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June 16, 2020 | Local, Naval

Ottawa awards $2.4B contract to finish building navy's supply ships

Ottawa awards $2.4B contract to finish building navy's supply ships

The decision signals the project won't be delayed by pandemic-driven deficit spending

Murray Brewster · CBC News · Posted: Jun 15, 2020 2:45 PM

The Liberal government has awarded a $2.4 billion contract to finish the overall construction of the navy's long-awaited supply ships.

Today's announcement moves forward a Joint Support Ship program over a decade-and-a-half in the making. It also appears to signal the federal government remains committed to its multi-billion shipbuilding program despite record levels of pandemic-driven federal deficit spending.

The contract, with Seaspan's Vancouver Shipyards, is for the construction of two replenishment vessels, Public Services and Procurement Canada said in a statement.

Now that the construction deal has been signed, the overall price tag of the program — including design — is expected to be $4.1 billion, up from an earlier estimate of $3.4 billion.

Seven years ago, the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) predicted the cost would end up where it has — an estimate that was roundly criticized and dismissed by the Conservatives, who were in power at the time.

"The government announcement today did not have a whole ton of detail, so it's hard to do an exact comparison, but I certainly think that PBO estimate from a long time ago has held up pretty well over time," said Dave Perry, an expert in defence procurement and vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

The first supply ship is to be delivered in 2023, and the second vessel is supposed to arrive two years later.

The yard started construction on certain portions of the first ship in 2018, while final design work was still underway — something that alarmed and even baffled some defence and shipbuilding experts.

'Business as usual'

With the federal deficit expected to swell to over $252.1 billion because of COVID-19 relief measures, many in the defence community had been speculating that existing spending plans for the supply ships would be curtailed or scaled back.

In a statement, federal Public Services Minister Anita Anand suggested the Liberal government is committed to staying the course.

"This contract award is yet another example of our ongoing commitment to the National Shipbuilding Strategy, which is supporting a strong and sustainable marine sector in Canada," she said.

Perry said he takes it as a sign the Liberals intend to proceed with their defence construction plans in the face of fiscal and economic uncertainty.

"It is an indicator that, despite being business under some very unusual circumstances, it is still government business-as-usual under COVID," he said.

In the same government statement, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan pointed out that an enormous amount of preparation work has been done already and he's pleased the project is moving forward.

"An impressive amount of work has already gone into the construction of these new ships, and I look forward to their arrival in the coming years." said Sajjan.

Construction during COVID-19

A senior executive at Seaspan said work to adapt the design from the original German plan (the Canadian ship is based on the German Navy's Berlin-Class replenishment vessel) was completed last year and work on the superstructure of the first Joint Support Ship — started in 2018 — has been proceeding apace, even through the pandemic.

"It is well advanced," said Amy MacLeod, the company's vice-president of corporate affairs. "We are ready to continue. We're very, very happy with the quality of the ship, the progress of the ship, the momentum that we have and the expertise we have gained."

The shipyard did not pause construction due to the pandemic — but it did have to figure out ways to carry on under strict physical distancing rules.

"We, like everybody else, had to understand how to run a business in a pandemic," said MacLeod. "We made a lot of changes on how we build our ships."

Turnstiles to enter and exit the yard were eliminated and the company went high-tech with a "heat map" that shows where everyone is working and how much space there is between individual workers.

"And where we couldn't ensure appropriate social distancing because of COVID, we stopped that work."

Perry said the gap between the construction of the two supply ships worries him to a degree. Seaspan intends to construct an ocean science vessel for the coast guard under a plan agreed to with the Liberal government in 2019.

Any delay or hiccup in the construction of that ship could mean the delivery of the second naval vessel is pushed back even further, Perry said.

Extending the navy's range

News of the contract will come as a relief to the navy.

Having replenishment ships to refuel and rearm frigates would allow the navy to deploy entire task groups to far-flung parts of the world.

"With these warships, the Royal Canadian Navy will be able to operate with even greater flexibility and endurance," said Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, commander of the navy.

"These ships will not only form part of the core of our naval task groups, they also represent a vital and strategic national asset that will enable the Navy to maintain its global reach and staying power."

A tortured history

It was 1994 when the replacement program was first discussed. The deficit-slashing years of that decade meant the plan was shelved.

