Mark Collins – The Great Canadian Shipbuilding Never Never Land: Wild-Ass Guesses=FUBAR

First, earlier posts on wild-ass guesses here and here.  Now more on what happens when one insists on building in Canada for jobs! jobs! jobs! (and promoting supposedly valuable–at what exorbitant, effectively subsidized, cost?–industrial/high-tech businesses) when you start without an existing capable industry and when the Navy, the civilian bureaucracy and that industry itself simply do not have all sorts of requisite expertise.

The idiocy of build-in-Canada (supported by all political parties) will continue but Lord knows what number of Canadian Surface Combatants with what capabilities will eventually be delivered to the  RCN.  Not that our governments have seriously considered the essential purposes of those numbers or capabilities: see “What Is the RCN For?“.  The albatrosses are coming home to roost:

Shipbuilding strategy needs work to get ballooning costs under control, ministers told
‘Government will be asked to make some significant decisions soon,’ document obtained by CBC News says

Warship cost could rise to $30B, Vice-Admiral Mark Norman confirms
Canadians have not been given accurate information about growing price, head of navy says

CBC News reported on Tuesday [Dec. 1] that the costs of 15 warships has more than doubled from $14 billion initially set aside for construction to more than $30 billion, according to an independent analysis of the program.

Those figures bring the total cost to upgrade Canada’s navy to $42 billion — $16 billion more than the $26.2-billion approved by the government for the Canadian Surface Combatant program…

“I will say that [any number] that’s in a single digit is inadequate to Canada’s needs,” Norman said [the previous Conservative national defence minister had put the number as low as eleven–things must be looking pretty dire to even mention single digits]…

Liberal government to hire shipbuilding expert after costs soar
[that will sure get things done shipshape and Bristol fashion right quick]

Good reporting by the CBC.  How long will such senior officer frankness continue when the SNAFUs occur under the present government?  And can the RCN and the government remain determined on acquiring essentially one class (with varying capabilities) of high-end, exceedingly expensive, warships instead of say two distinct classes of ships, one considerably less costly to do much of the work actually now done by our frigates? (This is the new link for the 2010 $26 billion figure, scroll down to “Canadian Surface Combatant”.)

The CBC has also uncovered a mighty Canadian Coast Guard balls-up:

Design of Coast Guard’s fisheries ships led to fears of capsizing
Discovery of possible flaw results in longer, heavier vessels to make them seaworthy

The government’s plans for the Coast Guard’s new fisheries and science vessels produced a ship some engineers considered so unstable it was unseaworthy and if sailed on the open ocean would capsize in heavy seas, CBC News has learned.

The issue was discovered in 2012 once the blueprints of the government-ordered design were sent to Vancouver Shipyards, where three of the ships are being built under the government’s shipbuilding strategy.

Engineers there uncovered what they believed to be a fault, which led to a re-design of the vessel and the addition of 8.4 metres to the ship’s 55-metre length…


Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards is building three vessels, seen here in a rendering from the company’s website, as part of Canada’s non-combatant ships program. (Seaspan)…

The program has been beset by delays and spending increases. The original plans set the budget at $244 million for three hulls and established a final delivery date of 2014.

Last week, CBC News reported government ministers had been warned the program’s costs have grown $687 million…

The first of the three ships is to be delivered in spring 2017 [SO AROUND A THREE YEAR DELIVERY SLIPPAGE AND ALMOST A TRIPLING OF COST!]…

The $687 million figure was in fact made public by the government in June (the link at “cost increase at the post below has however gone poof):

New Canadian Coast Guard Vessels: Sticker Shock and Never Never Land (media scrutiny?)

Then grok this about further CCG vessels to be built by Seaspan next decade, after the (one) new icebreaker:

Just Announced New Canadian Coast Guard Vessels Overpriced by Factor of Five

The horror!  The horror!  The lunacy!

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


17 thoughts on “Mark Collins – The Great Canadian Shipbuilding Never Never Land: Wild-Ass Guesses=FUBAR”

  1. Looks like the RCN will end up “leaner”…but “better-equipped”? Along with the other two services?

    One sharpish reaction:

    All depends on what governments decide they must/must pay for, for whatever reasons–strategically considered (hah!) or political. Two very relevant posts at,90990.msg1405431.html#msg1405431,90990.msg1405464.html#msg1405464

    Mark Collins

  2. Andrew Coyne of Postmedia News puts things admirably:

    ‘The lucrative business of buying subsidies

    All this is by way of prelude to last week’s extraordinary double whammy of industrial-policy ineptitude. First came news that the price of constructing [just the vessels, not everything included for delivery] 15 new naval warships — part of the much-heralded National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy — had more than doubled from initial estimates, to $30 billion from $14 billion [there’s still those additional $12 billion other acquisitions costs in the original $26 billion estimate–that former figure sure to go up too], with further cost overruns likely to come. This was, you’ll recall, supposed to be the “good” procurement project, after the string of fiascos — helicopters, submarines, fighter jets — that preceded it. Instead, it is shaping up to be the biggest procurement disaster yet.

    The head of the Royal Canadian Navy, Vice-Adm. Mark Norman, confessed to the CBC that nobody involved on either side of the exchange had the first clue of what it cost to build the things. “We didn’t have the mature industry and so there was a lot of guessing and speculation going on. And to be quite blunt, we got a lot of it wrong,” he said. Whether the government will cough up the extra $16 billion, or whether the navy will have to make do with half the ships, remains to be seen.

