Quotulatiousness

March 27, 2014

The problems onboard HMCS Protecteur were much worse than initially reported

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

HMCS Protecteur had an engine room fire while in transit back to Canadian waters last month after taking part in multinational naval exercises in the Pacific. Along with the 279 officers and crew, there were 17 family members and two civilian contractors on board at the time of the fire. The initial reports severely underestimated how much trouble the ship was in:

CBC News has learned Canadian sailors aboard fire-stricken HMCS Protecteur last month battled the blaze that disabled their ship for more than 11 hours before they were able to put it out.

The life or death fight was made even more difficult after the unexplained failure of the supply ship’s back-up generator, leaving Protecteur dead in the water, in the dark of night, her 279-strong crew struggling through smoke and blackness to fight the fire.

The generator failure also left crews scrambling to find a way to power water pumps to fight the blaze, and refill the oxygen bottles fire teams needed to sustain them as they tried desperately to save their ship.

This new information comes as Commander Julian Elbourne, captain of Protecteur, prepares to welcome naval investigators to the ship, which is tied up in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in the coming days.

I’m boggled that the investigators weren’t in Hawaii the same day Protecteur was towed in … why the excessive delays? Or is there no real rush because the initial survey indicated that it would not be economic to repair the ship?

The RCN auxiliary replenishment oiler HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) departs Naval Station Pearl Harbor after a routine port visit. Protecteur provides Canadian and allied warships with fuel, food and supplies and is the only Canadian Navy supply ship stationed on the Pacific Coast.

The RCN auxiliary replenishment oiler HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) departs Naval Station Pearl Harbor after a routine port visit. Protecteur provides Canadian and allied warships with fuel, food and supplies and is the only Canadian Navy supply ship stationed on the Pacific Coast.

The ship was scheduled to be retired from service in a few years, partly due to the problems with getting replacement parts for her engines, although the new Joint Supply Ships won’t be ready to go into service for a few years after that (at best). David Pugliese has more on the damage to the ship:

The deck and other metal structures on HMCS Protecteur, which caught fire and was towed to safety by the U.S. navy, may have warped because of the intense blaze, significantly damaging the vessel.

The extent of the damage is still being assessed. It will also take several months before a board of inquiry has the full details of the fire. However, the Canadian Forces fire marshal expects to deliver a report about the blaze to senior naval officers soon. Sources say the fire started on the port side of the engine room. Large amounts of oil from systems on board the vessel helped feed the fire, they add.

There are concerns the deck and hull may have warped due to the intense heat. The navy hasn’t released details but has acknowledged in a statement “significant fire and heat damage to the ship’s engine room and considerable heat and smoke damage in surrounding compartments.”

Canadian naval operations in the Pacific will be curtailed for at least a few years if Protecteur can’t be economically repaired, as the only other ship of that capability in service is sister ship HMCS Preserver, based in Halifax.

March 8, 2014

RCN’s Joint Support Ships behind schedule and over budget

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:07

Terry Milewski reports on the state of Canada’s shipbuilding program for the Royal Canadian Navy, and it’s not pretty:

An internal government memo obtained by CBC News shows that all four parts of the government’s huge shipbuilding program are either over budget, behind schedule, or both.

Written Oct. 7 last year by the deputy minister of national defence, Richard Fadden, the memo shows that three of those four programs also face “major challenges” of a technical nature, as well as difficulties lining up skilled manpower to get the ships built at all.

The memo, released to the CBC following an Access to Information request, leaves little doubt that Canada’s crippled supply ship, HMCS Protecteur, won’t be replaced before the year 2020.

The spectacle of the 46-year-old Protecteur, Canada’s only supply ship in the Pacific, being towed into Honolulu after an engine-room fire has thrown the lack of a replacement into sharp focus. Although there’s a plan to build two new supply ships, there’s no sign the work will even begin until late 2016. That means a new one won’t enter service until the end of the decade.

