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Saving Canada’s Shipbuilding Industry

June 5, 2010

Proposed Canadian Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship

On Thursday the Harper Government announced a major 30 year plan to boost work in Canadian shipyards and replace worn out Navy and Coast Guard hulls. Under the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, 116 small ships and 28 larger will be procured, giving shipbuilders work for decades. The plan is for a sustained building program to ensure the companies stay competitive as opposed to buying ships in “lump sum”, that leave a dearth in construction. For instance, it has been 14 years since the last major warship was built in Canada.

Specifically, the Navy and Coast Guard will undertake 3 major replacements programs–the Joint Support Ships (JSS), Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC), and Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS). Receiving initial priority will be the JSS according to Stephen Maher at the Chronicle Herald:

And the replacement for Canada’s aging supply ships, HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver, was delayed in 2008 when the shipyards told the government they couldn’t afford to build the ambitious ships for the amount of money on the table.
(Public Works Minister Rona) Ambrose, who is charge of the procurement process, said the next generation of supply vessels will go ahead soon.
“The joint support ships are on track. The design phase is going out for requests for proposals as we speak and the joint support ships will be part of the shipbuilding strategy.”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay had more to say on the largest naval ships ever built in Canada:

MacKay pointed out that the joint supply ships are not starting at Square 1.
“Having hit restart because of noncompliant bids in the past, much of that legwork has been done,” he said.

This suggests that earlier designs for the $2.9 billion support ships will go forward as is, though there has been numerous and more cost-effective plans suggested. So if these vessels are now restarted as is, here is what we know about each class individually:

  • Joint Support Ship-A 200 meter, 28,000 ton multipurpose vessel to support Canadian forces ashore or fleet deployments up to 6 times longer than normal. A sustained speed of 20 knots. Able to carry “7,000t – 10,000t of ship fuel,650 – 1,300t of JP-5 naval aviation fuel, and 1,100 square meters of ammunition.” To deploy up to 4 helicopters, and act as a command ship.
  • Canadian Surface Combatant-This is expected to replace the Iroquois class destroyers and eventually the Halifax frigates. About 6000 tons light with some type of Phased Array Radar, firing Sea Sparrow or even SM-3 missiles. Possibly SeaRAM or CIWS for self-defense.
  • Arctic/Offshore Patrol ShipAble to operate in Canada’s Exclusive Economic Zones, in medium ice, for up to four months endurance. Range of at least 6800 miles, a complete C3 capability, sustained cruise speed of 14 knots and a maximum of 17 knots. Also a gun armament and a lifespan of 25 years.


My Take:

A logical response to long delayed naval procurement problems. It echoes many of the same woes suffered by Anglo navies such as aging Cold War era forces structures, and ships worn from excessive GWOT deployments. Logically then, expect the same problems suffered by US, UK, and other navies seeking to modernize their fleets in a time of vast technological and cultural change. Expect delays, funding shortfalls, cost overruns, and unexpected technical difficulties leading to ships being deployed not fully operational. Also look for blame to be poured on the government, the shipbuilding industry, and the military in succession.

The real culprit however, is the vast change ongoing in modern warfare, thanks mainly to the microchip revolution that went into high gear following the demise of the Soviet Union. Land forces in constant combat with an elusive and effective foe have gone far in restructuring their procurement programs accordingly. Naval forces are as of yet only getting a glimmer of the challenges facing them, so they can only respond by familiar shipbuilding practices, such as traditional large warships, which then are forced in their shrinking numbers (because of the impending problems I mentioned) to face very low tech but potent naval forces, such as pirates, smugglers, and even rogue North Korean midget subs, which have a power projection capability far in excess of their cost, and often inspired by nationalist or religious zealotry.

The point is, the new smart weapons do not need smart platforms, and here is where the Navy falters. Next week I hope to address further this revolution in war at sea, which has so far been ignored or mishandled but increasingly will induce a response from the world’s most powerful navies.


HMCS Preserver (AOR 510)

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