Interview with Capt(N) Douglas Campbell, Director Naval Major Capital Projects, Royal Canadian Navy

The Royal Canadian Navy is poised to be the recipient of new, modern naval vessels that will provide Canada with the power of a world-class navy. Major projects like the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), the Joint Support Ship (JSS) and the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) are at various stages in the procurement cycle. To a layman, the Canadian Armed Forces procurement cycle can be overwhelming and difficult to understand. 

In this interview, we talk with Capt(N) Douglas Campbell to get a simplistic view of procurement, delivering ships, project costs and requirements and schedules. 

Capt(N) Campbell joined the RCN Fleet in 1995, becoming a Shipborne Air Controller in 1998. He served in HMCS Torontoas the Operations Officer in the Arabian Gulf for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM in 2004 and became the Executive Officer in HMCS Halifax in 2010. In late 2011, he was appointed as Executive Officer, HMCS Charlottetown. In Charlottetown, he conducted Operation METRIC in the Mediterranean Sea and Operation ARTEMIS in the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Upon returning from the deployment in Charlottetown in July 2012, he immediately assumed command of HMCS St. John’s. In St. John’s, he conducted various exercises as well as operations above the Arctic Circle and in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Following his command, he became the Military Advisor to His Excellency, the Governor General of Canada, David Johnston.

Capt(N) Campbell also specializes in Force Development. He has worked in various directorates for the Chief of Force Development under the Vice Chief of Defence Staff. He has held positions of Director Force Development Management, Director of Capability Integration, and was the first Director of Concepts and Experimentation and first Director Capability Analysis. Prior to proceeding to the Australian War College in 2019, he was the Director of Strategic Coordination. In this final role he also led the institutionalization of Targeting as well as Information Operations for the Canadian Armed Forces. He is currently the Director of Naval Major Crown Projects for the Royal Canadian Navy. 

Understanding how Canada’s process of major projects can be overwhelming, can you explain in layman’s terms how major crown projects work in Canada and what the role of your team is in helping the respective Project Management Offices (PMO) deliver a ship that meets naval requirements?

I will answer this by first acknowledging that understanding the process of how Canada manages major projects can seem overwhelming. It’s possible some members of the public look at what is going on for a project at a moment in time and do not see that the moment they are observing is just one point in a process. 

I believe that once one understands the process, everything else makes more sense. I will also caveat that I work in the Navy on its major crown projects and do not speak to how other departments may do their own major crown projects. The Navy’s projects currently include the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), the Joint Support Ship (JSS) and the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC). 

The management process includes three phases: Identification, Definition and Implementation. It starts with the Government of Canada’s Defence Strategy Strong, Secure, Engaged. The government’s intent is described in this document. The Chief of Force Development, through Capability Based Planning, uses various vignettes that help describe what a new capability must be. These capabilities become projects in the Identification phase. 

My projects are ships that need to have a fulsome requirement set to meet the operational requirements, and the resultant performance parameters that meet the needed capabilities. Requirements are written to say what the ship will be able to do and are descriptive. 

The Statement of Requirements (SOR) is not written in isolation. Studies are made, threat assessments looking into the future are developed and detailed analysis inform the SOR. The team also works with allies and industry to develop the requirements and their related performance parameters. This is to say, the requirements are as evidence based as we can make them.

The next step in the process is to have the work reviewed by the Independent Review Panel on Defence Acquisition (IRPDA). This group, made up of civilians, some with military backgrounds but most without, ensures that the project is not asking for more than required and has done a fulsome analysis. IRPDA reports directly to the Minister of National Defence and is critical in allowing the project to move into what is called the Definition phase. JSS and CSC are in Definition and AOPS is in Implementation.

The Project Management Office (PMO), which falls under Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel) (ADM (Mat)), takes a larger role during the Definition phase. 

From Definition through to completion of the Implementation phases, the PMO is responsible for working with the chosen builder and other industry stakeholders, as well as other government agencies such as Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) and Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC). 

The PMO takes a requirement and breaks it down into specific technical requirements. Our role is to stay focused on the requirement described in the SOR as we go through the lengthy design and build process. There is a lot of dialogue back and forth, and we are key in discussions related to striking a balance between requirements, cost, schedule and Canadian content. The team aims to maximize requirements and Canadian content while minimizing cost and schedule impacts when there are issues.

Lastly, we work closely with the various stakeholders as we get ready to take the ships into our dockyards during Implementation. This means ensuring personnel are identified, training is done and we are in all respects ready to accept the ships.

Building warships is a full team effort – a team that spans the Defence Team from the RCN to Policy, to Finance, to Materiel, and external to other departments. It takes a lot of work and a lot of personal interaction to get this done. Nothing is ever simple, and if one sees remarks like “why don’t we just…” it normally is not, if ever, that easy. 

My team fully enjoys what we do and fully appreciate the importance of ensuring the stated requirements are well understood and delivered or adjusted as appropriate. Every day brings a challenge and it is exciting, fulfilling work, especially now with the delivery of HMCS Harry DeWolf, to see the culmination of years of effort. No one person can lay claim to this success; it truly is a result of teamwork.

Knowing that warship procurement spans many years, how does your team evolve the requirement without unduly impacting the project costs and schedule?

