BY DAVID PUGLIESE
Canada’s top sailor says the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project will deliver a ship the Navy wants with the capabilities it has carefully selected for the future.
Vice Admiral Ron Lloyd, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, told Esprit de Corps that 3,600 person-hours of analysis resulted in 2,000 pages outlining the need for specific CSC requirements.
“I’m very, very comfortable and confident that we have a defensible requirement,” he explained. “And now we look forward to the recently announced procurement process and the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) of Canada to go and select a design reference point by which will come the basis for the Canadian Surface Combatant.”
It is expected that the request for proposals for the CSC will be released by early October to the companies pre-qualified to bid on the warship project.
The first of the Canadian Surface Combatants, which will form the backbone of the future Royal Canadian Navy fleet, is expected around 2024. Construction is to begin sometime after 2020.
The Canadian government has decided that Irving Shipbuilding of Halifax, Nova Scotia, will construct the warships and act as the prime contractor for the project to replace the RCN’s Iroquois-class (also known as 280 class) destroyers and Halifax-class frigates.
Lloyd said the requirements put forward by the RCN for the surface combatants have been accepted by the federal government. “The ship that we’ve articulated has an emphasis on survivability,” he explained. “The ship will be able to basically deliver on the mission sets that the Government of Canada has repeatedly asked the Royal Canadian Navy to do, and as we look forward in the future, anticipate the Royal Canadian Navy will be able to do so. From that perspective, we’re quite confident.”
Lloyd listed some of those requirements:
Crew accommodations from 165 to 200
Anti-surface warfare capability, much like the RCN has in the frigates
Long-range air defence capability, much like what is in the Iroquois-class
Anti-submarine warfare capabilities
Capacity to carry Cyclone helicopters
Passive and active decoy systems
“I say to people, if you take a look at the capabilities that we’ve got in a 280, and the capabilities that we’ve got in a frigate, we’re basically looking for what would be the evolution of those capabilities to survive in a 21st century battle space,” Lloyd explained.
Two variants of the ships will be built. One type will be to provide air defence and command and control while the other will be a general purpose variant to do the jobs now handled by the Halifax-class frigates. The ships will be based on a common hull design.
But will an off-the-shelf design from the 2017–2018 time period be able to take the RCN into the future?
Some of the capabilities would likely be able to; some of them wouldn’t, Lloyd said.
“That’s why we call it design reference point,” he added. “Once we’ve selected a design, we’ll then have to understand what are the changes that would be required to mitigate that delta. And the good news is industry will provide solutions that are able to close that gap.”
Shortly before he took over as Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, Vice Admiral Mark Norman, then head of the RCN, also outlined another aspect to Esprit de Corps that the service is interested in when it comes to the CSC: the ability to do more on humanitarian missions.
Norman said having such a capability embedded in warship designs is becoming an emerging trend in other navies. “It’s something we’ve been insistent upon because, to be honest, we’ve lacked that capability,” Norman said. “It’s been ad hoc. We could use what we had for that purpose, but it was never designed for that purpose.”
For the CSC, the humanitarian mission capability will be integrated in the design. “They’ll be futuristic warships that will potentially carry containerized supplies or equipment,” Norman explained. “They’ll have a larger flight deck for more flexibility. By designing it in at the start we have that degree of flexibility.”
One question not yet answered is how many ships will be built. The CSC project was to acquire 15 ships originally, but concerns about the budget have thrown that number into question.
In 2013 Auditor General Michael Ferguson released a report that said the $26-billion the government had set aside for the project was “insufficient.”
Last summer, then Conservative Defence Minister Jason Kenney suggested that the $26-billion could see as few as 11 surface combatants built.
Department of National Defence analysts have estimated that the ships could eventually cost $40-billion.
And Procurement Minister Judy Foote has called the original $26-billion figure “a really unrealistic number that we have to deal with — and we will.”
The Canadian Surface Combatant project will see the selection of an existing, off-the-shelf warship design and combat system. Foote pointed out that the strategy will cut down on the risk and speed up construction. The decision to base the warships on an existing vessel will allow the delivery of the ships two years than earlier expected, she added.
“You’re essentially saving 10 per cent of the cost if you can knock two years off the time period,” Kevin McCoy, president of Irving Shipbuilding, recently explained to journalists. “A modern warship costs over $2-billion to design from scratch. Canada will not have to pay that money.”
Lloyd noted he was “very happy that we’re leaning into a process which will expedite the delivery of the Canadian Surface Combatant.”
Even with a process designed to reduce costs and speed up delivery, the Liberal government has not yet committed to a particular number of ships.
Lloyd said the question of numbers of vessels is an open one. “In terms of the actual numbers we need to focus on the requirement,” he explained. “And once we go on line on the design reference point and find out what ship we’re actually talking about, we’ll then have a better understanding of what the numbers will be.
“So let’s focus on the requirement and the request for proposal, and let’s get that going,” Lloyd pointed out. “Because any discussion on numbers right now is purely speculative. And so let’s focus on trying to get this project delivering, cutting steel, and then we can talk about numbers.”
Lloyd said that the National Shipbuilding Strategy is designed to have a continual build process so as to avoid the boom and bust cycle that has dogged previous naval construction projects. “At some juncture here we’ll start building ships and then the government will determine what will be the right number,” he added.
Pat Finn, the assistant deputy minister of materiel at the Department of National Defence, has noted that the request for proposals for the CSC will be issued sometime in October. Once the request for proposals (RFP) goes out, government officials say industry will have about six months to prepare their proposals and respond. The contract will be awarded sometime in 2017.
The slight delay in issuing the RFP — originally expected at the end of August — is because of ongoing consultations with bidders.
“There are areas where I would say some of the bidders are not completely happy with the approach,” Finn explained at the DEFSEC Atlantic industry trade show in Halifax in early September. “There are areas where we get diametrically opposed comments and we have to deal with it. But, fundamentally, it’s getting the Navy the ships that it needs,” he said.
The Canadian government has already pre-qualified the following firms to compete in the Canadian Surface Combatant process:
Atlas Elektronik GmbH
BAE Systems Surface Ships Limited
Fincantieri S.p.A. Naval Vessels Business Unit
Lockheed Martin Canada
Odense Maritime Technology
Saab Australia Pty Ltd.
Selex ES S.p.A
Thales Nederland B.V.
ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems GmbH
But other companies are also being invited to consider whether their ship designs and combat systems might meet Canada’s needs. Public Services and Procurement Canada expects to announce by early October the additional firms that have pre-qualified.
In June 2016 the government provided an update to industry. It noted that the procurement process would conduct one single competition to select an existing warship design with the original design team and systems/equipment. “The existing design will require some controlled customization to meet the Royal Canadian Navy’s requirements and to provide for incorporation of Canadian content,” the briefing pointed out. “The evaluation and selection will include Value Proposition to motivate bidders to offer Canadian content.”
Canada also needs software support for the combat management system. “To obtain these services, we intend to contract directly with the entity providing the combat management system,” the government noted