No one on board Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship (HMCS) Algonquin can remember the last time a Canadian CH-124 Sea King helicopter dropped five exercise torpedoes in one day. But, that’s exactly what happened July 19 during Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), which took place around the Hawaiian Islands from June 29 to August 3, 2012.
The Algonquin’s air detachment from 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, 12 Wing Shearwater, N.S., but located in Victoria, B.C., was tasked to assist the Canadian Forces and Australian Warfare Centres with the continuing refinement of the tactical employment of the Mark 46 lightweight torpedo, an anti-submarine weapon that can be launched from surface ships and aircraft.
Her Majesty’s Australian Ship (HMAS) Darwin, one of its S-70B-2 Seahawk helicopters, and two P-3 Orion long-range patrol aircraft from the United States and Japan also participated in the training and research event.
“We worked as a team to successfully search, localize, track and attack an autonomous, underwater training target,” said Captain Chris Bowers, Algonquin’s air detachment commander.
The seven-metre, 2,700-pound (1,225 kg) device is known as an MK 30 EMATT or expendable mobile anti-submarine warfare (ASW) training target. It can change headings and depth and has the same acoustic profile as a diesel submarine. Most importantly, it can be targeted and attacked repeatedly with exercise torpedoes, which do not contain explosive warheads, thereby enabling realistic ASW training for sailors and aircrew.
“It takes a tremendous amount of planning and cooperation to accomplish a mission like this,” said Capt Bowers. “[Even just on board the Algonquin] … multiple departments are involved to safely move the torpedoes from the weapons bay to the waiting Sea King.”
First, one torpedo was loaded onto the helicopter, flown out and dropped on target. Upon returning, the air technicians did a quick 20-minute refuelling and uploaded two more torpedoes for each of the next two sorties. Each torpedo weighs more than 500 pounds (227 kg), and taking two at a time is rarely done because it decreases the amount of fuel the Sea King can take, thereby shortening its endurance.
Although torpedo exercises are regularly practised by Sea King detachments in benign conditions, one objective of this exercise was to evaluate its performance in a more demanding, tactical scenario. The warfare centres collected a variety of data, which will be analyzed to determine realistic timings for potential real-world situations.
“A torpedo exercise like this demonstrates several things,” said Capt Bowers. “First, the ASW skills that made Sea King crews famous have not been lost on this generation of fliers. Second, it shows what can be done when an air department is successfully integrated into a ship’s combat and operations team. Third, it clearly shows that no mission is capable of success without the full support of the entire team.”
Capt Bowers described the Sea King’s diverse array of mission-essential capabilities as the “most flexible asset in theatre.”
“During one morning of the exercise, the crews chased a diesel submarine, refuelled, slung provisions to three separate ships in the task group and then performed a medical evacuation,” he shared, by way of example. “No other community in the Royal Canadian Air Force has that capability, and we’re pleased to showcase it during RIMPAC.”
The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity every two years. It helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea-lanes and security on the world’s oceans. Twenty-two nations, 46 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in the exercise this year.
By Capt Laura Oberwarth