JSS and AOPS building status March 2014

A chart summarizing the state of the shipbuilding effort uses green and yellow squares to indicate where those problems are — the green meaning, on track, and yellow meaning, trouble — and there’s a lot of yellow.

For the Joint Support Ships — that’s the pair of supply ships — the chart shows trouble with both the schedule and the price. The memo explains that this means the program is up to 20 per cent behind schedule and up to 10 per cent over budget.

As I’ve said many times before, the Canadian government is managing to get the least possible bang for the buck on shipbuilding because they view the shipbuilding program as a regional economic development scheme (and a way of funneling money to marginal constituencies) rather than as an essential part of keeping the RCN properly equipped. It’s pretty obvious in this case:

Take the supply ships. “Yellow” suggests they’re over budget, but doesn’t indicate what the budget should be. But comparisons with Canada’s allies could raise eyebrows even further.

Britain, for example, opted to build its four new naval supply ships much more cheaply, at the Daewoo shipyard in South Korea. The contract is for roughly $1.1 billion Cdn. That’s for all four. By contrast, Canada plans to build just two ships, in Vancouver, for $1.3 billion each. So Canada’s ships will be roughly five times more costly than the British ones.

But there’s a twist. Canada’s supply ships will also carry less fuel and other supplies, because they’ll be smaller — about 20,000 tonnes. The U.K. ships are nearly twice as big — 37,000 tonnes. Canadians will lay out a lot more cash for a lot less ship.

February 6, 2014

HMCS Windsor to be out of service for engine replacement

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:13

The Royal Canadian Navy’s submarines are in the news again:

The Royal Canadian Navy’s only submarine on the East Coast will be pulled from service for up to a year because of engine woes, CBC News has learned.

HMCS Windsor, which completed a $209-million refit just 18 months ago, will be hauled from the water in March, the navy has confirmed to CBC News.

A navy spokesperson said one of HMCS Windsor‘s two diesel engines will be removed and replaced during the unscheduled docking.

A naval source told CBC News the job will take at least seven months but could last longer, depending on how the massive 16-cylinder diesel engine is stripped from the submarine.

And here’s the part that boggles my mind:

Blondin said the cost for the engine itself is $1.35 million, which he said is already a part of the “national spare parts inventory for the submarine fleet.”

The broken Paxman Valenta engine weighs eight tonnes and was commonly used to drive British trains.

Canada’s used British-built submarines are fitted with a special hatch that may allow the navy to simply pull the engine from the 20-year-old HMCS Windsor. But if the hatch — called a Dutch breach — turns out to be too small, the navy will be forced to cut the submarine in half to remove the engine.

They don’t know if the engine can be removed through the hatch that was designed to allow the engine to be replaced? I hope that’s just a mis-communication between the RCN spokesperson and the journalist!

October 31, 2013

Canada’s shipbuilding strategy – the worst of both worlds

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:15

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) both are badly in need of new ships. The federal government has been aware of this for quite some time and has made plenty of announcements about addressing those needs … but the actual steps taken do not give me hope that the needs will be met economically or in a timely fashion. Canada no longer has a domestic ship-building industry with experience in producing military vessels, and it does not make economic sense to re-create it for the relatively small number of ships the RCN and the CCG actually need.

Politically, it can be a good election ploy to pour lots of government money into new shipyards which will employ hundreds of skilled and unskilled workers. The newly employed will be spending their salaries in Halifax, Vancouver, and Quebec and the visible signs of construction (both of the facilities themselves and of the hulls of the ships) will be a steady reminder to voters that the feds are investing in their cities. From the political viewpoint, it makes lots of sense to design and build the ships in Canada.

Economically, the situation is quite different. None of the remaining shipbuilding firms have the trained staff for either designing or assembling modern military ships. They’ll need to expand their yards and hire new skilled workers to take on the contracts. The civilian economy probably does not have all the necessary trained would-be employees ready to hire, so many would need to be brought in from other countries while training courses eventually turn out enough Canadians able to take those jobs. This will all increase the cost of the shipbuilding program, and delay the already belated eventual delivery of the ships. J.L. Granatstein explains:

The government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy aims to provide Arctic patrol ships, supply vessels and eventually replacements for the RCN’s fine frigates, as well as a large icebreaker and 10 smaller ships for the Coast Guard. The cost, including the frigate replacement, is estimated at $80 billion, and the process involves re-establishing the nation’s shipyards in Vancouver and Halifax, in effect re-creating a defunct industry. Up to 15,000 jobs are to be created.

