Friday, October 28, 2016

Canadian Surface Combatant Project Starts with Numerous Uncertainties

By: David Pugliese, The Ottawa Citizen

The Canadian Surface Combatant project has officially kicked off with the request for proposals sent out to industry. The winning ship design is expected to be selected by summer 2017, the government says.

But federal officials still have no clue how many ships will be built. Originally the program was to produce 15 or 16 vessels. That was changed. The phrase now used by government is “up to 15.”

Construction of the first Canadian Surface Combatant is to begin in the early 2020s. But no one knows how exactly many ships will be built….nor do government officials seem too concerned. “One of the things we need not do right now is decide the number of ships,” said Patrick Finn, assistant deputy minister, materiel, at the Department of National Defence.

The cost of the project is also not being released….at least for now. It was originally estimated that the surface combatant program would cost $26 billion but that was way off and the Royal Canadian Navy later figured the final tally would be more than $40 billion. But who knows if that cost estimate will further change? $45 billion? $50 billion? If the number of ships to be built could be reduced then the government could bring its costs down….but then the Royal Canadian Navy might not get enough warships for its missions.

The Canadian Press has written on some of the other issues affecting the Canadian Surface Combatant program. Here is what CP writes:

Scratch building from scratch. The Liberal government announced in June that Canada would buy a pre-existing warship design from a foreign company rather than designing one from scratch in Canada. The new approach is designed to save time and money. But it has opened up other problems, including how to ensure Canadian industry benefits from the project. Companies have also pushed back against the government’s demands that it be given unlimited access to the blueprints of whatever design wins. That sets up an important debate between national security and intellectual property rights, which still hasn’t been fully resolved.

Rules of the game. The competition to choose a warship design is actually being run by Irving Shipbuilding in Halifax, which is responsible for ultimately building the vessels. Some potential bidders have quietly alleged that Irving will stack the deck in favour of British company BAE. The fact BAE will be allowed to enter its Type 26 frigate into the competition despite the ship still only being in development has not helped matters. But Irving and the government have pushed back on suggestions they will favour BAE or any other competitor. They say an independent fairness monitor has approved the bidding process, and that the navy will be watching over Irving’s shoulder every step of the way.

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