Resurrected in 2004, the Liberal government of former prime minister Paul Martin hoped to have the ships in the water by 2008 to replace the three-decade-old supply ships the navy had been operating.

Faced with cost estimates well over what they had expected, the Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper shelved the Liberal plan on the eve of the 2008 federal election.

More than five years later, the navy was forced to retire both aging supply ships after one of them was crippled by a devastating fire.

The absence of replenishment capability led the Harper government to lease a converted civilian supply ship from a private company, Federal Fleet Services, which operates out of the Davie Shipyard in Levis, Que.

That plan led to a political and legal scandal when the former commander of the navy, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, was accused of leaking cabinet secrets related to the plan. The Crown withdrew the charge a year ago after a protracted pre-trial court battle.

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    Canadian Navy : The Canadian Surface Combatant – More than Just a Ship

    More than Just a Ship With the release of Canada's defence policy Strong, Secure, Engaged in 2017, the Government of Canada signaled its commitment to renewing the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) fleet. As part of an effort to deliver a Blue Water Navy built around the ability to sustain two naval task groups of up to four combatants and a joint support ship, supplemented when warranted by a submarine and maritime air assets, the government committed to the acquisition of 15 Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC). The effort to procure these vessels represents the centrepiece of the National Shipbuilding Strategy - the largest procurement in Canadian history - and certainly one of its most complex, spanning over three decades Lockheed Martin Canada, the successful bidder in a lengthy but fair, open and transparent bid process, proposed a CSC concept design based on the United Kingdom's (UK) Type-26 Global Combat Ship, currently under construction. With this selection, Canada joins the UK and Australia who are leveraging the Type-26 Global Combat Ship design into their future fleets. The CSC is Canada's next generation warship, which will eventually replace both the recently retired Iroquois-class and today's modernized Halifax-class. Capabilities from both classes will be modernized and future-proofed to ensure not only that systems stay relevant for years to come, but more importantly that tomorrow's sailors have the equipment they need when sent into harm's way. It forms part of a broad vision of defence capabilities that will serve Canada's defence interests well into the latter half of the century. A Warship at its Core At its core, the CSC is being designed to be combat capable through the marriage of high-tech equipment and highly trained RCN sailors - able to conduct air, surface, sub-surface and information warfare missions simultaneously. The crews will be trained and organized to be capable of conducting warfare operations 24/7 and to both fight the ship and respond to any damage sustained simultaneously. Survivability, a key principle that shaped CSC requirements from the outset, refers to the ability to protect the crew onboard, maintain combat effectiveness under fire, and bring our sailors home safely on completion of the mission. This principle is reflected in ship requirements that include the military design standards for critical shipboard systems, levels of protection from blast and fragmentation, reduced signatures, a battle damage control system and, of course, the full suite of sensors and weapons the ship carries to defeat threats. The Operational Capability of CSC, or its ability to deliver credible and relevant effect, was also top of mind to ensure that the ship could deliver on the mission set outlined in Canada's defence policy Strong, Secure, Engaged. The design and capability fit aims to deliver a highly versatile ship that is multi-role in nature, and that affords the greatest range of capability. This outcome translates directly into agility and responsiveness for the RCN, including re-rolling a deployed ship from one mission to another, without returning to port. The ship will be able to a perform a broad range of missions with North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), 5-Eyes nations, NATO, coalition partners, and here in Canada with other government departments and agencies. CSC will have decisive combat power for operations at sea, and in support of joint-force operations ashore. The versatility of the design will also ensure the RCN is well enabled to support missions for counter-piracy, counter-terrorism, intelligence and surveillance, interdiction and embargo operations, as well as provide support for humanitarian assistance, Search and Rescue, and law/sovereignty enforcement. The ship's capability suite includes: Four integrated management systems, once each for the combat system, platform systems, bridge and navigation systems and its cyber-defence system A digital beam forming Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and solid state illuminator capability The USN Cooperative Engagement Capability sensor netting system A vertically launched missile system supporting long, short and close-in missile defence, long-range precision naval fires support and anti-ship engagements A 127mm main gun system and dual 30mm gun mounts A complete Electronic Warfare and countermeasures suite A fully integrated underwater warfare system with bow mounted sonar, towed low frequency active and passive sonar, lightweight torpedoes and decoys Fully integrated communications, networking and data link capabilities