Thursday, March 8, 2018

DND Needs $54M in Additional Funds to Evaluate CSC Fleet Proposals

By: David Pugliese, The National Post

The Department of National Defence needs an extra $54 million just so it can examine the bids from companies hoping to build it a new fleet of warships — an indication of the growing expense of a program that has more than tripled in cost over the years.

HMCS Ottawa, one of the Royal Canadian Navy's Halifax-class frigates that will be replaced by the eventual arrival of the Canadian Surfance Combatant Fleet. Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images
The funds are not earmarked for anything to do with the actual construction of the ships, but instead to fund DND’s evaluation of the the bids this year — and they would be in addition to the $39 million the department has already received to review the bids, according to defence sources.

The cost of the new Canadian Surface Combatants, which will replace the existing Halifax-class frigates, has steadily been climbing. The 15 ships were originally estimated to cost $15 billion. That increased to $24 billion before DND came out with a new estimate of around $40 billion. That too has since changed, and the project is now estimated to cost between $55 billion and $60 billion — and even then, the federal government acknowledges it doesn’t know what the program’s final cost will be to taxpayers. Parliamentary budget officer Jean-Denis Fr├ęchette estimated last year the CSC program would cost $61.82 billion, and warned that every year the awarding of the contract is delayed beyond 2018, taxpayers will spend an extra $3 billion because of inflation.

Despite the Liberal government’s repeated statements about openness and transparency, it took Postmedia more than three months to get basic information from DND about its request for new funding, and even then, the details provided are limited.

“These funds will permit the project to maintain the Project Management Office and to continue work under the Definition Support Contract with Irving Shipbuilding Inc. for the remainder of this fiscal year,” the DND said in an email. “This funding will primarily support the Request for Proposal, bid evaluation and preparations for the design services contract.”

The money will cover salaries and benefits for the 135 military and civilian staff at the DND who are assigned to the project office, the department said, and will also be used to train staff and upgrade their offices.

Prospective builders of the new warships submitted their bids on Nov. 30, and a winning bid is expected to be selected sometime this year. Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding will begin construction of the first ship in the early 2020s and delivery of the first vessel is expected in the mid-2020s, according to the federal government.

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Artists rendering of a BAE Type-26 Global Combat Ship with the Royal Canadian Navy Ensign - a proposed design for the Canadian Surface Combatant Fleet. 
Defence analyst Martin Shadwick said that without more detail of how the funds will be spent it’s hard to determine whether taxpayers are getting value for money. “But it seems a very high cost to run a project office for a one-year period and to evaluate bids,” added Shadwick, a strategic studies professor at York University in Toronto.

The surface combatant project, intended to provide the backbone of the future Royal Canadian Navy, has long been controversial.

In a surprise twist in November, a French-Italian consortium declined to formally submit a bid, instead offering Canada a fleet of vessels at half the price. Fincantieri of Italy and Naval Group of France don’t believe the established procurement process for the surface combatant program, already beset with delays and increasing costs, will be successful.

They instead proposed that Irving Shipbuilding construct 15 ships based on the consortium’s proven FREMM frigate design, currently in operation in both the French and Italian navies, among others, and guaranteed a fixed price of $30 billion. Thier proposal also focused on using Canadian technology on board the ships, and would have transferred technology to Canadian firms so they could be involved in future sales of the FREMM vessels on the international market. Under the plan, Irving would have been able to start building the warships almost immediately.

The Canadian government, however, rejected the offer.

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Italian Navy Alpino FREMM Frigate. Italy ordered 10 FREMM Frigates. The FREMM is currently operated by the Italian Navy, the French Navy, the Egyptian Navy, and the Royal Moroccan Navy. 

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