McCoy: New warship will serve Canada well — at a fair price
The Royal Canadian Navy needs new, modern vessels to remain relevant as the Halifax Class of ships approaches end of life. Let's stop wasting time and move forward.
In light of recent suggestions that the Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) procurement should be scrapped in favour of a less expensive approach, I want to provide my unique perspective as the former president of the Halifax Shipyard and as a retired U.S. Navy vice-admiral leading all U.S. Navy ship design and acquisition from 2008 to 2013.
The federal government set the missions for CSC. This started the process to define the warship’s performance requirements. Canada’s requirements process was the most rigorous that I have ever participated in.
Canada engaged international experts working alongside Navy leaders in a series of war-gaming sessions using real-world threat data. This process weeded out unnecessary capability (and its cost) and ensured missions could be accomplished with the ship and crew surviving. The resulting performance requirements underwent additional scrutiny from Canada’s Independent Review Panel for Defence Acquisition.
These requirements — such as the need for a leading-edge radar in complex, multi-threat situations — drive the size and cost of CSC. To appreciably reduce the cost, Canada would have to accept that some missions will not be executed. Canada should expect to pay about the same as other nations for similar ships.
Several opinion writers have cited the U.S. Navy’s Constellation Class of Frigate as a potentially cheaper alternative for CSC. However, the U.S. is building these smaller and less capable ships because it already has more than 90 ships similar in capability to CSC. Canada will only have the 15 CSC ships to rely on, though CSC will be as capable as any surface combatant owned by any nation.
One recent opinion article advocated starting the CSC procurement over and called for “an open, fair, and transparent competition involving ship designers and shipyards” and for the government to “retain its oversight responsibility.” Canada has already devoted three full years to doing exactly this. The Request for Proposal (RFP) process was exhaustive and more comprehensive than any I experienced in my five years leading U.S. Navy ship and weapon system procurement.
Canada was and remains in charge. The process started with more than a year of collaborative industry engagement involving more than a dozen shipyards, designers and combat systems companies. This was followed by another year to develop and test the RFP requirements to ensure fairness. Finally, Canada provided bidders another year to ask questions and respond to the RFP. This ensured that all bidders had a fair chance to compete.
The same opinion writer called for starting the new open, fair, transparent process for selecting CSC with mention of an unsolicited proposal with no contractual commitment by shipbuilder Fincantieri. However, Fincantieri dropped out of the official competition and instead made an unsolicited proposal to the government outside the official, open, fair and transparent procurement process.
The CSC requirements are based on Canada’s national priorities. When it comes to protecting the brave sailors of the Royal Canadian Navy, CSC will be second to none in the world. These vessels will allow Canada to independently operate in international waters, and satisfy responsibilities to NATO and NORAD allies through greater interoperability.
The RCN needs new, modern ships to remain relevant as the Halifax Class of ships approaches end of life. CSC is already delivering thousands of jobs across the country and that will continue to grow – a vital part of Canada’s economic recovery.
My departing advice is to stop wasting time and move forward. Keep skilled Canadians working. Build the ships.
Kevin McCoy was president of the Halifax Shipyard from 2013 until earlier this year. He was previously a three-star vice-admiral in the U.S. Navy responsible for the design, construction, maintenance and modernization of all U.S. Navy ships, aircraft carriers and submarines from 2008 through 2013. As commander of the Naval Sea Systems, he led one of the largest procurement and engineering agencies in the United States with a workforce of 60,000.