CH-148 Cyclone multi-role helicopter, multi-role boats and facilities for embarking remotely piloted systems. A Node in a System of Systems More broadly speaking, the CSC will also serve as a node in a broader system of systems, all of which are geared to ensuring that Canada is strong at home, secure in North America and engaged in the world. This system includes space-based assets, intelligence networks, advanced Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) collection platforms, and shore-based command and control facilities. As part of this approach, the RCN will also take interoperability to the next level, enabling systems integration both with other Canadian Armed Forces capabilities and our closest allies. Designed with a communications and information systems architecture that will enable it to share significant amounts of data, it will contribute to a modernized North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), and better enable the RCN to leverage and support its closest allies on operations abroad. With its sensor-netting capability, which is also employed in the United States and Royal Australian navies, the CSC will have a significantly greater ability to defend itself against highly sophisticated threats. Finally, the ship will be digitally integrated with the RCN/CAF/DND enterprise ashore, in keeping with the RCN's Digital Navy strategy. It is being carefully designed from the outset with digital requirements in mind, with a view to leveraging new technologies in maintenance and materiel management, supply chain management, logistics, training, operational support, as well as operations. A Workplace and Home for Tomorrow's Sailors Ships are only as good as the sailors who sail them and going to sea has always involved some level of hardship, whether from the effects of the sea, the lack of privacy or simply the separation from family and loved ones. In keeping with an intent to ensure the Navy affords a safe, welcoming and inclusive workplace to all its members, the RCN is looking at the hardships of going to sea and aiming to lighten them in the CSC. Over the past several months a small team, comprised mostly of junior-level sailors, looked at the CSC design through a habitability lens and provided advice on those areas that sailors felt were most important to them. The team surveyed close to 3,000 members of the RCN and looked at everything from privacy, personal storage, sleeping quarters, mixed messing, mess occupancy, heads and wash-places, laundry facilities, digital connectivity, fitness facilities, recreation lounges and dining. The three most significant priorities highlighted were in the areas of privacy, the ability to digitally connect with families ashore and improved fitness facilities. The RCN is now working to see how this feedback might be incorporated into the design of CSC, to produce a ship that can better accommodate tomorrow's sailors and ensure that we remain committed to People First, Mission Always. A Significant Opportunity for Canadian Industry What lies ahead for a world-class industry team, led by Irving Shipbuilding Incorporated, Lockheed Martin Canada and BAE Systems, truly represents an immense opportunity. It all begins with ensuring the best equipment and right level of integration to enable and protect sailors in the future, so they can deliver on their mission. Next is the opportunity that comes within each line of effort related to the overall program: naval design, systems integration, shipbuilding, training development, and shore-based infrastructure. In each area, industry partners have a chance to adapt world-leading best practices, introduce new innovative approaches in their respective areas and leverage the best in modern technologies to make value-chain improvements. For example, the RCN is already involved with the CSC industry team in using a model-based systems engineering approach that will establish the foundation for the eventual creation of a digital twin of the ship, as well as a baseline digital thread that will facilitate the Navy's ability to capitalize on a variety of digital technologies in the future. The last area of opportunity lies in capitalizing on the benefits that come with three nations all building a surface combatant using the same baseline design. Examples include pursuing supply chain economies of scale, cooperating on design and engineering packages, sharing lessons learned in design and build practices, and collaborating on the development of training products. These areas of opportunity were spurred by Canada's National Shipbuilding Strategy, which aims to not only deliver Canada's Navy and Coast Guard the ships they need, but also to create a sustainable marine sector in Canada, and contribute economic benefits and highly skilled jobs to Canada's economy. Conclusion The CSC is more than just a ship - it represents a national endeavour to safeguard Canada's defence needs. It is being designed from the keel up to be multi-purpose in its capabilities, affording Canada the ability to deploy it across a broad spectrum of mission sets, and agility to adapt to a new mission, in hours not days or weeks. It is a significant component in a much broader system of systems, where interoperability is being elevated to integration, and digital technologies and data are leveraged as capabilities. It offers a floating environment that balances hard steel and high tech against the habitability needs and desires of today's young sailors - a home away from home. And finally, it offers a tremendous opportunity for Canadian industry to take on a complex challenge and deliver in a world-class and innovative way. The Canadian Surface Combatant - the right ship for the RCN and Canada.

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