But this is Canada, so pork and high costs are inevitable. National Defence and Public Works are deeply involved, politicians’ hands are all over the plans, and costs are sky-high. Consider the two Joint Support Ships to be built in Vancouver for $3 billion. They will likely be fine ships when they hit the water, years late. Britain’s Royal Navy, however, is buying four roughly similar ships from South Korean builders for $750 million — for all four. Should the RCN ships cost eight times those of the British? The Dutch navy is buying ships built in Romania; the Danes use ships built in Poland. Why? Because the cost is far less, the quality is good, and the work of installing the armaments and communications systems can be done in home waters, creating good jobs.

Take another case, the 10 small vessels to be built on the west coast for the Coast Guard for $3.3 billion. In 2007, the Danes bought similar, larger ships for $50 million each, ships with an icebreaking capacity the CCG ships will not have. Even with six years of inflation factored in, the CCG ships will cost at least three to five times as much.

But, the government will say, the jobs being created on the coasts are good ones, paying well for the skilled workers who are being trained to fill them. It is true, but will the Canadian public support the RCN and the Coast Guard when it realizes the massive costs involved to create each job? Moreover, no government can bind its successors to follow any policy. Jean Chrétien killed the maritime helicopter project when he came to power two decades ago, and the RCN still has no new ones. A future government might well say that the deficit is too high and the ship projects cannot proceed. After all, governments have killed the shipbuilding industry in this country before — after the two world wars and after the RCN frigate program ended in the 1990s. There are no guarantees in politics, and neither the Liberals nor the NDP seem high on defence spending for anything other than peacekeeping.

However, any time the political equations and the economic equations point in very different directions, you can almost always count on the politicians to go for the most expensive/most politically advantageous answer.

October 10, 2013

Periscope view of HMS Illustrious, courtesy HMCS Corner Brook

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:55

Submariners love other ships … as potential targets:

In 2007 HMCS Corner Brook, a diesel-electric submarine of the Canadian navy, sneaked up on Illustrious during an exercise in the Atlantic.

HMS Illustrious in HMCS Corner Brook's periscopeTo prove they could have sunk the carrier, Corner Brook’s crew snapped a photo through the periscope — and the Canadian navy helpfully published it. “The picture represents hard evidence that the submarine was well within attack parameters and would have been successful in an attack,” boasted Cmdr. Luc Cassivi, commander of the Canadian submarine division.

Corner Brook, a former British submarine displacing only 2,400 tons, is no more capable than Dallas — and probably much less so once crew training is taken into account. American submariners spend far more time at sea than their Canadian counterparts.

Dallas and Corner Brook scored their simulated carrier kills against allied warships in the context of a scripted exercise. But many other close encounters between subs and flattops have occurred between rival nations deep at sea, in a usually bloodless duel that is nevertheless deadly serious.

Replacing the Sea King – a British alternative

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:21

At Think Defence, Fedaykin wonders if the best solution for the Royal Canadian Navy’s Sea King helicopter might just be the Merlin which is in Royal Navy service:

With the Canadian government threatening to cancel the CH-148 contract, the sending of team to inspect Royal Navy Merlin is an interesting development.

Whilst the Merlin has developed a bit of a reputation for being fragile and expensive to maintain it has nevertheless seen many years of service now and is finally catching its second wind of maturity.

The Royal Navy is upgrading 30 Merlin from HM1 to HM2 standard leaving 8 airframes unchanged. Initially, thinking was these 8 spare airframes would probably form part of Crowsnest getting a permanent AEW fit. Sensibly (in my opinion) the MOD and navy has decided that Crowsnest will instead be a quick fit solution to any of the HM2 fleet ensuring that we don’t end up with “fleets within fleets”.

