laid down: January 1986
  • Launched: 14 November 1989
  • Commissioned (Royal Navy): 7 June 1991 as HMS Unseen
  • Decommissioned: July 1994
  • Commissioned (Canadian Forces Maritime Command): December 2000
  • Operator: Royal Canadian Navy
HMCS Windsor
Windsor leaving Barrow-in-Furness, England.
  • Builders: Cammell Laird in Birkenhead
  • Laid down: February 1989
  • Launched: 16 April 1992
  • Commissioned (Royal navy): 25 June 1993 as HMS Unicorn
  • Decommissioned: October 1994
  • Renamed: July 2001 as HMCS Windsor
  • Commissioned (Canadian Forces Maritime Command): October 2003
  • Operator: Royal Canadian Navy
HMCS Corner Brook
Corner Brook entering the harbour at St. John's, Newfoundland.
  • Builders: Cammell Laird in Birkenhead
  • Laid down: February 1987
  • Launched: 22 February 1992
  • Commissioned (Royal Navy): 8 May 1992 as HMS Ursula
  • Decommissioned: July 1994
  • Commissioned (Canadian Forces Maritime Command): March 2003
  • Operator: Royal Canadian Navy
HMCS Chicoutimi
Chicoutimi on Tern at Ogden Point, Victoria, B.C.
  • Builders: Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd in Barrow-in-Furness
  • Laid down: November 1983
  • Launched: 2 December 1986
  • Commissioned (Royal Navy): 2 June 1990 as HMS Upholder
  • Decommissioned: April 1993
  • Commissioned (Canadian Forces Maritime Command): October 2004
  • Operator: Royal Canadian Navy


Victoria-class submarines use 8 Submarine Command Team Trainers built for the Royal Navy. They were removed from the UK and moved to Canada by CAE, Computing Devices Canada, General Dynamics Canada and Irving Shipbuilding.[10][11] These devices were land base systems using simulators and other training devices.

Victoria-class submarines also used a Canadian Submarine Escape Trainer, attached to a real submarine to simulate escape procedures.[12]

Fleet status

As of February 2012, the Royal Canadian Navy has yet to attain full operational submarine capability (defined as at least one combat ready submarine simultaneously available on each coast, Atlantic and Pacific) in spite of the fact that the Victoria programme began in 1998. The status of the four Victoria-class boats is as follows:

HMCS Victoria, SSK 876
Commissioned in 2000 - In service. Entered Extended Docking Work Period in 2005 at CFB Esquimalt, Victoria BC. Began post refit trials in 2011. Victoria has fired multiple Mark 48 torpedoes with test warheads in the Nanoose Bay weapons range. She participated in the 2012 RIMPAC exercise in summer of 2012 in waters around Hawaii.[13][2]
HMCS Windsor, SSK 877
Commissioned in 2003. Underwent repairs at Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Scott, Halifax from 2007 to 2012.[14] As of 2013 she is operational but has not gone through process of certification to fire her weapons and remains under dive restrictions.[15][2]
HMCS Corner Brook, SSK 878
Commissioned in 2003. Out of service. Suffered accident in Nootka Sound in June 2011.[16] Undergoing repairs at CFB Esquimalt, Victoria, BC.[15] [2]
HMCS Chicoutimi, SSK 879
Commissioned in 2004. Returning to service in 2014 after three years of work at Victoria Shipyard Co. Ltd. in Esquimalt.[15]

See also

Related development (contemporary)

Related development (future)


  1. ^ Barrow-in-Furness Branch. "Upholder Class". Submariners Association. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d "Victoria Class Submarine Fleet Creating Canadian Controversies". Defense Industry Daily. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  3. ^ "Upholder class (Type 2400)". MaritimeDigital Archive Encyclopedia. Frederic Logghe. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  4. ^ "Rescue ship reaches sub crew".  
  5. ^ "Chicoutimi fire could have been worse: report".  
  6. ^ HMCS Chicoutimi Board of Enquiry website
  7. ^ Tanquintic-Misa, Esther (4 May 2015). "Royal Canadian Navy Begins Planned Work To Extend Life Of Submarine Fleet". International Business Times. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  8. ^ Pugliese, David (2 May 2015). "Canada Plans Major Sub-Life Extension". DefenseNews. Retrieved 11 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Pugliese, David (26 September 2014). "Canadian government to spend $41 million for torpedo upgrade kits for submarines". Defence Watch. Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved 6 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Daily News". Combatsim.Com. Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  11. ^ "General Dynamics Canada - News Releases". Retrieved 2011-12-28. 
  12. ^ "Royal Canadian Navy: News - Domestic Stories - HOMEGROWN SIMULATOR PREPARES SUBMARINERS FOR EMERGENCY ESCAPES". Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  13. ^ "Esquimalt-based sub inches closer to operational status with torpedo test firings - Mobile Edition". Saanich News. 2012-03-21. Retrieved 2012-08-09. 
  14. ^ "Sub HMCS Windsor back in water after 5 years".  
  15. ^ a b c "Rebuilt HMCS Chicoutimi submarine to return to navy".  
  16. ^ Gordon, Rob (16 July 2013). "Navy submarine damage severe, internal report says".  

External links

  • HMCS Victoria Website
  • Canadian Navy of Yesterday & Today
  • Barrowbuilt submarines at
  • Upholder class submarines
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