Feds mum on start date for war­ship con­struc­tion

Calgary Herald - - CANADA - DaviD Pugliese

Irv­ing Ship­build­ing is push­ing fed­eral of­fi­cials to an­nounce a firm date to be­gin con­struc­tion on Canada’s new fleet of war­ships, ar­gu­ing that will help drive the project along. But the com­pany is fac­ing re­sis­tance from fed­eral of­fi­cials con­cerned about miss­ing a pub­licly an­nounced start date, as hap­pened with the Arc­tic pa­trol ships (AOPS) now un­der con­struc­tion, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments re­leased to Post­media.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials have con­tin­ued to say con­struc­tion of the Cana­dian Sur­face Com­bat­ant Fleet would be­gin in the early 2020s, but a spe­cific date hasn’t been set.

Irv­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives tried last year to con­vince fed­eral bu­reau­crats of the need to set a spe­cific date to be­gin con­struc­tion. “(Irv­ing) noted that hard dates is what drives the work,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port from the Jan. 17, 2017, meet­ing of deputy min­is­ters over­see­ing the na­tional ship­build­ing plan.

But the firm faced push­back from Depart­ment of Na­tional De­fence of­fi­cials.

“DND cau­tioned against set­ting a hard pro­duc­tion date to work to­ward, not­ing the chal­lenges this ap­proach caused on,” Arc­tic and off­shore pa­trol ships, the re­port said. DND of­fi­cials warned com­mit­ting to a spe­cific time to start cut­ting steel on the war­ships “will add ad­di­tional risk.”

The Arc­tic and off­shore pa­trol ships were an­nounced in 2007 by then prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper and were sup­posed to be in the wa­ter by 2013. But con­struc­tion didn’t start un­til 2015. The first ship was launched on Sept. 15 and won’t be op­er­a­tional un­til 2019.

Three con­sor­tiums have sub­mit­ted bids for the sur­face com­bat­ant pro­gram and those are still be­ing eval­u­ated. The project will see 15 war­ships built by Irv­ing Ship­build­ing in Hal­i­fax. A win­ning bid is ex­pected to be se­lected some­time this year.

The ships will form the back­bone of the fu­ture Royal Cana­dian Navy.

Scott Les­lie, direc­tor gen­eral of large com­bat ship con­struc­tion at Public Ser­vices and Pro­cure­ment Canada, said a more pre­cise con­struc­tion date can’t be pro­vided now be­cause a win­ning de­sign has yet to be se­lected.

“There are a lot of vari­ables around it, one of the main ones be­ing which de­sign is cho­sen and how much work is re­quired to get that de­sign evolved and build­able at Irv­ing Ship­yards,” Les­lie said.

Irv­ing is wor­ried about the gap af­ter build­ing the Arc­tic and off­shore pa­trol ships, but be­fore con­struc­tion of the sur­face com­bat­ants. If the two projects are not aligned, work­ers could face lay­offs and Irv­ing is wor­ried it will lose skilled per­son­nel.

The gov­ern­ment has al­ready faced de­lays and ris­ing costs with the war­ships. In 2008, it es­ti­mated the to­tal cost to be about $26 bil­lion. But in 2015, Vice Ad­mi­ral Mark Nor­man voiced con­cern tax­pay­ers may not have been given all the in­for­ma­tion and pre­dicted the cost alone for the ships would be around $30 bil­lion.

Cost es­ti­mates for the en­tire project are now be­tween $55 bil­lion and $60 bil­lion. About half is for sys­tems and equip­ment on the 15 ships, ac­cord­ing to fed­eral doc­u­ments ob­tained by Post­media through the Ac­cess to In­for­ma­tion law.

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