Tag Archives: procurement

Costs vs. Capabilities: Canada’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy

By Andrew Chisholm

The National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) is supposed to re-fit Canada’s Navy and Coast Guard fleets and breathe long-term life into Canada’s domestic shipbuilding industry. The program has been widely supported by political, academic, and media players, but now controversy is growing on both the financial and policy fronts. Like all military procurement programs the NSPS is a question of costs vs. capabilities. Perhaps unsurprisingly the initial promise has dimmed somewhat and, as Eric Lerhe recounts most programs have already seen unit and capability reductions and others are likely to.

The Joint Support Ship (JSS) program will produce two ships, not three, with less than half the fuel capacity of Canada’s current supply ships and no room for Army vehicles or landing craft. Plus, a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) report released in February found that due to the complexity of the project and the higher rate of inflation for naval production (7%-11%, not the standard 2.7%), two ships would cost approximately $3.28bn not the $2.6bn budgeted, perhaps squeezing capabilities further. The Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ship (A/OPS) program will almost certainly produce six ships rather than eight and has already seen a reduction in top speed from 20 to 17 knots while the Polar Class Icebreaker program will produce only one ship, not the previously envisioned two.

Presenting the NSPSThe Canadian Surface Combatant program, replacing Canada’s 15 frigates and destroyers, may be in trouble as well. Production is being delayed until the A/OPS are completed to allow shipyard skill development (likely a 2020 start) so no design has been chosen. Nevertheless, Brian Stewart has reported that defence sources believe replacing the 15 ships with “like” vessels will probably cost between $30bn and $40bn. In short, the budgeted $26bn will either have to increase or the number of ships will have to be reduced. Also, the established funding structure does not allow for increases with inflation so purchasing power will be eroded over time, a factor which applies to all programs.

There is controversy beyond the number of ships and their capabilities as well in particular concerning the A/OPS program. Terry Milewski reported last week that Irving Shipbuilding has been awarded a $288 million contract to refine the A/OPS design based on Norway’s Svalbard design, purchased by the Canadian government. Irving responded that its “definition” contract includes advanced modeling, pre-ordering of engines and radar, and $38 million in HST, while noting that Canada’s ships will be larger and house more crew than those of other countries.

It has also been questioned whether the vessels to be acquired, with or without reductions, fit Canada’s needs or if different ships would be better and cheaper. A report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) argues that in trying to fit both the Arctic and offshore patrol roles the current A/OPS design falls short on both counts, with range too short and hull too light for full-range operations in the Arctic as well as being too slow to effectively perform an offshore patrol function. The CCPA also argues that the A/OPS program’s Arctic requirements increase costs severely and that an increased (and armed) icebreaker capability combined with non-Arctic patrol ships would better fill both roles at a lower cost.

It is suggested that that lower cost can be achieved through purchasing an “off-the-shelf” design for patrol ships, potentially from the US or Australia, rather than using a based-in-Canada design. In fact, A/OPS design is being partly subcontracted to overseas firms, necessary because Canada is essentially creating a shipbuilding capability from scratch; having to buy these skills offshore is an important contributor to the high-cost according to maritime security analyst Ken Hansen. Outside the A/OPS program the same debate exists. In fact, France’s Fremm-Class frigate was recently showcased to Defence Minister Peter Mackay and pitched as a cost-saving option.

To be sure, the benefits of the NSPS extend beyond the program itself. Some have projected domestic builds to cost only 7% more than foreign options while creating many Canadian jobs and developing design and construction ability within Canada’s shipbuilding industry, hopefully setting Canadian shipyards on the path to prosperity in years to come. Also, Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose has disputed the PBO’s estimate and said that if program adjustments need to be made they will be worked out between government, shipyards, the Navy, and the Coast Guard. Nevertheless, with costs in the tens of billions, any adjustments will undoubtedly be significant whether they involve increased investment or further reductions in capability. Only time will tell.

Andrew Chisholm is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada and graduate of the University of King’s College with a B.A., Combined Honours, in Political Science and History. Andrew focuses his writing on contemporary Canadian foreign, defence, and security policy. This article was re-published by permission and appeared in original form at The Atlantic Council of Canada.  

Lasers: Not So Fast

She blinded me with science: the LaWS installed on the USS DEWEY.

We may not have servant robots or flying cars, but it America is finally ready to deploy functional lasers. Next year, the USS PONCE will receive the military’s first field-ready Laser Weapon System (LaWS).  The navy, and nation, are justifiably excited to finally embrace military laser technology. However, it is important for us to realize the tactical and technological limitations of our new system before rushing too quickly to rely on them too often. Lasers still face great challenges from the weather, ability to detect hits, and power demands.

