Ships ahoy!: the RCN forges ahead with NSPS.After years of waiting, the launch of what has been called the largest shipbuilding initiative in Canada since the Second World War is now underway.
Irving Shipbuilding's Halifax yards and Seaspan Marine, with yards in Vancouver and Victoria, were selected on October 19 as the winners of the federal government's National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). That umbrella agreement has set in motion what will eventually be the construction of 28 major vessels. In total, NSPS projects are estimated to cost more than $30 billion over the next 20 to 30 years.
Under the strategy, Irving Shipbuilding will construct 21 combat vessels while Seaspan will build the non-combat vessel work package of seven vessels in total. Those seven include ships for both the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Canadian Coast Guard.
The construction of 116 smaller federal government and RCN vessels will be set aside for competitive procurement among the other Canadian shipyards that were not selected under NSPS. Those contracts are expected to be worth around $2 billion.
Regular maintenance and repair for the various fleets, valued at $500 million annually, will be open to all shipyards through normal procurement processes.
For the two companies, the NSPS is a financial bonanza, ensuring decades of work. In addition, much of the work goes well beyond ship construction, with various defence firms now lining up to provide everything from command and control systems to power plants to the missiles that some of the new vessels will carry.
For the Canadian Coast Guard, and in particular the Royal Canadian Navy, the strategy sets the stage for the critical replacement of much of their existing fleets.
Vice-Admiral Paul Maddison, the RCN's commander, says the NSPS will set the stage for the service's future maritime force. He has called the shipbuilding program an "unprecedented peacetime recapitalization effort."
The importance of that recapitalization is not lost on the country's top general. Of all the ongoing military procurements, it was the construction of ships that Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Walter Natynczyk labelled as an imperative.
"We've got to get the strategy completed and actually start cutting steel," he told Esprit de Corps in an interview published in the December 2011 issue.
The road to cutting steel is now underway. Here is how it will look:
ARCTIC/OFFSHORE PATROL SHIPS
The Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) project will be the first to produce vessels under the NSPS.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper originally announced the government's plan to purchase the AOPS in the spring of 2007. He acknowledged at the time it was much different than the Conservative's original election promise to build armed icebreakers.
But he noted the AOPS would be able to handle sovereignty operations in the North and while the ships will be used at least half of the time to patrol the east and west coasts; the emphasis on this project, at least for the government, is the focus on the Arctic.
"Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic," Harper said during his announcement of the project. "We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it."
The new ships will be based in Halifax, N.S., and Esquimalt, B.C. New infrastructure will be built at those two locations to handle the vessels, and the project will also see the establishment of a docking and refuelling facility in Nanisivik, Nunavut.
The AOPS will cost $3.1 billion, according to government officials. Another $4.3 billion will be spent for operations and maintenance over their 25-year lifespan. A contract was supposed to be awarded in May 2009 for the AOPS project, which would have seen the first delivery of ships in 2013. However, that schedule was put on hold pending the outcome of the NSPS.
While that contract award was on hold, navy officers continued on with much of the background work on AOPS, with firms working on the engineering and design aspects of the vessels. In 2008 an engineering support contract for AOPS was awarded to BMT Fleet Technology. They were supported by a number of companies including British defence giant, BAE.
AOPS project manger Cmdr. Dave Soule expects a contract in place with Irving sometime in the summer of 2012. Six to eight ships will be built but the final number won't be determined until negotiations can be completed, he added.
The Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships will have a range of at least 6,800 nautical miles and a speed of at least 17 knots. There will be accommodation for 85--a 45-member crew and 40 mission personnel. The ships will have ice capability and be equipped with a 25mm gun.
The first ship is expected to be delivered in 2015, carrying out its initial Arctic patrol the following year, Soule said. The last of the ships would be delivered in 2021.
The RCN envisions the first AOPS to operate in the Arctic for a four-month period, initially at least. But by 2030 the navy expects the vessels to deploy for up to six months at a time in the North. "Duration of ops and locale will depend on extent and type of ice," noted a briefing paper produced by the AOPS office.
CANADIAN SURFACE COMBATANT
The main project for both Irving and the RCN, however, is the construction of the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC). The 15 CSCs will replace Canada's three Iroquois-class destroyers and 12 Halifax-class frigates. While the ships will be based on a common hull design, the frigate and destroyer variants will be equipped with different weapons, communications, surveillance and other systems, according to navy officers.
CSC will follow AOPS at the same yard in a project that represents over 50 per cent of the value of NSPS, according to a Department of National Defence presentation made to industry representatives in June 2011.
A definition contract award is expected sometime in 2012 with the actual implementation contract to be awarded in 2015. Delivery of the first ship would be in 2021 with the final ship delivered in 2035, according to that briefing.
The first group of Canadian Surface Combatant ships are expected to be outfitted with air defence and command and control capabilities, allowing them to replace the aging Iroquois-class ships. Later groups of surface combatants will replace the Halifax-class frigates.
Commodore Daniel Sing, director general of maritime force development, told industry representatives that the concept of employment for the ships would involve both open ocean and the littorals. Open ocean capabilities would involve dealing with supersonic anti-ship missiles, stealthy submarines and anti-ship ballistic missiles, his presentation noted.
