Cutting of first steel underway for Canada’s final Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship

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The are 70,000 pieces of steel being fabricated in a strategic sequence to meet the production schedule at Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax Shipyard. Photo courtesty Irving Shipbuilding

Irving Shipbuilding Inc. has cut first steel for the future HMCS Robert Hampton Gray to officially begin production of Canada’s sixth and Final Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) for the Royal Canadian Navy built under the National Shipbuilding Strategy.

Construction of Canada’s future combat fleet begins at Irving Shipbuilding’s Marine Fabricators facility in Dartmouth, where 32 people are involved in the computerized plasma cutting and delivery of 4,000 tonnes of steel each year in support of the AOPS program. The resulting 70,000 pieces are fabricated in a strategic sequence to meet the production schedule at Irving Shipbuilding’s Halifax Shipyard, the most modern and largest indoor shipbuilding facility in North America.

“As we begin this last AOPS for the Navy, we are realizing a 50% reduction in the number of production hours it takes to build each ship. Today’s steel cutting is taking place at our Marine Fabricators facility in Dartmouth,” said Ross Langley, Vice Chairman, Irving Shipbuilding. “We look forward to delivering this sixth AOPS ship to Canada in December 2025. Our workforce has grown by 65% since 2012. To date, we have seen over $4.75 billion in spending commitments to over 325 organizations across Canada.

The steel weighs 3734 kilograms (3.7 tonnes) and will be used in a combination of locations on the ship, including the initial pieces that will begin development of the keel. Upon completion, the future HMCS Robert Hampton Gray will be 103.6 metres in length, have a 19-metre beam, displace 6,615 tonnes and be comprised of 440,000 parts. Each AOPS vessel has over 300kms of cable and more than 36kms of pipe.

To date, two AOPS have been delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy – HMCS Harry DeWolf and HMCS Margaret Brooke. The future HMCS Max Bernays (AOPS 3) is due for delivery next month. The future HMCS William Hall (AOPS 4) recently moved all Mega Blocks to land level and is undergoing final assembly in preparation for launch later this year. The future HMCS Frédérick Rolette (AOPS 5) officially laid the keel in June of this year and construction of the bow, mid-ship and stern Mega Blocks are underway.

Halifax Shipyard will also construct two AOPS variants for the Canadian Coast Guard, followed by 15 Canadian Surface Combatants for the Navy that are due to commence construction in 2024.

The Royal Canadian Navy’s (RCN) sixth Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) is named in honour of Lieutenant (Lt) Robert Hampton Gray, a Canadian naval hero of the Second World War.

Lt Gray joined the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve in 1940 and served as a pilot in the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm. He embarked in His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Formidable with 1841 Squadron, joining the war in the Pacific as part of Operation Iceberg, the invasion of Okinawa, Japan, in April 1945.

Lt Gray was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for courage and determination in carrying out daring air strikes on the Japanese destroyer His Imperial Japanese Majesty’s Ship (HIJMS) Amakusa.

On August 9, 1945, he led two flights of Corsair aircraft to attack naval vessels in Onagawa Bay, Japan. He opened the attack run flying straight into concentrated anti-aircraft fire and was hit almost immediately.

With his aircraft on fire and one bomb lost, he continued the attack and released his remaining bomb on the escort vessel HIJMS Amakusa, causing the ship to capsize and sink. His aircraft then crashed into the sea and his body was never recovered.

Lt Gray was known to his fellow military members as a courageous leader with a brilliant flying spirit, who continued to inspire and motivate his crew after his unfortunate passing.

Lt Gray was the only member of the RCN to be awarded the Canadian naval Victoria Cross from the Second World War.

Over the years, Lt Gray’s courage, service and sacrifice continue to be recognized in many ways. In 1946, the Geographic Board of Canada named Gray’s Peak, a mountain in British Columbia’s Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, in honour of Lt Gray and his brother John, also killed during the war.

In 1989, a memorial was erected to him at Onagawa Bay, the only memorial dedicated to a foreign service member on Japanese soil.

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