Canada’s Combat Ship Procurement Process
A FrontLine Report
© 2018 FrontLine Defence (Vol 15, No 4)

Activity on the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) procurement project, the “Crown Jewel” of the Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, is starting to heat up as contenders submit their bids. Since FrontLine last articles detailing the CSC project, Canada’s prime contractor, Irving Shipbuilding Industries (ISI) and their U.S. subcontractors have been busy reviewing the final bids submitted by the three industry teams who emerged over the past two years as serious enough in the pursuit to invest the significant amount of capital required to generate a bid.


Stressing that the following list is in no particular order, the 3 bidders are:

Team Alion – composed of Alion Canada (a subsidiary of American Alion Science and Technology), Atlas Elektronik (now being merged under thyssenkrupp Marine Systems), and Hensoldt Sensor, (a spin-off from Airbus Group), this group is bidding the Dutch Damen Scheld Naval Shipbuilding De Zeven Provinciën Air Defence and Command (LCF) frigate, which has 10+ years in service under its belt.

Team BAE – or CSC Home Team as they like to be called, includes Lockheed Martin Canada, BAE Systems Canada, L3 Technologies Canada, MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (now a component of U.S. MAXAR Technologies), Ultra Marine Systems Canada, and CAE. Their proposed design is the BAE UK-designed Type 26 Global Combat Ship (GCS).

Team Navantia – consisting of Navantia SA of Spain, Saab Australia, and CEA Technologies, this team is bidding the F105 frigate design. Currently in service with the Spanish Navy, the design has also been chosen by Norway and Australia. Other team members include US Lockheed Martin (Moorestown, NJ), General Dynamic Mission Systems – Canada, DRS Technologies Limited Canada (now a Leonardo company), OSI Maritime Systems, and Rheinmetall Canada.


Meanwhile, in a decision that may impact Canada’s thinking, Australia has announced that it chose the T26 Global Combat Ship (GCS) as the winning design in its Sea5000 program. This announcement occurred just before Canada Day and local pundits were quick to comment on the potential impact on the CSC down-select process. Most agreed that this was good news for the CSC Home Team bidders despite its “paper ship” classification of not being a proven design. With the T26 design being developed concurrently in Canada, timelines are such that there is a possibility that in fact Canada may have a GCS completed before the UK.

We now find the CSC program in the final stage of bid evaluation, which includes the ‘Cured’ Technical component as well as the financials. There is speculation that the Crown will adopt a similar approach for the financial component as they did for the technical component, which is a financial “cure” opportunity.  

The expectation is that there will be a period of several months to accommodate the cure process and arrive at final bids from the three teams, and then a 4-week turn around for the final (amended) financial information to be submitted.

Looking back, readers will recall that in 2016 we witnessed the Trudeau promise to kill the F-35 purchase and put more money into shipbuilding, and in particular the CSC Project. This was assessed as posturing as we all knew that most of the F-35 budget is money that would be spent on operations and maintenance, not capital expenditure. However, after the election, the Trudeau Government did make good (sort of) on the promise to “take a look under the hood” in terms of adjusting the CSC procurement process.  Although they did not change the engine, they did more than just tinkering with the carb.

In 2017 the Trudeau Government realized the dual stream selection method for a warship designer and a combat system integrator, known as the RFRE qualifier process, was a mis-step and changed the procurement process to allow teams to form and submit a combined Design and Combat systems bid.

Around this time-frame, they also awarded a “shipbuilding” contract that fell outside of the NSS. An unsolicited proposal was accepted from Chantier Davie to convert a container ship into an urgently needed temporary replacement for the auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) capability. Given that neither Irving nor Seaspan had the capacity to execute this AOR contract in a timely manner, and notwithstanding that Irving made an intervention to try to kill the award to Chantier Davie, which caused the new Liberal Government to put the award on hold, the “pause” on the “At Sea Support” project (aka Project Resolve) was short-lived. The deal was upheld and MV Asterix was successfully delivered to DND on time and on budget. This is a true success story in these times of amazing ineptitude in defence contracting. Regrettably, neither the RCN nor DND have had much to say about the success of Asterix – we can only surmise this is a result of the most unfortunate “Norman-Gate”.  