Red Sky in Morning:  

Lasers are nothing more than light: deadly, deadly light. Like all light, lasers as at the mercy of the atmospheric conditions they encounter. In particular, lasers are at the mercy of refraction and scattering. Refraction changes the angle that occurs as light moves through an atmosphere of varying density and makeup. As lasers are designed for longer ranges, or short range lasers encounter areas of differing conditions, the trajectory will change. This could pose challenges as targets move through areas of varying range and atmospheric density over long ranges.

Fog and house music, LaWS’ greatest enemy.

Laser light weakens over distance. Navigation types know this as “nominal range,” the range at which light can be seen in perfect conditions. A military laser’s effective destructive range is shorter, but the concepts are the same. “Luminous range” is the actual range of light due to atmospheric conditions. That range can be shortened by scattering caused by atmospheric conditions or precipitation. Lasers will be affected by such conditions as well, their effectiveness ranges shrinking in fog, rain, snow, etc… Depending how far the navy is willing to rely on laser technology, this could pose significant challenges to a fleet more beholden to the weather than before.

Eyes on Target:

Unlike kinetic rounds, lasers cannot be tracked en route to their target. An SM-2 explosion can be detected, the 76MM’s MK 98 tracks each splash and can be corrected by operators, and the CIWS system tracks each CIWS round for automatic ballistic correction. The refraction and scattering effects, combined with the time needed for LaWS to be effective, make judging effectiveness particularly important. The laser is not powerful enough to cause immediate destruction of target detectable by radar. If atmospheric interference prevents an IR tracker from detecting the laser heat signature on target, there is no way to verify trajectory and correct. This imposes, at times, a dangerous “wait and see” aspect to the use of LaWS. If a ship is engaging multiple C-802’s, and a LaWS has (hypothetically) range of 6nm, 37 seconds is not a long time for a ship to worry if its measures are effective.

Not Enough Potatoes in the World:

Enough power for a small city… or an array of space-age weaponry.

Missiles and guns come with the kinetic energy stored either in fuel or a charge; 100% of a laser’s power is drawn from the ship’s power supply. This means greater demands from the ship’s grid, as well as a greater scope of variation on grid demand as a laser powers up and down. This pumping of massive demand could cause problems for EOOW’s trying to maintain plant stability. Lasers will naturally require either vast changes in plant layout to support greater power production, or a collection of either batteries or capacitors to act as a buffer for the fluctuations in power demands. There is also the possibility of adding nuclear-powered defensive laser batteries to our mostly defenseless carriers, especially if they were allowed to increase their power output. What some are starting to call the “most expensive fleet auxiliary” will gain a invaluable punch for self-defense and defense of ships in company. For lasers to be effective, the projected power “magazine depth” under real combat conditions will need to be determined and supported.

Proper Room Clearance:

Pirates: When “arrrr” becomes “ahhhh!”

As Peter A. Morrision, program officer for ONR’s Sold-State Laser Technology Maturation Program has said, “the future is here.” Before calling the, “all clear,” on this future, the navy should properly clear the room. Laser technology has amazing cost savings and lethal possibilities, but still has serious weaknesses in weather susceptibility, verification of hits, and power demands that need solving. Other shadowy possibilities exist, such as enemies employing laser-reflective coatings that would require lasers to change wavelength to increase effectiveness. As the technology stands now, it is a worthy display of American technological supremacy that saves money on CIWS rounds and SM-2’s for limited instances. For the technology to truly carry the battles, it must be far more powerful and far better supported by ship-board systems.

Matt Hipple is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

Lego Combat Ship

What do kids do when they get new set of Legos? Immediately start construction. Maybe in the beginning they will follow the assembly instructions, but soon discipline breaks and creativity wins. LCS, thanks its modularity, resembles a Lego set in some respects. As Christopher Cavas noted on Information Dissemination:

Will some of the mission equipment not work well? Probably. Have something better? No problem. Change it. Bring stuff in and install it, ship stuff out, bring in different stuff.

While awaiting finalization of already defined mission modules, why not think about additional ones? For example, the SuW module has been designed to counter swarm attacks, based on experiences from Middle East operations. It would probably work well in Strait of Hormuz or even in Far Seas as defined by Dr. Andrew Erickson. But would it be as effective in China’s Near Seas? Later at Information Dissemination, Wayne P. Hughes summarizes his arguments in favor of distributed offensive power and risk. LCS is not conceptual like SeaLance, but installing Harpoons as a part of next SuW module could be a step in line with his reasoning.