Littoral operations would include operations against shore-based threats, asymmetric threats, and shallow water anti-submarine warfare capabilities.
The RCN hopes to follow a process similar to the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship, which employs various mission modules and a modular design.
Defence analyst Eric Lerhe, a former RCN commodore, said a single surface combatant with a common hull will help reduce costs associated with spare parts, maintenance, and training.
Building the ships over such a lengthy period also allows for new technology to be installed in ships of the class that are to be produced later. "For the first batch of ships, you can go low-risk, basic current technology," said Lerhe. The next batch might bring in electrical propulsion, the next batch rail guns if they are developed by then."
RCN spokesman, Navy Lt. Brian Owens, has noted that the service has already conducted an options analysis on the surface combatant project. It also conducted a market survey of the warship designs currently available for the surface combatant program.
In January 2011, Canada and Britain looked at the feasibility of a collaborative program between the CSC and the United Kingdom's Type 26 Global Combat Ship. But the RCN eventually concluded that Canada's specific needs would make it too difficult and expensive for both nations to collaborate.
But according to DND records obtained under the Access to Information law, Defence Minister Peter MacKay was told that the two navies would continue to share information and to "seek opportunities to share expertise where mutually beneficial."
COAST GUARD/GOVERNMENT SHIPS/ ICEBREAKERS
Seaspan, the company designated to build the non-combat ships, will focus at first on the construction of an offshore oceanographic science vessel, according to the government's strategy. That ship will replace the Canadian Coast Guard's largest science vessel, CCGS Hudson.
The government expects the new ship in service by 2014. Three offshore fisheries science vessels will also be built for the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) with the first of those ships in service by 2015.
Another major project for Seaspan will be the construction of a polar icebreaker for the Coast Guard. That ship will be 120 to 140 metres in length and will carry a complement of 100 personnel and accommodation for 25 additional people. The polar icebreaker will also be outfitted to accommodate two helicopters when required.
The Coast Guard's heavy icebreaker, CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2017. The CCG is hoping that a contract would be award to Seaspan in 2013, with construction starting that year. Delivery and sea trials of the new icebreaker would take place in 2017, with final acceptance also happening that year, according to the project's milestones.
The new ship is expected to have a life of around 40 years.
JOINT SUPPORT SHIP
For the RCN, Seaspan will also build a new fleet of supply ships. Two of these Joint Support Ships will be constructed and there has been talk about an option for one additional vessel if the budget allows for that.
The procurement process for the JSS has been a long one. The project was started in the late 1990s and delivery milestones for a finished ship came and went as little work was done on the program.
The JSS project was later restarted, where it joined then chief of defence staff Gen. Rick Hillier's "Big Honkin' Ship" program as the key navy procurement project. Hillier's dream of an amphibious warship went nowhere because of budget issues and the JSS was derailed in August 2008 after the Canadian government determined that various bids from shipyards did not meet the requirements of the new fleet.
But now, with the NSPS in place, the construction plans are back in action.
The first Joint Support Ship is to be delivered in 2017, according to Commodore Sing. The RCN is considering the Cantabria-class design from Navantia and the Berlin-class from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. In addition it is also looking at a new design provided by BMT Fleet Technologies.
Design selection will take place sometime in 2012. Effective project approval will happen in 2013 with the first ship being delivered four years later. Full operating capability will be in 2019, according to Sing.
One of the criteria for any candidate ship design is that it be double-hulled to meet environmental regulations. The overall length of the vessels would also not exceed 200 meters so that existing jetty infrastructure at both Canadian Forces Bases Halifax and Esquimalt can be used.
The JSS are considered essential for the RCN since they will be used to supply a maritime task group at sea with fuel, ammunition and food. The service currently operates two vessels, HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver to do those roles, but those vessels are more than 40 years old.
Besides supplying a maritime task group, the RCN requires the JSS to be capable of providing helicopter support. The ships would have a limited ability to operate in Arctic areas in summer months.
The JSS project has had various price tags, with the latest being around S2.6 billion for the acquisition of the ships.
The project was originally to have procured three vessels that, besides their naval tasks, could also have provided support to the Canadian Army and special forces, carrying troops, vehicles, ammunition and a hospital. In addition, the ships were to have been capable of acting as command centres for ground forces sent ashore.
But Ian Mack, the Defence Department's director general of major project delivery for land and sea, has acknowledged the project has since been scaled back in those areas.
The abilities of carrying equipment and vehicles for ground forces, as well as providing command, control and communications for such units ashore have been reduced. Part of the decision to scale back on the project was due to cost, part because of the result of improvements in Canada's strategic lift capability with the arrival of new aircraft and the lease of cargo ships.
"We recognize with the new C-17s, C-130Js and with the new full-time charter sealift we've been using in recent years that we've dramatically reduced the requirement we had when we launched JSS," Mack noted.
He has said that the decision on whether to acquire a third ship would be based on the eventual price of the vessels and the funding available at the time to the Defence Department. But he added: "If we're going to exercise an option for a third, we need to do it early."
The new ships will be fitted so that command and control and other additional equipment to support ground forces ashore could be added at a later date. "We'll build in the design margins so we've got flexibility when needed," Mack added.