An Interview with Andy Smith, Deputy Commissioner – Strategy and Shipbuilding, Canadian Coast Guard

In August 2017, Andy Smith was appointed Deputy Commissioner, Strategy and Shipbuilding at the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG).

Andy Smith, Deputy Commissioner – Strategy and Shipbuilding, Canadian Coast Guard

In this capacity, he is responsible for providing strategic leadership to further advance the Coast Guard’s Fleet Renewal Plan. He also leads CCG commitments under the Oceans Protection Plan aimed at improving Canada’s ocean stewardship role, strengthening the maritime safety regime and promoting a renewed dialogue with indigenous peoples.

Prior to joining the Coast Guard, Andy was the Associate Assistant Deputy Minister of the Real Property Branch (RPB) at Public Services and Procurement Canada from 2013 to 2017 where he was responsible for providing national functional leadership for the real property business lines and leading large-scale change management initiatives.

Before joining the Public Service, Andy completed 34 years of service in the Royal Canadian Navy. 

Recently, Vanguard had the opportunity to interview Andy Smith. Here is the full interview.

  1. In your current position as Deputy Commissioner, Strategy and Shipbuilding of the Canadian Coast Guard, what are your top 3 short-term goals?

A: My first five months have been professionally invigorating and personally satisfying. I see a multitude of opportunities for my previous experience to benefit the Coast Guard. With respect to near-term goals I would target:

  • finalizing the Fleet Renewal Plan;
  • assisting with the workforce generation initiative to grow the Coast Guard into a diverse workforce that is more representational of Canadian society; and
  • implementing the various Oceans Protection Plan projects to enhance the Government’s ocean stewardship agenda.
  1. Where do you see the future of shipbuilding for the Coast Guard given the average age of the fleet – can it be done within the service lives of the current fleet or do you see a reduction in fleet capability/capacity?

A: There has been a lot of public attention paid to the aging state of the Coast Guard fleet which does not necessarily reflect reality.  Accordingly, I think it is important to review the facts. First, while it is clear that Coast Guard ships are aging, we need to remember that Coast Guard ships were not built as commercial vessels and can’t be compared to such – in fact, the designed life expectancy for a Coast Guard ship can be twice as long as a commercial vessel. Secondly, Coast Guard is meeting its service standards – most missions are being delivered as planned. While there have been instances where we have encountered delays in icebreaking or changes in science programs – I consider those cases to be exceptions.

The women and men of the Coast Guard are fully committed to meeting and exceeding the needs of their clients, and I am similarly committed to ensuring they have the right ships to continue to do so. I am well aware that our ships cannot last forever and will need to be replaced over time. The Coast Guard has established a core team that is working diligently on the renewal of our fleet. Under the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS), Canada’s entire shipbuilding value chain is quickly gaining strength. Vancouver Shipyards, selected to build large non-combat ships for the Coast Guard, is gaining momentum with the first new large vessel – 100 per cent designed and built in Canada and launched in December 2017 – the Offshore Fisheries Science Vessel. The construction of the second and third ships in this class is well advanced. The launch of the CCGS Sir John Franklin was a key milestone for the Coast Guard as it marked the beginning of the renewal of our large vessels. The Coast Guard is committed to continuing the renewal of its ships under the NSS. If and when an existing ship has to be taken out of service before a replacement vessel comes into service, interim solutions will be examined to ensure we continue to maintain the services our clients have come to expect from us.

  1. Do you see a long-term fleet capital investment program similar to the Navy for the Coast Guard?

A: Our fleet renewal team is working hard to ensure that we have a replacement plan in place for each and every one of our assets – large and small. Our challenge is to create a sustainable fleet that can be continually recapitalized. This fleet renewal plan envisages multi-mission capable ships in a more meaningful way than is present today. We are planning ahead to building the assets that we will need in the next 10, 20, 30 years with the right technology to deliver on today’s mandate and that which may evolve. I anticipate the Coast Guard to be in a continued fleet recapitalization mode for decades to come.

  1. Regionalism versus centralized control – how is that impacting new ship requirements/build/maintenance program? Specifically, issues related to configuration management.

A: As someone who grew up professionally in the maritime engineering domain, I am a strong advocate of configuration control.  As we develop ship requirements, we use a national approach that includes regional input to ensure the operator perspective is factored into the design. Of note, we are moving towards fewer classes with a larger number of similar ships to capitalize on the logistical and maintenance efficiencies that equipment commonality allows. The shipbuilding industry is different than other industries, and due to the time involved in building a ship, follow-on vessels may have some small differences. The most important thing is to look at managing these changes through time and to be able to determine the current steady state of the ship at a given time while minimizing possible impacts to DFO/CCG operational programs. CCG is a nationally cohesive organization with strong regional ties and at the end of the day, this helps CCG provide better value to Canadians.

  1. Maintenance/life extension – given the age of the current fleet where do you see this going and what opportunities do you see for Canada’s marine industry writ large?

