On 28 February 2023, Vanguard’s tenth annual marine conference, the ShipTech Forum 2023, was held live with the theme of “Naval Offshore Patrol Vessels – Considerations in Design”. Hosting the conference in person, while simultaneously streaming it virtually, it was possible to engage international expertise from Denmark, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as across Canada. Over 240 people registered for ShipTech, with 160 attending in person and 88 virtually. The audience spanned both government and industry, resulting in an excellent interaction which was only limited by the time available.
The one-day conference was kicked off with a stimulating keynote address by retired US Coast Guard Rear-Admiral Bruce Baffer where he stressed the need for a balanced design that can do all the things expected of the vessel – on both Atlantic and Pacific coasts. It also needs to be designed to cost, otherwise the ever evolving “requirements” will quickly exceed the budget. His address was followed by the RCN’s Director-General Naval Force Development, Commodore Jason Armstrong, on the need for the “right fleet” to operate in all three oceans. While the DeWolf-class Arctic & Offshore Patrol vessels (AOPV) are beginning to enter service, he underscored that this class of ship is not a replacement for the Kingston-class Maritime Coastal Defence Vessels (MCDVs). At this time the naval staff is working on a strategic concept to define the numbers, size and capability for a replacement of the Kingston-class by the end of the 2030s. He foresees a small vessel in the 1000-2000 ton range, that is internationally deployable, with a minimal crew and some self defence capability while leveraging autonomous systems. This vessel will be a significant change from the Kingston-class and the RCN needs industry help in order to advance the project.
The first panel discussion of the conference was on “The Modern Offshore Patrol Vessel” led by Derek Buxton from VARD, who gave a comprehensive presentation on the various types of OPVs in service throughout the world, which they design under the concept of “commercial where possible, military where necessary”, using cost as a differentiator. He was followed by Rich Gravel from Heddle Shipyards who underscored the need for early involvement of the shipyard in the process; specifically, by keeping systems simple and maximizing modularity which will build in flexibility for future in-service maintenance support. Wayne Brewster from Thales then spoke from the perspective of the Electronic Systems Integrator and the need to plan for adaptability in the design, noting the preference for containerized solutions. Finally, Jens Flarup from SH Defence described the maritime modularity concept when there is a need to quickly change the capabilities of a ship without taking it out of service. While everything comes with a price, true modularity is a system, not simply a sea container, and once onboard, the ship needs to be able to handle the capability.
The second panel discussion was on “Key Habitability Considerations” moderated by Commander Greg Zuliani who introduced the team which included RCN and Coast Guard representation as well as industry design experience. Commander Nicole Robichaud, the Commanding Officer of the DeWolf-class AOPV HMCS Margaret Brooke spoke on six-person cabins, a departure from traditionally large naval messdecks, and their physical placement within the ship design. She also underscored the benefits of “all ranks cafeteria” as both a dining and multi-purpose venue as well as the need to have dedicated gym facilities. Captain Travis Borchuk, the Commanding Officer of CCGS Judy LaMarsh, spoke of the need to balance crew habitability with the mission when prioritizing crew comfort issues. Single occupancy cabins, even if they offer smaller personal space can be attractive, but it is always a challenge that requires compromise. Ian Schumacker, from SERCO UK, highlighted the need to accommodate watch rotations over long periods deployed at sea and the need to consider crew retention in the design, using quality equipment for ease of maintainability. Finally, do not try to fit too much into a small ship.
After a luncheon break, the afternoon keynote speaker was Rear-Admiral Brian Santarpia, the Commander Maritime Forces Atlantic as well at the Maritime Component Commander for the CAF Joint Operations Command. He spoke of the big role for OPVs in the RCN that can do “all the missions” where a larger warship, such as a frigate, is not optimal. These missions include constabulary and sovereignty, and he noted that constabulary is more of a naval role in Canada as well as other nations, compared with the United States, where the US Coast Guard is armed and has a law enforcement mandate.
Following his address there were Tech Showcases from Arktos Developments and Barnacle Systems. These were followed by a presentation by Kristina Proulx from Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) on the opportunities under the IDEaS programme, briefing the results of the 2022 Corrosion Detection in Ships Sandbox. This was followed by Tech Showcases from Light Structures and Fibreglass Solutions.
The third and final panel of the conference was a discussion on “Procurement: How do we maximize Canadian Industry participation” moderated by Blaine Duffley, the Project Manager for the Joint Support Ship project. The panelists included Shaun Padulo, the President and CEO of Heddle Shipyards, Sandy Thomson, the founder of Thordon Bearings, and Dave Hatherall from CFN, formerly the Director General Major Marine Construction with PSPC. A superb discussion ensued which highlighted a number of lessons and observations, notably:
- it is necessary to rebuild shipyards before building ships and there is a need for more discussion on lessons identified between yards even though they are competitors.
- The industry is seeing more responsibility going to the shipyards, but there needs to be a reset on the way industry and the Canadian government work together – it should not be adversarial.
- Life cycle sustainment should be a factor in build decisions and not separate to force down the initial procurement costs.
- Finally, as the war in Ukraine is demonstrating, it is very important for Canadian national security to have and retain key domestic capabilities.
The takeaway from ShipTech 2023 was clear – Canada is looking to replace the Kingston-class MCDVs with an Offshore Patrol Vessel that can meet the demands of year-round operations in Canadian waters, as well as international deployments. The design needs to be as simple as possible, utilizing modularity in both capability and future maintenance and it must future-proof habitability in accommodations for the next generations of sailors. Critically, it can be designed, built and outfitted in Canada by Canadian industry, a diverse domestic industry that needs to supported, to ensure the nation retains strategic domestic capabilities.