Is the NSPS Enough?
BY MARK OAKES
© 2010 FrontLine Defence (Vol 7, No 4)

The announcement of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) is a very positive development for both the Crown and the shipbuilding industry because it will get long needed new ship programs for the Navy and the Coast Guard underway and provide some element of stability to shipbuilding in Canada. However, there is still a long way to go before any steel is cut or new hulls slide down the ways into their element.

The NSPS may not be enough to improve the productivity and competitiveness of all Canadian shipyards. Equally important is the fact that the current NSPS does not address the need to meet the next generation of threats, nor does it create a plan to invest in the R&D required to match new emerging technologies or the next generation of threats.
 
One objective of the NSPS program is to have shipyards invest in infrastructure, process, design capability, supply chain relationships and business practices, and thus become more efficient in building new ships for the Crown. It is hoped that these improvements will also result in increased commercial orders. The two shipyards that win the NSPS competition will certainly make investments commensurate with the expected return from the Crown’s follow-through in the actual execution of the NSPS programs.
 
The shipyards that lose out on the NSPS competition, and the smaller yards that did not bid, await the procurement of the 100 or so smaller (less than 1,000 tonne) ships. These yards will be left in a netherworld regarding the timing of the procurement of these smaller ships, and any investment to improve their capabilities will be problematic.
 
How do you leverage investments made or ideas created by one yard to another for the common good of the country to increase employment, reduce costs, and create efficiencies that are expected to be applied to the successful NSPS yards, and all the other yards? Both the European Union and the United States have implemented Research and Development programs that are a collaboration of the shipbuilding industry and the government.
 
For instance, in the U.S. National Shipbuilding Research Program (NSRP) a collaboration of 12 shipyards (both large and small) address the broad range of components affecting shipyard productivity and competitiveness. Visit the NSRP website www.nsrp.org for more details.
 
Ten NSRP panels address topics from business practices to design for production to welding and painting methods to design and materials technology. NSRP projects are funded approximately 50/50 by the government and the shipyards/industry. Other industry members such as design agents and material and equipment suppliers participate actively in NSRP panels and projects. The American shipbuilding industry has accrued significant benefit from NSRP.
 
A similar program in Canada could benefit all shipyards here. The NSRP model has been discussed at various industry forums including the NSPS Industry Forum held in July 2009, and the Canadian Shipbuilding Conference held in Ottawa in November 2009.
 
In addition, the U.S. Maritime Administration (www.marad.gov) has implemented a small shipyard grant program which provides small shipyards the opportunity to apply for grants for improving shipyard infrastructure: cranes, panel lines, welding robots, paint booths, etc. In 2009 ~$10M in grants were awarded and 10 times that many were awarded in 2010. Canada would benefit from the implementation of a similar program, especially through the additional jobs these grants would spawn.
 
The ships currently defined in the NSPS should be built over the next 25 years. However, it is not too soon to starting planning for the generation of ships needed after the current crop is built.
 
The reason to start now is that technology changes rapidly, the threat changes, and the continuing pressure to reduce acquisition and life cycle costs demands that we address these needs sooner than later. Waiting until a specific new ship program is decided does not allow sufficient time or budget to identify the R&D needed, implement it and transition it into a real acquisition program.
 
A new acquisition program without a long term national R&D strategy is likely to be forced to bear the cost of the R&D in one program, which adds unneeded budget pressure. To lessen this problem, the U.S. Navy instituted a program over 25 years ago called CONFORM (Continuing Concept Formulation) which was intended to look at projected threats and identify solutions and the associated R&D needs that would result in the new technology being available when new ship programs would be required (25 years or so in the future). Examples of the manifestation of these forward looking programs include such advances as the development of electric weapons, modular weapons systems and reconfiguration spaces that do not require hot work.
 
The current incarnation of CONFORM is a permanent organization called the Center for Innovation In Ship Design (CISD), located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division. Canada would benefit from implementing a similar innovation program. This could be comprised of a relatively small group of forward thinking representatives with a wide range of skills required for naval engineering projects, weapons systems development, technologists, and visionaries casting their view of the future.
 
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Mark Oakes is Chief Technical Officer at Alion Science and Technology
© FrontLine Defence 2010

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