November 12, 2016

Is HMCS Charlottetown being overhauled in the French Riviera?

HMCS Charlottetown on October 19th 2016 in the Port of Bergen Norway ( loc: 60°24'04.9"N 5°18'36.9"E )
Photo credit (used with permission): Magne Turøy, originally published in
Last year, on the way to two multinational exercises, the Royal Canadian Navy Iroquois-class destroyer HMCS Athabaskan ran into engine trouble and had a new engine installed while overseas in the UK (ref: here). There has been no Department of National Defence press release (here), and no mainstream media announcement (here) that there is any issue with the HMCS Charlottetown, however, I believe signs point to there being a serious problem with her, and major repairs are likely underway at the French Naval yard in Toulon (arsenal de Toulon).

Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd (@Comd_RCN) posted to Twitter on October 22nd that the HMCS Charlottetown was the vanguard of the mission to escort the Russian Task Group headed to the Mediterranean.  In case you were unaware, the Russian Navy is making a major show of force in the Mediterranean by deploying a sizeable flotilla of ships, and reportedly submarines, in the Mediterranean, and off the coast of Syria. During their transit from the home of the Russian Northern Fleet (Murmansk) to the Mediterranean, a flotilla of NATO ships shadowed them for political as much as military reasons.

Publicly, an unknown number of NATO ships shadowed the Russian Heavy Aircraft-Carrying Missile Cruiser Admiral Kuznetsov and its flotilla of escorts and auxiliary ships.  However, we may be able to extrapolate what NATO deployed from the evidence they have made available by OSINT / SOMINT sources.

There are two Standing NATO Maritime Groups (SNMGs) which conduct patrols with NATO interests in mind.  The second (SNMG2) is actually split in two parts, and HMCS Charlottetown is the lead ship of "SNMG2 TU02" (Standard NATO Maritime Group 2 Task Unit 2).
SNMG2 TU02 is comprised of three ships:
  • Royal Canadian Navy HMCS Charlottetown, Halifax-class frigate
  • Royal Danish Navy HDMS Absalon (L16), lead vessel of the Absalon Class Combat / Flexible Support Ship
  • Spanish Fleet Replenishment Ship SPS Cantabria (A15), a Patino Class Auxiliary Oiler and Replenishment Ship
Since VAdm Lloyd specifically touted the HMCS Charlottetown, commanded by RCN Commander Andrew Hingston, as the vanguard keeping an eye on the Russian carrier task group on the 22nd, and the HMCS Charlottetown left port at Bergen on Oct 19th, I find it extremely interesting that after only ten days at sea, they came into harbour at military port of Toulon, where 60% of the French Navy is stationed, including their aircraft carrier, and nuclear attack submarines.  Toulon is also where heavy refurbishment and dry-dock operations are performed.

As far as I understand, the HMCS Charlottetown, since October 29th, is still in the French Navy port of Toulon.  While I'm sure the crew aboard the ship are very excited about having a vacation in the French Riviera after only ten days at sea, I suspect that wasn't the plan.  I suspect that one of the engines or turbines blew either when it was conducting exercised before going to Bergen, or on the way from Bergen to the Mediterranean, either way, I strongly believe the HMCS Charlottetown is sidelined in Toulon until they can replace whatever major component is needed.

I also suspect that if a turbine or engine is needed that it won't be available in Tulon, and will need to be airlifted from Halifax or Esquimalt which will take time, and a CC-177.  I'm still looking to see if I can find out if a CC-177 flew into the Toulon airport recently, but haven't found any data to confirm or deny.

This is complete conjecture of course, I don't *know* she is undergoing heavy maintenance, but my angle is simple:
  • The lead ship of a Task Unit would not sit back while the Danish command vessel stood toe to toe with the Russian flotilla.
  • No Navy deployment schedules a stop for this long after only ten days at sea.
  • They could have stopped anywhere for fuel or to restock, but they went out of their way to stop at a large military port with full repair facilities.
  • The crew are getting shore leave and seeing the local sites, showing they're still there, or have been up until very recently.
These four things together lead me to believe the ship is laid up, and incapable of performing it's job for NATO, at the moment.

Location Data Provided by HMCS Charlottetown AIS beacon transponder: (Zoom out for more)

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