Lookout newspaper

Historic harpoon shoot for Navy

A/SLt Nancy Nicholls
Lookout contributor

The bridge was silent and all eyes were turned to port as a voice in the background began the countdown. Within seconds, HMCS Winnipeg was going to make history, and everyone wanted to see it.

It was a scenario Winnipeg had practiced a multitude of times in her transit from Asia; a harpoon missile firing - only this time it was for real. Winnipeg was to be the first Canadian West Coast ship to fire a harpoon and the first ship in the Canadian Navy to fire a war shot harpoon.

The harpoon missile is designed to engage surface targets and the Halifax class frigates can carry up to eight missiles in two quadruple launchers. The missile can be fired at targets up to 60 nautical miles away, which the ship acquires by her own sensors or by using a third party such as a Sea King helicopter to pass targeting information. Once fired, the missile travels at Mach 0.9, almost the speed of sound.

Our target was a de-commissioned American Charles F. Adams Class destroyer. With a whoosh, the harpoon was off like a rocket. It was an impressive sight, although at that speed, it didn't last for long.

This firing was the result of a great deal of hard work. On the ship's transit from China to longitudes west, Winnipeg practiced harpoon drills under the tutelage of the navy's weapons training team. The ship's company did not want anything to go wrong, and hopes were almost dashed when a fishing boat was in the missile firing range.

The Commanding Officer, Commander Les Falloon, was particularly impressed with the successful team-work that enabled the ship to fire the missile.

"The Engineering Depart-ment was able to provide full power to ensure the ship could reposition itself in order to get a clear range. Our helicopter was airborne and instrumental in getting the fishing boat to move out of the missile hazard area and reporting targeting information to the ship. The Combat Systems Engineering Depart-ment had all weapons and sensors operational. Our operators remained focused, flexible, and able to adapt to the changing situation while maintaining a strict adherence to safety procedures."

"It was certainly exciting to launch a missile; the greatest satisfier, however, had to be the smiles on everyone's faces from the teamwork that led to the completion of an important objective," says LCdr Craig Baines, Winnipeg's combat officer.