Housed inside Lockheed Martin Canada’s MATTS facility in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, the crew of the 13th Halifax-class frigate is determined to find her weaknesses … so the sailors on the other 12 won’t have to.

“This is it,” he says. “This is the land-based version of everything that goes onboard ship. Thirteen complete sets of everything you see here, plus what’s on the roof.” Lockheed Martin’s Maritime Advanced Training and Test Site (MATTS) is a warship plunked down on the smooth pavement of Highfield Park Drive in Dartmouth, only minutes away from CFB Halifax. It may not look overtly nautical, rising up at the end of a long parking lot in the form of a squat, three-story building — but a view of “what’s on the roof” gives it away.

Glenn Copeland, Lockheed Martin Canada’s naval programs manager, is a former navy man. He’s also an excellent tour guide, as luck would have it. After walking through the reception area, surrendering my phone, driver’s license and hurriedly scribbling my name to a bunch of forms I haven’t read, Copeland leads me into “the Land-Based Test Site.”

“There are 12 ships in the Halifax class,” he begins, “and this is what they call the thirteenth ship set. It’s all the real equipment.” I stare around the room, taking in the range of shipboard systems that have been tricked into thinking they’re blip-bleeping away on one of Canada’s warships.

As ship number 13, it becomes obvious very early on in the tour that Lockheed Martin Canada takes equipment testing rather seriously. “The frigate life extension actually had a bunch of various components to it.” Copeland says. “In essence, there’s the combat systems integration we brought, that we put forward and integrated, there’s legacy systems, and there’s other pieces that are brand new that the government brought that we then brought in.”

The suppliers that send equipment to the MATTS facility have already run their equipment through its own tests, but Lockheed Martin has the unenviable task of making it all seamlessly work together – kind of like the conductor of a multi-billion dollar digital symphony.

Rosemarie Chapdelaine, Vice President and General Manager, Lockheed Martin Canada — another senior exec that works part-time as an informative tour guide — goes into more detail: “Each of our suppliers does their own factory acceptance tests, of their individual, standalone units. Before everything is delivered to us, whether it’s our own products or our suppliers’ products, they go through a test to make sure the system is up and running and working in their facility,” she explains. “Then, it gets brought here and in some cases, we’ll do a portion of the integration, flash up the systems, and then here it’s really more the software piece.”

It sounds – and looks – like a tremendous amount of work, but the Navy doesn’t want to install new systems onboard its ships only to discover that they don’t actually work, and the government isn’t too keen on paying to repeatedly install and remove them. Copeland explains that, as Combat Systems Integrator for the Halifax-class frigates, 85% of the requirements Lockheed Martin Canada is expected to deliver are proven at the MATTS facility. “You’ll see antennas on the roof, we have radiation capability … and we float aircraft to prove it for the radars,” he says.

Certain things, like firing missiles, are difficult to launch from a crowded business park in Dartmouth, but that doesn’t mean that Lockheed Martin can’t test those systems. Using sophisticated simulation software, the building becomes a ship with a course and speed, and equipment can be run through any number of possible (including highly improbable) real-world scenarios to evaluate performance and check for glitches.

Copeland points behind me. “That’s what these cabinets do. They are actually simulation, stimulation and emulation cabinets,” he says. “What they do is provide the various points in the system to really find out how it will react in a real environment. You can put 5000, 6000 tracks on a system and really try and see how it handles and manages it.”

It’s definitely – to put things into non-academic terms – cool, but Copeland isn’t done. “Geospatially, part of the proving of our system is to have the operators come in and work in here,” he begins. “This can be configured and set up with the operational software and linked out; you can hook it up to a network, and actually train with other ships.”

In fact, with a bit of tweaking, Lockheed Martin Canada could actually turn its test site into a full training site as well – but of course, they already have that.

We enter it through a space-like airlock chamber with heavy metal doors. It’s a classified area, which means that anyone within its soundproof walls can sing out the nation’s deepest, darkest secrets at the top of their lungs without being heard anywhere else in the building. They’ve tested for that, too.

“The Navy comes in here and they do war cries,” Copeland says. “We put them through a full battle scenario – a World War Three-type event. We provide that simulated environment for them to do whatever they need to train on.”

The training space is expansive; filled with various command and control systems I couldn’t even turn on let alone understand how to use. Nearby, there’s a room with a couple of giant screens where Navy brass can watch new officers experience epic meltdowns while attempting to respond to simulated apocalyptic conditions. Copeland says the space is often filled with tension; the Navy takes training seriously, and careers can be jeopardized by failing to perform in the scenarios operators must overcome.

It’s easy to tell that the Navy has benefitted tremendously since MATTS opened its doors in 2009. A few berets sit on a shelf as we leave the training area and I’m told that there’s a small number of Navy personnel that work out of the building. In total, more than 200 people work at MATTS, making them a sizable employer in the Halifax region, and anywhere else in the province. “It does fluctuate,” Copeland says. “We have people who go back and forth to the shipyard. At one time, we were up around 255, at the peak of the development cycle.”

Chapdelaine follows up on Copeland’s comment, explaining that Lockheed Martin Canada has focused its efforts on hiring people through the local universities. “It’s been extremely successful. The talent here has been fabulous. I’ve been using a very conservative number that 50% are in that college range, but it’s probably higher than that. We’ve got, probably 60-70%, since we’ve been here.”

From 2009–2012, Copeland says that Lockheed Martin Canada hired nearly all the graduates coming out of computer sciences and computer engineering at Dalhousie University, some at St. Mary’s and elsewhere around the province.

Copeland and Chapdelaine do not have to work hard to sell Lockheed Martin Canada’s contribution to our Navy, and to the broader Halifax community. And as the Canadian Surface Program evolves, Lockheed Martin will be standing by with the only facility of its kind in the country specially dedicated to performing combat systems integration work. That, 200 jobs and 25 years of service to the Navy have to count for something.