By David Pugliese
The project to provide the Royal Canadian Navy with new Joint Support Ships is on schedule and proceeding as planned, according to those involved in the program that is seen as critical to the country’s maritime operations.
The first of the ships is expected in mid-2020 but will not be operational until a year later. A second vessel would be delivered in mid-2021.
The Joint Support Ships, or JSS, have been a long time coming. The Royal Canadian Navy had been trying for more than 14 years to move forward with the project to replace its aging supply ship fleet. The replacement became imperative after the last of its auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) ships, HMCS Preserver and HMCS Protecteur, were taken out of service.
Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd, the new commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, told Esprit
Corps the JSS project is moving ahead smoothly. “We’re happy it’s proceeding,” he explained. “In our perfect world we wouldn’t have an AOR gap, but it exists so everyone is working hard now across the whole of government and with industry to get on with building the Joint Support Ships. So from our perspective, the way the program is unfolding, it’s proceeding accordingly.”
Brian Carter, president of Seaspan, the shipyard that will build the vessels, said design work is ongoing and staff are being added as the project ramps up.
Seaspan was selected in 2011 by the Conservative government to build the non-combat vessels as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS). The National Shipbuilding Strategy for the Canadian Coast Guard includes Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSVs), an Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel and a polar icebreaker. This project also includes the Joint Support Ships for the Royal Canadian Navy, a project with an budget estimated of $2.6 billion.
In March, Judy Foote, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, announced that the Liberal government would be providing $35.4 million to enable Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards to deal with suppliers and select equipment to finalize the design and to build the JSS. The money allows for the purchase of long-lead items, such as propulsion systems, generators, switchboards and specialized equipment, the federal government noted.
Lloyd said he expects two ships to be built. There has been talk that a third vessel could be constructed if there is enough money in the budget, although it is unclear at this point if that will happen.
Seaspan is expanding its workforce to take on the various federal government shipbuilding programs it has underway. Carter said that JSS will be built in the company’s Vancouver yard but finishing work for the ships will also be done in the firm’s yard in Victoria, BC.
Canada has selected the German Navy’s Berlin-class design for the JSS. The German vessels are 20,200 tonnes and measure almost 174 metres long. The Canadian versions would carry two Sikorsky CH-148 Cyclone helicopters as well as be equipped with medical facilities.
Canadian government officials also noted that the existing Berlin-class design has been proven and thus reduces the risk of unexpected problems that would be associated with a new design. The German Navy has three of the ships in service, with the last delivered in 2012.
Pat Finn, who was involved in JSS as a senior naval officer and is now head of procurement at the Department of National Defence, has noted that Seaspan was involved in the design selection process. “That was one of the key advantages of the shipbuilding strategy,” he explained in a previous interview. “It allowed us to engage the shipyard earlier so they’ve participated in it all to date.”
The ships will have a core capability of the provision of fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food, water, and other supplies to warships at sea. They will be outfitted with modern medical and dental care facilities, including an operating room, according to Seaspan. In addition, there will be repair facilities and expertise to keep helicopters and other equipment functioning.
The vessels will be equipped with basic self-defence functions and will be able to conduct support to operations ashore.
Seaspan expects to cut steel on the first JSS in late 2017, and a year later for the second JSS.
In a presentation to industry last fall, Seaspan noted that its North Vancouver yard has become the centre for the JSS. Vancouver Shipyards has a dedicated secure facility for handling sensitive data and has RCN representatives on site, it added. Lessons learned from Seaspan’s construction of the federal government’s science vessels are being applied to JSS.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government is preparing to put in place a long-term in-service support (ISS) contract for the JSS. In July it solicited bids from companies for a single contract for both the JSS fleet and the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) fleet. The contract is expected to be worth around $5 billion.
The government said the competition to pick one firm to provide in-service support, including refit, repair and maintenance and training for the two fleets, will benefit Canadian industry and the public. “By combining the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships and Joint Support Ships in-service support into one contract, we ensure the effective maintenance and support of these fleets over their operational lives,” procurement Minister Judy Foote said in announcing the competition.
In its announcement, the federal government noted “that combining the contracts for the AOPS and JSS in-service support under a single contractor will benefit industry by increasing workforce stability and benefit Canadians by reducing costs through economies of scale.”
The contract will include an initial service period of eight years, with options to extend services up to 35 years. Bids for the support contract are to be submitted by October 25.
Pierre-Alain Bujold, a spokesman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, told Esprit de Corps that the competition is open to all firms. “Any supplier, including all Canadian shipyards, who believes they are qualified to perform the services have the opportunity to compete in this procurement process,” he noted.
Bujold pointed out that all work must be done in Canada, unless specifically authorized otherwise by the federal government. “The in-service support procurement is competed separately from the construction contracts,” he added.
The federal government expects the ISS contract to be awarded in the summer or fall of 2017, he added.
NAMING THE JOINT SUPPORT SHIPS
The RCN has selected the names of the two Joint Support Ships: HMCS Queenston and HMCS Châteauguay. The RCN focused on a War of 1812 theme for the JSS names (at the time the Conservative government was highlighting that conflict in a national public relations effort). The names reflect battles of that war.
If a third JSS is built, the name selected for that ship is HMCS Crysler’s Farm, according to Canadian Armed Forces documents obtained by EspritdeCorps. The battle of Crysler’s Farm was a key event during the War of 1812, in which British forces defeated an American army that greatly outnumbered them and which had plans to march on Montreal.