Canadian Navy’s experimental ship is underway on missions

The Canadian Navy’s Halifax-class frigate HMCS Montréal is at sea on its first deployment as the Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) experimental ship.

The modernized frigate deployed October 24, 2016 with a full schedule of missions including combat enhancement training, crew trials and operational testing and evaluation of the new Cyclone shipborne helicopter.

The experimental ship – or X-Ship – program is designed to advance naval concepts in all areas of warship deployment, crewing and sustainment. Many of the trials conducted will focus on human factors such as variations of crew size and impacts on crew rest and performance, as well as some operational trials.

“We have been given the extremely important mission of setting the course for the future fleet in manning, innovation and air operations,” says Commander Chris Sherban, who adds “it’s an honour” to be Captain of the X-Ship.

As the sea portion of the X-Ship program gets under way, Montréal is transiting south with the rest of the Canadian task group – HMC Ships Fredericton, St. John’s and Athabaskan – along with Spanish Navy replenishment oiler ESPS Patino, conducting force generation and force development work.

According to Cdr Sherban, the first part of this trial is called the SCORE 217 trial, which will be used to validate a crewing model used by defence research scientists in Toronto.

This evaluation will require X-Ship to conduct a modified work-ups scenario with its full crew of 217. The scenario was specifically developed by the Directorate of Naval Personnel and Training in Ottawa, with experts from sea training (Pacific).

Outside of the evolutions in the scenario, the crew will be asked to conduct watches, departmental work (including maintenance), meetings, fitness, meals, and so on, in accordance with their regular shipboard routine.

The crew will fill out daily questionnaires on their activities and wear actigraphs (sensors that measure activity) to monitor work/rest balance. The intent is to confirm that estimates made with respect to the time needed to complete evolutions and the time available for activities other than watches and evolutions is consistent with reality.

“The crew is very excited that their efforts will directly influence the structure and shape of the future fleet,” says Cdr Sherban. “As an example, defence scientists hoped that we would have 150 officers and sailors willing to conduct sleep and fatigue studies. We had 178 sailors volunteer.”

Although Montréal has a dedicated trial program, it will not be completely removed from everyday naval requirements and will continue to participate in scheduled engineering repair, docking work periods and fleet training exercises. The ship will increase its operational readiness with other RCN ships, as well as USN ships and Patino during exercise Spartan Warrior 16 in November.

After this deployment, Montréal will enter a work period until early January when it will return to sea in support of the Cyclone project. “We will be searching for the worst weather in the North Atlantic so that we can test the operating limits of the helicopter,” Cdr Sherban said.

Montréal is expected to continue trials as part of the RCN’s experimental program for five years.