NSS Progress and Perspectives

© 2020 FrontLine Defence (Vol 17, No 2)

by Guest Editor, Tim Addison

Although COVID-19 has had a significant impact across Canada, the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) has made significant progress in 2020. Seaspan has delivered their third Offshore Fisheries Science Vessel, and the first of the two Joint Support Ships (JSS) are well into construction. Similarly, on the east coast, the first Arctic and Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), HMCS Harry DeWolf, is now under RCN command and the second and third AOPS are well underway at the Irving Shipyard. This time last year, the Government was about to announce that Chantier Davie had pre-qualified for inclusion as the third shipyard in NSS and, as part of this competition, negotiations are in the final stages for Davie to build six Program Ice Breakers for Canada. 

The question now, is what will the headwinds be like, in 2021 and beyond, after the Government has come to grips with COVID? There have been suggestions that spending on defence (and by extension the NSS) are prime targets for reduction. Over the past year there have also been challenges to NSS projects on other fronts. The AOPS Project has come under scrutiny in terms of its utility for Canada and whether it’s providing value for money. While it is true that the AOPS are lightly armed and have moderate speed compared to a frigate or destroyer, they have all the capabilities required to accomplish their various missions. More importantly, the introduction of the AOPS into service will fill a valued capability gap for the RCN and permit enhanced flexibility and adaptability in addressing unique tasks and missions.

Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) recently reported on the relative cost of warships used for at-sea replenishment. The Report compared the acquisition cost of the two JSS to the Motor Vessel (MV) Asterix, modified by Chantier Davie and currently under lease to the RCN, and a similarly to be converted sister container ship, Obelix. While the ships are comparable in their ability to deliver fuel and supplies to other warships, and Asterix has done an outstanding job of supporting the RCN since it was put into service in 2019, the PBO comparison was seriously flawed in that it did not factor in the differences in the construction and capabilities which contribute to the difference in the sail-away price of the two vessels. When reading the PBO Reports, one must note the critical areas that are outside of the scope of study.

Canadian parliamentarians, decision-makers, and interested stakeholders are advised to exercise caution when considering future PBO Reports on other NSS programs, including the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC). The complexity of the CSC requirement presents many uniquely Canadian challenges in terms of building a warship with multi-purpose capabilities, the latest in technology and interoperability with allies, as well as meeting the requirements for industrial and technological benefits to Canada. 

2020 certainly had its challenges... Standby for 2021!  

Tim Addison, a former Navy officer, 
is Director of Naval Affairs at the 
Naval Association of Canada.

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