Canadian Surface Combatant: running crazy

Canadian Surface Combatant: Four extensions, only three competitors

After 4 deadline extensions, from 27 April to 30 November 2017, Irving Shipbuilding Industry (ISI) ended to collect responses to the RFP they launched 27 October 2016 for the frigate design of the planned 15 Canadian Surface Combatants (CSC).

Appointed Prime Contractor for the program on 23 Jan 2015, by a sole source contract pursuant to the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS), ISI prequalified 7 platform competitors on 18 November 2015:

Alion (US), BAE (UK), Fincantieri (It), Naval Group (Fr),  Navantia (Sp), Odensee (Dk), TKMS (Ge).

Two years later, surprisingly, 3 out of them only were still there, on the day of tender’s submission: Alion, BAE Systems and Navantia.

The German and the French, main European combat ships builders and first exporters worldwide, opted out of a game deemed by them impractical and not attractive[1].

No doubt that such reduction of the competitor’s analysis grid makes life easier to ISI, little experienced in that kind of evaluation, although supported by some British professionals hired from BAE[2].

But does it meet the Canadian Government decisions and taxpayer’s wishes?

[1] Murray Brewster « Impasse over intellectual property is tying up warships bid », CBC News, 11 August 2017

[2] Lee Berthiaume, Toronto Star, 16 November 2016

Canadian Government decision

May the first 2015: in direct connection with the NSPS « build in Canada policy », the Government of Canada declares preference for « off-the-shelf ship design »[1]. The idea was that the money spent by the tax-payer on naval defence purpose was also to provide as much employment as possible in Canada, without any risk in cost overrun, late delivery and underperforming ships.

This wise decision was simply based on a sensible balance between the Canadian ship construction capacity, in Halifax, and the lack of capability and experience of ISI in war ships design and naval combat system integration.

Of course the « off-the-shelf-ship design » meant the design of a ship already built and proven at sea, thus without any risk as regard performances and precisely creditable in price and building time.

[1] NSPS Technical briefing on CSC-speaking notes


Associated with the Dutch DAMEN shipyard and the German ATLAS ELECTRONIK, the US Ship design office ALION SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, along with it subsidiary in Canada, offers the design of a frigate based on the Dutch Navy FFGHM De Zeven Provincien class.

First, if not an old lady, the honourable De Zeven Provincien, seems however quite a mature woman. The Dutch Navy is already at work for the replacement of this frigate, 25 years old by design and 15 by navigation[1]. Although proven she could not really be “off-the-shelf”, most of the equipments turning obsolete and due to be replaced by new technologies, in risky conditions of price and delay, if feasible!

The ALION offer could also be seen a bit short in terms of shipbuilding and ship system platform integration capability of the candidate:

Shipbuilding: after buying Royal Schelde in 2001, at the very end of the De Zeven Provincien frigate program (4 units), the Dutch DAMEN did not design nor produce any surface combatant, except support ships and a successful series of armed OPVs, built on civilian standards under the name SIGMA[2].

Ship system: like all the RNN vessels, the De Zeven Provincien combat system (radars, ESM, CMS and weapons launchers) was supplied, integrated, delivered and now maintained by Thales Naval Netherland (TNNL). Surprisingly ALION replaced it by the Dutch ATLAS ELEKTRONIK, a rather new challenger in system integration and no experience with DAMEN, except sonars.

Integration and interface issues between platform and weapon system (weapons, sensors, combat management system) and the associated risks are such in the CSC project that the Prime Contractor, responsible for the overall performances, delays and prices must be backed by an experienced ship designer/ship builder which Alion is not.

An old ship for too long on the shelf, a new integrator, a non shipbuilder contractor: major reasons possibly for the Government of Canada to keep out of a risky proposal!

[1] Jane’s Fighting ships, 09-June-2017


The Type 26 offer by BAE Systems and Lockeed Martin

Where the lady looked a bit dried up in the Dutch De Zeven Provincien case, here the British bride, Type 26, is even not a very young girl ….but still unborn!

Planned to be commissioned by 2026, the future Royal Navy frigate is indeed a nice attractive paper boat. Obviously the non-proven state of the ship should discard her for the CSC contest, as approved by the Canadian Parliament.

