Canada Kicks Off Supply Ship Project, Announces Rise in Cost
By DAVID PULGIESE, Special Correspondent
VICTORIA, British Columbia — Construction began June 15 on the first of Canada’s long-awaited supply ships, but the price of the project has increased by almost $1 billion Canadian dollars ($757 million).
In the meantime, Canada is leasing a modified commercial ship to provide a resupply capability. That vessel is now conducting operations and the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has directed the ship to take part in the upcoming U.S.-led Rim of the Pacific exercises.
Procurement Minister Carla Qualtrough announced an initial 66 million Canadian dollar contract so the U.S.-owned Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver can begin construction of the first of two Joint Support Ships (JSSs). The first vessel, designed to refuel and resupply warships at sea, won’t arrive until 2022 or 2023.
But the Canadian government has acknowledged the cost of the JSS project has increased from 2.3 billion Canadian dollars to 3.4 billion. Much of that increase is due to price jumps in material because of delays in construction. At one point, the first JSS was supposed to arrive in 2012. That was later changed to 2018 and then to 2019.
Pat Finn, the head of procurement at Canada’s Department of National Defence, said initial construction on the JSS will focus on the building of 52 blocks of the vessel.
“These early blocks are a significant portion of the ship,” Finn told Seapower. “We benefit from the fact that the design we’re building has been built (before).”
Canada has selected the German Navy’s Berlin-class design for the JSS. The German vessels are 20,200 tons and are almost 174 meters long. The Canadian ships would carry two Sikorsky Cyclone maritime helicopters.
The vessels will have a core capability of the provision of fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food and water, and other supplies to warships at sea. They will be outfitted with modern medical and dental care facilities, including an operating room, according to Seaspan. In addition, there will be repair facilities and expertise to keep helicopters and other equipment functioning.
Existing Phalanx gun systems in the RCN inventory will be modernized by Raytheon and outfitted on the JSSs.
Modifications to the German design are being kept to a minimum. For instance, there is a need for a larger helicopter hangar because of the Cyclone aircraft.
The JSS will have a crew of up to 239 personnel.
Canada is also leasing the resupply ship MV Asterix from Federal Fleet Services, a sister firm to the Davie Shipbuilding in Quebec. The vessel, which has been modified for use by the RCN, is heading with a number of RCN ships to support the U.S.-led Rim and the Pacific exercises.
MV Asterix was accepted by the RCN earlier this year and in mid-May, on one of its first missions, replenished the U.S. Navy ships USS Bainbridge and USS Mitscher in the North Atlantic.
Asterix is crewed by a combination of RCN personnel, who handle the resupply and refueling roles, and civilian contractors who operate the vessel.
Davie and Federal Fleet Services have offered to provide the RCN with a second resupply ship for lease but that was rejected by the Canadian government. The government noted that by 2023 both JSSs will be operating and capable of performing the resupply role.
The RCN took its last two resupply ships out of service in 2015. One was damaged beyond repair after an engine-room fire crippled the vessel off the coast of Hawaii. Another was decommissioned because of corrosion and other issues associated with age.