That leaves 8 standard HM1 going spare and possibly a home for them.

If the Canadian government was to suck up the embarrassment they could buy the AW Merlin HM2 with the 8 HM1 being given to them at a throw away price as a hot swap to get them going.

Once new build HM2 become available off the line the older HM1 in Canadian service can be upgraded to the common standard. The second article does clearly state the Canadian team did look at the HM1 in particular so is a happy solution close to hand.

The main barrier as it stands is the Omni-shambles of the Victoria class procurement, the Canadian public is not exactly happy about that disaster despite a significant proportion of blame being laid at their own door.

The UK does not do enough in terms of defence co-operation with Canada, New Zealand and Australia and there is much we can learn from each other.

H/T to Tony Prudori for the link.

September 5, 2013

Sea King replacement program branded as “the worst in Canada’s history”

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:37

Sea King unit patchThe Royal Canadian Navy is still operating the Sea King helicopter — which is 50 years old — and the planned replacement helicopters appear to be no closer to delivery than they were 20 years ago:

A naval helicopter procurement program described as the worst in Canada’s history was doomed from the start but could be made “viable and operationally relevant” if the federal government urgently adopts a new approach, says a confidential new report obtained by CBC News.

The independent evaluation of the multibillion-dollar purchase of 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to replace a 50-year-old fleet of Sea Kings, obtained by CBC News Network’s Power & Politics host Evan Solomon, concludes the government can get the problem-plagued program back on track by negotiating with primary supplier Sikorsky to “re-scope” the project’s structure, specifications and delivery approach.

“[The] project could be viable and operationally relevant with a new structure and governance model as described in our recommendations,” reads the report from Hitachi Consulting.

[...]

“A fundamental problem existed at the outset of this project — this set the stage for significant misalignment,” reads the key finding.

The report says the government believed it was buying an “off-the-shelf” product by Sikorsky — a conclusion also drawn in a 2010 auditor general’s report. Yet the project should have been treated as a development program because the “state-of-the-art” aircraft incorporates advanced technology and an in-service support capability “that is likely unsurpassed in the world today,” according to the report.

While the fleet was to begin delivery in late 2008, so far only four of the Cyclone helicopters have been delivered — and only on an “interim” basis. The government won’t formally accept them because they don’t fully meet the specifications.

Last year, then defence minister Peter MacKay cited the Sikorsky deal as an example of how procurement can “go badly wrong.”

“This is the worst procurement in the history of Canada, including the $500-million cancellation costs that are attached to the maritime helicopter program and then the costs of the further maintenance to fly the 50-year old helicopters,” he said at the time. “They’re going to go right out of aviation service and into the museum in Ottawa. And that’s not a joke.”

H/T to Mark Collins for the link.

August 16, 2013

The military dilemmas of a middle power

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Sir Humphrey explains in detail the problems facing the Canadian Forces:

The biggest question arguably facing Canada today is how to address what is a three pronged axis of interest. As an Atlantic and Pacific power, with substantial economic interests in both areas, Canada has an inevitable interest in both regions, which have extremely different challenges. At the same time, the emerging interest in the Arctic, where global warming and climate change is seemingly allowing an opening of trade routes, means a previously neglected region suddenly takes on far more strategic role. Beyond this home position, Canada continues to play a major role overseas, providing troops, aircraft and ships to participate in operations across the globe from the Gulf to Afghanistan.

[...]

The problem which looms is that Canada has deferred expenditure for so long on so many fronts that it is rapidly reaching the point where barring a major change of budget; something is going to have to give. As a nation Canada is a superb example of the many mid-tier powers, other examples being the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Australia to name but a few, who have historically been able to afford and operate armed forces capable of working across a wide range of areas, but where future budgets may constrain this over time. All of these nations are typified by having a lot of legacy equipment in service, and a willingness to employ their militaries overseas on operations. These nations all face a similar challenge — the cost of military equipment is so great that all face a problem — what has to be sacrificed in order to keep some form of capability, and what are they no longer willing to do militarily?