Back to CSC, the reader will undoubtedly remember the 2017 surprise of finding out that Irving would be sharing bidders’ sensitive intellectual property with its subcontractors, most of them American. The most astounding of those in Irving’s information pipeline for sensitive proprietary information, was Gibbs & Cox – a naval engineering firm and a competitor to many, if not all, of the potential designers. Others include AT Kearney Public Service and Defense Services (a U.S. consulting firm); Fleetway Inc. (part of the Irving Group); and Systems Planning and Analysis Inc. (another U.S. consulting firm). It was reported by David Pugliese in March that the Government approved an additional $54 million (for a total of $83 million) for project bid evaluation, and then in April, he reported that all three bidders had failed to meet some requirements.


2016 RFRE qualifiers

As announced by the Government in November 2016, the RFRE qualifiers for Warship Design were (in alphabetical order):

  •     Alion-JJMA Corp.
  •     BAE Systems Surface Ships Limited
  •     DCNS SA (now Naval Group)
  •     Fincantieri Naval Vessels
  •     Navantia SA
  •     Odense Maritime Technology
  •     ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems

The RFRE qualifiers for Combat Systems Integrator included:

  •     Atlas Elektronik
  •     DCNS SA (Naval Group)
  •     Lockheed Martin Canada
  •     Saab Australia Pty Ltd.
  •     Selex ES (now Leonardo)
  •     Thales Nederland B.V.
  •     ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems

After the RFRE process was abandoned...

Regarding the 2016 RFRE process and quest for the holy grail (officially known as the Total Ship Reference Point or TSRP), only three of those original qualifiers are now left in the race. The others dropped out (or teamed up) for one reason or another over the past 24 months – some by simply vacating the premises so to speak, while others went out with somewhat of a bang. Of the 2016 qualifiers, Naval Group (formerly DCNS), Fincantieri, and Odense Maritime Technology have walked away.

Interestingly, two of the qualifiers (DCNS/Naval Group and TKMS) had been pre-qualified in both streams and had been assessed as having the upper hand, however, neither submitted a bid after examining the Irving/Government’s bid conditions and recognizing the risk of sharing IP without contracted legal protection in place. We shall look at them first.

DCNS – Naval Group

The French FREMM (multi-mission frigate) project by Naval Group (formerly DCNS) was touted as combining the latest technologies developed by Naval Group and a design adapted to Canadian requirements. It was to be the cornerstone of French efforts to share its expertise with Canadian partners. In 2015-16, DCNS was reportedly taking the CSC Project very seriously. However, their gravitas was all for naught as it saw the sharing IP without a contract as jeopardizing its future. Possibly because of this, Naval Group failed to seriously engage Canadian Suppliers which would allow it to develop a winning strategy. Rather, what evolved into a French (Naval Group) – Italian (Fincantieri S.p.A. Naval Vessels Business Unit) FREMM lash-up, and chose to not submit a bid in accordance with the Government/Irving RFP, but instead proposed an off-the-shelf purchase for a very reasonable $30 Billion. Their rationale, as reported in the press, was they did not want to hand over sensitive proprietary data to Irving and its subcontractors. This proposal was not well received by PSPC, which publicly stated the proposal would not be considered.

thyssenkrupp Marine Systems

thyssenkrupp Marine Systems (tkMS) of Germany was also very forthcoming in providing information on its potential RFRE submission. Its project references were based primarily on its role as prime contractor for the F124 frigates, where it was responsible for the development of the Combat Manage­ment System software and the integration of entirely new and highly-complex sensor and weapon system technologies. tkMS saw itself as fully capable of providing complete logistics support with training facilities, operator and technician training, discrete logistics support elements, as well as the supply of spare parts for both the platform and combat systems.

In early 2017, and despite having qualified as CSI and WD, tkMS had assessed the potential for winning, and particularly the requirement to submit proprietary technical data to a non-government agency (read ISI), as unpalatable and all but withdrew from the race. The local Ottawa office did not submit a bid for the final 30 November deadline for the technical and Canadian Content Value aspects of the bid.  

In hindsight, the modular approach to the tkMS MEKO design concept featured in the design of Germany’s F124 and F125 warship-size frigates, is still a very appealing design and may have carried the day.  Their decision to withdraw was reportedly based on factors that included an intense distrust of sharing intellectual property other than Government to Government.

