May 8, 2013

More questions about the Arctic Patrol Ship project

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:48

Last week, the CBC’s Terry Milewski posted an article questioning the progress and ongoing costs of the Arctic Patrol Ship program. The ships are supposed to be based on the same design as the Norwegian Coast Guard’s Svalbard:

KV Svalbard

The design was purchased for $5 million with the intent of revising it for Canadian requirements. The government allocated an incredible $288 million for the revisions. The original Svalbard cost about $100 million in 2002 … but that was to design, build, and launch the actual ship. Not just to come up with a revised design.

In yesterday’s Chronicle Herald, Paul McLeod predicted that the price of the patrol ships will rise in the same way that the F-35 project costs have risen:

The mandate for the Arctic/offshore patrol ships is to do offshore work on Canada’s coasts and also be able to patrol icy northern waters. Yet a recent report by the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues the ships will be able to do neither job well.

Co-authors Michael Byers and Stewart Webb say the ships will be too small to be effective icebreakers and will only be able to crash through thin ice in the warmer months. They also say the thick, reinforced hulls of the ships will make them too slow for patrolling jobs like chasing off smugglers or illegal fishing boats.

And of course, because we’re designing them from scratch, they will cost far more than an off-the-shelf design.

So the purchase of the original plans — a trivial amount in proportion to the current budget — was a waste of money because the new ships are in effect going to be a new design anyway.

The PBO only looked at two ships being built in Vancouver, but there’s no reason to expect the same problems won’t hit Halifax. The $3-billion price tag for the Arctic/offshore patrol ships has stayed the same for years, though purchasing power has decreased.

Ottawa still says it expects to buy six to eight Arctic/offshore patrol ships but almost no one believes eight is realistic anymore. The Byers-Webb report points out that the navy initially wanted the ships to be able to drive bow-first or stern-first, like Norwegian patrol vessels. That feature was ruled out; presumably it was too expensive.

The ships will still be built in Canada because it would be politically disastrous to move those jobs overseas now. Fair enough. There’s historically been a 20 to 30 per cent markup on building ships in Canada, says Ken Hansen, a maritime security analyst at Dalhousie.

So in summary, we’re going to be paying a higher per-ship price for fewer ships with lower capabilities than we originally specified? This really is starting to sound like a maritime version of the F-35 program. And the Joint Support Ship program. And the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter project.

1 Comment

  1. Arguing the costs of the Arctic Patrol Ship re-design, it’s worth reading a recent post at Thin Pinstriped Line:

    The next challenge is the sheer complexity of designing a high end warship. The UK has made clear that its own position is that while shipbuilding for less complex military vessels can be contracted out on occasion (for instance the MARS tanker programme), the ability to design such vessels in the first place is critical. The MARS programme highlighted the importance of retaining an indigenous warship design capability, and one reason for the various UK shipbuilding terms of business agreements is to ensure sufficient work to keep the design capability alive, even if there is a slow reduction in actual construction.

    Warship design has always been complicated; you are merging the combination of basic hull design, propulsion, life support, damage control and combat capability and turning it into something which can operate effectively. Add in the phenomenally complicated amount of electronic equipment needed, and you quickly realise that even a relatively simple modern high end design requires a level of skill and ability which is far beyond that of many nations. Pretty much any nation can make a design which looks impressive on the outside, but far fewer have the ability to turn an impressive design into a working and competent design that can actually integrate its systems together to become more than the sum of its parts. This is one reason why so many modern warship designs take longer than anticipated to bring into service – the building is (relatively speaking) straight forward, but getting all the bits to work properly together and then fight the ship is a totally different ballgame altogether.

    Comment by Nicholas — May 8, 2013 @ 15:06

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