Requirements are generally written in a manner so as not to be prescriptive. The RCN generally does not state specific systems when describing the requirement. Capability descriptions and set performance standards are given, and industry answers with systems that meet these needs. Sometimes something may be determined to no longer be required, and this becomes a dialogue between the selected bidder, PMO and my staff to determine whether it should be removed from the requirement set. 

Due to the length of time it takes to design and build a ship, items procured ahead of time are sometimes not the most current. This may be overcome through meeting requirements that allow for software and hardware upgrades, obsolescence management or new capability insertions through ship refits and work periods.

Given the working procurement relationship between the Navy and ADM (Mat), can you give an illustrative example of some of the decisions you wrestle with in helping ADM (Mat) and prime contractors deliver the right ship on time?

Early on we work closely with the PMO to take the RCN requirements and make them into technical requirements. We support the PMO in various ways. Requirements are not taken on their own as a ship is a system of systems and as such the requirements are intertwined. Thus, where a requirement may not be fully met, another may compensate it to meet the overall capability needed. Industry and the PMO look to the RCN team to understand how a requirement may be delivered differently through this system of systems approach, and we work together to determine the best way to do so. 

Another example is the sea trials for HMCS Harry DeWolf. The shipbuilder worked with the PMO and the RCN to find opportunities to allow both ADM (Mat) and RCN personnel to sail and see the ship at sea. It helped not only with initial training on a new platform, but also the building of crew confidence to operate an entirely new platform with some systems they had never used before. This was all parties working together for a common goal. It was through readiness review conferences with all stakeholders that ADM (Mat) and the RCN were able to make well-informed decisions regarding Canada’s readiness to accept the ship from Irving Shipbuilding Inc. This entailed holding Readiness Review Conferences with the various Department of National Defence stakeholders that reviewed topics such as infrastructure, personnel and training to ensure the RCN was fully ready for the transition of the ship from the shipyard to the dockyard. These conferences ensured everyone was on task and allowed for the program as a whole not to miss a beat.

What are some of the big challenges you face today and what are the impacts that new programs, such as Innovation and Digital Navy, are having on the delivery of the future fleet? 

I will speak on the innovation side, as that is something that is essential for ensuring we are procuring the ship of the future instead of a ship of the past. In meeting our requirements, industry looks at innovative ways to ensure the ship is designed to meet new and emerging threats. 

This pushes them in innovative directions. Of course, we do not want to be highly developmental, but rather want to ensure we are getting the latest and best technology that is able to be updated throughout the life of the ship. Ships last a long time, and technology that can be updated through software and hardware is essential for something we will operate for decades in the future. 

One example of this is the development of a modern Command Management System (CMS) that will bring together various sensors and systems in a shared digital infrastructure. This system will be able to be updated through software as modifications are needed throughout the ships’ lives. The CSC will also be able to take advantage of greater bandwidth than we have seen before, analyzing and using big data, and being a critical element in a larger network than just itself – it will be an element of a greater system of systems. It will be, in all respects, designed for the digital age. 

The CSC will not only be about digital and data. The ship will be fitted with a Mission Bay. This is an innovative feature of CSC and will allow the RCN to innovate how it puts capabilities into the fleet and into the hands of our sailors. The use of modular sea container-based capabilities provides us with an innovative approach to getting additional capability into CSC at arguably lower cost than a refit or retrofit of equipment into the extant platform. This will permit a flexible, innovative approach that can facilitate change even mid-mission if needed. It is beyond anything we have had before.

Can you briefly share from your perspective, as the Project Director, about some of the current major naval projects being undertaken – the AOPS, JSS and CSC? 

The three project directors for AOPS, JSS and CSC work with me. All three of these ships that will be delivered in the order given, will bring new capabilities and help the RCN to serve Canada into the future. The AOPS will give Canada an increased presence in our Arctic waters as it is designed to operate in ice. They have been purposefully designed to be highly flexible vessels that allow the RCN to support and enable whole-of-government capability in support of other government departments and agencies, as well as our ability to support their mandates in the North. AOPS will have a containerized and thus modular capability that will result in specific loads for specific missions, whether to assist in joint operations in the North or with research activities.

The JSS will provide Canada with two support ships that are designed for survivability and will be deployable on all maritime operations – something that has been absent from our fleet for some years now. They will offer the full suite of support to ships at sea and allow for sustained operations of our fleet. They will also bring the ability for some sea-lift capability as it will be able to embark a limited number of sea containers and will have the ability to move cargo to support our maritime operations. This will allow them to provide support to disaster relief activities both at home and abroad. 

Lastly, CSC will provide Canada with a ship that will be the centrepiece of the future fleet. It will be able to operate effectively against various threats anywhere in the world. It will be the right ship for Canada with systems that will support our activities well into the future. 

These three platforms truly reflect a modern and more capable RCN of the future.

Finally, what can industry do to assist Canada in delivering future naval fleets?

Industry is our key partner going forward as we design and build our ships, and they will continue to be close partners throughout the life of the vessels that are delivered. It is important for industry to understand our requirements clearly and to understand why the RCN is looking to meet these requirements. This way they will have the best insight into how to best deliver on those requirements.

As a navy, we have worked hard to cultivate a professional relationship with industry in order to assist them in understanding where we are trying to go so they can make the best business decisions to assist. This relationship is critical, not just to our current projects, but to future ones and the National Shipbuilding Strategy as a whole. As the Commander of the RCN likes to say, shipbuilding is nation-building.