My friend Ken Bowering is a retired RCN commander, with much experience in naval procurement issues. In response to my recent newsletter #54, which talked about the prospects for our navy, he had a sobering but realistic message:
“No doubt about your summation but, putting JSS/AORs, AOPS, and submarines(?) aside, re-building our navy really means replacing the destroyers and ultimately replacing the frigates – 15 ships. The “others” are perhaps “gravy”. But in reality the navy really needs more than 15 surface combatants if it is to be able to properly do its job. In fact, based on the cold war scenario, studies undertaken in the 1950s indicated that our navy needed 24 ASW ships to fulfill those obligations. Looking at today’s scenarios, the number of 24 may still be appropriate. And, when the various phases of a ship’s cycle are taken into account this would mean there probably are between 12 and 18 ships available for operations at any one time.
Just pontificating for a second or so, the CSC project is still within DND and I expect it could be at least a year before PWGSC/DND are ready to put out any initial solicitations to industry. There’ll be another six months selecting the list of qualified bidders then probably a period of six months for the RFP and proposals. After another six months, PD contracts could be awarded and the PD might take 18 months. After another six months perhaps we could expect the “build” contract to be awarded. Detailed design and the first ship could take four years. That would mean the first ship would be completed around mid-2024. Even at two ships per year, that means the current fleet renewal could be completed by mid-2031. Another nine ships would take us to end-2035. But, chances are it would take even longer than this, perhaps another five years.
That’s 25 years! And it’s perhaps five more governments. What we really need is for political parties to understand our need for a long-term commitment, a commitment that could span several governments. It’s not so much about the money but about the recognition that these ships are needed to do exactly what you say we need to do – to keep the sea lanes open. That is, whether or not to build ships should not be an election issue. We need a government to stand up now and say we need 24 surface combatants (or whatever is the right number – and not just continuing to say we can always do more with less) and Canada is committed to building them, operating them, and maintaining them for the foreseeable future.
To try to put dollars to this is ridiculous. Departments/governments cannot budget much more than five years in advance. Thus, to ask DND to budget for some 20-25 years from now is just being stupid (not that they are being asked to do this). But, the point of what I’m saying is we should be concentrating on the number of ships needed by the navy to do its job and agreement by the government to build those ships. The cost will be what it is.”
Thanks to Ken for his comments.
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