Running a Tight Ship

Feature Article | March 26, 2009 by Jeff Reich, journalist, Berlin, Germany

The Canadian Department of National Defence (DND) boasts a modern and capable naval fleet. The Halifax class of 12 helicopter-carrying frigates combines traditional Canadian antisubmarine capabilities with systems that also defend against surface and air threats. Individual ships serve in tasks all over the world, ranging from patrolling the country’s three vast coastlines to protecting against drug traffickers, terrorists, illegal fishing, and polluters. They also protect Canada’s Arctic territories and deliver humanitarian aid around the world, together with the Multinational Interdiction Forces.

Beginning in the 1990s, Canada introduced a new generation of frigates known as the Halifax class. The HMCS Toronto, one of the series’ 12 vessels, was commissioned in 1993. Like its sister ships, it has become one of the fleet’s capable workhorses. The Toronto combines a flexible array of systems designed to perform in a variety of missions and tasks.

Equipped with traditional antisubmarine technology as well as systems to manage surface and air threats, it has proven itself in the rough waves of the North Atlantic as well as further afield in the Persian Gulf and the Northern Arabian Sea. It can remain far from home for months at a time, with relatively limited assets to keep all its systems operating – including radar, sonar, and weapon systems, plus the equipment necessary for generating electricity, heat, cool air, and fresh water.

Keeping a ship of this magnitude operationally ready to fulfill its mission is an extraordinary task, requiring both a highly trained crew and a sophisticated maintenance strategy. The status of every configuration and every component must be tracked, fully tested, and, if deficient, repaired on board or ashore. This involves hundreds of thousands of components for just one frigate, and many different configuration combinations.

Accurate and timely configuration management and maintenance status information is crucial for effective and economical delivery of in-service equipment support, particularly for missioncritical systems that are maintained when ships are deployed far from their home ports. At the same time, Fleet Maintenance Facility Cape Scott in Halifax must be able to seamlessly collaborate with the ship and be ready to deliver necessary service and repairs the moment the ship arrives back in harbor.

Technology makes waves

The HMCS Toronto combines a flexible array of systems designed to perform in a variety of missions and tasks.


Yet in the past, each of these vital tasks was performed against a backdrop of prolonged budget and staff cuts, which put a strain on service levels. DND responded by introducing an innovative system that maximizes the organization’s IT landscape to boost the overall efficiency of maintenance operations and, by extension, the effectiveness of the forces. Dubbed the Matériel Acquisition and Support Information System (MASIS), it delivers real-time information on the fleets. This allows both ship and shore crews to manage engineering and maintenance and to make weapons and other equipment available to perform at the very highest level.

Implemented by IBM and based on the SAP ERP application and the SAP NetWeaver Business Warehouse component, the system helps navy staff create equipment plans, purchase equipment, and make engineering changes in addition to maintaining, deploying, and disposing equipment. The Toronto is the first ship worldwide to deploy the SAP for Defense & Security solution portfolio, which it implemented in September 2008. The system has been introduced as part of a maritime evaluation, or trial, by the Navy to assess ist effectiveness and impact on the ship’s IT infrastructure.

So far, feedback has been very positive. Plans are already being developed to com complete the MASIS rollout to the remaining frigates beginning in the fall of 2009 and ending in 2011. Canada’s other naval ships, as well as Canada’s army and air force, also plan to adopt the same MASIS standard.

Delivering to 50° N, 40° W

At the heart of the system is a satellite connection that links crews between ship and shore, wherever in the world the Toronto happens to be. This makes it possible for the ship’s crew to file reports, enter maintenance requests, and order parts and supplies, even while the ship is deployed and not connected to the central system. Whenever and wherever the Toronto reestablishes contact with the satellite, transmission is resumed, and all changes to the system are modified and updated.

As a result, the vast organization of individuals, on board and off, can constantly monitor the ship’s progress and take a direct, comprehensive approach toward maintaining the ship. This seamless integration between the ship and the maintenance organization has greatly enhanced the navy’s efficiency levels. This change is particularly noticeable in the area of regularly scheduled maintenance. Before the introduction of MASIS, crews largely maintained equipment according to a standard, fixed calendar rotation, regardless of how frequently an item was actually used.

The system’s SAP solutions, on the other hand, allow maintenance crews to distinguish between equipment that is used regularly and equipment that is only used occasionally. Preventive maintenance can now be based either on a regular calendar or on a counter-based system. Equipment is categorized and treated separately, and appropriate maintenance requests are triggered on an individual, as-needed basis, greatly reducing staff and material costs.

From downtime to uptime

When the Toronto arrives back in port after a mission, maintenance information has already preceded it. Maintenance crews are primed to spring into action with detailed, accurate lists of work to be done, ensuring less downtime and a higher level of operational readiness. Even while the ship is at sea, these crews are busy studying real-time data coming in over the system – data that gives them valuable lead time to check availability and to reserve and order spare parts.

Part of the secret of the MASIS system’s success is the sheer level of detail and depth of information it provides. Each piece of equipment on board is assigned a serial number, which allows the system to generate detailed maintenance histories. As a result, personnel are able to build a more detailed picture of total costs. And because the system automatically monitors part and supply consumption rates, crews can replenish items based on accurate, up-to-the-minute data.

A navy for the 21st century

“DND will be managing tens of billions of Canadian dollars in new equipment over the next decade or two,” says Kevin Radford, director, Materiel Policy and Procedures, Canadian Department of National Defence.“ MASIS will be the business continuum to allow us to do the job effectively.”

Tightening budgets and the changing nature of security threats will continue to pose many new challenges to military organizations. But thanks to its sophisticated IT landscape, the Toronto and its sister Halifax frigates will be well equipped to respond to this constant change. And the Canadian navy will be able to continue to run a very tight ship during the months and years ahead.

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