[...]

Considering the Navy alone, one sees a fleet which has been hard worked for many years, and which has not seen new surface ships enter service for nearly twenty years. The destroyers are so old that it is nearly fifty years since the design was approved, and forty years since they entered service. The decision to continually defer replacements means that no military shipbuilding capability exists in Canada any more. This means any replacement will be built at far greater cost on a shipbuilding industry which will be created from scratch. This issue alone highlights the real challenge for many medium powers — the inability for domestic political reasons to consider purchasing certain from overseas. Despite there being several designs (such as the Royal Navy’s Type 26 / Global Combat Ship) entering service in the time-frame for replacement, the desire by Canada to retain a ‘made in Canada’ label on its surface warships means that the Canadian taxpayer will not get the best value for money. One only has to consider that most warship replacement programmes these days will only replace half to two thirds of the hulls in the preceding class due to cost, and it quickly becomes clear that Canada is going to be forced to establish a military shipbuilding capability for just 8-10 hulls.

Domestically there are many good reasons to build at home — creation of jobs in vulnerable constituencies, a sense of national control over a hugely visible symbol of national prestige, and an ability to support domestic industries (e.g. having far greater sovereignty over the weapons and equipment than may otherwise be the case with a foreign purchase). Additionally even with offsets, it is difficult to justify to taxpayers spending huge sums of money abroad, particularly for a capability traditionally built at home. There are several nations who have traditionally built their large warships at home, and who face a need to build replacement hulls in the next 10-15 years. It becomes increasingly difficult to see how they can afford to do this without making major cuts elsewhere to their procurement plans, or buying overseas.

June 28, 2013

The real reasons for problems with Canada’s submarine fleet

Filed under: Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:01

An interesting post at the Laurier Centre for Military, Strategic, and Disarmament Studies looks at the real reasons the Royal Canadian Navy has had such a rough time with the current class of submarines:

Submarines are perhaps the most misunderstood weapon system in the Canadian Forces. Few Canadians, even those well-versed in military matters, understand their role in Canada’s defence. Worse, the technical issues that have afflicted the Victoria class submarines have dominated the media narrative for a decade, convincing many that they really are a set of lemons put upon us by the crafty British. In actuality, the navy had relatively few options to replace its aging Oberons in the 1990s. It was the decisions made then, rather than any inherent technical shortcomings, which created many of the problems experienced after these vessels entered active service. Yet, the choices for the navy were stark. Faced with a government that was essentially hostile to the idea of submarines, and limited in what it could spend, the used, but highly modern Upholders were the only option open to the RCN: it was either that or the end of the Submarine Service.

[. . .]

However, submarines were politically unpopular within the Chretien government. The former foreign minister called them “un-Canadian” in nature, and Chretien himself dithered on the decision. Sensing that the window was about to slam shut, the navy lobbied hard for their acquisition in what was called the deal of a century – four slightly used subs for $750 million. The old supply vessel HMCS Provider would be paid off early and planned refits for the O-boats foregone.

But the navy had to live within the tight limits that had been established by that $750 million figure. As such, much of the spare parts the RN had warehoused for the submarines were not purchased, nor was some of the technical information concerning the engineering of the submarine’ systems acquired from VSEL (later BAE Systems). In addition, a series of technical problems were discovered in the submarines as they began to be reactivated by the Royal Navy. Many of these were fixed before the boats were delivered to Canada, but several expensive fixes remained after they were acquired. The heavy demands made on the navy at the beginning of the War on Terror in 2003, just as the submarines were arriving in Halifax, also limited the ability to move quickly in resolving these issues.