It could be seen also as a major risk that the BAE Clyde shipyard has lost a great deal of know-how and experience since conception of the last class of frigates of the Royal Navy, type 23, designed 34 years ago, and delivered: first of class 27 years ago, last one 16 years ago.[1]

It should at last be considered that fitting a Lockeed Martin US Combat system on board a British type 26 will make it very different from the Royal Navy type 26. The CSC would be a unique and singular type of ship. Moreover, her combat system would depend from the US clearance to be maintained in the future. Here political risk is to be added to the technical one.

[1] Jane’s Fighting Ships 11-jan 2018

Navantia, the US shipyard in Europe

Some people say that in naval shipbuilding, the Spanish Navantia is just a US shipyard settled in Europe! As regards frigates, there is little doubt.

The F 100 proposed to Canada was designed with Lockeed Martin more than 20 years ago for the Spanish Navy, with a smaller derivative for the Norwegian Navy. F100 was then the first non US ship with a US Navy AEGIS system.

All the 13 NAVANTIA frigates built in the past 20 years, for the Spanish Armada or for the export market (Norway, Australia) totally depend of the US as regard their weapons, sensors, combat system, system integration… and propulsion.

They all are made within a consortium Lockeed Martin, Bath Iron Works and Navantia, the core of the weapon system being the US Navy AEGIS… and the know- how Lockeed Martin. Hence the Spanish built surface combatants delivery, maintenance and operation need the green light from the US authorities.

In other words, for Canada, buying Navantia frigates or corvettes is buying US through a European shipyard, still subject to a Pentagon ban.

For the Government of Canada, this Navantia solution could be seen acceptable as regard the off-the-shelf requirement. Although grown old, more than 20 years of age[1], the design may be seen as revived by the series of the 5 Norwegian Nansen class (2006-2011) and of the 3 Australian Hobart class AWD. All are based on US combat system AEGIS and US weapons. The propulsion turbines also are from the US.

[1] Jane’s Fighting Ships 08-Dec-2017

Taxpayer’s wishes

The following official figures for the cost of the 15 required frigates (replacement of 12 Halifax class and 3 Tribal class) may explain the high displeasure of the Canadian taxpayer; especially since the last figure of 2017, as specified by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, does not include operation, maintenance and mid-life upgrade or refit of the ships throughout their service life[1]

2008 Initial budget of the Government for 15 CSC $CA 26.2Bn
2011 NSPS release: $ CA 33Bn
2015 A.T. Kearney for the DND > $CA 30Bn
2017 Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer $CA 61.8Bn

How can the politician account for such a cost, more than doubled in less than 2 years?

In any case, the Canadian Government is actually committed towards its citizens to commission 15 new operational frigates and towards its taxpayers not to pay much more than 30 billion Canadian dollars for them.

One may doubt that the responses to the Irving RFP by Alion, BAE or Navantia will make Irving comfortable enough to commit within the budget on the delivery at fixed prices and agreed dates of the 15 boats!


[1] Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer, 1st June 2017

At the end of the day…

Meeting this great CSC challenge may require a strong Government to Government and Navy to Navy cooperation, beyond simple business-oriented industrial arrangements.

The present Irving process opens the door to the US first: Lockeed Martin and Raytheon supplying the whole weapons and combat system, whatever the preferred platform, Dutch, British or Spanish.

Actually it would make sense then, to opt for a totally US ship, to be built in Halifax under responsibility of the US prime: Lockeed Martin, General Dynamics or Ingalls. But the Arleigh Burke type, the only existing DDGHM in the US Navy (64 existing ships, 21 in building) has a displacement over 9000 t for a Canadian requirement around 7000 t…

If it was deemed politically hazardous b y the Canadian Government to be totally under US control as in all cases here-above described, the solution could be a European one: weapons, system and platform.

The choice there is between the French-Italian FREMM (11 existing ships, 9 in building) and the future type 26 in the Royal Navy configuration (0 existing, 3 in building, first sea trials 2025[1]).

In any case those European frigates should be built in Canada.


[1] Jane’s Fighting Ships, 07-11-2017

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