    But surely the real question is: why, rather than design and build the ships from scratch in Canada, we did not just purchase them off the shelf from countries with competent military-industrial complexes? And the answer is that governments in this country are not really in the business of buying the best ships for the least money, any more than the companies involved are in the business of supplying them. Rather, it is about, on the one hand, jobs and industrial development, and sucking cash out of the government on the other…’

    Quite. Sighted sub(sidy), could not sink same.

    Mark Collins

  3. If you believe this…

    ‘Shipbuilding Technology Forum: Shipbuilding strategy is an ‘enabler’ – Pat Finn

    The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy has come under fire in recent weeks, however, Patrick Finn, assistant deputy minister, materiel, at the Department of National Defence, expressed confidence in the plan saying it will foster the growth of the Canadian shipbuilding industry.
    Patrick Finn, Assistant Deputy Minister (Materiel)

    Speaking at the Shipbuilding Technology Forum 2015 in Ottawa yesterday [Dec. 8], Finn also took exception to the notion that having the Navy and Coast Guard built in Canada is a primary reason why the vessels end up being very expensive. The event was presented by the Shipbuilding Association of Canada and Vanguard Magazine and held at the Borden Ladner Gervais office in downtown Ottawa.

    “Canada is said to be not competitive and cannot be competitive and that vessels should be built offshore. This is a view that I do not share,” the ADM said. “…I also believe that the shipbuilding strategy is an enabler that will not only help us rebuild naval capability but also strengthen the local shipbuilding industry and even open up export opportunities for Canadian companies.”..’

    Export? Dreaming in sea-green technicolor.

    Mark Collins

  4. Canadian American Strategic Review is thinking very much along my lines, note OPVs in piece:

    My icebreaker post:

    “Why not more Canadian Coast Guard Icebreakers Instead of RCN JSS?”

    Mark Collins

  5. At–note large surface warship numbers no longer Cold War North Atlantic NATO mission-driven:

    ‘…As to what minimum number of frigates/destroyers we need, it again gets back to what do we want the Navy to be able to do. And to answer that question we need to have the government get on with its “open and transparent” process of coming up with a new White Paper on defence that conforms to todays’ defence challenges…’,90990.msg1406154.html#msg1406154

    Mark Collins

  6. So why does it make any sense to try to build in Canada?

    ‘Government may tap a non-Canadian for shipbuilding program

    “We’re in the process of searching out and finding that individual. We will go wherever we have to go but obviously we’ll go where people are used to building warships so we get that expertise in the department.”

    The problem, said [Minister of Public Safety and Procurement Judy] Foote, is that Canada has had a boom and bust cycle of shipbuilding in recent years, which means that the government doesn’t have the expertise necessary to properly oversee the program launched by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

    “We’re…going to hire within the department someone with expertise and experience in building warships,” Foote explained.

    “That doesn’t exist here. Don’t forget — the shipbuilding industry…there really hasn’t been an industry in the last 20 years. There have been ships being built but no big builds from the government of Canada. So, not only would the department not have that experience or expertise but even the shipyards had to get up to scratch.”..’

    Mark Collins

  7. Have faith in Irving, Halifax as shipbuilder? The case of some CCG vessels (not part of the NSPS and note Irving was building from a well-proven Dutch design):

    ‘Union alleges coast guard vessels are unsafe

    Canada’s $200-million fleet of new coast guard mid-shore patrol vessels were accepted and put to use despite a series of serious safety concerns first identified before their construction, some of which are still outstanding.

    According to two current and one former Union of Canadian Transportation Employees officials, concerns that the fleet of nine Hero-class, 43-metre patrol vessels were not sufficiently up to safety standards were initially raised by the project team before they were built, but the problems were not mitigated during their design and construction.

    The union’s Atlantic region occupational health and safety branch subsequently brought the issues to Canadian Coast Guard management nearly two years ago.

    Wayne Fagan, regional vice-president of the union’s Atlantic branch, said he doesn’t understand why the coast guard accepted ships that, according to the on-site project team, were not safe to use, only to have to spend more to correct the issues after the fact.

    “(These ships) are built to standards that are less than the standards they have in Third World countries right now,” Fagan said.

    The vessels were constructed as part of a contract awarded to Irving Shipbuilding in 2009, with the function of supporting Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s compliance and enforcement program on Canada’s coastline. They were delivered from 2012 to 2014. Two vessels — the CCGS G. Peddle and the CCGS Corporal McLaren M.M.V. — are based in Halifax.

    Documents obtained by The Chronicle Herald show an assurance of voluntary compliance was signed by coast guard management in February agreeing to investigate and mitigate 11 items by the end of March. Five issues have yet to be fixed, and although some of the complaints have been closed, there is still concern among union officials that some of those safety issues have not been sufficiently addressed…

    John Dalziel is the former Halifax union president and was one of the members of the project team that first identified the safety concerns. He is a naval architect by trade, and has nearly 50 years in the industry.

    The Hero-class ships are the Canadianized version of the Dutch-designed Damen Stan 4200 patrol vessel, a ship used in countries around the world. Dalziel said according to documents he has seen, vessels of this type operated by other countries have structural fire protection that is much higher than Canada’s fleet, giving the crews ample time to vacate…’

    Mark Collins

  8. The problem with giving the shipyard the whip-hand on the CSCs:

    But will the new gov’t rethink whether 15 high-end surface warships are required for the RCN?

    Canadian media–do pay attention to three issues: 1) Why 15? 2) Why build in Canada? 3) What national strategic objectives are the ships supposed to serve?

    If only the Liberals, along with the Conservatives or NDP, could even think that way.

    Mark Collins

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