Canadian Navy Aims to Shore Up Frigate Program By Helping Market Arctic Patrol Ship
By DAVID PUGLIESE, Special Correspondent
VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) is helping one of Canada’s main shipyards market its new Arctic patrol vessels to New Zealand and European nations as it tries to prevent layoffs at the facility that could ultimately delay the service’s new frigate program.
The RCN is acquiring a fleet of five Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPSs) from Irving Shipbuilding but is concerned that there will be a gap between the end of the construction of those vessels and the start of its new Canadian Surface Combatant. Canadian officials fear that the gap could result in the layoffs of skilled personnel at the Halifax, Nova Scotia, yard, impacting the new frigate program that won’t get underway until the early 2020s.
To fill that gap, and head off that potential workforce disruption, the RCN and Canadian government are helping Irving market the Arctic patrol ships internationally.
“I know they’ve approached New Zealand and some others in Europe,” Pat Finn, the head of procurement for Canada’s Department of National Defence, said about Irving’s efforts.
Finn said Vice Adm. Ron Lloyd, commander of the RCN, has been approaching his international counterparts to ensure they are aware of the capabilities of the new ships.
The first of the AOPSs will be in the water sometime this summer.
Finn said the AOPS could be a good deal for some nations as Canada has already done the design work and production is well underway. The vessels could be used by New Zealand, for instance, for operations near Antarctica, or by other countries in the Arctic or for coastal patrols.
There could also be a niche market for ships such as the Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels that are being built under the Canadian government’s national shipbuilding program, he added. Those vessels are being constructed for the Canadian Coast Guard at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver.
Finn also pointed to the contract recently received by Lockheed Martin Canada to modernize two New Zealand Anzac frigates in Seaspan’s facility in Victoria.
“I think that speaks to leveraging where we’re investing in creating capability,” Finn said. “That’s always going to be our best opportunity for export.”
Lockheed Martin Canada will be the prime contractor on the Anzac modernization, including installing a new combat management system. A scaled-down version of that same system is also being used on the AOPS.
Irving spokesman Sean Lewis said that the company and the Canadian government are continuing to look at the issue of a gap between the finishing of AOPS and the construction of the surface combatants.
Canadian procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough has said she would be open to having additional AOPSs being built for Canada as a way to deal with the gap.
“The construction of additional AOPS for Canada or international export opportunities is being considered and various options pursued,” Lewis said. “At this time, it is premature to comment further.”
Last November, Irving Shipbuilding president Kevin McCoy, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral, acknowledged that some nations might want to take advantage of Canada’s “hot production line” on the AOPS. But he noted that bringing together such an international deal can take some time.
“This is a lengthy process,” he said. “You have to shake a lot of trees.”
The 6,800-ton AOPS will have a crew of 87. It has an operational range of 10,000 nautical miles and is capable of operating in first-year ice up to 1-meter thick. The ship is also equipped with a helicopter hangar.
The RCN will receive all its AOPS by 2022. Five, and possibly six if there is enough funding available, ships will be built for the RCN under the 2.3 billion Canadian dollar ($1.8 billion) contract.
Irving will then focus on building the Canadian Surface Combatants. Fifteen of those frigates will be constructed in a project estimated to cost between 55 billion and 60 billion Canadian dollars.