Mark Collins – RCN, Canadian Coast Guard: Big Changes for Government’s Shipbuilding “Strategy”?

Further to this post and the comment,

Davie Québec Wants to Build Icebreaker for, Unload Other Vessels on, Canadian Coast Guard, Part 2 

some leaking is going on about what would be a major shake-up of a terribly expensive massive program (the name has been changed by the new government, dropping “Procurement” from the 2010  original title). When the two winning shipyards were announced in 2011 almost everyone applauded the process–not I–but it still has not produced a single vessel in the water. I haven’t seen any reaction yet to this recent article:

Liberal government mulling long-overdue moves on military procurement file

Big moves are afoot on the federal military procurement file – and not a moment too soon.

…at the Irving yard on the East Coast and Seaspan’s shipyard in Vancouver, work continues on a series of Arctic patrol boats and small Coast Guard vessels, respectively. Construction of a new fleet of naval frigates [Irving], two mammoth naval supply ships and a large three-season icebreaker for the Coast Guard [both Seaspan] is still some years off, given current building schedules.

In a recent interview, Jonathan Whitworth, Seaspan’s chief executive, said the first of four smaller vessels for the Coast Guard is on target to be completed next year, with two more coming in 2018 [hardly on target, see “Canadian Coast Guard Vessel Acquisitions Sliding Right“].

He said he was unable to provide a schedule for completion of any further planned work by Seaspan, including the two supply ships [earlier this year: “JOINT SUPPORT SHIP [IOC has slipped from 2019 to 2020″] and the three-season icebreaker [earlier this year, scroll down near end: “Delivery of Polar Icebreaker: 2021-22”, all much larger than anything the company has built to date. Whitworth referred questions about Seaspan’s longer-term federal work to a pending federal procurement review, which he said he expects to see by year-end.

…the cabinet defence procurement committee, chaired by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr [more here], has apparently come around to the view that the status quo will not stand…

On the shipping side, the emerging thinking is that the current amorphous delivery timeline on the two supply ships and three-season icebreaker is too far off to be acceptable. Seaspan is deemed to have its hands full now with the four smaller Coast Guard vessels that are first in line to be built. A similar view was reached by senior figures in the former Conservative government, before it fell.

Should part or all of the supply-ship and large-icebreaker work go elsewhere [see below after this quote], the Western shipyard would likely be given an additional round of contracts on smaller Coast Guard cutters, which also will need to be replaced in the medium term, the senior industry source suggested.

[Those vessels are in fact already planned–from June 2015, scroll down: “We (Seaspan) will be building three OFSVs, followed by a single Offshore Oceanographic Science Vessel, followed by 2 (RCN) Joint Support Ships, followed by a single (CCG) Polar Icebreaker. It is only after the Polar project that we get into a true production line with up to five Medium Endurance Multi-Tasked vessels and up to five Offshore Patrol Vessels (latter two types for the CCG, more here from 2013)”. That icebreaker as noted above won’t be ready until at least 2021-22 so the follow-on vessels might arrive sometime in the mid-2020s, a long time away.]

As for “elsewhere”, this appears near the start of article: “…some of the furthest-off planned naval and Coast Guard shipbuilding…[might be assigned] perhaps to a contractor or contractors overseas…” That would be politically revolutionary and difficult to credit a government’s having the guts to do–but maybe for one big icebreaker, from Finland?. This is most thought-provoking:

Aker Arctic Technology (AARC [more here]), a Finnish engineering company specialising in ice technology, has taken a global role in the development of advanced arctic ships and offshore solutions…

AARC’s current and recent projects include designing an icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard…

But surely not abroad for the RCN’s mega-project, the far-off Canadian Surface Combatant? “First Delivery Late 2020s“.

And perhaps the Seaspan JSSs could be replaced by Davie conversions of (less capable) civilian ships, one of which has already been approved? More here. That would make Quebec happy, especially if Davie got some icebreaker work too; and British Columbia might be pacified if the distant smaller CCG vessels mentioned above were sped up–a Good Thing for the Coast Guard, along with maybe more new icebreakers sooner.

All sorts of balls possibly floating around. Though it looks like this idea of mine for Seaspan work is likely sunk given the shipyard’s slowness:

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

The whole shipbuilding project remains an example of economic and defence lunacy. Equally for the civilian CCG. The federal government’s core responsibilities involve more than Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! in order to try for re-election. Perhaps the Liberals will show a scintilla of sense. Likely not much more however.

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


7 thoughts on “Mark Collins – RCN, Canadian Coast Guard: Big Changes for Government’s Shipbuilding “Strategy”?”

  1. A friend familiar with Canadian defence matters replies:

    “The pondered shuffle actually makes some kind of sense, provided that Seaspan is provided equivalent CCG work to the icebreaker and supply ships.

    As for the jobs argument, any Canadian government of either major party will always nod to political reality which is that Canadians want to see some of their defence budget spent at home. So there is no use complaining about it. The key is to do it rationally as best as possible.”

    Indeed. Though the costs are still far too high.

    Mark Collins’

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