A: We are living in an exciting time – there are decades of possibilities ahead of us both for the Coast Guard and for Canada’s marine industries.  It is no secret that, in addition to building ships as fast as we can, we will have to rely on our aging ships a little longer to maintain our services. Keeping these assets in safe and reliable working condition means opportunities for companies across Canada. While we are building new ships, we will also be refitting existing ships – involving parts, electronic systems, engineering, and general ship repair work. Investments such as those envisioned under the National Shipbuilding Strategy and other procurement initiatives will provide long-term stability for the Coast Guard to deliver marine programs which are vital for all Canadians from Coast to Coast to Coast.

Of note, there is more to the Coast Guard than large ships. We are also building a myriad of smaller vessels which, under the NSS, are to be competitively tendered to companies other than Vancouver Shipyards and Irving Shipbuilding.

In the shorter term, running repairs, dockings, and life extension activities will continue to occur. There will be an overall increased requirement for the Canadian marine industry, both from the repair industry and the manufacturers of some marine equipment in the coming years. The marine industry, Public Services and Procurement Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard are working together to coordinate how best to optimize this in the future. The Coast Guard is playing a supporting role with PSPC, who at present are hosting marine industry engagement sessions to improve sustainability and efficiencies. Together, we will continue to strengthen our partnerships with the Canadian marine industry to build and maintain a Coast Guard Fleet with a vision for excellence.

With the ship construction and refit work required to keep us afloat, I am confident that the Coast Guard fleet renewal plans are generators of many business opportunities for all types of business sizes for years to come.

  1. Given the recent and rather low-key launch of CCGS Sir John Franklin, what other notable success stories are there?

A: Although I love ships and shipbuilding, and I am passionate about the renewal of our fleet, we have to remember that Coast Guard ships remain tools that are used to deliver our missions. Every day I meet with our people – and I read the press – and learn about Coast Guard success stories across Canada. The Coast Guard is ‘putting it on the line’ every day to: save lives on the water; respond to marine pollution incidents; break ice to keep ports open and ferries running, deliver supplies to remote locations, and enable science at sea as scientists study the effect of climate change. Those are the success stories that Coast Guard ships allow each and every single day, and this is what is important to Canadians.

To me, the renewal of our fleet is a success story only if those missions continue to be delivered day in and day out, in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Don’t get me wrong, the Coast Guard takes shipbuilding extremely seriously and we continue to forge ahead with our fleet renewal efforts – in fact, we renewed our entire fleet of 22 helicopters on time and under budget, we launched three new vessels in 2017, and we will likely exceed that number in 2018. But we need these ships to continue to deliver Coast Guard missions, such as search and rescue, environmental response and protection, scientific missions, hydrographic surveys, aids to navigation, icebreaking, security, and fisheries patrol. These are the notable stories that I wish Canadians had a greater understanding of.

  1. In any organization there are obstacles, challenges and issues, if you had the means to magically fix anything within the Coast Guard, what would those areas be?

A: I come at this question with a long-term viewpoint. Growing the institution both from a capital asset and an HR perspective takes time and patience, both within and without. There are bound to be obstacles and course corrections along the way, but the tide is flowing for the Coast Guard and we need to keep our eye on the long game. The National Shipbuilding Strategy is recreating an entire industry, there are promising signs of success, but it will take time for the industry to mature.

As a national and easily identifiable institution, I think the Coast Guard is ideally positioned to reflect Canadian society. Historically it has been largely populated by white males. The Commissioner Jeffery Hutchinson has placed a high priority on diversity and we are seeing an incremental change here. As we grow the institution, making it a workplace of choice for all Canadians is another area where time and consistent attention is needed to ensure that we achieve success.

  1. On a personal note, given your naval experience, how do you plan to use or are using that to benefit the Coast Guard?

A: I have been blessed my entire professional career to have had opportunity, mentoring, professional development, great team mates and the strategic and front-line challenges that have allowed me to develop the technical abilities, personnel management, financial awareness, leadership skills and analytical mindset to come to this particular position and hit the deck plates at full speed. The Coast Guard has smart and dedicated people who have a real sense of purpose and want to make the institution better. I have been warmly welcomed into the fold and view my role as one of a coach and enabler who can add perspective, remove obstacles, keep priorities in line and provide gentle helm to get us to the next weigh point. It is a team effort.

  1. Looking forward, what are some of the strategies or programs of the Canadian Coast Guard that you are really excited about?

A: I think the Coast Guard has boundless potential and is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. The recapitalization of the fleet is central to this renaissance, and I am particularly jazzed to be a part of it. I hasten to add that this effort is part of the larger regeneration of the shipbuilding ecosystem in this country which, as a mariner and a naval architect, is very exciting to be involved with.

I am also enthusiastic about the work the Coast Guard is part of with our partners at Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada under the Oceans Protection Plan banner. Taking just the specific topics of Problem Vessels and environmental response planning as examples, the work the Coast Guard is progressing will make a real contribution towards enhancing the general marine safety system. This ocean stewardship role is one that I find very stimulating and satisfying.

Author: Marcello Sukhdeo

Marcello is the managing editor of Vanguard, IT in Canada and Canadian Government Executive and the host of Vanguard Radio and WRLWND Radio podcasts. He is an avid technology and security enthusiast, who has worked on content leadership strategies for a number of industries including the public sector, life science, technology and defence.

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