By Tom Peters

Halifax Shipyard has completed a multi-million dollar mid-life refit and modernization of HMCS Halifax, the first of seven Halifax-class frigates to undergo the Modernization/Frigate Life Extension program (HCM-FELEX) at the Irving-owned shipyard.

In all, the Canadian Navy’s 12 frigates will complete their mid-life refit and modernization that began in 2010 and is scheduled for completion by 2017. Seven East Coast frigates – HMCS Halifax, HMCS Fredericton, HMCS Charlottetown, HMCS Toronto, HMCS St. John’s, HMCS Ville de Quebec and HMCS Montreal – will be refitted in Halifax while the remaining five West Coast frigates will have the work carried out at Seaspan in Victoria, B.C.

The federal government announced the $3.1 billion FELEX program in 2008. The Halifax-class frigates, known as the workhorses of the Navy, were built in the early 1990’s and now require upgrades and systems modernizations. Prime Minister Harper has said that the frigate fleet’s most important job is maintaining the safety and security of sovereign Canadian waters, patrolling Canada’s three coastlines and protecting borders from smugglers of drugs and humans, terrorists, illegal fishing and polluters. The vessels are also used in honouring Canada’s commitments to international allies.

Modernization of the frigates includes implementation of a new command and control system, new radar capability, new electronic warfare systems and upgraded communications and missiles. The mid-life refit will ensure the ships remain capable of doing the jobs they were designed to do to the projected end of their service life through 2030.

Halifax Shipyard spokesperson Mary Keith said HMCS Halifax was the first to enter the program in Halifax. The vessel’s refit and modernization was completed and the vessel was returned to the Navy in June. The frigate will undergo sea trials before returning to active duty. HMCS Montreal is now in the Halifax yard with HMCS Charlottetown the next vessel in line due to enter drydock in April 2013.

A mid-life refit can range from approximately 12 to 24 months in duration, requiring an average of 375,000 person hours for each of the seven frigates, Keith said. “In total the FELEX program represents an estimated 3.3 million person hours of employment for Halifax Shipyard workers. Today 575 workers are assigned to this project,” she said.