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Petty Officer (2nd class) John Wood peers at a computer screen aboard HMCS Saskatoon, where a sonar image reveals small boxes on and beside a sunken ship. He leans in for a closer look and quickly identifies them as crab traps.
The high-tech imagery allows the Royal Canadian Navy reservist diver to identify possible underwater bombs.
HMCS Saskatoon is one of six maritime coastal defence vessels at CFB Esquimalt and 12 in the naval fleet. It boasts the navy’s only submersible bottom-object inspection vehicle, which resembles a high-tech bobsleigh.
The submersible vehicle is remote-controlled, can pick up objects and relay sonar images, still photos and video back to the ship. It’s also integral to the navy’s ability to detect naval mines.
“(Mines) are a very inexpensive way to take a very expensive asset out of play,” said Wood, who leads a team that pilots the submersible wherever it is deployed.
The submersible mapped the ocean floor and ensured there were no undersea mines planted near Vancouver during the 2010 Olympic Games.
“Once you have an idea what (an underwater object) looks like, it makes it easier to hunt for mines,” Wood said.
The mine-sweeping capabilities of Canada’s Kingston-class coastal defence vessels, which patrol the coasts, conduct search-and-rescue missions and train with the U.S. navy, are getting a boost with the installation of a magnetic cloaking device.
If the ships ever pass over mines that are triggered to explode near metal objects, it will be like the ship isn’t there. There are said to be hundreds of different types of underwater mines in the world.
In September, the federal government awarded a $4.9-million contract to New York City-based L-3 Communications to install the German-built cloaking devices, known as degaussing systems, in the vessels over the next three years. The company has equipped 15 navies with similar technology.
The Canadian patrol ships, which are manned by naval reservists, were built and launched in the 1990s with cloaking-device receptacles in the event the equipment was ever purchased.
Today, mines in Canadian waters pose less of a threat than they did during wartime, but HMCS Saskatoon’s commanding officer, Lt.-Cmdr. Pat Montgomery, said the degaussing technology is an important piece of the puzzle.
“It would be wrong to say (not having the cloaking system) has held us back, but we can do more in the future. Our operational capability is enhanced and we will have more protection near mines,” he said.
“I think the more little pieces that we have, the more effective we are as a team.”