In many ways, the problems experienced by the subs represent an “own goal” on the part of the navy. The decisions that were made at the time in order to get the boat were to come back to haunt the navy years later. The failure to acquire sufficient spares or establish supplier relationships resulted in many of the significant delays in making the subs operational as the navy worked to create its own network of industrial relationships to manufacture the specialized equipment found on no other naval system. It is this fallout from the procurement process, rather than the frequent argument that the subs were poorly constructed, that is responsible for the delays and technical setbacks in the programme. Given the constraints under which the navy had to operate in the mid-1990s there really were no other alternatives if the service was to be preserved. Despite the problems that came with the boats, it really was the deal of the century!

May 27, 2013

The economic and technical issues with domestic ship-building programs

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:44

The Royal Canadian Navy is supposed to be getting some new ships (eventually), at a proposed cost of $25 billion. But the best way to get the most bang for our buck is not the way the government is going about it … building these highly specialized vessels in Canada does two things: it guarantees that we’ll pay far more money for fewer hulls, and it briefly raises employment in certain fields (metalworking, electrical work, welding, etc.). What it doesn’t do is create a viable industry for building naval or coast guard ships for other countries — because most other countries can either build their own (France, Germany, the UK, and the US) or have the economic sense to buy from friendly countries that can build efficiently at reasonable cost. Even if we pay a significant premium to build frigates or destroyers in Canada, once that job is over the shipyards will close down and most or all of the workers will be looking for new jobs.

Michael Whalen has more:

Given the above, the second, far more strategic, issue to be discussed is: Should we in fact be building warships in Canada at all? What is the long-term benefit to Canada?

The immediate answer from politicians of all stripes is, interestingly, not great ships, but jobs, jobs, jobs. However, the jobs they are talking about may well be far less valuable than we imagine.

There is no standard breakdown of the costs of building a warship, but a recent study by the South Australian government (as part of its input to that country’s proposed 30-year, $250- billion naval shipbuilding strategy) suggests the actual shipbuilding represents much less than half of the cost of a warship, perhaps 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

The rest comes from the design, armament, engines, electronics, etc., which will largely be procured outside of Canada, certainly outside of Nova Scotia. The benefits to Nova Scotia and to Canada will be in largely blue-collar jobs such as shipwrights, welders, electricians and general labour. In a job-poor province such as ours, these are nothing to sneeze at. This massive expenditure will not, however, create a sustainable long-term industry for our province.

To put it bluntly, there is no market for Canadian-built warships. The major buyers, the Americans, the British, the French, the Chinese, etc., build their own. They will never buy a ship from Canada.

Our governments, federal and provincial, will spend billions establishing a small, inefficient industry for which there is no market outside the government of Canada.

There are economies of scale to consider: for a dozen ships, it makes no sense to essentially create an industry from scratch. For a hundred ships, the costs start to be reasonable (but we don’t need that many, couldn’t crew that many, and nobody will buy them from us). We have an infamous historical test of this, too:

There is something of a parallel here with the aircraft industry. John Diefenbaker has been condemned for nearly 60 years for cancelling the Avro Arrow, Canada’s last attempt at building a warplane.

In retrospect, he was right. Instead of spending billions on a jet for which there was no market, subsequent governments invested in companies like DeHavilland and Canadair (both ultimately purchased by Bombardier) and Pratt and Whitney Canada which focused on the growing market for commercial aircraft, particularly small airliners serving regional markets.

Today this country has a vibrant aerospace industry that is among the world’s largest. Canadian-built aircraft fly on every continent and jobs have been created across the country, including many here in Nova Scotia.

Large parts of this industry resulted from the identification of a sustainable, growing niche market (regional airliners) and investing in the components (e.g. airframe design, small turbine engines, landing gear) required to meet that demand. There is no evidence that kind of strategic thinking has gone into Canada’s shipbuilding program.

May 8, 2013

More questions about the Arctic Patrol Ship project

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 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.

May 2, 2013

Canada’s Arctic patrol ship design program just a job creation scheme that doesn’t actually create jobs in Canada

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 16:58

The CBC’s Terry Milewski on the Harper government’s much-heralded shipbuilding program which is far more expensive than it needs to be — because of the demand that the work be done in Canada — and yet somehow doesn’t even manage to create Canadian jobs:

Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose and Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced March 7 in Halifax that Ottawa will pay Irving Shipbuilding $288 million just to design — not build — a fleet of new Arctic offshore patrol ships.

