Halifax-Class Modernization (HCM) / Frigate Life Extension (FELEX)

Backgrounder / November 24, 2014 / Project number: BG - 13.038


The 12 Halifax-Class frigates, commissioned between 1992 and 1996, form the backbone of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). The ships were originally designed for anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface warfare, primarily in the open ocean environment.

The role of the Halifax-class has changed. Current and evolving maritime threats are faster, stealthier, more maneuverable, and shifting from the open ocean to the littoral (near-shore) environment. The littoral environment poses challenges to sensors and weapons systems due to higher traffic density and proximity to shore-based threats. In addition, ships now face asymmetrical threats, such as attacks from smaller, more maneuverable vessels that were not envisaged at the time of the ships’ design.

Innovations in procedures and tactics have enabled the frigates to operate effectively in the new threat environment, despite equipment limitations. However sensor and weapons enhancements are needed in order to enhance the ships’ ability to deal with these new threats into the future.

The Halifax-class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension (HCM/FELEX) project manages both the modernization of the combat systems and a planned mid-life ship refit program to ensure the frigates remain effective throughout their service life. This work encompasses modernization of the ships’ platform, including ships’ systems upgrades, acquisition and installation of new capabilities, such as enhanced radar, new electronic warfare system, upgraded communications and missiles integrated into a new Combat Management System.

Industrial cooperation and global export opportunities
The HCM overall program includes more than 30 companies that worked together closely with the Government of Canada to deliver a first-class capability, on time and on budget. This program is a highly complex and collaborative effort between the Department of National Defence (DND), RCN, and Canadian shipbuilding industry partners, and is delivering robust economic benefits to Canada.

The modernized frigates will serve the RCN for years to come. The overall management and success of the program has proven to be a partnership model for future shipbuilding projects, and has been recognized internationally. For example, DND assisted the New Zealand Ministry of Defence with their decision to upgrade the combat systems on their ANZAC-class ships.

DND provided valuable information to New Zealand on the Combat Management System, installed as part the HCM/FELEX program, and shared our modernization experiences to date. This global export opportunity is the result of the close collaboration between DND and industry. 

Project breakdown
The Halifax-class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension project and other separately-funded projects within the Halifax-class Modernization program are bringing enhanced capabilities to the ships, which are required to meet the new threats and changing operating environments.

These include:

Halifax-class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension

  • A new Combat Management System;
  • New radar suite;
  • IFF Mode S/5 – Interrogator Friend or Foe Mode S/5;
  • Internal communications system upgrade;
  • Harpoon Missile system upgrade (surface to surface); and
  • Electronic warfare system upgrade;

Other HCM projects

  • Long-range infrared search and track system (SIRIUS);
  • Modification to the BOFORS 57mm Naval Gun;
  • Replacement of the Shield II Missile Decoy Countermeasures System;
  • Replacement of the Integrated Machinery Control System; and
  • Replacement of the Navigation Radars.

Many maintenance and sustainment activities and projects strive to maintain equipment at its current level of capability through the execution of intensive preventative, corrective and unique mid-life maintenance activities.

There are also several follow-on, stand-alone contracts let outside the Halifax-Class Modernization/Frigate Life Extension project to complete other needed upgrades, such as accommodation for the Cyclone Maritime Helicopter and the new Military Satellite Communication System.

Cost breakdown

Work ActivityIndustryApprox. cost
Combat System Integration/In-Service Support Lockheed Martin Canada $2 billion
Mid-life refit/Shipyards Irving Shipbuilding Inc./Seaspan $1.2 billion
Other Standalone Projects/Maintenance and Sustainment Various contractors $1.1 billion

$4.3 billion



Planning, preparation, and coordination of the HCM/FELEX project began in 2002.  The first modernization refit began in September 2010 with HMCS Halifax and each refit period was expected to take approximately 18 months, with the testing and trials expected to take approximately an additional 9-12 months. The first four ships to be modernized are HMCS Halifax, Fredericton, Calgary and Winnipeg.

The final ship upgrade and corresponding sea trials are expected to be completed in the 2018 timeframe, coinciding with Full Operational Capability (FOC) for the Class being achieved.

There remain further maritime capability projects that will complement HCM. This includes the operationalization of the Victoria-class submarines; the integration of the Cyclone CH-148 helicopters; the modernization of the Aurora aircraft; and the purchase of Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, Joint Support Ships, and Canadian Surface Combatants.




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