It might not be smooth sailing just yet for the Canadian navy, but this summer saw progress toward the renewal of its fleet. In June, the government announced the procurement strategy for acquiring more than 20 new ships over the next 30 years. In August, Vanguard spoke with Rear Admiral (Ret’d) Ian Mack, National Defence’s Director General for Major Project Delivery (Land and Sea) about the navy’s shipbuilding program.

The Ships

Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship
Canada will buy as many as eight ships to patrol the North. Initial costs will be about $3 billion, with another $4.3 billion for operations and maintenance over 25 years of operations.

“[The] project has been going for a while now, since about 2007. We’ve pretty well worked through the definition phase,” Mack said. “We continue to refine the design which we’ve developed…and we’re preparing the request-for-proposal package. We [will be] ready to negotiate that package into a detailed contract once the national shipbuilding procurement strategy delivers the shipyard that is going to build [those] ships.”

Though there has been some debate about the required capabilities for the AOPS, Mack made it clear that the ships will not be icebreakers. “We’re not up there to break permanent or 30-year ice. The focus is on that period when ice is either breaking up or setting in on an annual basis, what we call the shoulder seasons,” he explained.

Nor will the Arctic patrol ships be looking for more trouble than they can handle. The requirements for the weapons suite have not been finalized, Mack said, “[but] we’re not up there with the [AOPS] to take on another combatant, we’re up there basically on patrol and we’ll be looking for the ability to convince someone that they should stop, or to stop them.”

The ships do, however, include the stated goal of “cooperating with other elements of the Canadian Forces and other federal government departments to assert and enforce Canadian sovereignty.” Mack noted while that does not mean combined crews of the navy and other departments such as the RCMP, Coast Guard or Immigration, “the intent is [to] have a platform which has the ability, the deck space and some extra bunks to take whoever in government needs to [operate] in the Arctic.”

Joint Support Ship
Canada will acquire two support ships (with the option for a third), with projected costs of about $2.6 billion.

Mack said that the JSS program – first announced in 2006 and then halted in August 2008 when the two bidding teams were ruled non-compliant with the basic terms of the RFP, including the budget – is pursuing a two-track approach: looking at existing ship designs and investigating the feasibility of a fresh Canadian design. Of existing patterns he said, “these are obviously going to be designs that are fairly new and meet the fundamental requirements for the Joint Support Ship, which means we are looking at military off-the-shelf. We’re in the process of going through that final selection.”

The second thrust, he said, is the development of a new ship design specifically built to the requirements of the Canadian navy.

“We’ll end up with…a couple of off-the-shelf design options as well as the new ship design option,” he said, adding that once the options are judged against the requirements defined by the Chief of Maritime Staff, “we will then be ready to develop, as with the Arctic Patrol Ship, a request-for-proposal package so [that] we’re ready to negotiate the detailed contract, again, once the national shipbuilding strategy delivers us a shipyard.”

Mack acknowledged that, in revisiting the requirements, DND has changed the scope of its requirement for “support to forces ashore” through a joint task force headquarters. “We’ve recognized that…with the many trade offs that we’ve had to [make] since we terminated the last procurement process, we’ve had to look hard at all of the capabilities. There will be space to be able to support joint forces headquarters. [How much] will depend upon how these designs evolve: [h]ave we got the resources left in terms of affordability to add more? We’re starting from what could be called a minimum essential requirement as opposed to the first time out on JSS, which was much more complex, and…watching for opportunities to increase the capability.”

Canadian Surface Combatant
The most anticipated vessel in the new wave of shipbuilding is the Canadian Surface Combatant, the 15 ships that will replace the current mix of destroyers and frigates. With acquisition costs of about $26 billion and in-service support estimated at almost $15 billion over twenty years, these ships will be Canada’s military presence on the world’s oceans.

“The Canadian Surface Combatant has had a project team in place for a number of years – they’ve had a team working with me for the last three,” Mack said. The group has been working closely with the Chief of the Maritime Staff to define requirements and match them with capabilities. “This is not something you can do in the space of a few months,” he said. “There is a [lot] of hard work being done…to move forward in the project definition. I believe we have worked through quite a few glitches.”

Mack’s group is not only looking over all the lessons Canada has learned – “going all the way back to the Canadian Patrol Frigate days” – it is also engaging Canada’s allies for information about managing the complexity of such acquisitions.

The team is aiming to make recommendations to government about initiating “what could be a multi-phased project definition set of activities,” he said. “I hope we can get to that stage soon so that we can start the procurement activity to be ready to feed into the national shipbuilding procurement strategy.”

The People

Since the end of the Second World War, Canada’s military shipbuilding has come in waves, creating a “boom and bust” cycle. In an upswing, everyone in the system – the departments of National Defence, Public Works, Industry and Treasury Board, and the shipyards themselves – must painfully reacquire the knowledge and expertise that has been lost. “Clearly when you stop building for 10 years it’s a tough thing to get back on top of. We know that most of the nations are struggling with the same issue,” he said.

With that in mind, however, Mack believes that the current slump in ship construction around the world has released a great deal of expertise. “We can get that skill and expertise from industry as part of our larger organization to help us get over the current large mountain to climb.”

The Future

Though there has been discussion about commonalities between the three ships, Mack cautioned that while common systems across the fleet to maximize interoperability would make sense, there are always pros and cons. “Director General Maritime Equipment Program Management is looking at a number of areas where it would make sense to try a common approach. [But] once you decide…to buy item X, item X had better evolve. Because by the time I build the last Canadian Surface Combatant it will be 20 years from now. Will that piece of equipment still be around? Will it be obsolete? And, in selecting it, will I tie the hands of the next ship designer in a [negative] way? These are difficult decisions to make.” Green technology, he added, would be considered “in every case we can.”

“We’ve got progress on pretty well all fronts,” Mack said. “I think that is pretty good news generally speaking for the centenary of the navy.”