CAF Conducts Submarine Emergency Response Exercises

CAF Conducts Submarine Emergency Response Exercises

From May 30 to June 3, Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members conducted a Submarine Search and Rescue (SUBSAR) stores move on Vancouver Island, demonstrating the capability to rapidly respond to a submarine emergency almost anywhere in the world.


There is perhaps no scenario more frightening then a submarine emergency at sea; accidents or equipment failure can quickly put the vessel and crew in grave danger.

In preparation, should the need arise, measures are in place to ensure an effective submarine Search and Rescue (SUBSAR) response, as the recent exercise demonstrated. The exercise was the first of its kind held on Canada’s West Coast and involved various units from Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC), Joint Task Force Pacific (JTFP), as well as members from 429 Transport Squadron of 8 Wing Trenton in Ontario.

The exercise involved the transportation of SUBSAR stores from CFB Esquimalt to CFB Comox where they were then loaded upon a CC-177 Globemaster III. In an actual emergency, the stores would be flown to a more remote location, placed onto a military vessel, known as a Primary Rescue Unit (PRU), or a Vessel of Opportunity (VOO), normally a civilian ship, before being transported to the rescue area.

Preparing the aircraft and rescue stores for transportation is a delicate art and no detail can be overlooked. For example, the aircraft and towing vehicles’ tires must be slightly deflated and the fuel tanks of the rescue equipment filled at 25% capacity in order to compensate for air pressure changes once in-flight.

The loading process must also be undertaken with extreme care.

“If there’s even the slightest error loading and securing the equipment and the airframe is punctured, that could be the loss of an entire strategic asset until it’s fixed,” cautioned Maj. Stephen Carius, MARPAC Deputy Chief of Staff Exercises. “That’s an asset that can’t be deployed to Europe, to RIMPAC, or to other operations around the globe,” explained Maj. Carius.

The stores include everything from a hyperbaric chamber to accommodate up to 6 persons for recompression upon rescue, an accompanying air compressor, various medical supplies, as well as a Zodiac and other maritime rescue equipment. In a real scenario, personnel would constitute an important part of the package as well with over 50 persons, ranging from medical officers and technicians to naval divers, accompanying the stores for an actual SUBSAR.

As part of Canada’s commitment to the International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO), an organization which assists in the global coordination of submarine search and rescue operations, the Canadian Armed Forces strives to maintain a ready and capable response in order to conduct SUBSAR in its area of operation (AOR) and around the world.

With three of Canada’s four submarines currently on the West Coast, regular visits and transits by foreign subs, as well as a recent increase in submarine procurement by navies throughout the Asia-Pacific region, the importance of preparing for such a disaster is as important as ever.

Press Release, June 19, 2014; Image: Canadian Navy