Irving will then build the ships under a separate contract.

However, a survey of similar patrol ships bought by other countries shows they paid a fraction of that $288 million to actually build the ships — and paid less than a tenth as much for the design.

In addition, the design of Canada’s new ships is based upon a Norwegian vessel whose design Ottawa has already bought for just $5 million.

The Norwegian ship, the Svalbard, was designed and built for less than $100 million in 2002.

Experts say the design price is normally 10-20 per cent of the total cost of the ships.

But don’t worry … jobs are being created or saved by this major Canadian government project … in Denmark and in the United States:

Another criticism of the project is that much of the design work — in a project meant to create Canadian jobs — is actually going overseas.

Although Irving will manage the design project in Nova Scotia, it has subcontracted the actual production of final blueprints to a Danish firm, OMT. Seventy Danish ship architects will work on those.

The job of designing the systems integration is going to Lockheed Martin and the propulsion system will be designed by General Electric, both U.S. companies.

This is only to be expected, say supporters of the project.

“We’ve been dormant here for better than two decades now. We don’t have the skill sets inside the industry,” said Ken Hansen, editor of the Canadian Naval Review in Dartmouth, N.S.

March 15, 2013

The real cuts to the military budget

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

In Maclean’s, John Geddes examines the way budget cutbacks are being implemented in Canada’s military:

Perry’s fine-grained analysis starts by setting aside the major parts of defence spending that are, at least in theory, protected from cuts. Last year’s fiscal plan called for more than $1 billion a year to be cut from the defence department’s overall budget of more than $20 billion by 2014-15. That doesn’t seem so tough. But the Conservatives pledged to do that while keeping up the troop strength of the Canadian Forces, at about 68,000 regular members and 27,000 in the reserves, and also protecting most planned capital spending. According to Perry, that means about $12 billion a year was deemed uncuttable — leaving all the reductions to be found somehow in the remaining $8 billion that is spent on the civilian workforce and on military “operations, maintenance and readiness.”

How hard is it to achieve those savings? The clearest indication so far came from Lt.-Gen. Peter Devlin, the commander of the army, in surprising testimony he gave late last year before a Senate committee. Devlin said his land force’s operating budget has been shrunk by an eye-popping 22 per cent—a figure that doesn’t show up anywhere in publicly available defence documents. “As you would expect,” Devlin said with classic officer-class understatement, “that has an effect on people, infrastructure and training.” And he took pains to counter any suggestion that the army should be eliminating desk jobs to save field assets, stressing that administrative and head-office functions occupy only four per cent of his workforce.

[. . .]

Harper’s letter echoed the thrust of Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie’s 2011 “transformation” report. Leslie, who has since retired, conducted an extensive study of defence spending and concluded that the department must “ruthlessly focus” on reducing its spending on outside consultants and private contractors, with the aim of redistributing resources to military units. He delivered his report two years ago. Yet the latest figures available show that the defence department’s spending on professional services and consultants continued to climb to $3.25 billion in 2011-12 from $2.77 billion in 2009-10. And that increase came after a period when head-office growth outstripped the expansion of the fighting forces. According to Leslie’s report, headquarters personnel numbers grew 40 per cent from 2004 to 2010, while the regular forces grew by just 11 per cent.

February 21, 2013

RCAF still confident that Sea Kings will last long enough, hopefully

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:27

Sea King unit patchDid you know that the Canadian military is still waiting for the delivery of their new helicopters? This leaves the military brass with little to do but put on a show of confidence and perhaps cross their fingers behind their collective backs:

The head of the Royal Canadian Air Force says he’s confident the military’s 50-year-old Sea King helicopters can stay in the air long enough for their troubled replacements to arrive.

“It’s good for a while,” Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin said of the Sea Kings, in an exclusive interview with Postmedia News Wednesday.

