The Canadian government is looking at changing course on the largest shipbuilding program in Canadian history and will now examine combining bids for new warships into one package in the hopes that will allow vessels to be constructed more quickly.
The $26-billion Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) project will see a new fleet built to replace the navy’s destroyers and frigates. The plan established by the Conservative government was to have companies submit bids for the design of the ships, and to consider separate bids for the integration of the various systems on board those vessels.
But the federal government will now look at combining those two processes, with a designer and integrator submitting a combined bid.
The government will decide in a few months on how it wants to proceed.
“One competitive process versus two is much faster,” Lisa Campbell, assistant deputy minister for acquisitions at Public Services and Procurement Canada, said in an interview Tuesday. “It takes out a whole bunch of the design technical risk of trying to fit together a combat systems integrator with a warship design that possibly was more customized.”
The warship designs will be off-the-shelf vessels, she added. “We’re talking about existing designs,” Campbell explained. “That eliminates a lot of technical risk and will get us to building ships sooner.”
The first of the Canadian Surface Combatants were supposed to be delivered around 2026. But Campbell said this new process would allow for the first ship to be delivered in the early 2020s.
She said Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding will still be prime contractor for the surface combatants, but the government will ensure there is maximum use of other Canadian firms on the program. As many as 80 domestic companies could potentially provide equipment, and the bids from the warship designer and integrator will be evaluated in part on how well those firms are represented.
“We decide the evaluation process,” said Campbell. “They (Irving) execute it.”
Government officials are now talking to industry representatives about the changes.
Two variants of the new ships are expected to be built. One type will provide air defence and command and control, while the other will be a general purpose type to do the jobs now handled by Canada’s Halifax-class frigates.
The CSC project has been dogged with controversy and concerns about delay and increasing costs.
Last year Vice-Admiral Mark Norman, the head of the Royal Canadian Navy, acknowledged that the project’s cost would be well above its $26-billion budget.
The Liberal government has committed to moving ahead with the surface combatant program, putting emphasis on the number of jobs it could create.
During the election campaign Liberal leader Justin Trudeau pledged to pull Canada out of the U.S.-led F-35 stealth fighter program and select a less costly jet to replace the military’s CF-18s. Those savings would be pumped into the shipbuilding program, which the Liberals contend is not properly financed.
Defence analysts, however, have suggested the Liberals will be hard-pressed to find many savings from the jet replacement program.
Campbell said the shipbuilding strategy is now proceeding well. “The shipyards had to get to a certain industrial capacity before we would let them start building ships,” she said. “They are exactly at the point in time we thought they would be right now.”
On Monday, Public Services Minister Judy Foote announced that Steve Brunton has been selected as “expert advisor” to assist the government on the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy.
Brunton is a retired Rear Admiral from the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy with experience in overseeing shipbuilding programs and naval acquisitions.
Campbell said Brunton has already started his job and is one of several independent advisors brought on board. “He’ll advise on specific projects as needed,” she added.
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