ASW is another example. Although it stands for anti submarine warfare, is the conventional submarine the only underwater enemy of the future? If US Navy is pursuing autonomous robot projects, we should assume that our opponents are doing the same. The question arise what will be the best defense against future armed Bluefins or underwater gliders turned into intelligent mobile mines? Even if not armed, underwater robots are dangerous as scouts providing enemies with essential information. Will we need anti scouting module as well?

Recognizing all the challenges related to their development, inventing new modules seems to be unrealistic. Here our analogy could again be helpful. The inspiration for the whole concept of modularity came from Denmark, as did Legos. What Danes did with their StanFlex modules to minimize complexity and risk, was to take EXISTING systems and packed them into standardized container, a true Lego approach. So let us allow our creativity to wander, under subtle supervision of reason.

Procuring Maritime Leverage

A few weeks ago I was at a conference in Portsmouth, United Kingdom, assessing the historical, contemporary, and future relationship between the Royal Navy and the nation. Amongst the discussions that took place was one chaired by the former First Sea Lord concerning the issue of construction and procurement, in particular the ability of Britain’s shipbuilding industry to meet the requirements of the RN and at what cost. The UK still produces some of the most technologically sophisticated warships and weapons systems in the world, as the Type-45 destroyers are testament to. Yet, they increasingly come at a premium at odds with the current weak state of the country’s economy and an austere government that has instigated huge cuts to its armed forces, particularly its navy, following 2010’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The rationalisation of Britain’s defence industry from decades of mergers and takeovers and the rise of monopolistic monoliths like BAE Systems do not help, with a lack of domestic competition for national defence contracts that might otherwise lower prices. Still, a major issue lies in the decreasing numbers and frequency of warship orders, and the higher cost per unit this inevitably produces. We’ve already seen Britain outsourcing certain shipbuilding capabilities, with four new Royal Fleet Auxiliary tankers ordered from South Korea in February of this year, and it now seems unlikely that another tanker will be produced in the UK again for the RFA, at least in the short to medium-term future, as those skills are lost from its workforce. The question is where Britain draws the line. Does the UK and RN need to make a firm decision as to what industrial capacity it should safeguard in its national strategic interest, such as nuclear submarine construction, and what could be procured from overseas without loosing too much operational capability? Smaller patrol craft and minesweepers perhaps? To do so could produce a more affordable, sustainable navy, and abate the continuous reduction in numbers.

The UK’s next generation of fleet tankers will be built in South Korean not British shipyards

As a historian who studies the post-Second World War development of colonial naval forces into sovereign Commonwealth navies, this issue to me highlights a fascinating shift in strategic-economic relations that raises questions and concerns in areas of geopolitical uncertainty. For several decades, the vast majority of the world’s arms, particularly more technologically-sophisticated warships, came from the same small group of producers located in the traditional ‘First World’. The underdeveloped industries of post-colonial countries, a hangover from imperial policies to turn colonial economies into primarily suppliers of raw materials for the metropole’s industry, meant that they were often continuingly dependent on the former ‘imperial motherland’ to supply them with equipment for their nascent armed forces, subsidised by development aid packages. This was particularly the case in countries that didn’t wish to align themselves in the bi-polar international system of the Cold War, such as initially India. Countries like Britain derived not only economic benefits from such a relationship, including offloading its outdated and surplus warships, but political and strategic ones too from being able to shape the composition and capabilities of such beneficiaries to complement its own designs for ‘Commonwealth Defence’. India recognised the undesirableness of such a situation, and has made a concerted effort to overhaul its shipbuilding industry over the last fifty years, embarking upon ambitious indigenous construction programmes, including recently Shivalik-class stealth frigates and Vikrant-class aircraft carriers. Other formerly ‘developing’ countries, most notably China, also now have impressive manufacturing capabilities. With that comes opportunities for export, and as the industrial capacity of established producers in the West declines and is surpassed by the more-competitive emerging economies of the East, new defence agreements will be forged between untraditional partners. The link between economic and politico-strategic influence is intrinsic, and as countries such as Britain were once able to use naval procurement as leverage and a way of furthering their own interests, new producers such as China and India can be expected to do the same. This could lead to the creation of new strategic alliances and increased uncertainty in regions of escalating maritime tension and instability, with potentially frightening consequences for all.

Dr Daniel Owen Spence is Lecturer in Imperial and International History at Sheffield Hallam University, United Kingdom, and publishes research on nineteenth and twentieth century naval history.