“In the short term, the Sea King can fly. Eventually I’m going to replace some equipment on it if I want to keep it flying longer, but I’ve got flexibility.”

That flexibility will likely be needed amid recent reports that the air force won’t receive the first of its planned Sea King replacements, U.S. aerospace giant Sikorsky’s Cyclone maritime helicopters, until 2015 — seven years later than scheduled.

Here’s the long, twisted history of Canada’s attempt to replace the venerable Sea King helicopters:

  • In 1963, the CH-124 Sea King helicopter (a variant of the US Navy S-61 model) entered service with the Royal Canadian Navy.
  • In 1983, the Trudeau government started a process to replace the Sea Kings. That process never got far enough for a replacement helicopter to be ordered.
  • In 1985, the Mulroney government started a new process to find a replacement for the Sea Kings.
  • In 1992, the Mulroney government placed an order for 50 EH-101 Cormorant helicopters (for both naval and search-and-rescue operations).
  • In 1993, the Campbell government reduced the order from 50 to 43, theoretically saving $1.4B.
  • In 1993, the new Chrétien government cancelled the “Cadillac” helicopters as being far too expensive and started a new process to identify the right helicopters to buy. The government had to pay nearly $500 million in cancellation penalties.
  • In 1998, having split the plan into separate orders for naval and SAR helicopters, the government ended up buying 15 Cormorant SAR helicopters anyway — and the per-unit prices had risen in the intervening time.
  • In 2004, the Martin government placed an order with Sikorsky for 28 CH-148 Cyclone helicopters to be delivered starting in 2008 (after very carefully arranging the specifications to exclude the Cormorant from the competition).
  • Now, in 2012, we may still have another five years to wait for the delivery of the Cyclones.

February 14, 2013

Crony capitalists make pitch for industrial policy in defence purchases

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Military — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:02

Canada doesn’t really have a defence industry — certainly not in the sense of Britain, France, or the United States. We have some companies which happen to make products of use to the military (armoured vehicles, for example), but our government is not tightly tied to the fortunes of these companies in some sort of maple-flavoured Military-Industrial Complex. Some movers-and-shakers want to change that:

It goes without saying that the proposal to siphon funds to defence contractors is gussied up in industrial-policy jargon. For instance, we’re told how defence industries are “important sources of technological dynamism and innovation [and] leading-edge participants in global value chains.” (Who today isn’t part of a global value chain?) Also in keeping with current industrial-policy trendiness, the government is instructed to be strategically selective in KIC-starting the sector. “KIC,” you see, stands for “Key Industrial Capabilities,” which is what we’re told we should focus on.

But despite the alluring bells and whistles, the message to firms selling to the government is clear: Either pay up or forget about getting the contract. From now on, if the committee gets its way, how you plan to spread the industrial booty around the Canadian economy will weigh directly in the balance with how your product performs. The new fighter jet doesn’t accelerate quickly enough to elude missiles? Well, never mind that, it comes with a new plant in Mississauga. Shells pierce the new tank’s armour? Too bad. But the innovation spinoffs for Thunder Bay are just too good to pass up.

You might think that interpretation extreme. Surely safety for our soldiers and value-for-money for our taxpayers come first. But what else could be meant by the recommendation that bidders specify the industrial benefits they’re offering as part of their bid itself, rather than as an add-on after the performance characteristics of their product or service have won them the contract?

Suppose that instead of causing defence contracts to be inflated with offsets for Canadian industry, this committee consisting of a high-tech CEO, a former chief of staff at national defence, an IP specialist in a defence company, a retired general and Paul Martin’s one-time policy guru recommended levying a 5% tax on all government defence purchases and using the revenues thus generated to subsidize Canadian defence contractors?

I sent the original Globe and Mail URL to Jon saying, “The very last thing Canada should be attempting is to use government money to build a ‘defence industry’. Let the military buy what they need on the open market — regardless of country of origin — at market prices. The fetish to have a domestic defence industry is pure crony capitalism clothed in a “patriotic” fig leaf.”

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