Danish Iver Huitfeldt Frigate by Odense Maritime Technologies (OMT) – Maersk

In 2015, the Danish Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate was considered one of the four serious contender designs. At 6600 GRT and 138 metres in length, the vessel appeared to be a good fit for the CSC high-level requirements as briefed by the Royal Canadian Navy in August 2014. The team that produced the ship design – Maersk Shipping, Odense and the Danish Navy – established itself as Odense Maritime Technology (OMT) to market its expertise in producing spacious, logical, efficient designs that can be procured for much less than a warship of similar tonnage built elsewhere.

The Iver Huitfeldt Frigate design is powered by four diesel main engines driving two shafts in separate engine rooms, max speed 29 knots. The weapons are in modular units for ease of change-out or upgrade, and there is space for four TEU shipping containers for additional mission fits. The Danish Navy operates the ship with a crew of 105, although there are additional 60 bunks for mission fit, training staff and other requirements. The cost to build was quoted as $325M, which was considerably cheaper than expected and was certainly appealing to the bean counters in the early days of the program.

Below the main deck, the ship’s design is largely commercial, having been designed by Maersk, one of the world's largest shipping companies. In hindsight, perhaps the commercial below decks design was just that – too commercial.

Notwithstanding, the FrontLine assessment is that OMT’s lack of commitment to the program and the need to pre-commit on Canadian content was their downfall. Despite the efforts of OMT’s Vice President Business Development, Mr. Kevin Pitt, from the Toronto office, and qualification through the RFRE process, the bid was destined to fail from the outset. OMT was unable to line up a dance partner in the form of a CSI in time to adapt to the new procurement strategy and the bid collapsed. FrontLine’s view was, and still is, good design notwithstanding, to be competitive OMT should have invested in a larger engineering and design footprint in Canada with all the necessary security bells and whistles to support their marketing process.  

Selex ES – Leonardo DRS

As an RFRE qualifier, Selex ES never emerged from the shadows as a contender. The Leonardo bid of an Italian FREMM seemed to wither as time went on. Eventually, as mentioned above, the French Naval Group and the Italians combined forces but never got out of the starting block after they received the results of the pre-qualifier bid review process.  

Thales Nederland

Another multi-national, Thales Group, was also successful with their submission in response to the CSI RFRE, relying primarily on their international credentials for project references from Thales Nederland BV. Thales has significant bona fides, having integrated Combat Systems across 27 shipyards on nearly 200 naval platforms, making it one of the leading Naval Combat Systems Integration companies in the world, and Thales Canada has been the largest supplier of naval sensors to the RCN for the past 40 years. Thales is proud of its track record in integrating Above Water and Underwater Warfare suites and its extensive experience integrating communications suites.

Thales Canada was seen as having good potential to emerge on a team as a strong player. However, there were not enough dance partners to go around among the designers and Thales dropped down to the category of potential Tier 2 supplier. Like many of the other potential CSI bidders, Thales is maintaining close contact with all of the potential CSIs and would likely be a supplier to the eventual CSI winner in their strong suit – Naval Combat System products in the areas of Naval Radars and Electro-optical solutions, Naval Underwater systems, Electronic Warfare systems, and Naval Communications system.

Thales will continue as a Tier 1 partner with Seaspan for the delivery of all of Mission Systems solutions for the Joint Support Ships (JSS) and Coast Guard vessels. The 2017 award of the in-service support contract known as AJISS – for the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) and JSS – will keep Thales in Canada for years to come.

Conclusion

Why have so many reputable, experienced and successful global shipbuilders and combat systems integrators given the CSC program a pass? FrontLine wonders if enough attention is being paid to publicly-voiced serious concerns over management of the program?

The Irving-led evaluation team is evaluating of “Cured” Technical bids and the Financials of the three bidders, and we expect to have an announcement from Government of the team selected to enter negotiations with Irving Shipbuilding on the details of their proposal. Pat Finn, assistant deputy minister for materiel at the Department of National Defence, told Defence Watch he expects a winning bid to be selected by the end of 2018. Negotiations should start after that, and a contract is expected to be signed sometime early 2019. If an agreement can’t be reached, then negotiations would begin with the group that came second in the competition... and now we wait.

In our next edition, FrontLine will look at the “Final Three” teams that submitted bids, their team complement, proposed designs, and their prospects for success. We will also consider the importance of the overall supply chain to the CSC project and how, and to what degree, it will impact the Canadian economy.

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Contact FrontLine by phone 613-747-1138 or email [email protected]

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